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February 25, 2012

Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes with the fabulous Strawberry Meringue Buttercream Frosting!!!

To be honest, I would never have made the strawberry meringue buttercream that makes this cupcake if it wasn't for the beautiful photo in Martha Stewart's cupcake's book. I mean, the very name, Strawberry Meringue Buttercream sounds pretentious, preposterous and... p,p,p... what other word am I looking for that starts with 'p'?. Come on, be honest. How many of you had heard of meringue in a buttercream before?

martha stewart cupcakesmartha stewart strawberry cupcake

Having said all that, I did make them, meringue buttercream frosting and all! Do you remember that last year I listed a fair number of things that stop me from trying new recipes... Well, dear reader, I tackled three just here:

  • a new/complicated technique
  • not being put off by a bit of baking equipment that I don't have
  • and getting over my dislike of frosting

Having made the recipe and tasted it (so delicious!), please don't get put off making both parts of this recipe. Particularly the pretentiously, preposterous (I'm joking now) strawberry meringue buttercream. This buttercream is YUM!

There were four noteworthy moments that I'd like to share:

I borrowed a Kenwood Mixer, which we nicknamed "Kenny", and duly fell in love with it. I must confess that after the first time that I used the Kenwood, I sent a text message to Sarah, his owner, which stated "Kenny is a dream!" Kenny definitely made the experience a much easier and better one. But, as I have to remind myself now, if you don't have an equivalent, then use the electric mixer.

You'll want to use a big bowl to make the cake mixture. A glance of some of the ingredients list gives it away: 2¾ cups of flour. 2 sticks of butter.

Martha says that this makes 36 american sized cupcakes. I read in the Hummingbird bakery book that UK muffin tins are the same size as US cupcake tins. More cross-pond confusion. So, I duly baked these in a UK muffin tin, and excitedly found some pretty pink muffin cases to bake them in. In the end I made 42, but it could be that I underfilled the cases a little bit.

I still don't quite get what the UK substitute is for US all-purpose flour. The baking forums are ambivalent on this. Martha's recipe explicitly states that the ¼ cup of cake flour shouldn't be self-raising flour. By that instruction, I deduced (rightly or wrongly) that I shouldn't use self raising flour for the all-purpose flour bit. Unfortunately, at that point in my 6 hour cupcake bake-athon, I realised that I didn't have enough plain flour. And then my kitchen scales started playing up. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I used mix of plain and self-raising flour (ratio unknown), and substituted the cake flour for cornflour. Martha - I deduced by cakeflour that you wanted a flour that would create a lighter texture to it.

So, Martha. My question to you: did I commit a great baking sin?

strawberry cupcake mix 2strawberry cupcake mixstrawberry cupcake mix 3

Looking at these photos now, I'm thinking that the strawberries have a very similar appearance to pomegranates. Hmm.... I wonder whether... Next time I bake this, I'm going to try it with pomegranates. I'll let you know how I get on.

Anyway, back to Martha Stewart's Strawberry Cupcakes, adapted by moi. And I converted the recipe into grams for my UK readers.

Ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes

  • 340g self-raising flour
  • 35g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 225g butter, softened and cubed
  • 375g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely chopped strawberries - about 20 strawberries.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F. Line the muffin tin with paper cases.

2. Measure out the dry ingredients and sift together into a medium sized bowl. That's the self raising flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. You don't have to sift, but the sifting helps it to be a lighter cake.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light in colour and fluffy in texture. This normally takes between 5-7 minutes with an electric whisk. If you're using a mixer then use the beater attachment.

I think this is the moment I fell in love (again!) with the Kenwood mixer because I could just leave it to work its magic whilst I read the instructions again and got the eggs, vanilla, measured out the flour...

4. Add the vanilla extract at this point (one of my variations to Martha Stewart. I think that it helps to mix the flavour in evenly into the mixture). Then add in the eggs on a slow speed, one egg at a time with a tablespoon of the flour mixture, to prevent the mixture from curdling.

5. Now mix in the remainder of the flour mixture into the wet batter. Then pour in the milk and continue to mix well.

6. Finally add the chopped strawberries and mix the cake batter with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

Using a tablespoon, dollop out the cake mix into the prepared muffin cases. For each of the muffin cases, I estimated 2 dollops of the tablespoon worked well.

Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning the baking tins once in the baking, so that the cupakes have an even bake. Test them with a tester/sharp knife and if it comes out clean, they are ready. Let the baked cakes cool in the muffin tray for 5 minutes and then cool completely on a wire rack.

uniced cakesiced cakes

So, by the time I got to make the Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, half of the strawberry cupcakes had been used up at the cupcake workshop. As I read Martha Stewart's recipe on the meringue buttercream frosting, I just couldn't quite convince myself to use her method. She pretty much mixes all the ingredients together, heats it and mixes it, and somehow that didn't suit the perfectionist in me. So, I searched through Ruth Clemens' Pink Whisk blog and found a meringue buttercream recipe that I could adapt. I think there's also an element of me believing Ruth's blog to be more honest over Martha's book.

Besides, Ruth sold it to me, "This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon! It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!"

Okay, Ruth. Let's give it a go and see whether it's worth the effort.

It is. I don't normally like buttercream frosting because it's too rich and sweet, but I make an exception for this one. The addition of the meringue means that it feels much lighter and airier to eat. Also on the decorating front - it holds it's shape really well. Once again, probably because of the meringue.

So, here's my version of delicious Strawberry Meringue Buttercream, adapted from the Pink Whisk. From another of Ruth's posts, I'd seen that she'd used Two Chicks liquid egg whites and approved. So, I decided to save myself the worry of wondering what to do with leftover egg yolks, and searched the aisles in Sainsburys to purchase some liquid egg whites.

Oh, and I also bought myself a sugar thermometer especially for the task too. That's one way of tackling the issue of not having a piece of baking equipment.

Ingredients for Strawberry Meringue Buttercream

  • 5 large egg whites (I did indeed find and use Two Chicks liquid egg whites)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 500g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Top tip: This is much easier to do with a stand mixer. K-mix, Kitchenaid's were made for these jobs. As a non-owner, I borrowed my friend's Kenwood, I have much K-envy. So, if you have one, please make this just so that I know that they are being utilised for what they were created for!

1. Whisk the egg whites in a big bowl until they are soft peaks (foamy but don't hold their shape). Keep whisking, this time adding in 50g of sugar, a spoonful at a time. Continue whisking until they form firm peaks (they don't lost their shape when you take the whisk out).

2. Leave to one side. In a small saucepan, gently heat up the water and the 250g caster sugar so that the caster sugar melts into a syrup. Once the sugar has melted, put the heat up to full and boil it up th 121C.

Ruth said that it would take 10 minutes. I took about 20 minutes, but wondering whether I either have a faulty thermometer or did something wrong. Anyway, 20 minutes later, it had almost reached 118C and I decided that was good enough for me. Didn't seem to affect it too much this time.

3. Start whisking the egg whites again at a low speed. Slowly, slowly pour in the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking for another 8-10 minutes, until the meringue mixture cools. I had a break at this point to allow the bowl to cool down a bit.

4. When the bowl is cool to touch, it's time to add the butter. This is a slow process and be patient with it. Basically you have to add the butter to the egg whites in small pieces. If you have a mixer - keep it on the whisk attachment. I didn't weigh this out, but I estimate that I pretty much added between 10-20g each time. Let one piece of butter be incorporated fully, before adding the next. The mixture does look like it's going a bit wrong because it becomes liquidy. But don't worry, that's normal.

5. Finally(!), when all the butter is added, (if you want/need to, use the paddle attachment on a slow speed to ensure that the butter is all fully mixed in). Then swap in the whisk attachment to whisk the mixture so that it has the consistency and appearance of whipped cream.

meringue buttercreambuttercream piping bag remnants

6. Add the flavouring at this point. I separated my meringue buttercream frosting into two batches and added 1tsp vanilla extract into one and 1tbsp of strawberry (and the tiniest smidgen of red gel food colouring) to the other.

7. Fill those piping bags and away we go :)

strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting 2strawberry cupcakes and meringue buttercream frosting

IPHONE FALLS HEADLONG INTO FROSTING

UM! So yes, as I was taking photos, my Iphone slipped out of it's case and crashed into the decorated cakes. Naturally(!), I ran to grab my camera, so that I could capture a shot of that moment.

when the iphone fell into the buttercream

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to interview the said IPhone at the time, and take a shot at what it had to say about all of this because some cupcake had got in the way.

picking iphone up

:-) The salvaged cupcakes!

rescued cakes


October 11, 2011

And finally I baked… Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bundt Cake


Dorie Greenspan
Saturday, Week 1:

I've indulged myself with a lie-in this morning and at midday, I'm lounging in my pj's with my dressing gown wrapped around me for warmth on this rather chilly October day. I have a to-do list as long as my arm, and I should have been out and about at least an hour ago... However, yesterday my legs were shaking as I got out of bed. The fresh intake of students, the start of the academic year, all that energy and effort, lack of sleep, adrenalin are taking their toll on me. Somewhat sheepishly, I also admit that some of it is my own fault for staying up and baking a cake.

I confess that I am a baking addict. When I have been putting off baking for some time, there comes a point when I just have to bake something. The urge starts in my stomach and emanates out to the rest of my limbs. My fingers drum nervously on the desk, my legs crisscross, and I keep fidgeting in my seat. I am physically twitching to just get on and bake something. I don't get this about cooking food. This is purely related to baking, baking, baking. And so this is how I realised that I am a baking addict.

Earlier this week, 4 sad, brown bananas on top of my fridge kept asking me to bake them in Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bundt Cake. (I've been wanting to bake this cake since I saw it here as a Secret Agent Cakein Ari's blog six months ago.)

"No brown bananas," I said, "I don't have time to do anything about you now."

"But you must, you must." They sang back, "In a day, we will be too far gone for even a cake to rescue us."

So, I made a date with them for Wednesday evening. Which is how, after walking around my block and talking about freshers stuff with students, at 11pm on Wednesday evening, I eventually started baking Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bundt Cake (from Baking: From My Home to Yours).

By the way, I noticed that every blog post about this cake only uses cup measures, which rather irritates me as a UK baker, used to measuring things out in grams or ounzes. So, I've measured it out in grammes in this version of the recipe. Instead of plain flour, I substituted self-raising flour for all-purpose flour. I know that all-purpose flour is the US equivalent of plain flour. However, I read on some forum that the results are better with self-raising when baking cakes.

Ingredients

  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed up in a bowl
  • 225g butter, cubed and softened
  • 300g golden caster sugar (I decided on golden caster sugar for a richer flavour, but 3/4 of the specified amount.)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 450g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 225ml sour cream or yoghurt (in the absence of sour cream, but wanting the richness, I had some leftover double cream which I mixed with yoghurt)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and generously grease a 12 cup/23-25cm bundt tin. I used a pampered chef oil spray to coat it liberally with oil.

2. Mash up the bananas in a bowl and put them to one side. In another bowl, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for about 5 minutes, until the colour is pale and it looks fluffy. Then add the sugar and cream again for a few minutes. I used my Sainsbury Basic electric mixer but I had total KitchenAid Mixer envy because it would have come into its element with this cake. Indeed, Dorie recommends using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

four sad bananasbanana bundt cake batter


4. Add in the vanilla extract. One by one, add in the eggs and give it a good whizz with the mixer after each egg. Add in the bananas. Give it another whizz with the mixer.

5. Next, add in half of the dry ingredients (flour, salt and bicarb of soda) and mix well. Then pour in the sour cream or yoghurt and mix it in. Finally, beat in the remainder of the dry ingredients and finish it off with a good whizz with the mixer to make sure that everything is beaten in.

6. Pour the cake batter into the bundt tin and spread it out evenly on top. Firmly bang it on a work surface to release any trapped air bubbles.


banana bundt cake batter poured inbanana bundt cake batter 1banana bundt cake in the tinbanana bundt cake and tin


7. Bake in the oven for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. However, check on it around the 35 minute mark and cover with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly on top, so that the bottom doesn't burn.

8. Let it cool in the bundt tin for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wirerack to reveal a beautifully turned out bundt cake and allow it to cool completely.

I made the suggested lemon drizzle icingwhich perfectly complements the cake and is simple to make.

Ingredients

  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • lemon juice. Start with 2 teaspoons. I ended up using juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add in the lemon juice, starting with 2 teaspoons. Mix. Keep adding the lemon juice, one teaspoon at a time, until the icing reaches the consistency you desire for a drizzle.

2. Drizzle the icing over the cake. Ta Da.

banana bundt cake

my sliver of bundt cake for breakfast

The verdict? Oh, I need to be careful to make sure that I hold myself back and don't come across as OTT at this point because this cake tastes even better than the reviews promised it would be.

Can a cake be described as soft and velvety? Because that's how I would describe the texture of this cake. Each mouthful is an utter joy and delight to eat. The flavour is rich and deep. The lemon drizzle lends a subtle sharpness to the richness of the cake. My colleagues had some the next day and they loved it.

Top Tip: I'll let you into a secret. This is one of those cakes that gets even better if you leave it a day (at least!) if you can resist it. I dare you. Sure, the icing will become more opaque over time, but you can store it in an airtight container for at least a week. The flavours mature and become even softer. MMmmmmmm.....


March 31, 2011

Allinson's Banana Cake: my marathon training cake

I'm training to run a marathon that is in May - EEEEeeeekK! It's my first one and to say that I'm terrified is an understatement. So, I try not to think too much of the distance or the number of hours that I'll be running. However, I can't seem to stop myself thinking about what food to feed myself towards the end of a long run. I am ravenous. It's a different kind of hunger to when I was training for my first half marathon. Then, I found myself craving melons towards the 10 mile mark. So far, I can't seem to eat enough of this one cake.

Allinsons Banana Cake with Chocolate

I know that my latest posts have been about buttermilk, but bear with me whilst I share one more buttermilk cake recipe and then I'll move onto something else. This is the one that started it all. It began a few years ago when I found this gem of a recipe on the back of Allinson's Wholemeal Self-raising Flour packet. I wasn't entirely convinced at how it would turn out. But I thought, 'why not? I've got the ingredients at hand. What do I have to lose but maybe some bananas that are going off anyway, some sugar, butter and flour?' So, I made it for an English Tea Party for Study Abroad/Erasmus students at Leicester University as part of their Welcome Programme. And then I had to make it again for my colleagues because it all disappeared before they got a taste.

And..?

3 years on and a couple of banana cake recipes later, this has turned out to be one of my favourite banana cake recipes and I bake it frequently. It's also one of the few cakes that I get a craving for. So, I'll buy bananas deliberately in order to bake this cake, rather than eat the bananas as they are. I know that's not the common practice with bananas. A further confession. Sometimes I see how long I can leave the bananas ripening before they become unusable. (Answer - black and mouldy.) I've proved to myself that the banana in its various shades of mottled brown to very black is edible... in a cake... and will last a bit longer if you pop them in the fridge.

One of the nice things about this cake is that you can make variations of it, which is handy when you're baking it frequently. I've experimented by adding 100g of milk or dark chocolate chunks successfully, tried white chocolate chunks (doesn't work because they don't have enough flavour to come into their own in this cake), decorated the top with dried apricots soaked in apricot brandy. My preference? I like it as just a plain banana cake.

I'm sure that you can find even more variations. I'd love to know them so please share :)

Ingredients for Allinson's Banana Cake, adapted by yours truly.

  • 100g/3½oz softened unsalted butter, cubed or as I recently discovered, you can subsitute it with 80ml sunflower or vegetable oil. I think that the oil makes the sponge a bit lighter.
  • 140g/4½oz caster sugar (I halved the sugar, so add some more, if you'd like it a bit sweeter)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 350g/12½oz wholemeal self-raising flour (feel like I should say Allinson's, since its their recipe... and I've only ever used their flour)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 75ml/3 fl.oz buttermilk (how to make your own buttermilk)
  • optional extra ingredient - 100g chocolate chunks; chopped walnuts or pecans...

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a deep cake tin. I find that anything between 18-23cm works. Just vary the baking a time a bit. A 23cm cake tin needs a bit less time in the oven than a 18cm one.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Then gradually add in the egg. Or, if you're using oil, then beat the sugar and egg together first, then add the oil.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. The sifting helps to create lightness which is important when using wholemeal flour. Remember to add the bran that remains in your sieve back into the mixing bowl. I tried using the bran to decorate the cake last time but it just went everywhere so I wouldn't recommend doing that.

4. Add 3. to the butter and sugar and mix well. It will resemble bread crumbs if you're using an electric mixer, or feel very stiff if you're doing it by hand.

breadcrumbs banana cake mixture

5. Add in the mashed bananas and the buttermilk and mix well. If you want to pop in an optional ingredient, such as chocolate chunks or nuts or dried fruit, then do so at this stage

Top Tip: Coat your chocolate chunks lightly with flour before adding them to the cake mixture. This will help them not to sink to the bottom of your cake during the baking process.

6. Transfer the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin, smooth and pop it into the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.

banana cake mixture

I think that it's the combination of the wholemeal flour and banana that gives the cake its wholesome and moreish character. The top of the cake crisps up slightly and lends a wonderful slightly crunchy, sweet flavour. The flavour of the banana isn't too overpowering, for those of you who aren't overly keen on it and leaves you wanting to nibble on some more. Mmmmm Mmmmm MMmmmm.

Incidentally, I do recommend the back of flour packets as a good place to find yummy baking recipes. Flour companies should know these things, since flour is normally the primary ingredient. Now, I should listen to my own advice more often and make those chocolate thins that are on the back of the plain wholemeal flour one...


March 02, 2011

Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake


raspberrybuttermilkcake

I really like discovering delicious new recipes, especially when you weren't looking for them. It feels like stumbling across some hidden treasure. This cake is exactly that. I found this one in Smitten Kitchen as I was googling for a recipe that I could use up the buttermilk that I had leftover from a banana cake baking session. Fortuitously, I happened to have all the ingredients at hand. Winner! So, I just got up and started baking the cake :)

raspberries

If you don't have buttermilk, you can substitute it with natural yoghurt but it doesn't quite taste the same. Better yet, I have since learned how to make my own buttermilk, the cheat's way. The proper way requires either churning butter and using the leftover milk (hence the name, buttermilk) or shaking a pot of double cream for a l.o.n.g time for the same effect.

The raspberries all sank to the bottom the first time I made this (the cake still tasted scrumptious). I had a hypothesis that the fruit wouldn't sink if I first lightly powdered them with flour before I added them to the cake batter. So, I tested this out the second time I made this cake. I poured the batter into two cake tins and scattered in one, lightly floured raspberries, and the other with bright, red raspberries. When both cakes turned out beautifully with raspberries floating dreamily on top, I was flummoxed as to why the first time round had been a disaster. However, now I'm remembering that I forgot to preheat the oven and so the batter was left out for a while, so maybe the raspberries sunk then... *sigh* Basic common sense, Miss Cha - remember to switch on the oven and turn on the cooker at the mains so that the oven can actually preheat.


raspberrybuttermilkcake2twotypesofraspberriesoncaketwotypesofraspberrycake1


Raspberry and Buttermilk Cake, adapted by yours truly from Smitten Kitchenand Gourmet Magazine

List of Ingredients

  • 55g/2oz unsalted butter
  • 135g/5oz caster sugar (for the cake) + 1 tbsp of caster sugar (to sprinkle on top of the raspberries)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 130g/4.5oz plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 125ml/4fl oz buttermilk, stirred
  • 140g/5oz of raspberries

Top Tip: you can substitute the raspberries with other berries. I imagine that blueberries would taste heavenly, or cherries with almond flakes on top...

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F or Gas Mark 5 and line a 18-20cm cake tin, or alternatively dust it lightly with flour.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 2-3 minutes with an electric mixer (I finally got one!) or 5-7 minutes by hand.
3. Mix in the vanilla extract, the lemon zest, and then finally the egg.
4. In a separate bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
5. Slowly add 4. and the buttermilk to the wet mixture. I'd recommend adding the flour in three batches, alternating each time with the buttermilk. This way, it will be easier to mix and the mixture won't curdle. If you're doing this with an electric mixer, do it at a low speed.
6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top, then scatter the raspberries evenly on top of the mixture. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of caster sugar over the raspberries.

raspberrybuttermilkcake2scatterraspberries


7. Pop it into the centre of the oven and let it bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.
8. Let it rest in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then cool on a wire rack.

The verdict? Well, this cake is a winner in my eyes. Its simple to bake and you can make this cake and eat it within an hour. It is wonderfully moist from the buttermilk and the raspberries lend a lovely freshness to it. Also, the cake tastes delicious, even when the berries have sunk to the bottom. If that happens to you (and I don't think it should as long as you remember to preheat the oven) here's how I remedied it - by serving the cake, turned upside down. You could also sprinkle lots of icing sugar on it.

remedyraspberrybuttermilkcake

p.s. The cake freezes well too. Wrap it up twice with foil and a plastic bag to freeze it. Just take it out the freezer the night before and leave it on the side to defrost it - simple.


January 05, 2011

A Taste of Sunshine: Coconut and Lime Drizzle Cake


coconut and lime drizzle cake


It has been really cold outside - freezing in fact. In Aberdeen, I experienced a very rare Christmas of it reaching -15°C. I think that I was the only one who was delighted that it was so cold and guaranteed a white christmas. I didn't quite appreciate that the cold snap just hadn't snapped for 5 weeks in Aberdeen and they were tired of being cooped up by the snow.

I find that when it is that cold it's hard to remember how it could ever be warm enough, that you don't need mittens for a start... or a coat... or thermals (did I go too far with the thermals bit? is that just me?). Does the UK really have a t-shirt and flip flops season? But now that temperatures are above freezing. Well, it feels positively balmy. 'Let's put on those bikinis and do some sunbathing'. Okay - so maybe it's not quite reached that temperature yet.

So, this recipe is dedicated to all of you who would like to be reminded of some sunshine. A taste of hope that seasons do come and change.

How apt. As I write, I realise that on the two occasions that I have baked this cake, they were to celebrate significant milestones in my sister's life.

Milestone #2. (Nope, this isn't a typo, I'm milestoning this chronologically)

Back in November, my mum came to visit me en route to my sister's graduation. Quite a considerable detour since my sister, Ee-Reh, lives in Huddersfield! Bless her - my mum told me later that her main intent on visiting me was to unpack whatever boxes remained from my various moves over the summer. Instead, it was really nice to show her that her eldest daughter had finally seen the light about unpacking everything and was trying to keep her flat tidy.

The following morning, whilst my mum acted on an urge to do my ironing (I love her!), I wanted a taste of sunshine. So, I baked a cake for my mum to take as my sister's graduation present.

Unfortunately the graduation ceremony was called off due to the severe weather conditions.

Milestone #1.

I first made this cake for my sister's wedding in September, along with Ee-Reh's request for my lemon drizzle and dark chocolate cake. My sister had asked several of her guests to contribute cakes. These two were my favourites. The Carrot Cake is decorated with a picture of the swing in the garden where my sister had the wedding ceremony. Then this Bumble Bee Cake, with flying bees. Aren't they fantastic?

carrotcake with swingbumblebee cake
Ee-Reh and OlaEe-Reh in the tree

And, yes. That's my sister up in the tree. On the morning of her wedding. Hanging up the decorations. She's incredible!

I've been wanting to experiment with lime, coconut and chilli since I visited Cambodia in March. Ahhhh... those flavours bring back memories. Cocktails of freshly squeezed limes + sugar syrup + soda water, refreshing chicken and lemongrass soup, steamed spring rolls and deep-fried beetles - what fun! I really enjoyed Cambodian cooking. But it was the sunshine... the sunshine that I desperately wanted to taste.

Honestly, honestly, honestly. The first lime drizzle and coconut cake, the one that I took to my sister's wedding, was dry. Even with the lime drizzle moistening it up. I now have a theory that dessicated coconut sucks up the moisture in a cake: this also happened when I made kentish cake, another cake recipe that asks for dessicated coconut. Hmmm... so, in true Han-Na style, I did some googling for other coconut cake recipes to give me some ideas on how to liven up this recipe and discovered the addition of coconut milk and rum in cakes. Rum, hey? A real taste of sunshine then :) And thank you to my blessed colleague for lending me her lime rum.

A quick note about the ingredients: 1. Coconut milk - Buy some powdered mix stuff for this recipe and others. It's cheaper and more flexible store cupboard ingredient than a tin of coconut milk. You can vary the quantity of coconut milk really easily. I used Maggi's.

2. My colleague lent me her bottle of Lime Malibu and most supermarkets will carry it. However, if you're adverse to alcohol, the rum is an optional ingredient.

maggi coconut milk powder

Ingredients for a Taste of Sunshine: Coconut and Lime Drizzle Cake

  • 125g/4.5oz unsalted butter
  • 75g/2.5oz caster sugar
  • grated zest of two limes - or one depending on how much limey zestiness you'd like.
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 150g/6oz self-raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 50g/2oz dessicated coconut
  • 125ml/4floz coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp lime rum or normal white rum (optional)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2. Put the butter and the sugar together in a bowl and whisk them together with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Alternatively, if like me, you don't have an electric whisk and the butter isn't softening quickly enough (even when you have left it out on the side to soften) then cheat by zapping the butter in the microwave - see top tip.

Top Tip: I don't have an electric whisk and I'm not always so organised to leave the butter out on the side to soften. As you can guess, this results in the butter being too firm to hand whisk with ease. So, I cut the butter into small size chunks (about 3 cm cubes) and zap them in the microwave for just under a minute (the time will vary depending on the power of your microwave) in order to ease the whisking process. I try and do it so that the butter hasn't melted, just softened. In all honesty, I normally end up with a not-entirely-but-pretty-much-melted butter consistency. I guess that it affects the chemistry of the baking in some way but the cakes turn out fine.

3. Add the lime zest and eggs and keep whisking so that the mixture is combined well. I almost forgot to add in the eggs at this stage. The addition of the coconut milk makes it quite a runny mixture so it was easy to forget. I remembered just at the end of the mixing, so I don't think that the order of adding the eggs at the end affected the baking chemistry too much. But I'm going to say - add them in at this stage, so that you don't forget.

4. Thoroughly mix in the flour, baking powder, dessicated coconut.

5. Stir in the coconut milk and lime rum. The mixture will be very gloopy now.


coconutandlimemixturegloopycake


6. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake tester/knife comes out clean.

7. As the cake is baking in the oven, now prepare the sunshine lime drizzle. Oh, I can almost hear the waves crashing on the beach as I write this up. Where is that bikini?

I normally use golden caster sugar for drizzle. However, this time I tried using icing sugar because i didn't want the snowy sugary crust on top. No reminders of the snow please! And it worked well. I try to reduce the amount of sugar that I use in recipes so remember to add a bit more sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Ingredients for Sunshine Lime Drizzle

  • 35g icing sugar (you can substitute it with golden caster sugar if you want)
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 1.5 tbsp lime rum (more if you want to)

8. Mix the lime juice, icing sugar and lime rum. Don't worry about the lime pulp, I think that the pulp adds personality to the cake when you pour it on.

9. When the cake is baked, make some holes in the cake to ease the journey of the drizzle through the cake. My weapon of choice is a metal chopstick. A cocktail stick will do the job just fine and is easier to source. Pour the drizzle on while the cake is still hot. I find it helpful to use a teaspoon towards the end to make sure that every inch of cake has been covered with drizzle. Ta Da.

coconutandlimedrizzlecakecoconutandlimedrizzlecake2

The verdict? It's a simple cake to make. I made a double batch and gave the second one away to some of my friends who travelled to Cambodia with me. My sister commented, "the cake was very yummy. All who ate it said so. Jennie especially liked how moist it was. I thought, for a lime-lover, it could have been more zesty. However, equally, this could put off those who do not appreciate the lovely greeny limey goodness."


October 28, 2010

Spiced Autumnal Orange Drizzle Cake with Dark Chocolate Embers


spiced autumnal orange drizzle cake


It's autumn on campus. I love going for walks with friends around the fields on the beautifully bright days that we're lucky to have. And with the dark nights drawing in and the leaves falling off the trees, it is the perfect time to brave your face to the brisk night at a bonfire, or turn in early and watch the flames lapping the wood in the fireplace.

leaves falling off treesleaves turning yellowsilhouettes

When I came up with this cake 2 years ago, I had both types of fires in my mind as inspiration. I had also been watching Masterchef and one of the contestants had created a dish using charcoal to recreate the fiery taste of a bonfire. I decided to use dark chocolate, not feeling quite knowledgeable enough about charcoal flavouring (perhaps leave that for another time). My idea being that the chocolate would visually recreate the burning embers of a fire, and the orange and spices would add the warmth in the flavour.

I used the Lemon Drizzle Cakerecipe as my starting point for bringing to life a perfect autumnal treat.

Ingredients for Spiced Autumnal Orange Drizzle Cake with Dark Chocolate Embers

  • 125g/4.5oz butter
  • 75g/3oz caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g/5oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp mixed spice
  • zest of one orange* see top tip.
  • 2 tbsp (or 30 ml) of Cointreau or milk if you don't want to use alcohol
  • 85g/3.5oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Top Tip: wash the fruit with a wee bit of washing up liquid to take the wax off, unless you can buy unwaxed oranges (I find them harder to source compared to lemons and limes). It will make the zesting of the orange much more effective and easier.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2. If you don't have an electric whisk, like me, then mix the butter, sugar, orange zest together first before adding in the eggs, then the flour, spices and baking powder. If you have an electric whisk, then add in all of the above ingredients and whizz them up until the mixture is smooth.

3. Stir in the Cointreau/milk so that the mixture falls softly off the spoon - that's my interpretation of 'a soft, dropping consistency'.

4. Stir the chocolate into the cake mixture. I wanted the chocolate to sink to the bottom of the cake, so didn't coat the chocolate with flour.

5. Spoon the cake mixture into the loaf tin and smooth the top. Pop it into the oven and let it bake for about 40 minutes, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.

6. While the cake is in the oven, prepare the orange drizzle. (if you prefer it a bit sweeter, then increase the sugar)

Ingredients for Orange Drizzle

  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 tbsp of Cointreau
  • 30g golden caster sugar

7. I normally use a chopstick to poke wholes in the cake for the drizzle to pour into. This time I experimented with a cocktail stick in case they make smaller holes. Nope. I'll return to the chopstick next time.

8. Slowly pour the drizzle evenly over the cake when it is fresh out of the oven. Ta da!

Verdict - Mmmmmmmm.... Moist and flavoursome. The chocolate, orange and spice mix is a winner with adults and children alike. The added bonus is that this is a simple and quick cake to bake (especially if you have an electric whisk).


July 26, 2010

Zingy Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake

lemon and ginger cheesecake 1

So, when you hold
the hemisphere
of a cut lemon
above your plate,
you spill
a universe of gold,
a yellow goblet
of miracles,

Pablo Neruda - Ode to the Lemon

I love lemons. My friends will testify to my love affair with lemons. 'A yellow goblet of miracles' beautifully describes my imaginations of what I could create with them. I particularly love that zing that lemons add when I use it in baking.

My timing of trying out this recipe was a bit silly really. It was three days before the removal men were coming. My two tubs of soft cheese in my fridge were almost at their expiry date, the sun was out and I needed an excuse to do something other than pack boxes! This lemon and ginger cheesecake seemed like the perfect summer dessert.

the inspiration for lemon and ginger cheesecake



I've since made two versions of this cheesecake. Version One lacked the lemony zing. It may appeal to the finer palette; I love robust flavours. So, I cheated the second time and added lemon curd to the mixture, which brought out the lemon and complemented the ginger perfectly.

Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake adapted from the Good Food Channel

Ingredients and Method

Ideally use a 25cm springform cake tin and double wrap the outside of it with foil. This is to protect the cheesecake when baking it in a water-bath. I didn't have a big enough cake tin at the time of baking the cheesecakes. Instead, I made a 20cm and 10 mini cheesecakes. Very cute!

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F

lemon and ginger mini cheesecakes

...For the biscuit base

225g digestive biscuits (or if you really like ginger, then substitute it all or partly with ginger biscuits)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp caster sugar
75g unsalted butter, melted

  1. Pulse the biscuits in a food processor until they resemble fine crumbs, or bash them up in a bag with a rolling pin. Whichever method suits your mood.
  2. Add the ground ginger, caster sugar and the melted butter and mix it all up. I've already reduced the amount of butter from the recipe so that there is enough butter for the biscuit base to stick together.
  3. Transfer the biscuit mixture to the cake tin and press it down firmly. If you would also like to make mini ones too, then use a tablespoon of biscuit mixture per cupcake case. I discovered that my mini-tart shaper is perfect for pressing down the biscuit base.

...For the filling
570g cream cheese
100g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
4 large eggs, beaten
grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons
380ml sour cream
2 tbsp lemon curd, beaten so that it's a little bit runny, optional but highly recommendable

  1. Beat the cream cheese and the caster sugar together until smooth in a big bowl.
  2. Mix in the cornflour.
  3. Slowly mix the eggs into the mixture, one at a time, so that they are thoroughly mixed in. Don't worry that the mixture always looks a wee bit peculiar at this stage.
  4. Pour in the sour cream and add the lemon zest. Gently mix them into the mixture.
  5. Lemony zing lovers could also add the lemon curd into the mixture at this stage. I put blobs of it on top of the mixture once I had poured the filling into the cake tin. Then I worried that the lemon curd would burn in the oven if it was left on top, so I took a metal chopstick and mixed the lemon curd into the mixture. I've since thought about putting 3/4 filling in, putting in a layer of lemon curd, then topping it with cheesecake filling. Essentially you can do whatever you like with it, and I'd really love to hear what worked for you.
  6. For the mini cheesecake fans - I used 2 teaspoons of the filling for each case.
  7. Pop it into the oven for about 45 minutes. I think that I baked the mini cheesecakes for 20 minutes. Bake until the middle of the cheesecake is just set. I test it by gently resting my finger on it and the cheesecake is ready when there is no (or barely any) mixture sticking to it.

Top Tip! Cheescakes are best when baked in a moist oven. To achieve this, you can bake the cheesecake in a water-bath by placing the cake tin in a roasting tin and filling the roasting tin with enough hot water so that it reaches about half way up the cake tin. Alternatively you can place a small oven-proof bowl full of hot water on the bottom level of the oven. I've used both methods and haven't noticed any difference to the texture of the cheesecakes. But perhaps a more experienced cheesecake baker could enlighten me?

...Meanwhile, start the topping
250ml sour cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
80g stem ginger, drained and finely chopped
grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon mixed with 1/2 tbsp of sugar

  1. Mix the sour cream and the caster sugar together.
  2. Take the cheesecake out of the oven when it's ready and pour the topping on, arrange the stem ginger on top. The mini cheesecakes appreciate a thin layer of sour cream topping.
  3. Pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes, so that the sour cream topping can set.
  4. When it comes out, immediately run a knife round the edge of the cheesecake. This will help stop the cheesecake from cracking. Also, helpful for when taking the cheesecake out of the tin when serving it up.
  5. Let the cheesecake cool down for about an hour before popping it into the fridge overnight.
  6. Sprinkle the sugary lemon zest on top before serving.

Verdict - The combination of lemony zingyness with gingery warmth produces lots of 'Mmmmms'. It does take some effort but it is a really simple summery dessert to make that is a crowd-pleaser. I'm pleased to say that my friend's children ate some and then asked for seconds. Winner! The cheesecake is best eaten a day or two after it is made so that it stays soft. But I always seem to make too much cheesecake in one go, so I'd appreciate any tips on freezing it.


May 10, 2010

Banana Loaf with Granola Topping

banana loaf with granola topping

The mixing bowl is the perfect resting place for black, mushy, overly-ripe bananas: they redeem themselves in a cake.

A friend of mine fed me this cake. It was a weightwatchers recipe. Of course, this meant that you could eat ALL of it without feeling any ounce of guilt. I was hooked by the cinnamon granola topping and the cake's wholemeal goodness. I've since wondered about transferring its cinnamon granola goodness to other recipes, like an apple cake.

The first time I made the banana loaf, I stuck to the original recipe and used one banana, 1tbsp runny honey and margarine. The result was on the dry and unsatisfying side. The kind of cake that needs a cuppa. So, I made a few variations to it. This version may just scrape through into the weightwatchers recipe book, that is if you replace the butter with margarine. (I ended up using butter because I finished off the margarine on the previous attempt. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmmm...)

Since baking Nigella's Clementine Cake and brownies, I've learnt that some cakes are best left a day or so in order to allow the flavours to mature. I guess this cake could be eaten warm out of the oven, but the flavours really came out when I left it for a day.

This variation on a Weightwatchers Banana Loaf with Granola Topping recipe will make one banana loaf using a 2lb loaf tin.

Ingredients

Cake Mix

125g butter (or margarine if you'd like a lower fat version)
75g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 overly-ripe, mushy, black bananas, mashed
1½ tbsp runny honey
225g wholemeal self-raising flour
splash of milk

Granola Topping

15g chopped walnuts or hazelnuts (I'd run out of hazelnuts)
2 heaped tsp oats
3tsp demerera sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Banana Cake Ingredients

    Method

      1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
      2. Line the tin with baking paper.
      3. Make the granola topping first - combine all the ingredients together in a small bowl and leave it to one side.
      4. Whisk the butter and sugar together in a bowl until soft and fluffy (I discovered that an electric whisk makes this process much, much easier.) Then gradually add in the beaten eggs.
      5. Mix the mashed bananas and the honey together and then add them to the butter, sugar, egg mixture. On my first attempt, I was slightly concerned about the appearance of the resulting mixture. The mixture didn't want to combine into a smooth mush. My second attempt had the same result, so I'm thinking that this look is normal.
      6. Slowly add in the flour to the mixture and mix it until it achieves a 'soft, dropping consistency'. It's a phrase that I picked up from my lemon drizzle cake recipe and perfectly describes how the mixture should drop off the spoon. I added a wee splash of milk at this point to reach this consistency.
        cimg4053.jpgcimg3976.jpg
      7. Spoon the cake mixture into the tin, brush the top with milk to help stick the granola topping to the cake (good tip, Lucy!) then evenly sprinkle the granola mixture on top. The recipe suggested making a small furrow down the middle of the mixture. Is the result is a more even loaf?
      8. Bake for 50mins in the middle of the oven, until the skewer comes out clean. Remove the cake from its tin and move it to a wire rack to cool.

      Not a dry crumb at the end! Enjoy.

      granola topping banana loaf

        October 11, 2009

        Lemon Drizzle Cake with Sunken Dark Chocolate Chunks

        Lemon Drizzle Cake with dark chocolate chunks

        This was the first, and only, cake that I baked to be entered into a baking competition. One of the subwardens at Leicester was raising money for a good cause related to cancer research and ran a cake bake sale. I was really excited about contributing a cake towards it and got to enter the competition too.

        I think that this was the moment when I started to realise that I could bake cakes that tasted yummy enough to win prizes. Being a tad competitive, I set my eyes on 2nd place – a bottle of wine. (First prize was some sort of subwarden duty cover, I think, and didn’t interest me. Now, I’d consider that prize slightly differently. How things have changed!) I wanted to try out a new recipe from Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes because it is such a good recipe book. I haven’t yet found a dud recipe in there yet. The Lemon Drizzle Cake with it’s sunken dark chocolate chunks sounded so moody yet light that it stood out to me (and won me 2nd prize – hurrah!)

        So, when I was making it again tonight, I was reminded about how easy this cake is to make. You pretty much whisk all the ingredients together, add chocolate, add it into the oven et voila.

        So, Lemon Drizzle Cake with sunken dark chocolate chunks, adapted by yours truly from the amazing Green and Black’s ‘Chocolate Recipes book.
        Ingredients
        125g/4.5oz unsalted butter
        60g/2.5oz caster sugar
        2 large eggs (except this time I used one egg and the vinegar + bicarb of soda trick)
        150g/5oz self-raising flour
        1tsp baking powder
        grated rind of 1 large lemon
        3 tbsp milk
        75g/3oz dark chocolate, chopped

        Method
        1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line the loaf tin with baking paper.
        2. Whisk the butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and lemon rind together for about 2 minutes with an electric whisk, longer if you’re doing it by hand.
        Zest and Batter. Prepare

        sift, sift, sift

        3. It says in the recipe book to ‘Whisk in the milk to make a soft dropping consistency’. When do you know it is a soft dropping consistency? I pretty much guess each time and kept adding a bit more milk in. The original recipe says 1 tbsp of milk by the way. However, I’m sure that I ended up adding in 3 to achieve that ‘soft dropping consistency’.
        4. Stir in the chocolate.
        stir in the chocolate

        5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. I always use my pampered chef spatula now for this part. It gets all the cake mix out of the bowl so that I can eat that wee bit more cake. Smooth the surface and bake for 40 minutes or until the centre of the cake springs back when gently pressed. Remove from the oven.

        I love Lemon Drizzle it does make the cake. Mmmm…
        Mix 50g/2oz golden granulated sugar and the
        Juice of 1 lemon

        Prick lots of holes in the cake where you’d like the lemon drizzle to soak into the hot cake to make it refreshing and moist. I use metal chopsticks to do this but you could also use a cake testing skewer or bamboo skewers.
        using metal chopsticks to prick the holes

        Then pour the lemon drizzle over the cake when it is just out of the oven. I find it useful to use a teaspoon towards the end to ensure that the sugary syrup spreads evenly on the cake and into the little holes. Remove the cake from its tin and place it on a wire rack to cool. Ta da!
        ta da

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