This is the point at which I sheepishly explain my failure to write a blog post for over a year…. but the explanation is far less interesting than photographs of some of the baking I’ve done in that time, so let’s settle for the latter, shall we?
In a departure from my usual blogging M.O., today I blog not about what I have just baked but about what I am planning to bake in the coming months. The Art Fund has conjured up one of the most brilliantly creative fundraising initiatives I’ve seen, enabling people to have a blast making something awesome, raise funds to support British culture and EAT CAKE (other foodstuffs are available). I mean, really, what’s not to love?
The plan is this: dream up a culinary way to recreate a recognisable work of art, then arrange to auction it, raffle it or sell slices to colleagues and friends. Make the art, do the event and send the money you raise to the Art Fund to enable them to continue their amazing work supporting British galleries, museums and historic houses.
Are you in? If you are, request a free fundraising pack from the Edible Masterpieces website and spread the word on Twitter using the hashtag #EdibleMasterpieces and the Art Fund’s handle https://twitter.com/artfund.
My poor little brain is buckling under the weight of numerous ideas – all of which are cake-based, obviously – but I won’t share them here. Instead, I’ll share some of the inspirational pieces the Art Fund team has created, plus a couple of others I have found online.
I find these creations very pleasing indeed (and simple to create):
One of my proudest cake-related achievements to date remains the Wizard of Oz Cake I did last year for a lovely little girl’s fourth birthday. Amazingly, twelve whole months have trundled by and that lovely little girl just turned five, and requested a Pirate Treasure Chest Cake to celebrate the fact. The cake needed to feed 25 five-year-olds and associated grown-up types, so I used my adjustable tin to make a cake measuring 10” x 7”. Annoyingly, I only have one of these beauties so I had to mix up and bake the three sponges separately, which took about 3 hours.
Three 10” x 7” Vanilla Sponges
This is a basic Victoria sponge mix, so these approximate weights are only a shopping list guide; if you bake this, weigh your eggs in their shells and use the same weight in sugar, butter and flour.
650g unsalted butter (room temperature)
650g golden caster sugar
650g self-raising flour
3tsp vanilla extract
6tbsp whole milk
Preheat to 180C.
Beat the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat for a good few minutes until pale and fluffy. Break the eggs into a jug and beat together with the vanilla extract. Add to the butter mixture a tablespoon at a time, beating well between each addition. Sieve the flour in and mix slowly until combined, then add the milk and beat until smooth. Pour into buttered, lined tins and bake for about 25-30 minutes, testing with a skewer to make sure it’s properly baked. I covered mine loosely with foil at the 20 minute mark to stop the top becoming too coloured.
Due to time constraints, I made the sponges in advance, wrapped them in baking paper, then cling film, then foil and froze them for a week until the night before party day, when I let them defrost overnight before assembling.
I made a ludicrous quantity of ganache because the idea of running short filled me with fear, but this quantity should be about right:
420g dark chocolate (53% cocoa solids)
600ml double cream
4tbsp golden syrup
150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Finely chop the chocolate and throw in a heat-proof bowl. Over a low-medium heat, slowly bring the double cream and Golden Syrup to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir VERY SLOWLY in concentric circles starting in the middle. Be patient. For a long time, it’ll look like it won’t emulsify but it will. Do not be tempted to speed up your stirring. When it has emulsified, throw in the butter a few cubes at a time and continue stirring gently until it’s all in and melted. You’ll have a beautifully glossy ganache. I popped mine in the fridge to get to a good spreading consistency, which took about 1½ hours.
In the meantime, I set to work making props: edible sand, sugarpaste starfish, sugarpaste barnacles and a sugarpaste treasure map.
8 digestive biscuits
3tbsp golden caster sugar
2tbsp caster sugar
1tbsp dark brown / muscovado sugar
This is a highly complex procedure so buckle up: throw all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until it looks like sand.
(One has to wonder what happened to one’s life when one finds oneself getting up at 6.30am on a Saturday to make edible sand…)
I mixed up a pink sugarpaste and cut two fat stars with biscuit cutters (one smaller than the other), rounded the edges with my fingers and curved a couple of the points in random directions. I used a rounded modelling tool to make indents into the middle between the points, and a pointy tool to make holes along each point, and finally stuck some pale yellow spots on with egg white.
Sugarpaste Treasure Map
I added a little brown gel colouring and a little copper gel colouring to a chunk of white sugarpaste and manipulated it just until it was subtly marbled, so that it looked like it had been grasped in grubby pirate hands over a decade of dedicated searching and swashbuckling. (What is swashbuckling?) I cut out a wobbly rectangle, made random dents and nicks along the edges, and used a paintbrush and gel colouring to paint the detail freehand. I set the map aside on the edge of a plate in the hope that it would dry slightly buckled but the moisture in the ganache made it flop when it was on the cake. I think it’s probably worth setting it wonky if it’s not going to sit on ganache, though.
I added a little more food colouring to the sugarpaste left over from the map, and fashioned two shell shapes, then used the rounded tool to create dents and pointy tool to rough the edges up a bit.
Next came the big build…
I wanted the chest to look like it was slightly open, but I didn’t want to get into the realms of propping up the top sponge for fear of it collapsing or breaking in transit. Instead, I just sliced an angled chunk out, into which I could stuff pirate treasure, and shaved the back edge of the lid a little. Then I used the ganache to create a dome-shaped top.
I rolled out some brown fondant and cut strips about 1½cm wide, then used a round pin-head to indent it to look a bit more ornate. I used a ruler to create a line down the edges and brushed the lot with edible copper lustre dust. I applied the strips to the cake in a slightly slapdash piratey fashion, then popped silver dragees in the corners etc to look like rivets.
I stuffed the open bit with chocolate coins, removed the baking paper protecting the board and put the other props in place, including the edible sand and some pre-bought edible gems.
* When I made the Wizard of Oz cake last year, I spent HOURS working on every detail, and the one thing on which my Mum specifically commented was the addition of the blue gingham ribbon around the edge of the board, i.e. the only thing I hadn’t fashioned from scratch with my own hands. I doubt I’ll ever let her forget it.
Bit of an experiment, this one, and for no good reason except that I hadn’t baked for a while and I felt like giving something new a bash. Having loaned out my set of 8″ tins and my palette knife to a colleague (side note: the extent to which I feel bereft is absurd, and not a little embarrassing), I opted for something that didn’t require those things. Namely, a bundt cake with a pouring glaze/sauce rather than a spreadable icing.
225g unsalted butter (room temperature)
350g golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
375g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
250ml soured cream
75g dates, finely chopped
For the glaze:
220g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter
180ml double cream
Preheat to 180C and butter your bundt pan. As there are lots of dips and grooves in a bundt pan, I’d recommend buttering it with your fingers rather than using greaseproof paper or anything; this way you know you’ve got all the corners.
Beat the butter until creamy, then add the sugar and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Break the eggs into a separate bowl and add the vanilla extract, then break up with a fork. Add to the butter mix a tablespoon at a time, beating well between each addition. Sift in half the flour and fold in by hand. Add half the soured cream and combine gently, then repeat with the other half of the flour and the other half of the soured cream.
Pour half the mixture into the bundt pan, then stir the dates into the remaining mixture and throw that in the top. Even out the surface and bake for around 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the toffee sauce. Put a large, heavy-based saucepan (not a non-stick one) on a medium heat. Measure out your sugar, then cover the base with a layer of sugar and watch it, hawk-like, until patches start to melt. Don’t stir. As patches start to melt, cover them with a smattering more sugar. Continue until all the sugar is in, then you can start to stir in tiny circles with a rubber spatula to incorporate the unmelted sugar with the melted. When all the crystals have melted, keep your face and hands clear of the steam as you add the cream and stir in. Remove from the heat and add the butter a chunk at a time, and stir in. Don’t worry if it looks split at any point – it will emulsify. When your toffee sauce is smooth and rich, set it aside to cool.
When the cake is baked, let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack. While it’s still warm, use a pastry brush to paint it all over with a little of the toffee sauce so that it soaks into the sponge. Leave the cake to cool completely.
Finally, pour over as much of the remaining toffee sauce as you think your sweet tooth can tolerate and scatter with a few salt flakes. The chances are you’ll have some toffee sauce left over to serve on the side. Serve with a cracking cuppa and a naughty smile.
P.S. Taste test reports are excellent, so definitely worth another outing one day soon. Particularly good when microwaved for a few seconds with an extra dollop of toffee sauce on the top of the slice. Don’t tell your dentist.
My mum asked me to make a chocolate-based pudding to serve alongside the traditional boozy-fruity-pyrotechnic Christmas fare. I spent a good while researching recipes and just couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I set about dreaming something up. This is very much a work in progress, so I’m predominantly blogging it so that I’ve got notes for when I embark on the second attempt. I was concerned it might be horribly rich but actually it was light and delicious. If I weren’t in polite company (well, my family, so relatively polite) I could’ve put away a heart-stopping quantity of it…
I used a 10″ tin. I might try a 9″ next time, which would obviously make it slightly taller.
Layer 1: chocolate sponge base
I made a 1 egg version of the sponge from the chocolate and raspberry cake I did in October (which also gave me eight bonus cupcakes as I wanted a very slim cake base):
25g dark chocolate
115ml hot brewed coffee
150g caster sugar (reduced from original to avoid sickliness)
100g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large egg
55ml sunflower oil
110ml buttermilk / plain yoghurt
Spot vanilla extract
Method as in the other recipe. When the sponge is cooled, remove the baking paper, wash the tin then line its sides with acetate and drop the sponge back in.
Layer 2: chocolate mousse
170g dark chocolate
80ml whole milk
1 large egg yolk
4 large egg whites
2 tbsp caster sugar
Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie (in a large bowl) then leave it on the counter to cool a little. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over the chocolate, then blend using a small whisk. Add the egg yolk and gently work into the chocolate. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then increase the speed and add the sugar gradually. Continue whisking to stiff peaks. Add a third of the egg whites to the chocolate and beat to lighten. Carefully but thoroughly fold in the rest of the whites, then pour the mousse mixture into the tin on top of the sponge and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Layers 3 and 5: hazelnut meringue
40g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped in a blender
2 large egg whites
120g caster sugar
Preheat to 140C. Draw around the tin onto two sheets of baking paper, which will then line two baking sheets. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking the whole time, until you get a firm glossy meringue. Gently fold in the hazelnuts. Spread the meringue mixture onto the baking sheets as flat as you can, to about 1cm from the edge of the circles you drew on the baking paper. Bake for about 90 minutes (you want crispy meringue) then switch off the oven and leave the meringues inside overnight to cool completely and dry out. Place one meringue on top of the chocolate mousse and keep the other aside.
Layer 4: Chantilly cream (ish)
300ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
(Chantilly cream usually contains sugar too, hence the “ish”. I didn’t want this too sweet.)
Whisk the cream to soft peaks, then add the vanilla and continue whisking to firm peaks. Spread on top of the first meringue, reserving a big spoonful. Place the second meringue on the top, then top with the reserved cream and make the surface as flat as possible. Place in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes to allow the top surface to become firm enough to stay put when you spread the ganache.
Layer 6: chocolate ganache
105g dark chocolate, finely chopped
150ml double cream
1tbsp Golden Syrup
35g unsalted butter
Over a low-medium heat, slowly bring the double cream and Golden Syrup to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir VERY SLOWLY in concentric circles starting in the middle. When it has emulsified, throw in the butter a few cubes at a time and continue stirring gently until it’s all in and melted. Take the gateau out of the freezer and spread the ganache over the top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. [Note to self: try a more fluid ganache next time so it doesn’t set so firm?]
I finished this one with some salted caramel I happened to have left over, which I attempted to fashion into a snowflake-type motif with some gold edible glitter. Annoyingly, the ganache was too firm to recover from the skewer I dragged over it – I should’ve done this before refrigerating.
Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it’s a chance to spend time with some of my favourite people and to spend time in my favourite room: the kitchen. Having become quite the theatrical event in recent years, Christmas affords an enthusiastic baker the luxury to try out the most ridiculously camp culinary creations, liberally dusted with edible glitter.
I had set my mind on creating a tree of biscuits but gingerbread ruled itself out as a flavour option a week before Christmas. I made 25 gingerbread people for work, all of whom went in the oven looking perfectly wonderful but all of whom fell foul of some kind of obesity epidemic during the baking time. As appealing as a tree of randomly-shaped star-adjacent biscuits might be, I opted instead for a recipe that promised less bloating.
Orange & Cinnamon Biscuits (enough for a tree, including trunk)
350g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp cinnamon
125g granulated sugar
grated zest of 2 oranges
125g salted butter
1 large egg
125ml Golden Syrup
Sift together the flours and cinnamon into a mixing bowl, then add the sugar (which won’t go through the sieve – I tried) and orange zest, and mix together with a fork. In much the same way you do when making pastry, rub the butter in with your fingertips until it looks a bit like sand. Add the egg and syrup and use your hands to mix it all together until it forms a ball. Divide the dough into four equal portions, shape into fat discs, cling film and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 170C and prepare a few baking sheets by lining them with baking paper.
When it came to rolling, I found I only needed a little flour to stop it sticking but I often roll between two sheets of baking paper. Roll the dough to approximately 5mm thick, then cut out your shapes. You can re-roll the dough a couple of times but not too many, hence my dividing the dough into four batches. Theoretically, you should then refrigerate the sheets of cut-out biscuits for 20 minutes but who has that kind of fridge space in the week of Christmas? Bake for 14-18 minutes until golden, then cool completely on racks before icing or storing.
450g icing sugar
3-6 egg whites
Beat three egg whites until frothy, then add the icing sugar and beat. I confess I haven’t yet perfected the art of getting royal icing to the right consistency so you might wish to consult someone more reliable on this, but I added egg white and lemon juice until I got a toothpaste consistency. I splurged about a quarter of this stuff into a bag with a 1.5 (fine) tip to pipe borders, then carried on adding egg white / lemon juice until I thought the rest was fluid enough to be flooding icing. It turns out I was wrong, but a wet paint brush helped me to push it around a bit. Beware: if your icing isn’t sufficiently fluid, your poor wrists and hands will have to work very hard. But if, like me, you’re doing this at midnight on Christmas Eve, the motivation to slop it back in the bowl and dilute it further will be wholly absent.
Keep the leftover icing for the build stage.
Manual control had suffered a fatal blow from the piping work, hence the somewhat slapdash application of red edible glitter.
The following morning (once the icing had set hard), I built the tree.
Finally, I put a slightly bigger tip (2, I think) on the border icing bag – the thicker stuff – and piped strings between star tips. Quite pretty.
There have been lots of very grown-up things happening at work lately. People keep getting engaged and/or married, having babies, leaving to go and work for a big scary law firm. That kind of thing. So, in order to mark these life-changing events in appropriate style, I cooked up the most ludicrously childish cake (aesthetically).
Having decided roughly how I wanted the cake to look, I chose to do the chocolate and raspberry cake I did for Cat’s 30th birthday, particularly because it gave a really dark colour and a delicious, sophisticated flavour. There are LOTS of people in the office these days, so I went for a whopping 10” version with three layers. This was a beast of a cake. Pretty vulgar, actually.
First things first, though: some hidden sponge balls in Smarties colours.
I made up a two egg Victoria sponge mix. (For those of you who haven’t a clue what I mean: 1. Weigh two eggs in their shells, then weigh out the same quantity of unsalted butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour; 2. Beat sugar and butter until pale; 3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each; 4. Add flour and beat just until combined.) Next, I weighed the mixture into five bowls and coloured each to be as close to the colour of a Smartie as possible. (Can one singularise “Smarties”? Is “singularise” a word? “Pluralise” is… I digress.)
I scooped the mixture untidily into a cake pop thingy, which I had never used before. (As a side-note, those of you who know me will chuckle gleefully as you think about how much my error in loading the thingy irks me. I’m trying not to dwell on it.)
Also, next time, I will know to push it together firmly in the middle so that all of them are completely round. I had some funky shapes going on.
Next, I mixed a GIANT batch of chocolate cake mix and poured a bit in the bottom of each tin, laid the sponge balls on top, then covered them with more cake mix, ensuring that no colour peeped through.
At this point – approximately 10.30pm – I realised that my oven wouldn’t accommodate all three 10” tins in one go. FACEPALM. I baked in shifts, covered the baked sponges with a clean tea-towel overnight while they cooled, then wrapped them in cling film the next morning so that they kept well until I could pile them up that evening. I didn’t take pictures because they just looked like plain chocolate sponges – not exciting. Whilst waiting for the batches to bake, I sat and sorted an absurd number of Smarties into colours to make the decorative bit quicker.
The next evening, I made up a ½ batch of raspberry sauce and a 1½ batch of chocolate ganache from the other recipe, refrigerating the latter for a good while until it was thick enough to spread.
I located the middle of the cake and started poking Smarties vertically into the ganache. NB: If you’re planning to do similar, make sure you put the Smarties on at the last possible moment, as they will quickly fade and lose their crispness because of the moisture in the ganache. My careful Dulux-worth colour matching turned out to be almost entirely pointless. Mrgh.