Pablo’s New York Cheesecake Facecake

I really don’t like it when people leave at work.  I form attachments to people and to the things they contribute to my life, so when the time comes that they have to move on, I get sad.  And I make cake.  What a shock.  On this occasion, the departing party is my colleague Pablo, whose presence in our office will be sorely missed.  Knowing that his favourite pud was New York Cheesecake, I took the opportunity to make my first one.  I based it on the Hummingbird bakery recipe but made a few adjustments, as follows:

Base:
140g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
50g golden caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

Top:
900g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese
190g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
4 large eggs (always buy eggs from happy chickens, please)
Pablo's Face Cake - Crumbly base

Pablo’s Face Cake – Crumbly base
Pablo's Face Cake - firmed base

Pablo’s Face Cake – firmed base

Pablo's Face Cake - rich glossy cheesy goodness

Pablo’s Face Cake – rich glossy cheesy goodness

Pablo's Face Cake - spot the vanilla seed

Pablo’s Face Cake – spot the vanilla seed

When baked, this is a pretty boring looking creation, and Pabs shunned my suggestion of decorating it with fresh fruit so, having watched the Comic Relief Great British Bake Off episodes, my lovely colleagues and I plotted to make a stencil of Pablo’s face.  Heather located a photograph, did something clever with it and printed it off on lightweight card, then Claire impressed us with her craft-knife-wielding capabilities to create a brilliant template.  We snuck off to the board room and dusted the cake with cocoa, revealing a surprisingly accurate image of Pablo’s face.  Success!  (It tasted pretty good, too, even if I do say so myself.)

Pablo's Face Cake - spot the difference

Pablo’s Face Cake – spot the difference

Pablo's Face Cake - in all its glory

Pablo’s Face Cake – in all its handsome glory

Christening Cake for a Beautiful Little Girl

Last September, I made a rainbow cake for my lovely friend Jo’s birthday while we were on our Cornish holiday, and I was absolutely tickled pink when she and her husband Chris recently asked me to bake for their delicious daughter Sophie’s Christening.  As a variation on a theme, we chose a cake of six layers in different shades of pink rather than rainbow colours.

My first consideration was how best to decorate the cake.  While I have dabbled with a bit of piped writing, I’m not sufficiently confident with my skills to risk piping Sophie’s name directly on the cake for such a prestigious event.  I decided, instead, to use rolled fondant to create pretty bunting on which I can pipe individual letters.  Cop out?  Perhaps.  But a lower risk strategy, for which I shan’t apologise.  So, I sat down to plan it out, mix the pink fondant and start fashioning some pretty things with it.

Girl's Christening Cake - making fondant shapes

Girl’s Christening Cake – making fondant shapes

Girl's Christening Cake - creating the decoration

Girl’s Christening Cake – creating the decoration

At this point, I realised exactly how hard it was going to be to pipe tiny lettering onto the bunting, so I asked my phenomenally talented friend Stephanie to help me out.  When I say ‘phenomenally talented’, I really mean it.  She is the creator of the most incredibly beautiful biscuits, which she sells through her business, Ice My Biscuit (follow that link and like her Facebook page – you will be regularly stunned by her creations).  I spent a couple of hours in Steph’s studio, during which she transformed my understanding of icing and the way it behaves in a piping bag.  I can even pipe straight lines now, and it’s all thanks to Steph!  After copious trials on plates, I was sufficiently brave to give the bunting a bash (please note the date has been abbreviated due to a couple of casualties in the bunting department).

The next stage was to consider my strategy for the pink sponge.  Of course, a standard vanilla sponge comes out a lovely pale yellow colour, which is perfectly acceptable in many scenarios but for a cake on which I’d like the pink shades of the icing to match the pink shades of the sponge as closely as possible, this is problematic, so I embarked upon a few trial runs to see whether I could come up with a solution.

Project Pink: Experiment 1
Eggs, butter, white caster sugar, flour, vanilla extract (fluid)
The pink shades of the sponge seem acceptable until you compare them with the shades in the icing shapes, when the sponge starts to appear rather peach-y.  Conclusion: it would do, at a pinch, but is not ideal.

Project Pink Trial 1 - mixing

Project Pink Trial 1 – mixing

Project Pink Trial 1 - baking

Project Pink Trial 1 – baking

Project Pink Trial 1 - assessing

Project Pink Trial 1 – assessing

Project Pink: Experiment 2
Egg Replacer Powder, butter, white caster sugar, flour, vanilla extract (paste)
I tested the vanilla paste to see how visible the vanilla seeds would be and I’m perfectly satisfied that they don’t negatively impact the appearance of the sponge.
Egg Replacer powder is a weird substitute I acquired when I baked for my vegan friend, Martha, which requires 1½ tsp powder to be mixed with 2 tbsp water before mixing the sponge as usual.  The vegan chocolate cake I baked for Martha last year was absolutely lovely; the difference in taste from a non-vegan chocolate cake was perceptible but acceptable, and the rise was exactly the same.  Not so with these pink cupcakes, as you will see.  Conclusion: fail.

Project Pink Trial 2 - Egg Replacer

Project Pink Trial 2 – Egg Replacer

Project Pink Trial 2 - examining vanilla seeds

Project Pink Trial 2 – examining vanilla seeds

Project Pink Trial 2 - mixing

Project Pink Trial 2 – mixing

Project Pink Trial 2 - baking

Project Pink Trial 2 – baking

Project Pink Trial 2 - disappointing

Project Pink Trial 2 – disappointing

Project Pink: Experiment 3
Egg whites only, butter, white caster sugar, flour, vanilla extract (paste)
I discussed Project Pink with Angharad (who – you may remember from previous posts – is a genius), and, with some degree of inevitability, she found the solution in the form of this recipe from an American blog.  I halved it in order to do a trial run without too much waste, the results of which are below.  The whisked egg whites need to be carefully folded in without losing the air, which means that the colouring stage has to happen before the egg whites go in.  Conclusion: we have a winner.

Project Pink Trial 3 - mixing

Project Pink Trial 3 – mixing

Project Pink Trial 3 - baking

Project Pink Trial 3 – baking

Project Pink Trial 3 - looking promising

Project Pink Trial 3 – looking promising

Project Pink Trial 3 - and we have a winner

Project Pink Trial 3 – winning

I realise this might just be the longest blog post in the history of t’internet, for which I apologise.  The final stages are purely photographic…

Pink Layer Cake - mixing The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – mixing The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake - baking The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – baking The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake - cooling The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – cooling The Real Thing

NB When I baked the trial, the cupcakes domed magnificently, so in order to prevent this happening and try to get an even rise, I made a shallow crater in the first batch of three sponges (the bottom three layers).  As it turns out, they didn’t dome at all and they actually baked with the craters still in tact, as you will see more clearly in the final photograph.  Lesson learned.

Pink Layer Cake - building The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – building The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake - finishing The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – finishing The Real Thing

London in the Snow - a nice day for a white christening

London in the Snow – a nice day for a white christening

Pink Layer Cake - anxiously waiting to cut The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake – anxiously waiting to cut The Real Thing

Pink Layer Cake.  Done.

Pink Layer Cake. Done.  (Apologies for the blur – I was shaking.)

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding

My beloved “Urban Family” (definition: the family of friends you choose for yourself rather than the family into which you are born) came over for not-Christmas-Christmas lunch yesterday.  I was keen to do something festive but I wanted to prioritise spending time with them rather than sweating in my tiny kitchen, juggling multiple pans and wishing it was socially acceptable to fling the dirty dishes through the open window.  So I did a turkey roast with all the trimmings (in modest quantities) on Friday night and flung it in a low-maintenance Christmas Pie on Saturday.  It was totally worth it.

Urban Family Christmas Pie

Urban Family Christmas Pie

Similar priorities applied to my choice of pudding, so I went for an adaptation of Delia’s Chocolate Bread & Butter Pudding, which my Mum used to make. It was always absolutely delicious but almost heart-stoppingly rich, so I made a few amendments to see if I could make it a little lighter. The utterly brilliant feature of this dish is the fact that you can – and indeed should – make it two days in advance, which optimises the flavours as well as ticking pudding off your prep list.

My version of the recipe involved:

1 Pandoro (fluffy Italian cake a bit like Panettone, but without the fruit)
150g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
55g caster sugar (half the original recipe because the Pandoro is sweet)
300ml double cream + 125ml semi-skimmed milk (rather than 425ml whipping cream)
3tbsp brandy (I didn’t have rum)
Good pinch cinnamon
Good pinch salt (to cut through the sweetness and enhance the chocolate flavour)
4 large eggs (an extra one to help it set, as the mix is thinner when using milk)

Very simply, you throw everything except the eggs in a bain-marie and wait for it all to melt (it feels like it takes quite a long time so be patient).  Remove from the heat and stir properly.  Whisk the eggs up by hand until they’re nice and frothy, then pour the chocolate on the eggs, whisking the whole lot until it’s combined.  Pour a little in the dish to cover the base before layering the Pandoro on top, then keep layering Pandoro and chocolatey goodness until you’ve run out of both.  Cover, and leave the dish at room temperature to soak for a couple of hours before refrigerating.

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding, kit form

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding, kit form

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding, waiting (impatiently) for the chocolate to melt properly

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding, waiting (impatiently) for the chocolate to melt properly

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding, soaking in chocolatey goodness

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding, soaking in chocolatey goodness

The Pandoro is a beautiful star-shaped Italian cake, which is very soft in texture, so I was slightly concerned that the pudding would be a big, sloppy mess but I found plenty of recipes online for Panettone Bread & Butter Pudding so I thought it worth the risk.  It turned out beautifully, and the modifications I made seemed to pay off – it was utterly delicious.  I might omit the extra egg next time because it wasn’t as saucy as I might have liked but, other than that, I’m happy.

When the time comes, bake for 35 minutes at around 180C, until the top features a pleasing crunch and the middle is still nice and gooey.  The finished pudding isn’t much to look at, but it tastes wonderful with a splash of cold double cream.

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding

Chocolate Pandoro Pudding

 

Christmas Pie

Last Christmas, my good friends Mike and Michelle introduced me to a wondrous culinary innovation. This delicious recipe is so obvious a gastronomic win that I simply cannot understand why it isn’t a widespread annual tradition.

My friends, may I present… CHRISTMAS PIE.

The recipe is utterly brilliant in its simplicity: take every single little bit of (savoury) food left over from your Christmas feast, throw it all in a pie dish and cover it with pastry. Bake.

Our 2012 Christmas pie consisted of: turkey, pigs in blankets, cocktail sausages, roasted potatoes, roasted parsnips, roasted butternut squash, mashed carrot & swede, brussel sprouts, pancetta, chestnuts, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing and puff pastry. I tell you, it’s worth making the turkey dinner JUST FOR THIS PIE. Every portion is like a lucky dip designed by Carlsberg: the best lucky dip in the world. Probably.

Christmas Pie, pre-pastry

Christmas Pie, pre-pastry

Christmas Pie, pre-baking

Christmas Pie, pre-baking

Christmas Pie, baked

Christmas Pie, baked

Christmas Pie, a modest portion

Christmas Pie, a modest portion

Traditional Gingerbread House

I’ve been plotting a gingerbread house for Christmas for many a month and, each time it has come up in conversation, I’ve been asked, “Who’s it for?” and been sheepish about my answer. The gingerbread house has lived at my Mum’s over Christmas and has therefore been seen by lots of people aged between 1 month and 80 years, but the truthful answer is that it isn’t for anyone, really. I wanted to make a gingerbread house because I’d never made a gingerbread house before. Is that wrong?

So, my self-indulgent project began with a search for the perfect gingerbread recipe, which consisted of leafing through dozens of magazines, extensive Googling and substantial traipsing through some genuinely astonishing Pinterest photographs. In the end, I decided to play it relatively safe for my first effort, with a view to upping the ante next year. I chose the gingerbread house recipe and template on the website of my favourite foodie magazine, delicious.

Gingerbread House - phase 1 (rolled and cut)

Gingerbread House phase 1 – rolled and cut

Gingerbread House - phase 2 (baked and cooling)

Gingerbread House phase 2 – baked and cooling

Gingerbread House - where's the washing up fairy when you need her?

Gingerbread House – where’s the washing up fairy when you need her?

According to the recipe, stained glass windows can be simply achieved by breaking up some boiled sweets and popping them in the holes before baking the biscuits. I’m sure this is true. But… during my search for some appropriate boiled sweets, I stumbled upon some neon coloured sugar crystals, which seemed an even better solution. I tested their melting point by pouring a pile of crystals on a bit of foil and baking at the same temperature and for the same time as the house would be baked, and it melted well. The pink crystals burned but I was happy with the yellow. Imagine my frustration, therefore, when the crystals failed to melt at all during the actual baking! In hindsight, I conclude that this is because they were resting on baking paper, which didn’t conduct the heat in the same way as the foil. Should’ve seen that one coming,really.

Plan B involved a small saucepan and some Foxes Glacier Fruits, reminiscent of the bottom of my beloved late Grandma’s handbag. I only used the two flavours most red in colour, to achieve a festive rosy glow (next year I might try to use two colours to make a pattern).

A couple of tips, if you choose to do this yourself:
1. Melt gently on a medium heat. If you whack the heat right up – as I did initially – it’ll burn and will taste horrible.
2. You needn’t worry about it being so fluid that it runs to places you don’t want it – it melts to quite a thick syrup.
3. Work FAST as the syrup will solidify quickly. Pour into one hole at a time, then work quickly to spread the syrup out, making sure that it adheres well to the gingerbread on each side.
4. If you, like I, need to transport your house in an IKEA-style flatpack, make sure you interleave with greaseproof paper – the biscuit won’t stick, but the windows will.

Gingerbread House - phase 3 (installation of stained glass windows)

Gingerbread House phase 3 – installation of stained glass windows

Gingerbread House - phase 4 (testing of stained glass windows)

Gingerbread House phase 4 – testing of stained glass windows

Ok. Confession time. I wanted to create something truly magical with my gingerbread house. Something that, as a child, I would have approached in wide-eyed wonder, torn between the desire to keep it exactly as it was forever and ever, and the temptation to pluck off and munch the colourful sweets. It was this child-like wide-eyed wonder in which I was entirely caught up when I accidentally (on purpose) stumbled upon the Candy Store inside Harrods, so I spent a ridiculous sum on decorative sweets. I’m not even sorry.

I packed everything up in a big box and transported it to Mum’s for construction; this is where the real fun begins.

Gingerbread House phase 5 - icing the board

Gingerbread House phase 5 – icing the board

At this point, I whipped up a fairly large quantity of royal icing (3 large egg whites, 675g icing sugar, 3 tsp lemon juice, 1.5 tsp glycerine) to decorate and glue everything together. I’d advise you build in stages and allow each to set before proceeding with the next. The roof, for example, is surprisingly heavy and will collapse the entire structure if you’re too impatient.

Gingerbread House phase 6 - a chocolate-covered pretzel fence

Gingerbread House phase 6 – building a chocolate-covered pretzel fence

Gingerbread House phase 7 - more mess

Gingerbread House phase 7 – more mess

Gingerbread House phase 8 - construction begins

Gingerbread House phase 8 – construction begins

Gingerbread House phase 9 - moving into position

Gingerbread House phase 9 – moving into position

Gingerbread House phase 10 - setting the scene with Frosty the Snowman

Gingerbread House phase 10 – setting the scene with Frosty the Snowman

This cheeky chap is made from sugarpaste and decorated with coloured dragees and a thin strip of strawberry confectionery, procured at great expense from the cinema pick ‘n’ mix.

I realise at this point that I was rather remiss in my photography, and neglected to take a shot of the roof tiles before they went on. The only thing to note here is that I decided to rotate them by 90 degrees to achieve a slightly more fantastical flavour. I rather like it.  Here’s one, already attached:

Gingerbread House roof tiles

Gingerbread House roof tiles

Gingerbread House phase 11 - setting the scene with Christmas trees and presents

Gingerbread House phase 11 – setting the scene with Christmas trees and presents

I’m disproportionately proud of these little trees. I painted a thin line of water around two waffle ice cream cones to weaken them, then gently sawed away at them with a knife to get a straight edge. I then stuck each in turn on the end of a finger, and stabbed at it with a piping bag loaded with a star nozzle and green royal icing. Tweezers were required for the application of multi-coloured dragees.

Gingerbread House phase 12 - a rosy glow from battery-operated tealights

Gingerbread House phase 12 – a rosy glow from battery-operated tealights

A quick scattering of edible glitter, and hey presto:

Gingerbread House

Traditional Gingerbread House

Christmas Truffles

For our company Christmas party this year, I’ve been asked to make truffles for each guest, to sit at their place on the table.  Obviously, the prospect of this project made me rub my little paws together with glee, and I set about making plans.  My original intention was to make three mini Christmas pudding truffles per person, but mercifully I realised before I kicked off that this would entail hours of faff (during a very busy weekend), so I opted instead for two plain chocolate truffles and one mini Christmas pudding truffle per person.

First up, the plain chocolate truffles.  As far as I can gather, there’s no complicated trick to making delicious truffles; it’s a simple ganâche laced with booze of your choice (I added clementine zest for a festive flavour), rolled into little balls and coated in cocoa.

Please, don’t count the number of Green & Black’s wrappers… it’s too sinful.1

Being as how I was wo-ho-hoefully hungover following my choir Coro‘s slightly boozy Christmas shindig, I let the Kitchen Aid take the strain of whisking the hot cream and brandy into the chopped chocolate.
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I then poured the ganache into shallow bowls and refrigerated for a couple of hours.
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There are many situations in which I am delighted to have excellent circulation (i.e. warm hands).  Rolling chocolate truffles is not one of those situations.
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They were so outrageously gloopy that I had to refrigerate them again before rolling them in cocoa and popping them in little paper cases.
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Next up, the mini Christmas pudding truffles…  I used Nigella’s recipe, which I used when I made these years ago.  She tells you to crumble the leftover Christmas pudding, but I prefer to whizz it in the blender to make the texture finer – the truffles are so little that a couple of whole raisins could make it a bit too lumpy.
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I attempted uniformity in size by using the teaspoon measure.
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Apologies for being crass, but there’s no getting away from the fact that these look like shiny little… well… they don’t look like something you’d want to eat.  Yet.3

In the fridge they went.  Next, I melted some Green & Black’s white chocolate, let it rest for a few minutes and drizzled it on each truffle.

Nigella recommends using tiny pieces of angelica and glacé cherries for the holly decoration, but I remember that they were so infuriatingly sticky and difficult to place that I very nearly threw the whole tray of truffles against the wall.  Bearing in mind that the white walls in my kitchen don’t belong to me, I was chuffed to bits when I remembered a tub of sprinkles I had in the cupboard.
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Oh, pleasing.  Very pleasing indeed.
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And this is approximately how they’ll look when they’re all wrapped up (I used rejects to do this, so forgive the imperfections):
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A weekend of test runs: Santa Hat Brownies & Red Spiral Biscuits

Through the wonders of Pinterest, I have found a couple of festive baking projects I want to serve this Christmas but I am always keen to do a test run of something new, to get my inevitable rookie mistakes out of the way so that I’ve got a better chance of achieving something lovely the second time.

My first festive baked treat is Santa Hat Brownies. I only used the original recipe for its presentation idea, opting for a tried-and-tested brownie recipe (the best I’ve found so far) instead of the recommended one:

90g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter
2 eggs
300g soft light brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
15g cocoa
1/2tsp baking powder
Pinch salt

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(Preheat to 180c; Bain Marie chocolate & butter then cool a little; beat eggs then add sugar & vanilla; fold in chocolate; stir in dry ingredients; bake in lined tin for 25mins.)

Instead of the usual vanilla extract, I used this paste, in which you can see the teeny tiny vanilla seeds. Lovely flavour and worth investing in.

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I used a small round cutter to create canapé-sized bites. The original recipe used buttercream to create the white fur trim on the Santa hats but I suspect this might be a bit of a sugar overload so I have chosen whipped cream instead. It’s brilliantly simple: pipe cream onto each brownie bite, top it with a (in my case, environmentally-unforgivable Egyptian) strawberry, and top that with a whipped cream bobble. Pleasing.

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The other idea I half-inched from Pinterest was one for festive-looking red spiral biscuits. The recipe was written by an American blogger (with gorgeous culinary ideas), so required a little conversion/translation into UK terminology [yes, I know cup measurements are not British but we can at least get cup measures here which, to the best of my knowledge, is not the case for cake flour]:

2 cups cake flour (measure 2 cups plain flour, remove 2 tbsp from each cup and replace with equal amount of cornflour)
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup unsifted icing sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
283g unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp flavouring (e.g. strawberry – I didn’t bother with this)
½ tsp food colouring
Hundreds & thousands
Have a 2 tbsp flour on hand in case your colouring and flavouring knocks the texture out of whack.

This recipe required a little creativity as I don’t have a food processor. I started by using a stick blender, which I hoped would do the same job but unfortunately its little blades got rather clogged up with the butter and it started to buckle under the pressure of the job, so I used a combination of wooden spoon and Kitchen Aid to finish combining. The batter is pretty sticky which makes it tricky to handle at times, but it produces a wonderfully light,short, buttery biscuit. Must remember next time to roll the layers more thinly (and more precisely) so that it’s easier to roll up into a uniform spiral.

Spiral Biscuits - the uneven layers are revealedRather unattractive log of goo, complete with pretty sprinkles Looking relatively good, if slightly uneven

Must also remember next time to give each biscuit much more space, because they spread quite a lot when baking. Square-ish spirals – not so pleasing.

Oops.  A bit crowded.

Also must line the sheet – as the recipe states – with baking paper rather than Lakeland’s wonderful foil-backed parchment, as the edges of the latter start to curl in the oven and push the edges of the biscuits back, which does not a perfect batch of biscuits make.

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A bit odd-looking but tasty, and valuable for the lessons I have learned in the process.

 

Rainbow Cake IV, and a bit of a cake-tastrophe

Last night, I joined my family to celebrate Mum’s fella John’s 80th birthday, which was absolutely fantastic! For this wonderful occasion, Mum asked me to bake a rainbow cake, (the other three rainbow cakes were dress rehearsals for this: The Big One), which I decided to cover in rolled fondant so that we could use edible-ink pens to graffiti messages for him. Not your typical 80th birthday cake, but then he’s not your typical 80-year-old.

This cake is the most perfect rainbow one I’ve done so far – it’s flawless. There is an even rise on every layer, they’re pretty much identical in size, fantastic colours, and they stacked up like an absolute dream. I did a really, really thin layer of buttercream because I didn’t want to overload the cake with too much sugar, so it was purely to create as neat a finish as possible for the fondant to sit on.

Kit form:
Rainbow Cake, kit form

A bit of maths:
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To record the moment I very nearly drank a jug of eggs instead of orange squash:One is orange squash; the other is five eggs.  Not a mistake one wants to make.

 

Before:
Divided...

 

After:
...and coloured.

 

Cooling:
Baked...

 

Stacked:
...and stacked.

 

Buttercreamed:
Buttercream layer.

I was a very happy cookie at this point.

Then came the nerve-wracking bit, and the point at which I made a couple of really stupid decisions (I stopped taking photographs on account of the consequences of said stupidity, so please forgive the purely narrative account). Although the cake was only 20cm in diameter, it was tall – being a five-egg mix – so I was concerned about rolling the icing big enough to completely cover it. I measured, and made sure I had rolled to the right diameter, but then noticed that it was slightly uneven (the perils of rolling an enormous slab of fondant with a silly little 9-inch non-stick rolling pin) so I worked it a bit more. It being almost midnight at this point, I failed to twig that I had therefore made it bigger, thinner and therefore seriously compromised its strength. Rookie mistake.

With my cake standing proudly on my not-entirely-necessary-but-deeply-pleasing turntable, I used a big wooden rolling pin to move the fondant and drape it over the cake, and things were looking good. But not for long. As I started happily working to smooth one side, the other developed a fatal flaw: the icing was breaking around the top edge and, much like an avalanche, there was nothing any human could do to stop its dastardly progress. I tried to grapple with it (and obviously yelled “No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no!” at it), but after some futile attempts, I watched helplessly as the rip travelled all the way around the top edge, and the detached piece slowly folded itself in a smug, self-satisfied heap around the turntable’s ankle. “You should’ve known not to roll me too thinly”, it seemed to say. I realise, of course, that the second woeful error I had made was to have the cake standing so tall during this process; had the weight of the excess icing been resting on the work surface rather than hanging from such dizzy heights, it mightn’t have had the power to rip like that. Lesson learned.

“Right,” I said, “time for Plan B, then.”

I calmly assessed the damage and, as the top was firmly adhered to the buttercream, I decided to leave it as it was and patch the sides as best I could. I kneaded and re-rolled the fallen piece, and carefully cut two rectangles that I could piece together. I brushed the buttercream with a little water to make it more adhesive and carefully put the strips in place, pinching it together with the edges of the top, and finishing with a careful once-over with the smoothing paddle.

It’s not perfect, but it’s nothing a massive ribbon can’t conceal. Is that cheating? Perhaps. Do I care? Yes; I’m a bit gutted, to be honest.

The final, patched up article.

And here is the final thing, pimped up with an unplanned ribbon and graffitied with loving messages, and chopped up in the restaurant:

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Christmas Cake (with rolled marzipan and royal icing)

It’s always a bit of a challenge to think of something special that my Godparents will really love for Christmas. Of course, they have been wonderfully gracious about every present I have ever given them (even though I’m fairly sure they have had some proper tat over the years), but this year I simply haven’t been inspired by what I’ve seen in the shops or on the internet. Instead, I decided to bake them a Christmas Cake. Being a selfish baker who – until recently – only baked things I enjoy myself, I’d never made a fruit cake before. As a PR, I have – literally – heaps of Christmas magazines kicking around, so I trawled through them all until I found a recipe I fancied: Paul Hollywood’s Christmas Cake recipe, which I discovered in the pages of Woman&Home.

Now, I hesitate to make the point I’m about to make, largely because it’s the kind of comment that makes me feel middle-aged before my time (I am, after all, a spring-chicken-like 32), but I can’t quite stop myself… My point is that there really should be some collaborative discussion between recipe writers and supermarkets: one asks me to use 115g blanched almonds; the other sells blanched almonds in packets of 100g. Hurrumph.

First, I measured out all the delicious dried fruit and nuts, chopped the bits that needed chopping and soaked them in brandy and orange juice. As I was baking this at my Mum’s house, there wasn’t a mixing bowl big enough to accommodate such copious volumes, so a big saucepan was drafted in as an emergency measure, until I could borrow a huge bowl from a friend.

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Then I followed the instructions, except the tin was slightly too small in all directions so I made an extra little loaf. This was the final cake, ready for marzipan and icing (complete with weird shape where the tin has a ridge in the base).

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But it needed a little hole-plugging due to aforementioned weird ridge, compensating for the domed top (which became the bottom) and some holes made by errant currants.

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I marzipaned using Paul Hollywood’s method: one disc for the top and two strips for the sides, stuck on with warmed apricot jam.

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I rolled out the icing, brushed the marzipan with cooled boiled water and draped it over the cake. I used my hands to smooth it first, then one of those clever smoothing paddles, before trimming the edges with a sharp knife.

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I found some gorgeous little star-shaped icing cutters, which include a plunger mechanism to release them. So after I cut each one, I painted it with a little water and used the plunger to apply it to the cake in the shape of a Christmas tree. A quick dusting of silver glitter, a good red ribbon and my gift is complete.

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Tarte aux Pommes

I’m off to a jolly dinner party at my friend Rich’s this evening, for which I offered to contribute a dessert.  Rich has chosen a wonderfully rich wintry menu including a duck main course (yum), so I suggested a fresh tarte aux pommes to finish.  I made a couple of these a few years ago, which featured shortcrust pastry, an apple and cinnamon purée and lots of beautifully sliced apples over the top, glazed with apricot jam.  Well, it turns out I can’t find that recipe – it took me almost an hour of sifting through a big heap of books to come to that conclusion, but there it is.  I turned, instead, to the internet, and discovered a fabulous looking recipe whose author is clearly deeply passionate about food, and has carefully honed this recipe to recapture a memory of the first time she tasted tarte aux pommes in France.  This one is similar, but uses crème pâtissière instead of apple purée and fewer apples.

As you can refer to the original for the recipe, I’ll just give a few photographs and thoughts.

The crème pâtissière doesn’t look very nice at all in this picture because of the blobs of butter over the top, but trust me when I say it tastes delicious and the consistency is beautifully thick and silky.

Irrelevant but mildly amusing, a photograph of the result of an apple corer-related mishap:

I am an absolute sucker for kitchen gadgets, so was easily seduced by a frivolous set of baking beans a little while ago, and this was my first opportunity to use them.  I must admit, they’re flipping marvellous!  Many’s the time I’ve chased roasting hot ceramic beans around my kitchen floor having buggered up the removal of the sheet of baking paper that contained them, so removing these in a second with a pair of kitchen tongs was a breeze. They also don’t rip up half the pastry, which I’ve done with paper once or twice…

When I do this recipe again – as I almost certainly will – I shall slightly change the way in which I’m slicing the apples.  Once I’ve cored and peeled them, I’ll slice the top straight across (leaving the bottom nice and curved), then use the flat edge to slice vertically.  This way, I’ll get a nice curve/point to create a more aesthetically pleasing finish.  Not bad as it is, mind.

 

I will also make sure I cover the pastry edges next time I do this (for everything after the blind bake), as it’s a bit too browned for my liking.

 

Now for the nerve-wracking bit of offering it to my friends.  Always terrifying, no matter how confident I am that I’ve chosen a brilliant recipe and followed it to the letter.  We shall see…