Better late than never: Festive carrot cakes

What better way to brighten these frosty February days than with a twinkly reminder of the festive season we just left behind? Ha! The truth is I’ve just been too busy to keep up with posts. So apologies for harking back to 2011 but I feel it would be a shame not to celebrate these:

Concealed inside is a rich carrot sponge, with cinnamon and nutmeg, heaps of orange and lemon zest and a helping of preserved mixed peel (the type that normally makes it into xmas puds). Cake-decorating gurus stress the importance of a strong, firm cake that can hold the weight of plentiful decorations, so the basic sponge is adapted from a Mich Turner recipe (from this book). Once baked, I skewered the sponge and drowned it in Mich’s sugary citrus syrup, then sandwiched it with orange buttercream. I’m not such a fan of marzipan, so I gave both cakes an undercoat of the same orange buttercream, before their topcoat of white sugarpaste.

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Vanilla cake balls with hand-made chocolate roses

These little beauties are made of vanilla sponge, rolled into balls with some Hummingbird frosting and dipped in white chocolate.

They’re finished with chocolate roses, hand-modelled from white chocolate modelling paste and dusted with gold lustre.

I’m rather proud of them.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been editing the text for a cake-decorating book. So feeling very inspired, I decided to have a bash at some hand modelling.

I’ve also, for ages, been meaning to make cake pops – and in fact that’s what these were originally intended to be, but I somehow forgot to order the sticks. Duh. But it didn’t matter really because they were still divine and in the end much smaller and simpler to transport.

Here’s how they’re made… Continue reading

Butterscotch pecan cheesecake

The trouble with baking cakes is that I always end up eating them. And nobody needs a whole cheesecake to themselves (especially this one, which contains a criminal amount of Philadelphia). Even if I somehow limit myself to just a slice, the rest taunts me from the fridge, gradually disappearing in sneaky spoonfuls until: Ooops…I appear to have eaten the whole thing!

So when Dunc had friends for dinner last Friday, I figured a crowd of hungry blokes was a good excuse to make something indulgent that would be polished off fast enough to safeguard my waistline. (As it was, the cake turned out pretty rich – though in a good way – so it even outdid four ravenous men. It was still fresh enough two days later to double up as afters for Sunday lunch.)

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Apple and muscovado muffins

On a Friday afternoon baking whim, I figured I’d get some lazy weekend breakfasts ready and waiting. These began as a Rachel Allen recipe for rhubarb muffins (from her Home Cooking book), but I was rhubarb-less, couldn’t be bothered to pop to the shops and it’s not in season anyway. My eyes landed on the one measly, just-about-to-go-soft apple in my fruit bowl. Hmmm….

I also swapped the type of sugar, whacked in some nuts, replaced the buttermilk with bog-standard semi-skimmed, and went a bit mental with the cinnamon. They’ve emerged from the oven glorious, golden and autumnal! I’m very pleased with their open texture, the moistness of the apple and the subtle caramel sweetness from the muscovado. A few improvements could be made (see end of recipe) but I won’t be dwelling on those when I tuck into these on the morrow.

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Here’s what I baked earlier…

I think, to live up to its name, this blog needs a few more crumbs. Over the past year, I’ve kept myself plenty busy in my little kitchen here in Shepherds Bush. I’ll soon be moving out, so what better time to time to look back over the goodies I’ve rustled up? (Forgive me: food photography isn’t one of my skills.)

Sunflower and Honey Rolls

I found the recipe for these in Delicious Magazine.  They were so tasty I made them again. The rolls only stayed fresh for a day, but they did freeze well.

 


Pecan Pie

The recipe I followed here is from the fabulous upcoming book Supper Club by the indomitable Kerstin Rodgers of Underground Restaurant fame. I’m afraid I can’t post her recipe (buy the book – it’s out in April and is a quirky little collection of really clever, think-outside-the-box, impress-your-guests recipes!) but as an alternative in the meantime, Google throws up lots of great recipes, most of them from the US (it’s an American classic after all!). If you can’t make head or tail of US cup measurements, here’s a fallback from the trusty Beeb. I made the pastry from scratch and it was all the better for doing so.

Grasshopper Pie

At some point over the last few years, I made myself personally responsible for Christmas Day dessert in our household. This was my 2010 Christmas offering and it was a GREAT SUCCESS. The photos don’t do it justice: the filling was a gorgeous pale-green colour and I made the base from crushed-up double-choc-chip Maryland cookies – similar to a cheesecake base but even more indulgent. Peppermint essence gave it a subtle mintyness that took the edge off the creamy marshmallow, so it wasn’t sickly in the slightest. The pie was a breeze to make, and it looked really impressive. I highly recommend it, particularly if you want to serve up something unusual that many people may never have tried before.

I was inspired to try this after seeing Nigella whip it up on her latest series,
but the recipe I followed was a Hummingbird one, available in their new book, Cake Days, published in March. If you want to have a bash in the meantime, I’ve tracked down the Nigella recipe on this lovely food blog.


Banoffee Pie

Definitely the easiest recipe on this list; also probably the yummiest. I have
the wonderful Donal Skehan to thank for this one. I’m linking to the recipe
on his blog because it’s accompanied by lots of gorgeous photos (his pics are so much nicer than mine!), but do visit his new website, too, a constant source of inspiration to me and many others. And watch out for his new book, Kitchen Hero, published at the end of March (you can pre-order it!!!)

If you’re feeling uber-lazy, just skip the boiling of the condensed milk and buy tinned Carnation caramel. But if you have time and enthusiasm, do it properly,
if only to experience the novelty of the milk-to-caramel transformation.

Macaroons

I’ve now made macaroons twice. The first time was a disaster. They were supposed to be election macaroons – yellow, blue and red – but it proved way over-ambitious for this macaroon first-timer. What didn’t go wrong? The red ones came out pink. The blue ones had a metallic taste from too much food colouring. All of them cracked across the top and stuck hideously to the greaseproof paper (a fool’s error – always use baking parchment!!!). Bah!

So last week  I tried again. This time, half vanilla and half orange. The vanilla ones (in the photo) were a fraction closer to success, though by no means perfect. Only two emerged from the oven crack-free with smooth unblemished tops. And they weren’t light enough; the texture was too biscuity. (The Kahlua-flavoured cream was yummy however!) As for the orange ones: awful. I somehow knocked all the air out of them whilst stirring in the food colouring.
I didn’t even bother to take a photo.

I’m hoping for a Third Time Lucky, that is – when I can muster up the energy and spirit to try them again. Watch this space.

Both my attempts have followed this recipe from Delicious Magazine. I don’t blame the recipe for my failed attempts, but next time, I think I’ll try a new one. Some recommend leaving the piped mixture to stand for up to an hour to properly dry out and form a skin (I left it for just 15 minutes). I’m wondering if this is the answer to achieving crack-free macaroons.


Miniature Lemon Scones

Back in October it was National Baking Week, and Becky over at Munchmun.ch challenged me to a ‘scone-off’. These cuties were my offering.

We never properly judged the competition, but since we both ended up with a mountain of scones to gobble to our hearts’ contents, I think we were both winners.

Recipe below …

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Afternoon tea at the Landmark

A tiny bit of me wonders why afternoon tea is considered so cool. Despite the fact that London is caught up in patisserie frenzy – artisan bakeries all over the place, cupcakes the new Prozac, macaroons sacrosanct as diamonds – there’s something depressingly old-fashioned about the image that afternoon tea conjures up: tablecloths and chintz, china teapots, piddly little sandwiches, pastel-coloured sponge and sickly marzipan. Some of London’s tea-rooms are a hundred years old or more, salons where Victorian ladies whiled away afternoons with cross-stitch and idle tittle-tattle. Their fad for ‘low tea’ was a fresh and exciting culinary experience back then. But compared with today’s exhilarating foodie scene – liquid nitrogen, Mexican market food, hefty slabs of meat with a view of St Paul’s, red-velvet whoopie pies the size of your head – the classic afternoon tea should seem faded, demure and terribly clichéd. Yet, here we are in 2010 and most of London’s iconic tea-rooms have three-month waiting lists. Afternoon tea still oozes cool. (And yes, I’m shaking my head in wonder, but also I’m jumping up and down with glee.)

So why, in a recession, are so many of us queuing up to blow £40 on tea and cake, when we could get a steaming mug of Tetley and a Mr Kipling for a matter of pence? Equipped with two girlfriends, I went to find out.

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