Monday, 30 January 2012

C&D's Wedding Cake - Middle Tier Chocolate Extravaganza!

So... in May (yep, the way back when, 8 months ago, in 2011) I made a cake for the wedding of the lovely C&D.

Each tier was different, with a lemon and white chocolate tier on the bottom, a chocolate and more chocolate tier in the middle, and a traditional fruit cake on the top.

I was quite quick off the mark with my blog posts, and my archive informs me that I posted the bottom layer on the 17th May. Then as usual I got distracted and waylayed, and didn't post the top tier until the 16th July. And somehow the poor middle tier, which was definitely my favourite, was forgotten about entirely! Until today...

Here it is in all it's glory - chocolate cake, covered with chocolate fondant, a dark mocha glaze, edged with chocolate scrolls and piped with royal icing. Keep reading (scrolling!) for lots more cake photos at the end of the post!

The chocolate cake recipe is one I have used many times, which is based on the basic chocolate cake recipe in "Fun Cakes for Special Occasions" by Ann Nicol. I've made a few little tweaks, and added some extra chocolate. It generally is a well behaved sponge, that bakes nice and evenly, rises with a flat top, has a fairly tight but even crumb so cuts well, and keeps well once iced. That said, I was having oven issues around about the time I baked this, so it cracked a bit on the top, as the thermostat was playing up.

Celebration Chocolate Cake (makes 1 8in round cake)

  • 275g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder (choose one without any added sugar or other ingredients - just cocoa!)
  • 175g soft brown sugar
  • 115g butter
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 160C (150C fan), and grease and line your tin. It's worthwhile cutting greaseproof paper to fit, as it will make getting it out of the tin a lot easier, and keep the edges in good condition for icing.
Sieve the flour, bicarb, baking powder and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl and mix.
Add the brown sugar (sieve it if you need to - sometimes it can be quite lumpy) and stir to combine.
Melt the butter and milk together in a small saucepan, then once the butter is completely melted, take off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Melt the chocolate gently (I use the microwave on a reduced power setting, but you could also do it over a bowl of simmering water), and allow it to cool slightly too.
Beat the eggs together in a cup, then add to the dry ingredients along with the syrup, the butter and milk mixture, and the melted chocolate.
Mix until well combined, then pour into the prepared tin.
Give it a tap on the work surface to help get rid of any trapped air bubbles, then bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

To cover, I brushed it with a glaze of sieved cherry jam, and kneaded together equal quantities of modelling chocolate paste and regular white fondant icing. That was then covered in a dark mocha glaze before being decorated.

Naked cake...
Brushed with jam
Rolling out the fondant
No longer naked, but not yet exciting! 
Piping in progress...
Mocha glaze bowl - empty and waiting to be scraped clean (Mr E's favourite job) 
Scrolls cut to size
Thank goodness for daily handwriting practice at primary school!
Brown and white chocolate sunshine!
Hearts, leaves and vines - and a very wobbly wrist after finishing that lot!
United with it's other tiers on the big day

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Geeky Stats Cooking: The Isle of Man

It's been a lovely weekend, with loads of fantastic company and fun. Mini-M is now asleep (at long last!), tea has been eaten (noodles with tofu, green pepper and hot and spicy peanut and honey sauce), and Sunday night is stretching out ahead, with some catch up blogging, with some background TV. Right now, for instance, I'm osmotically learning about historical sheep droving techniques on Countryfile...

But I digress...

Last week, I tackled another country on my geeky culinary world tour - cooking a recipe from each country I've never had a visitor from, based on the Google Analytics stats for Makey-Cakey - and it was the Isle of Man. Now I suspect that some of you may be questioning my grasp of geography, and I can almost hear the virtual exclamations of 'But the Isle of Man isn't a country!'. I know. It's not. But neither's Scotland, and it has its own unique foods, so my list is more a list of nations, or indeed even islands, states and regions with leanings towards independent identity - which includes the Isle of Man.

In the end I went with a steamed Potato and Treacle Pudding, since I had some frozen left over mashed potatoes squirrelled away in the freezer, and a packet of suet open from a previous unsuccessful attempt to get Mini-M to eat a savoury steamed pudding.

This was my first steamed pudding that I have actually steamed on the hob, rather than zapped in the mircowave, and it was a success. It is not a light summery pudding for those on a low carb, low fat diet! It is, however, a warm and comforting plate of sweet January stodge, which is sometimes what you want. My particular solution to the stodgy pudding situation (nutritionists look away now...) is not to have it as 'pudding' per se. Ditch the main course, and just have the pudding! Or indeed, as we did for a couple of days last week until it was used up, have it with milk for breakfast. I'm pretty sure it's not actually any worse for you than a bowl of sugary cereal!

Steamed Potato and Treacle Pudding (Serves 8)

  • 225g cooked, cooled mashed potatoes (I left the skin on mine - it wasn't really noticeable)
  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g vegetable suet
  • 25g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 2 tbsp syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Milk to mix (Oatly oat milk, in my case)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons raisins

Firstly, grease a 1 litre pudding basin.
In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, suet, breadcrumbs and bicarbonate of soda).
Add the mashed potatoes, syrup, treacle and a couple of tablespoons of milk.
Mix well, adding more milk as needed to get a very thick pouring consistency.
Stir in 2 heaped tablespoons of raisins, then pour into the prepared pudding basin.
Cover and steam over a low heat for 3 hours until cooked.
My pudding basin has a ceramic lid that ties on to the top, but otherwise you can use greaseproof paper, with a pleat for expansion, tied on with string, and go old-school.

I can imagine that if you liked custard (which I don't) this would have been nice with custard. Mini-M liked the raisins. I liked it with cold oat milk poured on it.

Since the 25th was Burns night, we actually ate some of this along with haggis. A surprising success. I'm not saying that all desserts would go well with meat. Trifle, for example, I'm pretty sure would be awful, however if you have something that is dense and treacle-y and fruity, the I would suggest an experiment - the results might surprise you!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Bursting with Black Eyed Beans

January's No Croutons Required challenge was to make a vegetarian soup or salad using black eyed beans.

Yet again, I missed the blog posting deadline - going to have to set myself a calendar reminder for next month!

But better late than never...

So I stared off in a soupy vein, and made a hearty soup with spinach, black eyed beans and peanut butter. Mr E and I thought it was delicious - Mini-M less so!

I then made some quick black-eyed bean humus - which again was shunned by Mini-M but which the grown up faction thought was lovely with lots of crunchy carrot and cucumber for dipping. At least Mini-M ate the cucumber...

Lemony Black Eyed Bean Humus (serves 2-3 as a main meal element, or more as a dip)

  • 1 tin (340g) black eyed beans
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 large handful of curly parsley
  • Generous pinch salt
  • Lots of ground black pepper.

Take the stalks off the parsley.
Drain the beans.
Put everything in the food processor and blitz until smooth and well combined.

Daring Bakers' January 2012 Challenge: Back to Basics

Scones are awesome. Which is convenient, since they were this month's Daring Bakers' challenge, and we've enjoyed several batches over the past four weeks.

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers' host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

I made my first batch almost as soon as the challenge was announced, and they tasted lovely but were more than a little flat. I made two half-batches, and flavoured one with 1tsp honey and some fresh thyme leaves, using oat milk as the liquid and dairy-free margarine, and added 1 tsp poppyseeds to the other batch, dairy free margarine again, and used orange juice as the liquid. Mini-M was a fan, and didn't seem to care that they were flat as pancakes!

After investing in some new baking powder, things started looking up (quite literally!). Next up I did a batch made with goats yogurt as the liquid, and an egg thrown in for some added protein for Mini-M. They definitely rose a little - an improvement.

Lastly, I went a bit experimental, and made some spicy cheese and tomato ones, replacing the milk with bloody mary mix, and sprinkling some grated sheep's cheese on the top. They were definitely my favourites - yum!

Here's the basic scone recipe we were given - it's a good one, and stands up well to all sorts of messing about with, as you can see! If you want a bit more detail regarding the method, and want to understand the science behind scones, then the Daring Kitchen Scone Recipe page will sort you out, and your scones will be wonderful, sky-high and light evermore!

Scones (Makes 6-8)

  • 140g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 30g fat (be it hard dairy free margarine, butter, or even lard!)
  • 120ml liquid (traditionally milk, but it seems like most things work!)

Grate your fat and stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat your oven to 220C, and grease a baking tray.
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together.
Rub in the chilled grated fat, working quickly and lightly to keep the fat cold.
Add most of the liquid and mix briefly - it should be a soft dough that is sticky but workable. If need be, add the remaining liquid.
Knead briefly on a floured worktop, the roll out until just under an inch thick.
Cut out scones, re-roll the scraps and cut again, and place on the baking tray.
Brush with a little extra liquid or egg wash to help the tops colour.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until risen and golden.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Pretty Panoramas

I've always been a sucker for a panoramic photo, and have often taken a whole series of images with the intention of stitching them together. 

And finally, I've got round to it! I used the Hugin Panorama Photo Stitcher which is freely downloadable. It's slightly clunky to use, but I got the impression that there was a whole load of more technical functionality that I was only touching the tip of the iceberg with my basic stick-it-all-together-in-a-line approach!

Panoramas are tricky things to display though - especially when you make them really long and skinny like some of the ones I've stitched. My blog template isn't long and skinny! So if you click on any of the titles below the panoramas, you should (technology permitting) be taken to a larger version, that you hopefully wont need a microscope to work out where it is! Have a little bit of patience - they take a few seconds to load. So starting off in Scotland...

Gullane Beach
Aberdour Beach
Watch Water Reservoir

Touch Reservoir, Stirling
Snowy Scott's View

Port Seton or Cockenzie (I'm not 100% sure...) Harbour
Snowy Liddesdale
Heading further South...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Popeye would be proud...

Last night I made banana muffins. With hidden spinach in them. Just that spinach is very, very green, so it was definitely not visually hidden. It was, however, very convincingly hidden in terms of taste. I kid you not, these tasted just like banana muffins.

As far as muffins go, I'm giving them a ten on the toddler suitability scale. They do have a wee bit of sugar in them, but they're full of other nutritious stuff... wholemeal flour, spinach, banana, olive oil and plain yogurt. And if you fancy being a bit hippy dippy about it, like I did, you could use some form of non-refined sugar to make that bit a little less nasty!

I used a recipe found here at Anja's Food 4 Thought. I made a couple of tweaks - reduced the sugar slightly and changed the type, missed out the nuts and lemon, added some vanilla, used 'grown up' rather than baby spinach, and switched the yogurt type - so here's my version too.

Banana and Spinach Muffins (makes 12 fairy cake sized muffins)

  • 1 cup of wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (I used light and mild)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 medium banana
  • 4 tbsp natural yogurt (I used goats, but you could use cows, or to make them dairy-free, soya)
  • 1 cup of packed spinach (without the tough stalks removed first)

Preheat the oven to 180C and line your bun tin with paper cases.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a mixing bowl.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar vigorously, then add the oil, vanilla extract and yogurt.
Mash the banana and stir that into the egg mixture too.
Blitz the spinach leaves to a puree with a hand blender, then add them to the egg mix.
Stir the wet ingredients into the flour, and mix well.
Spoon into the prepared cake cases (I got to use my new gadget - a mini ice-cream scoop for portioning out cake and biscuit mix).
Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until firm to the touch, lightly browned on top, and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack, then feed to your unsuspecting children, and feel smug that they think they are eating cake, but you know they are eating spinach!

I tried to get a photo of Mini-M eating hers, but to be honest it disappeared pretty quickly. She even meticulously hoovered up all of the crumbs afterwards, which is very unlike her - she's normally a rather messy eater, so I'm taking that as a rave review, and a mark of how tasty they were - not a morsel was wasted!



Friday, 20 January 2012

A Palmful of Palmiers and Walnut Chocolate Deep Fill "Pecan" Pie

This week I was lucky enough to end up with two little bitty ends of pastry to use up in the fridge.
On Monday, I had puff pastry left over from making sausage rolls for Mr E to take to a meeting. (Not a work one - that would probably be seen as a little odd!). And also a ball of shortcrust left over from making a smoked haddock and leek tart (which will appear here at some point before too long!).

I never ever throw out pastry scraps - they are for experimenting with!

Close up deep filled chocolate walnut amazingness!
So firstly the shortcrust. I used it to make a really really delicious "pecan" pie, made with no pecans at all (since I had none). Why did I make pecan pie when I knew I had no pecans... well, I found a bag of walnuts hiding under the kitchen cupboards, and wanted to see if they would work. They do!

Making this reminded me that whilst it is lovely to bake for other people, and I'll never pass up an opportunity to rustle something up to give as a present, share with friends or serve to guests, it's also sometimes a treat to make something just because, and for us to enjoy. I know Mr E agrees!

So here's my recipe, which brightened up a grey and drab January Thursday, and is about to brighten up our Friday evening too, as we enjoy the remaining two slices!

Walnut Chocolate Deep Fill Pie (Serves 4)

  • Tennis ball sized lump of shortcrust pastry
  • 100g walnut halves
  • 15g dairy free margarine (or butter)
  • 1 dessert spoon of dark brown sugar
  • 2 dessert spoons of granulated sugar
  • 65ml golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • a few drops vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp plain yogurt - (i used goats you could use soya or regular)
  • pinch of ground cinnamon
  • pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Roll out pastry and line 5inch mini spring form tin.
Line and fill with baking beans, then bake blind for 10 minutes.
Ready to be blind baked...
At same time, put the walnuts on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes until toasted.
Take out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 160C.
Take the toasted walnuts and chop roughly (or bash up with the end of a rolling pin in a plastic measuring jug like I did!).
In a small saucepan, melt the margarine, then add the sugars and syrup and heat gently until dissolved.
Once there are no grains of sugar visible, add the brandy, bring to the boil and allow to bubble away for 5 mins.
Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla, yogurt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa powder.
Allow to cool for a few minutes.
Beat the egg in a mug and then whisk in 1 tbsp of the syrup mixture to stabilise it, then add the egg mix to the rest of the syrup and mix well.
Put the crushed walnuts in the pastry case, and then carefully pour over the syrup.
Return to the oven and bake at 160C for about 30-40 mins until set.
Cooling... slowly! Requiring much exercising of patience...

Allow to cool before serving


Now onto the puff -  I made some tiny mini palmiers! I spread the pastry with a teaspoon of raw chocolate nut butter, sprinkled over a tsp of sugar and rolled it up from each side into the middle, then sliced it, popped it on a greased baking tray and baked at 190C for about 10 minutes.

A palmful of palmiers!
These are my entry into this months' Tea Time Treats challenge, which is hosted this month by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. The theme is sweet pastries and breads, so I think these fit the bill perfectly.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Porridge Fudge - but in a good way!

Yep - you did indeed read the title correctly. I have filled a previously undiscovered gap in the breakfast/confectionery crossover genre.

Think of a bowl of hot porridge. Imagine sprinkling brown sugar on top, and letting it melt. Then imagine getting your spoon and scooping up the warm melty sugary puddle. That is the taste of this fudge, so I really do mean it when I say it tastes of porridge but in a good way!

The obvious question to be pondering at this point is why? That's a big question - there are a lot of whys out there in the world. Such as... why is there always a single sock in every wash, despite only putting them in the machine in pairs; why is Mini-M so fixated with her kitten jumper that it had to take a bath along with her tonight; why is the dip to dunker ration so wrong in those little chocolate dip pots; why does the photocopier at work always jam when you're photocopying something that's non work related. But since attempting to consider all they whys in the world, or indeed even a trivial portion of them is likely to induce brain meltdown (for me anyway - although I shouldn't tar everyone's philosophical capacities with the same brush!) I'm sticking with one why for now. Why was I concocting porridge fudge?!

A birds eye view of porridge fudge
And those of you that know me will know by now that it was in the name of de-dairification. I found some soya fudge in a health food shop. I'm pretty sure there's some irony there - just because it has soya in it doesn't cancel out all the sugar and make it healthy! But it tasted of soya (no surprises). So I wanted to see if I could make dairy free fudge that didn't taste of soya. And I succeeded - it tastes of porridge!

I based it on the recipe for white chocolate fudge that I blogged back in October. It is most definitely not dairy free, being full of white chocolate and double cream! So when I say based, I mean I used the same general principle and changed half the ingredients...

Dairy Free Oat Fudge (Makes a 9inch round tin)

  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 3tbsp liquid glucose
  • 500ml Oatly oat cream

First grease your tin and line the base with parchment to make it easy to turn out.
Put all the ingredients in a large heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat, and allow to melt together.
Stir regularly until the sugar melts and is no longer grainy at all.
Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the mixture to the boil, and let it boil fairly vigorously.
Boil until the 'soft ball' stage is reached, or if you're using a sugar thermometer, 118C.
Take the mixture off the heat and stir for about 5 minutes until it starts to thicken and leaves a trail on the surface that doesn't sink back in straight away.
Pour into the prepared tin and give it a good shake to level the contents.
Allow to cool. Once it has cooled for half an hour or so, you can mark it into squares, but leave it in the tin to cool completely, ideally overnight.
Turn out, and cut into chunks.

Good fudge... bad photo!
I loved this - it definitely tasted fudgy, it didn't have the weird soya taste of so many dairy free sweets, and it reminded me of eating porridge for breakfast as a kid, when I'd sprinkle sugar on top and then make islands with the milk. Nostalgia and a sugar hit in one bite is a winning combination.

Plenty of normal dairy eating family and friends tried it too, and they all seemed to think it tasted good too - in a porridge-y sort of way! It doesn't quite have the texture of normal fudge - it was slightly more brittle, which I think is probably because the fat content of the oat cream was lower than double cream. But if you've got a dairy free friend and you make them up a batch of this, I'm fairly certain you'll be hailed as a hero/heroine (delete as appropriate!). Unless of course they don't like porridge...


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