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Cherry and chocolate roulade

A cherry and chocolate roulade for Valentine’s Day

Mr English isn’t the romantic type, so we’ve never really embraced the whole flowers and chocolates thing, although we do send a card to each other (not really the same when you’re pretty certain who your secret Valentine is).  People tend to fall into two camps Valentines-wise, they either love it or hate it.  I think that if there’s a day in the year when you’re reminded to tell someone how much you love them, then so much the better.  And what better way to express your love than with cake?

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Easy no yeast, no knead, no rise, shallow-fry doughnuts

Doughnuts

Now that autumn’s here I’ll be very happy to move back towards comfort foods: soups, stews, pies.. all the things I missed all summer!  I love a bit of experimentation in the kitchen and have been fiddling with this doughnut recipe.  We love doughnuts, and I’ve made them before, but the deep frying is a pain and I’m a bit dangerous with hot oil, so I wanted to make some that you could fry in less oil, just in a frying pan.  Now don’t get me wrong, these aren’t diet doughnuts or anything, you’ll still need a good 1/2 inch of oil in the pan, but it’s a lot better than dragging out your deep fat fryer or having bubbling saucepans of oil on the stove.  Plus there’s no yeast, no kneading, no rising, and they still taste amazing.

You will need:

For frying:

A medium frying pan with about 1/2″ of oil in the bottom. I use rapeseed.  I measured, and for my 10″ pan I used about 500ml.

Wet ingredients:

50g butter, melted

50g caster sugar

125ml milk

Squeeze of lemon

Dry ingredients:

160g plain flour

A pinch of salt

2 tsp baking powder

Sugar, for coating

So firstly, get the oil heating up in the frying pan.   Do it just on a medium heat so it heats slowly and safely.  It needs to be about 180 degrees C so a thermometer will help here.  I use a jam thermometer.

Measure out the butter and melt it in a jug in the microwave or in a saucepan.  Add in the caster sugar, milk and lemon juice.  It all curdles and looks hideous, but don’t worry.  Don’t omit the lemon juice, it’s important.

Now, measure out all the dry ingredients and pour the wet into the dry, stirring briefly until you’ve got a soft dough.  You might not need all the liquid.  You need it just firm enough so that you can form them into small balls with your hands.

So when the oil is up to temperature, start forming the doughnuts into small balls (I used a smallish dessertspoonful per doughnut).  Remember, you want them fluffy and light inside, so handle them really gently – just enough for form them into a ball – then straight (carefully) into the oil.  When the undersides are golden brown, flip them over with some tongs and cook the other side.  Lift them out and drain them briefly on some kitchen paper, then toss them while still warm in the sugar.

Serve them straight away while they’re still warm.  Next thing I’m going to invest in is a cooking syringe so that I can put jam in the middle, but we just dunked them in the jam.  Still fabulous.

Oh, and they won’t keep, but then I don’t think that will ever be a problem.

Doughnut and jam

Step by step squidgy marshmallow chocolate brownies

Squishy marshmallow brownies

Regular readers will know that we’re HUGE chocolate brownie fans here at English Towers.  I was desperate to get back in the kitchen and do some baking after being away for three weeks and we were all craving a batch of brownies.  I chucked in a couple of handfuls of marshmallows and the result was rather pleasing.  Because they’re quite airy, they rise to the top, which gives you a nice gooey marshmallowy layer on top of your squidgy brownie.  The tops of the little marshmallows also brown which gives a little crispness to each bite.  They’re not the prettiest looking brownies but hey, you can’t have everything!

Here’s my tried and tested brownie recipe.  See what you think:

How to make chocolate brownies:

You will need:

200g dark chocolate

170g salted butter (or add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)

3 free range eggs (room temperature is always better)

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

About two large handfuls of small marshmallows

So firstly, assemble all your ingredients together, and preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.

The method

Step one: melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie – basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water.  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature (if you pour very hot chocolate into the eggy mixture, you risk getting blobs of scrambled egg in your brownies. Ick).

Step two: meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, light and frothy.  There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.

Step three: pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well.

Step four: lastly, add in the flour and the marshmallows..  Stir briefly until the flour disappears.  Less is more here.

Baking

I use a square silicone cake ‘tin’, given a little spritz of cake release spray, but any square or rectangular tin will do.  Make sure you line it very well as the brownies will stick.

Step five:  bake for about 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.

Leave to cool a little bit before slicing.

We also thought that maybe if you added little bits of digestive biscuit (Graham crackers, I believe if you’re in the US), they would almost be like s’mores.  Yum.

marshmallow brownies

 

An autumn update and lemon drizzle cake

Lemon drizzle cake - ENGLISH MUM

So after three weeks of back to back holidays, I have a huge amount to write, but I’m taking my time, settling back home, attacking the Giant Washing Mountain of Buckinghamshire, and doing a bit of nesting.

I love our house and, although I’ve loved every minute of gallivanting about on the med, it’s just been wonderful to come back to English Towers, find my slippers (although one was populated by a spider of epic proportions that prompted much hopping about and squealing), dig out my jimjams and kick back with a cuppa and a magazine.  I’m having a bit of a magazine crisis at the moment.  I’ve gone off my old favourite so I’ve been buying a few different ones to try them out. This one is really good.  One of my Instagram friends described it as a ‘lovely cosy warm jumper’

The Simple Things

But most of all it’s been lovely to get back in the kitchen and baking again.  On Sunday, we had a Moroccan chicken pilaf (an easy, one-pot wonder) and then lemon drizzle cake (which seemed somewhat apt as we sat at the table and watched the drizzle in the garden):

Lemon Drizzle Cake

170g butter
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 large free range eggs (duck eggs are fab for baking if you can find them)
2 large unwaxed lemons
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

So it starts off just as a normal ‘pound cake’ really.  Weigh everything out first, then cream the butter and the sugar until it’s really pale (preferably with an electric whisk – this should be really light).

Break the eggs into a bowl and add the juice and finely grated rind of one of the lemons, then it’s easy to just dribble it into the butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

If, when adding the eggs, the mixture starts to curdle, just add a tablespoon of the flour – this will bring it back together.  Now stir in the flour until it’s just combined.

Pour into a buttered loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 – 40 minutes.  Check to see if it’s done by popping a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean.  If not, put it back in for 5 minutes.

Bring it out of the oven.  Put the zest and juice of the second lemon into a bowl and whisk in your sifted icing sugar, then carefully take the cake out of the tin and spoon the lemony liquid all over the top of the cake.  Serve at once with lots of cream or ice cream.  Or leave to cool and scoff with a cup of tea. Either way, it’s divine.

Lemons for lemon drizzle

Bee’s rich chocolate Bundt cake

Chocolate Bundt cake

Chocolate Bundt cake

As you might remember, I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ for Nordic Ware.  My love affair started with my heart shaped tin and has since progressed to individual present-shaped tins, and of course the ‘holiday tree’ pan used in Nigella’s wonderful ‘spruced up vanilla cake‘ from her Nigella Christmas book.

I should really save this recipe until Christmas because it would be perfect baked in the next tin I’ve got my eye on, the Nordic Ware Yule Log Cake Pan.  Still, watch this space – I might still resurrect it.

My lovely Dutch friend Bee (you can find her wonderful Family Food Blog here)  is something of an expert on Bundt baking.  She gave me the recipe that this cake was originally based on, taken from a cute little book she has called ‘Kiss My Bundt’ by Chrysta Wilson.  Bee says ‘I’ve played around with it quite a lot so far – I’ve added rose water, strong coffee, almond extract, Earl Grey Tea – and most recently, Frangelico and hazelnuts‘.  Basically, she says, when you come to add the boiling water, this is where you can add whatever you like as long as it’s liquid, and you keep the amount the same.

I’ve adapted this recipe to UK measurements (and fiddled with it a tiny bit) and have made it LOADS. It always comes out well as long as you remember the golden Bundt rule: you must COPIOUSLY spray the tin with cake release spray (or butter it really well), then coat in a layer of cocoa powder (you can use flour but it shows up on the finished cake – hence the hasty drizzle of melted chocolate on my one, above), turning it and tapping so that it coats the whole can, then tipping out the excess.

You’ll be surprised how liquid the batter is, but that’s the thing with Bundt tins: becuse they’ve got that big hole in the middle, the cake cooks really evenly.  If you don’t have a Bundt tin, try using a large round cake tin and upending something like a ramekin in the middle.

You will need:

300g caster sugar

180g plain flour

50g good quality cocoa powder

1 rounded tsp baking powder

1 rounded tsp baking soda

1 level tsp salt

2 eggs

250ml milk

100g butter, melted, or 125ml rapeseed oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

250ml boiling water (or other liquid)

First, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and prepare your tin as above.  Stand it on a baking sheet and check that it will fit in the oven.

Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.

In the food processor, mix the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla well together, then add the dry ingredients slowly, a spoonful at a time.  Lastly, mix in the boiling water.  Give it a final stir to make sure there’s no thick batter left at the bottom, then pour into the prepared tin (sit the tin on a baking sheet first so it’s easy to manoeuvre it into the oven)

Bake for 45 minutes and COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE REMOVING IT!!  Pop a plate over the tin and tip over with one strong, confident movement.

Serve as it is (it’s lovely and rich) or cover it with foil and warm it gently, then serve it with pouring cream as a dessert.  Yum scrum.

Step by step spiced chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Spiced chocolate hot cross buns

Spiced chocolate hot cross buns

We love a hot cross bun.  Well, some of us do.  The Death Wish Dude thinks all things dried fruit are a bit bleurgh.  So if you’ve got a dried fruit hater in your family, or if you just fancy something a bit different this Easter, here’s a recipe for some lovely chocolatey hot cross buns.

You’ll need:

  • 150ml milk
  • 150ml water
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 50g butter
  • 425g strong white bread  flour
  • 25g good quality cocoa
  • 1 tbsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 100g good quality chopped dark chocolate (keep the chunks quite large)

For the cross:

  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 tsp caster sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved
Chopping chocolate with my new birthday mezzaluna

Chopping chocolate with my new birthday mezzaluna

Step one:

Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients.  This will save you time and prevent things being forgotten.

So in a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat.  Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature.

Step two:

While the liquid is cooling, sift the flour, cocoa and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar and dried yeast.

Step three:

If you’ve got a mixer,  pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.

If you’re old-fashionedy or are still waiting to meet the mixer of your dreams (they do actually come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand), you’ll have to get to it for at least ten minutes adding the chocolate about half way through.

Because the chocolate is quite escapey, I found that it was best to knead it in the mixer for five minutes, then add the chocolate and knead by hand for a further few minutes. The chocolate just keeps escaping, but poke it back in.

Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (as usual, think the texture of a boob, or possibly a bottom cheek – poke your finger in – if the dough springs back, then it’s done – if not, knead a bit more).  Disclaimer: possibly best if you don’t actually do this with people’s boobs.

Step four:

When your dough is sufficiently springy, leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist (be careful – I found the chocolate quite jabby!) and cut it in half, then half again and half again.  Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Step five:

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp cocoa, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus) with a disposable piping bag.  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns and pipe the cross into the little lines.  Totally up to you.

Piping on the chocolate cross

Piping on the chocolate cross

Step six:

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom.  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven,  warm up the marmalade (or apricot jam) with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness (use rindless here – you don’t want bits of peel sticking to your buns). If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

And that’s it.  Hide them from your offspring until you’ve scarfed at least two.  You deserve it.  Oh, and here’s the reason you need to keep the chocolate chunks large. Nomnomnom:

Oozy chocolate

Oozy chocolate

If you’d rather make spiced orange hot cross buns instead, click here.

Lemon cream loveheart biscuits – perfect for Mothers’ Day

Lemon cream loveheart biscuits

My lovely friend, Sarah, who has a blog called My Mummy Sings, not only has the voice of an angel, but impressive emergency baking skillz too.  I loved her post about making her hubby some last-minute heart shaped custard creams for Valentine’s Day.

I’d forgotten how long it had been since I’d baked and spent a happy hour in the kitchen, radio on, with a big mug of tea.  Anyhoo, this recipe is loosely based on Sarah’s and she’d kindly allowed me to recreate it here for you.

Lemon Cream Loveheart Biscuits

115g butter

175g caster sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

225g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

This amount makes enough for two batches.  I kept the other half and made more the next day.

To make the biscuits, cream the butter and sugar together, add the egg and vanilla, then stir in the flour and baking powder.  It will come together into a dough quite easily.

Roll out on a floured work surface using a floured rolling pin and cut out with a heart-shaped cutter, placing the little hearts onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment paper. They don’t spread that much so they can go quite close together:

Lovely lovehearts

Bake at about 190/gas 5 for a scant 7 minutes (this depends on the thickness of your biscuits but they only need to be just-golden).

Remove and leave to cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, make the buttercream:

50g butter, softened

100g icing sugar

1 tsp lemon extract (I used Steenbergs)

Lovely lemony buttercream

Just mush the butter and icing sugar together until creamy then stir in the lemon extract.  Make sure the biscuits are completely cooled before sandwiching together with the buttercream.

Go on, get busy in the kitchen and surprise your mum tomorrow!

Review: The Great British Bake Off: showstoppers

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I’m addicted – ADDICTED – to the Great British Bake Off.  I like very few television programes but I’m guaranteed to get all stabby and annoyed if you talk through the Bake Off.  Be warned.

I was delighted, then, to be sent the book from the current series: The Great British Bake Off: how to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers.  The book contains loads of Showstopper Challenges, inspired by the competition.  Each section shows the basic recipe, for example a brioche dough, and then three different challenges, for example sweet brunch rolls, a more technical Camembert brioche, and finally herby brioche rolls.  The recipes are all labelled with their difficulty (easy, needs a little skill, etc) and the recipes are all clear and easy to follow.

I was keen, after watching last night, to have a look at the instructions for Paul technical challenge, the plaited loaf (I’m definitely going to give this a go) and it seems a lot easier than on the show: explaining how to number your strands of dough from 1-8 and then placing them under or over the other strands as you go… mind you, I expect it’s a lot easier in the comfort of your kitchen than under the timed, slightly stressy atmosphere of the bake off studio!  Some of the recipes don’t have photos, which is a bit frustrating, especially with recipes like the autumn wreath – a plaited yeasted bread wreath that I think really needs a picture to help you along.

If you’re a lover of the Bake Off, there is also a new app that you can get if you’ve got an iPhone with fifty recipes from the series, searchable by occasion, skill level, etc and featuring some kind of whizzy technology which means you don’t have to touch your phone with icky fingers while you’re baking.

The Great British Bake Off: How to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers by Linda Collister is out now, priced £20 and the iPhone app is £2.99.

Sticky, gooey, plumptious, scrumptious, soft iced buns

I think of all the recipes I’ve ever published, this one has been the most popular.  I made them this morning and was thinking that it’s still one of my most favourite recipes – the buns are just so soft and pillowy, and the topping so delightfully sticky… there’s just nothing better – the ultimate comfort food!

I’ve updated this recipe ever so slightly (doesn’t take much to improve on perfection – I was trying to make the method a bit less waffly, but actually succeeded in putting more waffle in) but hey, the more info you’ve got, the easier it is to do it right? Right?

You will need:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g caster sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

½ tsp liquid glucose

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature ( you know, so it doesn’t feel particularly hot or cold when you pop your finger in, I don’t need you to actually bleed or anything…) when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.

Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

When you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (I have to add this bit for my friend Snaffles Mummy – its her favourite bit), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a floured baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6.  Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing.

As soon as they’re out of the oven (they’ll be pale golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom) drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides.

Of course, this basic recipe can be jazzed up really easily – I’ve done it with pink, hibiscus icing, I’ve done birthday buns with blue icing and candles… I did black for halloween one year too.

Add a hint of spice, some orange zest and a handful of sultanas and you’re well on the way to hot cross buns, or if you fancy Chelsea buns, after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake as before.  Just be sure to ram as many into your mouth as you can before anyone else smells them and comes to investigate.

 

Sunvil’s sunny baklava recipe

Sunvil are a lovely travel company who have over 40 years’ experience and an amazing amount of expertise on all aspects of the Greek islands. They’re passionate about their destinations: their people, their culture and, of course, their food, so they’ve decided to start posting a recipe every month on their website to celebrate the wonderful food of the area.  Baklava hails originally from Crete and seems a rather lovely place to start.  I’ve never actually made baklava, so when Sunvil challenged me to give it a go as part of the new Sunvil Supper Club, I jumped at the chance.

First of all, I’d say don’t be daunted by filo pastry.  I think I dithered a bit too long trying to make sure that every part of every sheet was brushed with the butter/oil mixture, which allowed the waiting pastry to dry out a little bit. Cover your pastry in a piece of damp kitchen towel, and you’ll be fine.

This lovely recipe really doesn’t take long to prepare and is a total showstopper. I also loved bubbling away the sugar syrup to make the final caramel-coloured honeyed syrup which is spooned over the warm baklava.  Utterly delicious.

If you’d like to have a go at making the baklava yourself, the recipe is on the Sunvil Supper Club page on the Sunvil website, and for more information on holidays to Crete, click here.

Strawberry and sour cream fairycakes

British summertime means strawberries, and for me, that means making the strawberry scented fairy cakes I remember baking with my Mum.  If you’re surprised that this recipe contains sour (or ‘soured’) cream, you’ll soon realise that its fresh flavour is the perfect complement to sweet, summer strawberries.  It also has the added benefit of making sponge cakes tender and light.

Lovely Yeo Valley have just added a soured cream to their range and gave me some to play with (check out the funky packaging) and it’s incredibly versatile.  It’s fabulous for dips, sauces, baked potatoes and dolloping on a spicy chilli con carne, but it teams equally well with fruit: think hot apple pie with a mountain of cinnamon-laced, slightly tangy soured cream.  It also whips quite well. You won’t get the volume of double cream, but the texture is lovely.  After whipping, fold through a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar for an almost cheesecake-like flavour. Perfect with berries and crushed meringue for a different take on Eton Mess.

For the fairy cakes, you’ll need:

170g butter, softened

170g caster sugar

3 free range eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

200g self raising flour

100g strawberries, mashed

4 tbsp sour cream

For the glacé icing:

5 tbsp icing sugar

Warm water

Method:

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add in the vanilla and lightly mix with a fork.  Add it to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing well.

Stir in half the flour, then add in the mashed strawberries.  Stir in the rest of the flour and finally the sour cream.

Bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for 20 minutes until just golden.  Allow to cool, then sift the icing sugar and add just enough water to make a thick paste.

Dribble onto the cakes and finish with a small strawberry.

You can also find this recipe on Yeo Valley’s website.

Lemon meringue fairy cakes

I’ll be honest, I lost my baking mojo for a while.  Not even really sure why.  And it’s actually the weirdest thing that has inspired me again: Instagram.

My hideous Blackberry (well, Blackberries, I had four, all in all) was finally replaced by my phone company (they were sick of the whining… and the crying… I was on first name terms with every call centre member) by a really stonkingly handy and practical Samsung Galaxy S2.  I’m LOVING it.  The emailing, Twitter and Facebook are all top drawer and – finally – I can have Instagram!  Taking pictures has become fun again.  I’ll leave you to judge how I’m doing, but here’s my first recipe photographed, and edited with Instagram and Pixlr-o-matic.

These are slightly different, and a bit easier, than the lemon meringue fairy cakes using lemon curd as a filling. I like those too, but to quickly whip up on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this recipe can’t be beaten.  It’s a really simple ‘pound cake’ or fairy cake recipe, enhanced with lemon, and topped with fluffy meringue.

You will need:

170g softened butter

170g caster sugar

3 eggs

1 lemon, zested and juiced

170g self raising flour

So firstly, beat the butter and sugar until very pale and creamy (or whiz it in the food mixer). Then break the eggs into a bowl and gently mix in the lemon zest and juice with a fork.  Add this, a little at a time, to the mixture, making sure it comes together.  It’s a good idea to have the flour already weighed out, so if it starts to look a bit curdly, you can add in a tablespoon to bring it together again.

Plop a tablespoon of the mixture into each of 12 paper cases (I used my new Tala bakeware – it weighs a ton, but is so hard wearing and easy to clean – a must have for us cakey bakers) and bake at 180/gas 4 for 15-20 mins until they’re just springy when touched.  Set aside to cool while you make the meringue:

You will need:

2 egg whites

115g caster sugar

If you want to go mad and pipe them in an exuberant, pillowy clouds, then double up, but I used this amount and it covered 12 cakes.

It’s best not to pipe the meringue into too much of peak anyway, as it then burns under the grill before the rest of it has had a chance to colour, so try and keep your piping quite ‘flat’.  Using a large star shaped nozzle, start at the outside and work in.

Anyhoo, so using a food processor, or just a very clean bowl, a whisk and lots of elbow grease, whip up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Now you can start to add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, while continuing to whisk.  Check occasionally that all the sugar has ‘melted’ into the meringue.  It shouldn’t feel gritty to the touch.   Because you’re piping, I give it an extra whizz in the machine to make sure it’s really thick and holds its shape.Then, when glossy and smooth, just pipe (or dollop) the meringue onto the cupcakes  and pop them under a very hot grill (or have a go at them with a blowtorch if you’re hard core) until they’re nicely caramelised, but hopefully not burnt.  The usual warnings about people who shouldn’t eat raw eggs apply here.

Step by step spiced orange hot cross buns

Let’s face it: Easter just isn’t Easter without hot cross buns.

And chocolate.

But mostly hot cross buns.

If you’re feeling a bit daunted by the whole prospect of making your own, don’t be. Let Auntie English Mum guide you through the whole process.  Think of me as a little friend hovering at your shoulder in the kitchen.  Actually don’t.  That’s a bit creepy.

Anyhoo, it’s really easy (with a bit of waiting around), and the gorgeous scent of these spicy orangey wonders fills the whole house.  So let’s get cracking.

You’ll need:

150ml milk

150ml water

Zest of 1 orange

50g butter

450g strong white bread  flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

100g sultanas (or mixed peel if you must – bleurgh)

For the cross:

2 tbsp flour

1 tsp caster sugar

For the glaze:

1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved

Step one:

Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients.  This will save you time and prevent any flapping half way through the recipe.

So in a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat.  Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature.

Step two:

While the liquid is cooling, sieve the flour and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl.  Next, stir in the salt, sugar, dried yeast and sultanas (have a quick pick over to make sure there are no stalks left).

Step three:

If you’ve got a mixer,  pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.

If you’re old-fashionedy or are still waiting to meet the mixer of your dreams (they do actually come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand), you’ll have to get to it for at least ten minutes.  Yes, I know, sorry, but it’s true.  Knead away, holding the dough lightly with one hand while you stretch it away from you with the other, before bringing it together and repeating the process.  The sultanas keep trying to escape, but grab any of the little blighters trying to make a quick getaway and poke them back in. Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (think the texture of a boob, or possibly a bottom cheek – poke your finger in – if the dough springs back, then it’s done – if not, knead a bit more).  Disclaimer: possibly best if you don’t actually do this with people’s boobs.

Step four:

When your dough is sufficiently springy, leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.   Then, just knock it back with your fist and cut it in half, then half again and half again.  Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray.  Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Step five:

If you want to add the cross, then mix about 2 tbsp flour, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus) with a disposable piping bag.  Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns and pipe the cross into the little lines.  Totally up to you.

Step six:

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom.  Finally, when they’re just out of the oven,  warm up the marmalade with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness (use rindless here – you don’t want bits of peel sticking to your buns). If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.

And that’s it.  Congratulations, you are a master bun maker.  Go you!

Review: Bread Revolution by Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan

There’s an awful lot of hype surrounding bread at the moment, what with the ‘Fabulous Baker Brothers’, Henry and Tom Herbert’s recent TV show (and the shock news that one of their loaves sells for over twelve quid – I kid you not – over £20 if you want it couriered), and lots of people reverting to the more traditional kitchen skills of baking their own bread, making butter, etc.

I do make my own bread, but it tends to be a batch of sticky iced buns if I’m feeling like a baking session, or an easy Irish soda bread on a Sunday morning, so when I was asked to review Bread Revolution I was really interested.

Duncan and Patrick own The Thoughtful Bread Company in Bath and really want to encourage us all to bake (or at least buy) proper bread.  There are all sorts of wonderful recipes (don’t miss the Cider and Apple Bread), and great step-by-step guides to mixing, kneading, shaping, etc, plus loads of interesting stuff about ingredients.  The one that fascinated me, though, was the sourdough.  Basically, you make a sourdough ‘starter’, which ferments and becomes your very own living, breathing yeasty friend who lives in the fridge.

Ours was called Fluffy (someone on Twitter told me to give it a name – apparently this helps you ‘bond’).  It’s relatively easy to make (a mix of live yogurt, skimmed milk and bread flour), but you do have to remember to feed it, otherwise it dies.  We had a little wobble when I opened up mine to find mould all up the side of the tub, but I managed to rescue it, and with a new, sterilised pot, Fluffy thrived.  The boys (find them on Twitter @thoughtfulbread) were really helpful, and shared my immense pleasure and pride when my very first sourdough loaf came out of the oven.

Seriously, I don’t think there are many things quite as satisfying as baking your own bread, and having Fluffy in the fridge ready to go whenever I want to bake makes me more determined than ever to keep going.  That, and the chewy-crusted, soft-doughed gorgeousness that is a fresh-from-the-oven sourdough loaf.

What a wonderful book.

Bread Revolution is out 1st March priced £10.59 on Amazon.  Here’s a vid of the boys in action:

The ‘baked with love bakeoff’: and the winner is:

So yesterday I showed you all the beautiful entries to the ‘baked with love’ bakeoff.

Lovely Helen, our judge and resident wino (sorry, wine expert) had a terrible time picking a winner, but eventually decided on the one she’d most like to scoff (perfect way to choose, I reckon), which was…

Mari’s amazingly squishy chocolate, mascarpone and raspberry tarts.

Congratulations, Mari, because not only have you got two of these beautiful pink fizzy babies winging your way from the fabulously generous Jacob’s Creek, but two extra ‘secret squirrel’ wines not on general release!

Special mention from Helen went to Iris’ blackberry mascarpone macaroons, Laura’s chocolate whoopie pies and Helen from Icklebabes’ gorgeous caramel banana French toast, oh, and Yvonne from Hey Pesto!’s ‘heart’s desire’ cake too…. along with ‘anything with a small child in the photo’.

Thanks so much to everyone who entered, big squishes and snogs to our lovely judge, Helen, who was steadfast in the face of much crawling and flattering, and many thanks also to Jacob’s Creek for their generosity.  Thanks all!

A healthier blueberry and lemon loaf

So the weekend was somewhat traumatic.  I won’t fill you in on all the events, but needless to say being trapped in a packed train carriage all the way from Shepherds Bush while the three teenagers I was escorting serenaded their fellow commuters with loud renditions of My Horse is Amazing (seriously – don’t bother watching it, it’s that bad) and then being politely told that we were, in fact, accidentally in the first class carriage, shall remain with me for a long time and was one of the lesser traumatising events of the weekend.  Read out of that what you will.

Anyhoo.  In other news, I’m still on the lookout for a lovely breakfasty-type recipe that’s also quite healthy (I know, I know… giving up alcohol and vowing to eat healthily for the whole of January was a BIG HUGE MISTAKE – I have learned both that I could never be teetotal, and that I can’t live without cake) still, it’s nearly over now).  Yesterday I came across possibly one of the prettiest blogs I’ve ever seen: Eat Yourself Skinny.  It turns out that not only is the blog pretty, but the writer, Kelly, is ridiculously pretty as well.

So I thought, well.  If I eat what she eats, surely I’ll wake up looking exactly like her.

Right?

Oh.

Anyhoo, on to the trial and error.  I noticed that lovely Kelly’s blueberry and lemon bread was adapted from  Joy of Baking, so I went back to the original recipe to have a look.  Here’s my version.  I had to change it all from cups, and I decided to use rapeseed oil instead of butter (similar calories, just much better for you).  The result was yummy, although the inside of the cake was a bit too stodgy, presumably because beating the butter and sugar together introduces air into the mixture.  So I say stick with butter (the calories are the same).  I will say, though, that cutting it into the recommended 12 portions proved to be too much of a challenge.  Still, if you do manage it, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s just 159 calories a slice (might be better to cut it into 6 slices, then cut each in half). I also used a sugar substitute to keep the calories down (I know, I know, but honestly you can’t taste the difference).  Lastly, I used a whole punnet of blueberries which is a bit too much.  Stick to 150g.

You will need:

80g butter

6 tbsp granulated sugar substitute (try the new Truvia one – I haven’t been able to get hold of it yet)

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

225g self raising flour

125ml milk

So preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and spray a loaf tin with cake release (or butter it very lightly).

Beat the butter in a mixer (or by hand if you’re feeling butch), then add the sugar and beat until the mixture’s really light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, beating between each addition, and then the vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Stir in the flour and then the milk.  Finally, stir in the blueberries

Pop the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes.  Pop a knife tip into the centre to check that it’s done, otherwise leave for a bit longer.

Allow it to cool before slicing into your minute portions.  It really is surprisingly lush though – and the blueberries make it quite jammy and sticky too.  Top tip: freeze your slices (with a piece of greaseproof paper between each one). Then they’re easy to pop into the toaster for a quick and healthy breakfast.

 

Healthier baking – a bit of sciencey stuff, and a great recipe for banana, oat and honey muffins

Okay so not exactly science… just baking jiggery pokery really.

First, can I say that I’m not a fan of processed low-fat ANYTHING.  If I’m going to spread butter on my bread it’s going to be butter (Yeo Valley out of preference), and nothing remotely low-fatty or weirdly whipped with water.

Still, it’s the New Year and while I love my cakey buns, I’m determined to shed a few Christmas pounds, and when you’re healthy eating, sometimes the worst thing to get over is a craving for something sweet.  A banana or handful of raisins will often do the trick, but let’s face it, you can’t beat cake.  The worst thing about cake is, well, everything really – fat, sugar and refined white flour are possibly the things that most of us are trying to avoid.

Enter stage left, the well-loved but often under-appreciated Mr Muffin.  He’s smaller, more portable and, in lower-fat baking terms, easier to keep moist.  Bless him.

So what’s the difference between a muffin and a cupcake (or fairy cake)?  Well, I’d say a muffin is more breakfasty and bready, and a cupcake is more, well, cakey.  Also I find that muffin recipes tend to contain oil, while cupcakes are more buttery, and more often than not are iced too.  But hey, a cake is a cake is a cake, right?  HOWEVER.  There are substitutes you can make in baking, and it IS possible to make a healthier version.  So let’s attack these babies one at a time, shall we?

FAT

Fat plays an important part in a cake recipe.  Butter, for a start, adds flavour, but more than that (and without getting too technical) it’s essential for lightness, as it plays a part in holding the air bubbles you’ve produced (by whisking the eggs and adding stuff like baking powder) and keeps the cake soft by ‘wrapping’ itself around the protein in the flour.

So. You can’t get rid of it completely, therefore use it wisely and make sure the fat you do use is good for you.  Rapeseed oil is excellent (I’ve talked about it before here).  You can, however, cut it down and replace some of it with other moist ingredients like fruit (apple purée or mashed banana, prunes, squished peaches…) or low-fat dairy like yoghurt and creme fraiche.  Yes, you’ll reduce the lightness a little bit, but you can get away with it.

SUGAR

Sugar obviously adds flavour (and again, without getting too technical, it inhibits gluten development, which, when allowed to run rampant can make cakes and biscuits a bit hard) and it also helps with browning.  If you’re using fruit as a substitute fat, this can help with sweetness too, and it can help with browning as cutting down sugar can sometimes make cakes look a bit insipid.  Honey can help here as it’s much better for us and has natural sweetness.

REFINED FLOUR

If you’re reducing fat and sugar, you’re going to give yourself the problem of toughness (remember the protein ‘wrapping’ and gluten development I mentioned above?  This is why an awful lot of low-fat foods have TONS of sugar in – it’s not just flavour, it’s about a tender end result as well).  So what else can we do?  Well, we can reduce the gluten in the first place, by replacing some of it with things like oats, which are much lower in gluten-producing proteins.  You can also experiment with low-gluten flours like rye flour.  Wholemeal flour is obviously a healthier option too and should contain less gluten (although I’m being cautious here, as this isn’t always the case).

Other tips for low-fat baking:

So now I’ve bored you to death with all this talk of gluten and ‘wrapping’, here are a couple of other things to consider:

Experiment.  You might love a recipe made with peach purée but hate mashed banana.  You might find that a recipe is too tough, but taking away a little flour and adding another handful of oats can make a terrific difference.  Have a play.  The only thing you’ll lose is the odd cake or batch of muffins (which will probably still be nice enough to eat anyway).

Try just cutting the fat down on a normal recipe.  You can often eliminate a third or even half the amount of butter without doing that much damage to the finished cake (trust me).

Lessen cooking times to retain moisture – with lower fat baking, you might find your cakes need less time in the oven.  This is often why muffins are better than cakes – they require much less oven time.

Remember the GMR.  The Golden Muffin Rule is most applicable when healthy baking – stir ONLY as much as necessary.  Working the mixture will develop the gluten and toughen up your end result.

If you find your recipe is a bit dense, try beating the egg whites and folding them into the mixture.

And finally, DON’T ever bother cooking with low-fat butter or margarine type thingies.  They are the spawn of the devil and should be avoided at all costs. Bleurgh.

So here’s my recipe for healthier muffins.  They’re not sweet, delicate little cupcakes, but for a healthy breakfast, they’re pretty unbeatable.  Try stirring through a handful of blueberries or some raisins too:

Banana, oat and honey healthy muffins

So…preheat your oven to gas 4/180.  Pop paper cases into a 12 hole muffin tin.

First combine your wet ingredients:

1 large egg

120g low fat yoghurt

120g milk

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large or 2 small bananas, mashed

1 or 2 tbsp honey

Then get all the dry ingredients ready in another bowl:

50g porridge oats

100g golden caster sugar

60g wholemeal flour

150g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp baking powder

Now, bung the wet into the dry and quickly combine with a fork (remember the GMR – don’t worry if there’s the odd bit of flour left).  Pop a tablespoon of mixture into each muffin case and get them into the oven quickly.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes (remember, the moister the better).  They won’t keep more than a day or two (in an airtight tin), but they’re a great healthy breakfast or sweet treat to keep you on the straight and narrow, or to shut the kids up when they’re after cakeage and you don’t want them rolling around like fat little barrels.  Oops, a bit non-PC there. Sorry.

A word of warning here, though, if you eat all 12 with three cups of tea, then possibly the ‘healthy’ tag doesn’t apply.

Just saying.

English Mum’s Big Christmas Bakeoff: the entries

And lo, many moons ago (three years, to be precise) there was a foodie obsessed blogger who thought it would be really nice to get lots of pictures together from all the other foodie obsessed people out there and have a bit of a ‘look what I made!’ type get together.  And it’s grown to this – the wonderful Big Christmas Bakeoff.

Thanks so, so much if you entered this year.  Every single entry is amazing – some are technically brilliant, some are made with love by very small people… but all are fabulous in their own way.

The winners will be announced at the bottom of this post as soon as I can track down the chief judge, English Grandma.

The main winner will receive brand spanking new copies of both Jo Pratt’s books: In the mood for entertaining and In the mood for food, along with a load of other goodies like Leisure tea towels and oven gloves from Leisure Range Cookers, and FIVE lucky little bakers will win a Jingle the husky Story Buddy, complete with their very own storybook. Mahoosive thank you to both Leisure and   www.hallmark.co.uk for being so generous with the prizes.

So feast your eyes, then, and I’ll be back soon to tell you all about the winners!

AND IT’S OVER TO ENGLISH GRANDMA WITH THE RESULTS!….

The winner is Chelsea Mamma’s Baileys Cheesecake

Christmas biscuits by Cari’s 3 year old [so love that angel - with wings!]

Chocolate yule log from Marie & twins [yummmmm]

Carol & BG’s Christmas biscuits [so pretty]

Cass’ daughter’s gingerbread house [clever]

Nessa and family’s chocolate marshmallow brown sugar fudge [need you ask?]

Well done everyone!  Get in touch and we’ll get your prizes to you asap :)  And thanks to my fab sponsors and my wonderful Mum too!

Ugly face chicken pies for bonfire night

I’m not completely sure where I first saw this recipe.  Rest assured it wasn’t my idea – I’m thinking maybe Martha Stewart or somewhere like that?

Anyhoo, if you’re entertaining on bonfire night, these little beauties are a great talking point.  If you don’t fancy chicken, just fill them with your usual minced beef recipe, or even just squeeze sausagemeat out of the casing to fill them.

The teenagers, you’ll  be delighted to know, took me to task over my original ‘scary’ description in the title, and said that it should be ‘grumpy’ or maybe ‘ugly’, so ugly it is, but if you want to make smiley ones go for it – they’re your pies, after all.

You will need:

3 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks

1 onion, finely chopped

Ham, cut into small chunks

1 tbsp flour

Chicken stock (about 200ml)

Seasoning

Making the filling:

So sauté the onions in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil.  Add in the chicken and fry until it’s lightly browned.  Bung in the ham, then add in a tablespoon of flour, salt and pepper, and about 200ml chicken stock.  Stir well and cook gently for a while, just until the ‘rawness’ of the flour disappears and the sauce looks creamy.  Add in some thyme here if you like. It’s my favourite flavour with chicken.

The pastry:

If you want to make your own pastry, rub 200g of cold butter into 400g of plain flour, then add in 3 or 4 tablespoons of cold water until it just comes together.  If you’d rather buy it, that’s fine too.

Preheat your oven to gas 4/180 degrees.  Roll out your pastry and line a 6 hole yorkshire pudding tin (or individual little pie dishes) with pastry.

Baking blind:

You don’t have to blind bake these, but the bottoms will be crisper and they’ll hold together better.  Up to you.  Scrunch up some squares of greaseproof paper, then smooth out and pop on top of each pastry base – pour in baking beans (I use some old dried haricot beans that I keep especially for blind baking) and bake for about ten minutes.  Then remove the beans and give them another 5 minutes.

Making the pies:

Now roll out the rest of the pastry and cut out your scary faces (I cut round a saucer, then used a piping nozzle for the holes).  Fill generously with the chicken mixture then top with the pies.  A quick pass through the eggy wash department and your ugly faces are ready for the oven.

Bake for about 15/20 minutes until golden.  Pair with mini baked potatoes and maybe some roasted butternut squash soup and you’re good to go.  Have a great bonfire night.  Oh and be careful out there!

A Halloween recipe roundup, and win a hamper of baking goodies from Dr Oetker

So who’s baking what for Halloween (or Hallowe’en) then?  My novelty baking skills are somewhat lacking (as evidenced by the debacle that was the spider cake a while back).  I’ve had a look around and here are some of my faves so far:

Asda’s spooky recipes (especially the skeleton gingerbread men)

Sprinkle Bakes’ frankly fabulous ‘batty’ Battenburg cake

Lovely Jam and Cream’s Hallowe’en cupcakes

Lavender and Lovage’s Halloween owls

Annabel Karmel’s ghostly cakes

New Mummy’s Tips’ spider cupcakes

National Baking Week’s spooky cookies

Maison Cupcake’s fabulous chocolate orange bats

Cherished by Me’s spiderweb cakes

Nessa’s Family Kitchen’s selection of Hallowe’en recipes (love the severed fingers best)

Bat and Ghost cookies from The Party Times

Jules’ amazing beetle cupcakes, plus her new beetle forest gateau

 

Lovely Helen at Aardvark Cakes’ ghostly gifts

Leave a comment telling me which one you like best (or telling about any Halloween recipes I’ve missed – or just say hello if you like) and you’ll be entered into a draw to win all the Dr Oetker baking goodies!

Dr Oetker are also giving away tickets to Cake 2011 via their Facebook page - you can become a fan here.

 

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED – THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR  YOUR ENTRIES!

I used the random number generator and the number produced was 14.  The 14th comment appears to be: Beth!  Congrats Beth – email on its way to you :)

Disreputable apple crumble

My Disreputable Dad is back from his holidays.  Bronzed and beautiful.

Two weeks in the south of France. They ate in the same restaurant every night.

‘Every night?’, I ask, incredulous.

‘Well yes’, he says, ‘except one.  Their steak frites was incredible.  We tried another restaurant for one night, but it wasn’t as good, so we went back to the original one’.

He’s a creature of habit, my father.

On my visit, we walked around his beautiful garden.  The plum trees are groaning with hard, green fruit.  A bumper crop.

And the apples got so heavy that they actually broke the bough of the tree.

I left with treasure of the appley variety.

Perfect for rustling up a simple apple crumble:

.

Apple Crumble

500g apple (weigh after peeling and coring)

Sugar for sweetening the fruit

175g plain flour

110g cold butter, cubed

110g golden caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas 5.  Then just tumble the apples into a baking dish and sprinkle on a little sugar (these apples weren’t too sour, but taste one to judge how much sugar you’ll need to add).  If your apples are a bit ‘floury’ (like Bramleys can be sometimes), you might need to add a splash of water or fruit juice.

In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour gently with the ends of your fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.  Don’t make it too uniform – the odd lump of butter is nice.

Stir in the sugar.  If you like here you can add a handful of porridge oats, some nuts, orange zest, cinnamon… whatever you fancy.

Sprinkle over the fruit and bake for about 30 minutes until the fruit is tender and the top golden.

So thanks Dad.  I’ll be back when the plums ripen too.

Little Matty’s Christening – and a bit of cupcake tower trauma

So after promising my lovely cousin, Moon and his wife Miska that I’d make cupcake towers for Mattie’s Christening, I’ve been having Laura-like cupcake anxiety dreams for the last week – nightmares about everything from collapsing towers to rock-hard icing have plagued my sleep.  I was almost glad when Saturday arrived and I could stop worrying and get on with it.  Brace yourself, then, a few gazillion photos to follow…

When I’d asked Moon and Miska what they wanted, they said ‘really bright colours’, so I chose base buttercream colours in violet, tangerine, lime and ice blue, topped with flavoured fondant in chocolate, sherbert lemon, fizzy orange and strawberry (not too much pink, obviously).  I spent a nice relaxing couple of days cutting out loads of stars and circles and also made some stars on ‘springs’ made of florist’s wire to dangle over the edge of the towers.

I was a bit disappointed as the fondant dried considerably lighter in colour, but hey, I decorated some of the stars with very dodgy ‘M’s and pearlised white writing icing and sprinkles and was quite pleased with the end result:

I then spent a very sweaty couple of hours in the kitchen baking the vanilla cupcakes, then mixing up the buttercream in batches and blending it with the colouring paste.

After the buttercream icings were completely chilled, I whipped them up again and piped them directly onto the cooled cakes. I did some with traditional swirls, some with little star clusters and a few ‘turds’, as my lovely son nicknamed them.  It started to go slightly wrong at this stage because the kitchen was so hot that the buttercream was starting to melt, so after a quick panic call to my Dad, he arranged for me to get into the venue and we transported all the cakes into their fridge – just in the nick of time.

The next morning I went and decorated all the cakes in situ and I have to say I left for the church feeling really proud of myself.  The buttercream stayed really vibrant, and it didn’t seem to matter than the fondant was slightly lighter in colour:

The actual Christening was wonderful.  Little Matty behaved so well and the Vicar was really lovely:

Everyone was so nice about the cupcakes and I absolutely adored watching this little girl concentrating so hard on choosing which one she’d have:

Matty was an absolute trooper, giving constant smiles and cuddles to everyone…

He showed off his walking:

and even gave his Dad a quick round of applause after his speech:

The hubster popped in to say hi on his way back to work:

And I was so proud of my fellas and my beautiful niece Lu, who were a great laugh and absolutely lovely company:

A special thank you to Helen at Aardvark Cakes for emergency Twitter panic support and her invaluable help and advice.

Also big thank you to Renshaw for the lovely flavoured fondant (my favourite was the lemon sherbet!).  Check out their amazing website: http://www.mybakes.co.uk/

Recipes:

The cupcakes were just basic vanilla sponges made in batches of 6 eggs (weighed in their shells), then equal weights of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour.  Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs a little at a time.  Add 2tsp vanilla extract and then stir in the self-raising flour. Spoon into 24 muffin cases (1tbsp mixture into each) then bake at 180/gas 4 for about 20 mins.  NB: if you add a tray of water into the bottom of the oven, the cupcakes stay nice and flat on top.

The buttercream was 500g butter and 1kg icing sugar (per 24).  Cream the butter then gently add in the icing sugar and a splosh of milk and beat until soft and fluffy.  Add in about 1/2 tsp of colouring paste (use less for pastel colours), beat again, then refrigerate. Before piping, whip until soft.

Jubilee cake

How to make a cake: a step by step guide

Everything you need to know about how to make a cake: step by step instructions and notes on ingredients, utensils, baking, flavouring, icing and filling.

If I had a pound for every time somebody said to me ‘I can’t make cakes’ or ‘I wish I could bake – it always goes wrong’, I’d be… well, not exactly rich, but I’d have a big pile of pound coins.

If you’ve ever uttered either of the above, don’t despair: here is how to make a cake – an easy, step by step, foolproof guide to the perfect light, spongey sponge cake, complete with tips, dos, don’ts and ABSOLUTELY DON’Ts thrown in for good measure. I’m not saying this is the ONLY way, but it’s a great way to start. And once you’ve got your baking confidence, there’ll be no stopping you.

First: ingredients

It goes without saying that the best ingredients will make the best cake. Baking is a feel-good endeavour. A sponge cake made with lovely ingredients, and lots of love, will be the best cake in the world.  I know I’ve said it before, but don’t bake when you’re tired, fed up or in a hurry.  It’ll go wrong – well, mine always does anyway.

Eggs

Fresh, free-range eggs with those startling golden yellow yolks will make better cakes than those awful, sad, battery-hen ones.

Butter

Likewise, gorgeous fresh farmhouse butter will make a cake taste much better than horrid, greasy margarine. Okay, it might be higher in fat, but hey we’re making a cake. If you don’t want fat, don’t eat cake! Moderation in all things, I reckon.

Flour

You don’t have to have self-raising flour. In fact, self-raising soon loses its raising power if it gets old. It’s easy to make your own self-raising with plain flour. Just add a level teaspoon of baking powder per 100g of plain flour.

Sugar

Plain old supermarket caster sugar is fine.  Don’t use granulated if you can help it as the grains are a bit too big and you can end up with a gritty texture (you could always give it a whizz in a grinder or blender to break down the grains).  Golden caster sugar is less refined than the white stuff – it’s lovely (if a bit more expensive) and gives a subtle hint of toffee too.

Temperatures

Room temperature eggs will whip better and incorporate more air into your mix, as will softened (not melted) butter. Take everything out of the fridge a good hour before you intend to start baking. If you need to bring your butter up to room temperature quickly, cut it into squares and plop it into some tepid (not warm) water. It’ll soon soften up.

Measuring

The easiest way to make a plain sponge cake is to just weigh your eggs in the shells (this sort of cake is also called a pound cake as it used to contain a pound of each ingredient – how anyone ever ate a cake that big, I’ll never know).  To make an average sized cake, use three eggs.  Whatever the eggs weigh will be the measurement you use for the butter, flour and sugar too. If you want to make it a chocolate cake, take out 1 tablespoon of the flour and replace it with cocoa powder (not hot chocolate powder – that’s different).  Giving it all a quick sieve will remove any lumps and incorporate more air.

Mixing

Here we go with the basic method, then…

  1. First weigh out all your ingredients. It’s easiest to crack the eggs into a separate bowl after you’ve weighed them. You never know when you’re going to get a bit of shell dropping into your cake mix.  So say your eggs weigh.. 180g. Weigh out the same amount of butter, flour and caster sugar.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together. You want it really light and fluffy, which is a sign that there is lots of air incorporated, so keep going until it’s considerably lighter in colour. You can do this in a food mixer, or just with a wooden spoon.
  3. Now start to add in your eggs… dribble them in a bit at a time giving the mixture a good beat in between each dribble. Don’t worry too much if it starts to look a bit curdly. You can always add a spoonful of flour to bring it back to a creamy consistency.  If you’re adding liquid (ie vanilla essence or lemon juice), now is the time.
  4. Once all the eggs are mixed in, just fold in the sifted flour (and cocoa if you’re using it). Remember just to give it the minimum amount of folding. You’re not making bread so you don’t want to work the gluten too much and lose the lightness.  Next, spoon the mixture into a prepared cake tin.

Cake tins

Any old medium sized cake tin will do.  If you use three eggs you’ll find that this amount of mixture is perfect for two 22cm tins (perfect for sandwiching together with cream or jam), or one 26cm tin (remember it’s the depth of the cake mix not the size of the tin that governs how long it will take to cook).  Cake tins are measured by their diameter (the straight measurement from one side to the other, measured through the middle).  I have Bake-o-glide cut ready to fit my favourite tins, but baking parchment is fine too. For a circle, just take a square of parchment bigger than your tin, fold it in half, then keep folding the outsides in (keeping one point which will be the middle of your circle) again until you’ve got a triangle. Hold the triangle point roughly where the middle of the tin is, then nick the end off at the outside edge of the tin. When you unfold it you’ll have a rough circle.  You can also just brush the surface with butter, then add a tbsp of flour and shake it all around the tin, tapping out the excess.  Smooth over the surface but don’t worry too much.

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Baking

I use the middle of my oven and as it cooks slightly unevenly, I turn the cake around half way through cooking. A cake this large will take anything from 30 – 45 minutes at 180/gas 4 – depending on how wide/deep your tin is.  Smaller ones will take less time. Check them after 20 minutes.

If you think your cake looks done, gently touch the top of the cake – if there’s any wobble, or it feels really soft and leaves a dent – leave it a bit longer. You can check by popping a knife into the middle – if it comes out clean, it’s done.

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Leave your cake to cool on a rack, then you can ice, decorate or fill as you fancy.

Let’s take a minute here though – LOOK! YOU BAKED A CAKE!

Ganache

If you want to make ganache to fill or cover your cake, just melt half a large bar of chocolate (about 100g) in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (just a couple of inches of water – you don’t want it to touch the bowl). When it’s melted, just whisk in enough double cream to get a nice spreading consistency. If you chill it down now, you can whip it go make it more airy too. Up to you.

Buttercream

Buttercream’s really easy to remember as it’s just double icing sugar to butter. Add a splosh of milk, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and whisk until light and fluffy. It makes great piped swirly things on cupcakes too.

So what’s next?

Once you’ve got to grips with making cakes you can start tweaking the recipe a little – maybe adding vanilla…dried fruit… lemon zest… chocolate chips or some chopped nuts… You can make the  two smaller sponges (reduce the cooking time) and sandwich them together with jam or cream, or layer them up with some yummy ganache or buttercream… the sky’s the limit! For an easy pudding, try using brown sugar, for a more toffeeish flavour, and adding chopped dates.  Serve warm with a quick toffee sauce made by melting  100g each of butter and brown sugar, then adding about 100ml of cream and stirring and bubbling until you have a lovely sauce.

If you’ve liked this post, feel free to try some of my other step by step guides, including:

How to make chocolate brownies

How to make a chicken pie

Step by step spiced orange hot cross buns

Sticky gooey plumptious scrumptious soft iced buns

Step by step pancakes

An  ‘heirloom’ personalised Christmas Cake recipe

Step by step chicken stock

Easy step by step bread, and how to knead

How to roast a chicken

 

English Mum’s Big Bakeoff – win a Bush frost free fridge freezer from Argos!

I’ve seen some pretty fabulous cakes recently…. there’s Amy‘s fabulous Xbox cake, made for her husband’s birthday:

And my gorgeous Jen, BFF and maker of our wedding cake, made this fabulous handbag and shoe cake (the detail on the shoe is quite incredible):

And then I was chatting on twitter to the lovely Helen at Aardvark Cakes about how she made her amazing Gruffalo Cake:

… and she even went as far as publishing a tutorial so we can all have a go at making that amazing Gruffalo!

So all this gorgeous baking is making  me think that it’s time for another bakeoff.  Now obviously I’m not expecting Xbox cakes or Gruffalos, but just anything you’ve made yourself that you’re proud of.   Maybe it’s a batch of fairy cakes, or a lovely pie that you made for tea?  Maybe a great loaf of bread or a stonking batch of brownies?

The Rules

As usual, there are very few rules (still sad about the scrapping of the ‘send English Mum a piece of each one’ rule, to be honest):

1. You’ve actually got to bake something (although see below re: sneaky rule breaking)

2. Take a picture

3. Email it to me at english[dot]towers[at]gmail[dot]com or via the contact form at the top of the page, telling me what it is and who you are.  Entries must be received by midnight on the last day of May.

The Cheaty Bits

As usual, sneakiness is encouraged, and any entertaining reason why your entry  should still be considered will be looked upon favourably.  For example, if your trifle is beautiful, but obviously not exactly baked, let me know.  I’m a flexible type and I’ll probably allow it.  No lying though.  Okay, a bit of lying then, but not too much…

Techy Stuff

If you’re a blogger, please link back to this post, and if you’re a tweeter, please use the hashtag #Bigbakeoff - you can find Argos on Twitter here: @Argos_Online. If you’re neither, then just ignore this bit completely.

The Prize

The frankly fabulous chaps at Argos have agreed to give the winner an amazing Bush BAFF55161S Frost Free Fridge Freezer in Silver, worth £359.99 (don’t forget to check out the rest of Argos’ fridge freezers).

Entries will be displayed in one enormous blog post heralded by a complete mental breakdown (usually made public on Twitter – but hey, what’s a bakeoff without a little hysteria).

The Judge

The wondrous and gorgeous winner of the last bakeoff, Arlene from The Fuzzy Times has foolishly agreed to be the judge.  All bribes and approaches of a dubious nature are to be made directly to her and not via this blog.  The judge’s decision is final.

So that’s it, then.  You’ve got loads of time, plenty of inspiration, and some very ambiguous rules.  Let’s get baking!

The small print
This competition is UK only unless onward transport is arranged by the winner
Delivery will be within 28 days of Argos receiving the winner’s address, and the competition prize may vary at the discretion of Argos
The prize as described will be supplied direct from Argos, and there is no cash alternative

Lime meringue pie: In which the DWC makes me a birthday surprise

As you know, it’s one of our slightly less mental traditions at English Towers that the birthday person gets to choose whatever they like for their birthday cake.  Usually, da brevren compete with each other to find the most complicated (The Mad Professor), chocolate-filled (the Death Wish Child), or retro (English Dad) recipes they can possibly find.  And then, of course, when it’s my birthday, I just make whatever I fancy.

This year turned out to be a bit different.  ‘I’m going to make your birthday cake’, said the Death Wish Child, confidently.  ‘What would you like?’.

‘Well’, said I, ‘what I would really really like is lemon meringue pie.  No, lime meringue pie, but don’t worry, I’ll help’.

‘Nope’, said the small confident one, while imaginary fireworks and laser beams went off behind him.  ‘*I* shall make the pie’.  So sit back and enjoy, while my wonderful offspring takes you through his birthday pie:

First you need a pastry bottom (although I suspect that I might already have one):

For the pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1tbsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

4 or 5 tbsp cold water

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  It’s easiest to do this in the food processor (the pastry, not the preheating. That would be silly. And anyway, you’d never fit the oven in there), but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as us.

Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg yolk and pulse slowly, adding tablespoonfuls of water until it just comes together.

Flour the work surface (and your trousers, and your mother, and the floor) and squish the mixture together into a ball.  Roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it).  When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice.  Push it in to the edges and trim the top.

Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.

Then take it out of the oven, remove the baking beans and put it back in to cook the bottom (ooer) for about another 5 minutes, then take it out and leave to cool.  Turn the oven down to gas 2/150 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the lime curd.  We use bottled lime juice in this house, but if you want to juice several limes, be my guest:

100g butter

6 tbsp lime juice (or for lemon curd, 2 lemons, zested then juiced)

150g caster sugar

2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk (keep the white for the meringue)

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your warm, limey, butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens.  Make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’.

Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

Finally, for the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  Pile it all on top of the lemon curd and fluff it up a bit (or you can pipe it like my man here):

Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.   If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it and add candles.

Then sit down with some pink champagne and blow your candles out, wishing with all your heart that you get to spend every birthday just like this, with the people that you love.

Thanks, Charlie xxxx