Ben’s Birthday Cake

In my husband’s family, highly decorated birthday cakes are a bit of a family tradition. Since I have joined the family, I have seen a Welsh dragon, Thomas the Tank Engine, Kermit the Frog and Mrs Potato Head. I knew I had to live up to the challenge for Ben’s first birthday.

We took the opportunity to combine his first birthday with his dedication at church, and used the church hall for a little party – bacon sandwiches and birthday cake – after the service. This meant that our families only had to travel the length of the country once, and also gave us a good excuse for a party. Otherwise I think it would have been a quiet family tea.

I posted a while ago about watching Abney and Teal as part of Ben’s bedtime routine, and Tim suggested making an Abney and Teal-themed cake, complete with sugarpaste figures. I had covered a cake with royal icing before, and used stamps to make butterflies and flowers, but this was definitely a step up.

I had a huge amount of help and advice from one of Tim’s colleagues, who was actually kind enough to lend me her colours. The paste-style dyes were really easy to control, and I managed to mix together the right kind of colours. However, I couldn’t achieve the muted tones that make Abney and Teal so whimsical; lurid was more like it.

The cake itself was a simple Victoria Sponge. I then sandwiched it together with jam and buttercream, and used buttercream to cover the whole thing. I put that in the fridge to set, and rolled out the blue royal icing.

I made the characters using ideas from Bake Happy, but I have to say they were very complicated – I really tried, but both Abney and Teal looked a little on the portly side.

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I think I managed Neep ok though.

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I used a brown-grey colour to represent the island, and cocktail sticks to spear the characters in place. However, this didn’t entirely work to my satisfaction. By the time we came to cut the cake, Abney looked like he’d been drinking too much birthday booze.

Birthday Cake

Tim’s colleague kindly allowed us to use the sugarpaste flowers, and suggested grating the icing in a cheese grater to create grass. Little ‘rocks’ helped to cover up some of the lumps and bumps in the icing.

As a first attempt, I don’t think it’s too bad.

 

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Mini Cheesecakes

A few days ago, my husband organised a series of events in aid of the Stroke Association. One of the events was a bake sale.

As it was summer, and the middle of a heatwave, I didn’t really want to spend hours in the kitchen with a hot oven. I also wanted something which had a fresh, summery feel to it. The added challenge of the Forever Nigella theme for July being ‘Party Party’ gave me more inspiration. This month it is hosted by A Kick at the Pantry Door.ForeverNigella_Banner_26

I had spotted Nigella’s recipe for Cherry Cheesecake while watching the TV programme, and had like it, as it is not a baked cheesecake. I do love baked cheesecake, but this one was quicker and simpler. Also, no cooking involved!

As it was for a bake sale, I decided to miniturise the cheesecake into cupcake sizes, and give it a summery twist by using summer fruits and lemon. I had to fiddle around with the quantities of the cheesecake mixture quite a bit – unlike cupcakes, a cheesecake recipe doesn’t divide neatly into 12!

Ingredients

  • 150g digestive biscuits
  • 75g butter
  • 400g cream cheese
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 300ml double cream
  • Fruit to decorate
  • Apricot glaze

Method

  1. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until they are crumbs. Add the melted butter and whizz again.
  3. Press the biscuit mixture into the cases and refrigerate.

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  1. In a clean bowl, beat the cream cheese. Sieve in the icing sugar and the zest and juice from the lemon. Mix thoroughly.
  2.  In another bowl, whip the double cream until it is thick and fairly stiff. Fold this into the cream cheese mixture.
  3. Put the cream cheese mixture into a piping bag and pipe the filling on top of the base (you don’t have to pipe it; I just found it easier).

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  1. Chill again. When the filling is firm, top with your choice of fruit.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of apricot glaze in a saucepan. When boiling, paint the glaze on top of the cheesecakes.
  3. Chill until serving.

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Although I didn’t do these for a party, I think they would work brilliantly.

If anyone knows how I can insert photos without the numbering re-starting, I would be grateful if you could let me know in the comments! Thank you!

Italian Pinwheels

When my cousin Nick got married last month, I was asked to provide some canapes. Being on holiday, and in a holiday-cottage-kitchen, I decided to keep it as simple as possible. This is the result. Perhaps not as refined as I would have liked (next time, I’d do them as palmiers, rather than pinwheels to keep the ends neat), but simple and effective.

Ingredients

Makes approximately 100 canapes

  • 2 x 500g blocks puff pastry
  • 250g marscapone
  • 1 x 190g jar green basil pesto
  • 200g sun dried tomatoes

Method

  1. Work in batches. Roll out the puff pastry to around the thickness of a £1 coin, keeping the pastry as square as you can. I halved each square of pastry to keep it manageable. Trim off the rough edges.
  2. Spread each pastry square with marscapone.
  3. Finely chop the sun dried tomatoes and scatter generously on top of the marscapone.
  4. Dot the pastry generously with small dollops of green pesto.
  5. Working from the bottom up, carefully roll the pastry up so that you have one long sausage roll. Wrap this carefully in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Line several baking trays with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 160C.
  7. Remove the pastry from the fridge and unwrap the cling film. Slice the pastry into wheels of approximately 8mm thickness. Place onto a baking tray.
  8. Bake for 12 minutes, turning once during cooking.

These are best served warm, but were very popular when they were served at room temperature.

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Classic French: Macarons

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I learned many things while baking these French treats. The first, and possibly most important, is that they are spelt ‘macaron,’ rather than ‘macaroon.’ They are, according to Wikipedia, different things. These are macarons.

I pinned this recipe months and months ago, but had really been putting off trying it – it looked fiddly, there was meringue, it involved piping – but the Classic French challenge spurred me on. This month’s challenge is the macaron.

Classic French is a baking challenge originated by Blue Kitchen Bakes. This month it is hosted by A Kick At The Pantry Door.

The original recipe by Felicity Cloake can be found here. I filled mine simply with whipped cream, because I wanted a colour contrast between the filling and shell.

I followed the instructions to the letter – I even opened the oven door half way through cooking time to let out the steam – and I thought they worked really well. I couldn’t tell you if it makes a difference to grind the almonds first, but Felicity thought so. The piping was much easier than I thought it would be – in fact, the hardest thing about macarons is keeping them in the fridge for 24 hours. I can confirm however, that it does make a difference.

Ingredients

  • 65g ground almonds
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 75g egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 100ml whipping cream

Method

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment, preferably one with circles drawn onto the other side to aid your piping.
  2. Put the almonds in a food processor or spice grinder and blitz for a couple of minutes to make them finer. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and repeat.
  3. Sift the almond mixture into a bowl.
  4. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt. When it is holding together, add the caster sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff.
  5. Fold in the dry ingredients, and then beat the mixture vigorously until it’s of a consistency which falls off the spatula.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and carefully pipe on to the  using a 1cm nozzle. Pick the baking tray up and drop it on to the work surface a couple of times, then leave to rest for about 30 minutes until the macarons feel dry to the touch: they should not be sticky. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  7. Bake the macarons for 17 minutes until firm, opening the oven door briefly a couple of times during cooking to let off any steam. Once you’re sure they’re cooked, slide the baking parchment off the tray immediately to stop the macarons cooking.
  8. Cool completely on the paper, then carefully peel off: if they’re cooked, they should come away easily.
  9. When cool, whip the cream. Match up equally-sized macarons, and then, using a small palette knife or spoon, sandwich them together with whipped cream. Refrigerate for 24 hours, then serve at room temperature.

Basic Brownies

Brownies

I love brownies. For years, I’ve made Nigella’s Chocolate brownies from How to be a Domestic Goddess. But in these austere times, I’ve found the quantities and ingredients rather lavish, and, needless to say, expensive. 375g of best-quality chocolate could easily cost over £7.00, and that’s more than I really want to spend on home-made brownies.

So I’ve done a little bit of tweaking – well, quite a lot actually. So much so that the recipe below bears little resemblance to the original, except in the basic ingredients used. I’ve substituted cheaper alternatives, like margarine, but feel free to use butter. I now don’t feel quite so extravagant in making these. However, they are still expensive in terms of calories, so I probably shouldn’t make them that often.

Ingredients

  • 200g margarine
  • 100g dark chocolate (cooking quality is fine)
  • 3 eggs
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • Any additions – I added 100g of mini eggs for Easter.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C and line a brownie pan – mine is 20cm x 30cm.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt together the margarine and chocolate. When it is melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and mix in the sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Beat the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix well.
  5. Stir through any additions you want to add.
  6. Pour into the brownie pan and bake for 18 minutes.
  7. Leave in the tin to cool for at least 15 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before cutting into small squares. I made 28 brownies from this mixture.

Mini Chocolate Sponges

Mini chocolate cakes

These are an adaptation of Jo Wheatley’s Mini Victoria Sponges. I’ve made them a few times and guests have always been impressed – I think they do look fairly impressive on the stand, but they’re actually quite simple. I guess you could make cake pops from the leftover cake, but I never have.

Ingredients

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g margarine
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 25g cocoa
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 65g margarine
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method 

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C. Line one swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
  2. Cream together the caster sugar with the margarine.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, alternating with spoonfuls of flour. Add the rest of the flour and cocoa powder (sifted).
  4. Spread the mixture into the swiss roll tin and flatten with a palette knife as best as you can.
  5. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until cooked through.
  6. Remove from oven and turn onto a wire rack. Leave to cool.
  7. Put the icing sugar and margarine into a food processor. Blitz and add the milk and vanilla extract. Blitz again until smooth. Put into a piping bag.
  8. When the cake is cool, transfer it to a board. Cut out 24 x 5cm circles from the cake.
  9. Pipe the icing (I used a star nozzle) onto 12 cake circles. Top with the other 12.
  10. Dust with icing sugar on top.

123 biscuits

123 Biscuits

 

This is one of those really simple, quick and easy recipes when you need to bake something without much preparation, and definitely without a shopping trip. It’s very easy to double, triple and so on, because it’s one of those proportional recipes: 1 part caster sugar to 2 parts butter to 3 parts self-raising flour. Easy.

Ingredients (for 15 biscuits)

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 100g butter or margarine
  • 150g self-raising flour

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Line two baking trays with parchment.
  2. Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat to soften. Add the sugar and beat well.
  3. Add the flour and beat until you have a fairly dry dough.
  4. Roll pieces of the dough into balls around the size of a walnut and place on the baking trays.
  5. Wet a fork and press down on each biscuit to flatten it.
  6. Bake in the oven for around 18 minutes until pale golden.