Thursday, 28 February 2013

Chocolate Guinness Cake... oh my!

I did mention here that I was just waiting for the opportunity to make the Chocolate & Guinness Cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book and I am very pleased to say that I made it last weekend. We had been invited to some friends' for Sunday lunch and I took this cake (with red velvet cupcakes for the kids... this is a decidedly grown up cake!)

Melting the butter into the guinness was an odd moment - again, I used margarine and I was worried it wouldn't work - it just looks a bit wrong! But, as soon as I added the next lot of ingredients - as you can see - it all came together and the lovely, glossy, desired batter materialised.

As far as the baking goes, my cake came out with a ginormous crack in it and the cake was a little bit dense toward the bottom - as though it was so moist yet huge, that the cake couldn't withstand its own weight and squashed a little. The cream cheese frosting disguised the crack with no problem and the texture didn't affect the eating at all - it was delicious. I was happy to serve this up to our friends and they were happy to eat it! It seemed positive all round.

I will definitely make this again - it was so rich, and moist, and just downright decadent!
The best part of all was that it was SO big that we left a quarter of it with our friends and dropped the other two quarters round to two different friends' houses on the way home. This prompted a facebook discussion on the subject of this cake and I have now promised to make it for a few more friends. I topped mine with a dusting of cocoa powder and some dark chocolate chunks.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes

So, as per my previous post, I got stuck into baking from this book this past weekend and I must say, it all went down very well! I started with Red Velvet Cupcakes and I will definitely be making this recipe again. They were a big hit with us three, my sister, my niece & nephew, my grandparents, and our friends. Thankfully, I already have an exciting event to make these for which I'll be sharing with you all very soon (and how you can get involved). 

I haven't made red velvet cake at all before and I was delighted with how moist and delicious this version was. 

The recipe calls for butter but I used baking block margarine because I already had it in my fridge and, quite frankly, half the price! I think if you use it properly in a cake recipe you can't really tell. Obviously icing is a different matter. Buttercream has to be butter! The recipe dictated 'softened' butter but mine was hard out of the fridge. Hooray - a chance to try out a Mary Berry special tip! Mary says if you need softened butter, to cube it and pop it in a bowl, pour hot water over it then drain the water off and, voila, perfectly softened butter! I am pleased (but not suprised) to report that it works. 

The other change I had to make was to the food colouring. I only use highly concentrate gel food colours but the recipe cited Dr. Oetker as a good example of the type of food colouring and a measurement of 40ml. You have to mix it with the vanilla and cocoa powder to form a paste. So I just used a dollop on the handle of a teaspoon and added warm water from the kettle til I felt I'd added roughly 40ml and was a paste-like consistency. This worked absolutely fine and the colour was fab! 

The last part that was different was the yield. The recipe states 12-16 cupcakes but I got 14 large cupcakes as well as another 16 smaller fairy cake size! They recommend doubling the recipe for making a triple layer 23cm cake but I'm not sure you'd need to! 
I got to have some of the sciency fun that I mentioned before with this recipe - the rise is achieved by mixing bicarb with vinegar - I used distilled white vinegar although they stated white wine vinegar (shop didn't have any and as it's only a spoonful, I doubted it would matter... and it didn't.) It all fizzed up and then I stirred it into the batter last of all. 

These cakes are finished off perfectly with a spreading of cream cheese buttercream and red velvet cake crumbs:

Well, these are definitely a great recipe and one I will come back to time and time again. After all, it's been the Hummingbird Bakery's best selling flavour since they opened in London so who am I to argue with that?! Part of item one on my list is to follow recipes properly - it's pushing me to learn new skills and try methods that I usually wouldn't look at. I am learning a lot already which I love :) 

By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, you ought to know this is the equipment I am working with: 

I have no idea how old this Kenwood is but it has definitely seen better days and needs to retire! BUT it was free to me and belonged to my great Aunt (so is prob 40yrs old or so) and it's all I have for now. As for the scales, my digital ones are broken and these ones were a wedding present - my sister found them in a charity shop! Also, my oven is gas and has no markings on the dial so I have no clue of temperature!! If I can get result with this trio of clapped out second-hand equipment then these recipes must be good!!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

In Review: Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days

So, as per my previous post, I recently treated myself to this book:

Immediately, I wanted to get baking but wanted an excuse so as to avoid the whole bake-it-just-because-and-then-eat-it-cos-it's-there thing. Thankfully I found the perfect excuse. My sister hopped on a train with her three wonderful kids this morning and came to spend the day with us and we're off to friends for lunch tomorrow. So I baked, naturally. 

This book is such a treat to leaf through. The Hummingbird Bakery seems to value flavour over flair which is wonderful. If you visit Slice of Barnes, you will see she says "believes that modern cupcakes are too much about the icing, and not enough about the taste." I am inclined to agree. Cupcakes have become fashionable (which is no bad thing, it has got people interested in baking, after all) but there is generally a mound of piped generic buttercream frosting, too sickly sweet to properly enjoy, and decorated to within an inch of its life. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for beautiful cakes - I am all for the odd sugar paste rose, or lightly glittered butterfly, atop some beautifully piped frosting - but it is a real shame when the look far outweighs the taste. If something looks enticing, you want to take that first bite and not feel you've been lured to something decidedly ordinary tasting (or worse!)

As I read through this book, the first thing that struck me was that all the frosting was smoothed over with a pallet knife with just a little flicked swirl in the centre. And not a piping nozzle in sight. Now, you'll know from reading my list that cake decorating is on there and I love it. I understand this book though. You get the sense that they want a cupcake (or cake - there are lots of whole cake recipes too) to be a comfort, a real treat, a joy to both bake and eat, and to taste divine. All their frosting is a complimentary flavour to the sponge, not merely a decorative tool. 

The second thing I noticed was that they only use plain flour with different raising agents. This is new to me (obviously, I have used plain flour with baking powder before but it's unusual for an entire book!) I realise, though, that baking is a science and by taking this route, it allows more control over the kind of rise and texture you get in a bake. 

The third thing about this book is the flavours they have come up with. They're soooo tempting, I hardly knew where to begin! Flavours so creative and mouthwatering that to cover them with lots of decoration would seem a tad sacrilegious to be honest. The book has such a relaxed, yet beautiful, feel to it that it makes you feel you could achieve the same results you see on the page. Which you totally can. The recipes are more complex than I am used to (as a result of the science-ness) but as long as you read the directions thoroughly it's fine. 

I have already baked twice from this book and would definitely say it is expanding my baking horizons and pushing my limited skills (thus helping me in item one on the list!) I am already excited about what I can make from this book next... all in all, it's a big thumbs up and huge recommendation from me (that counts for a lot, don't you know?!)

Watch this space for a review of the recipes I made for my sister, kids, and our friends!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

"This is new cakebook MADNESS!!!!"

Said Barnes... "Madness, indeed" I replied. She's right, that lovely lady of Slice of Barnes fame. You see, shortly before hand I had tweeted this: 
Followed by this....

Thus ensued a twitter feed involving the fact that I recently gave birth to a 9lb 7oz baby with no pain relief (no, I'm not mental and / or Wonderwoman, my darling son simply came out faster than the doctors could get their epidural act together!) and a discussion on how long I could milk this (we decided on forever - I have warned my husband.)

So, it has been a fabulous day for my collection of baking literature and these two will be on my shelf of loveliness alongside such favourites as Jo Wheatley's "A Passion for Baking" and Ruth Clemens' "A Busy Girl's Guide to Cake Decorating", both of which I got for my birthday last year and further fuelled my desire to get good at baking!

Having just signed up to my first Clandestine Cake Club meeting, organised by Charlotte Pike, I am excited to say I'll be baking from the CCC Cookbook at the start of march (if not before!) and found it so hard to settle on a recipe to use, I am actually combining two - the cake of one, with presentation of another! It shall remain a suprise, however, until after the lovely CCC Dorset group have had their slice! As soon as I have an excuse, however, I have my sights firmly set on the Hummingbird Bakery's Chocolate & Guinness Cake... oh yes! Watch this space for recipe testing & full book reviews soon(ish)!

Thanks for stopping by, 
R x

Recipe Development

I have always been daunted by the thought of developing my own recipes. I tend to think I would have no clue where to start! Last night, however, I had a little revelation. I already develop recipes... pretty much every day. Every time I look in the fridge & cupboard and then just "wing it" for dinner, I am creating new recipes! So, last night, I decided & would photograph and blog this one. 

I know this isn't strictly baking but it is a dough and it isn't something I have made before so I reckon it counts for item two on my big list!

So, my husband popped out to the Co-Op for something and came home with a super bargain cooked chicken that was reduced to clear for £1.25. Perfect! I can get a minimum of  two meals out of a full roast chicken, sometimes three. This had me thinking, I fancied something with a sweet, smoky flavour and tortillas.  I didn't fancy going back to the shops for tortillas so I googled it and here's where I ended up: 

Flour Tortilla Wraps - what a discovery, I never knew they could be so easy and delicious. I don't think I'll ever buy wraps again! I made one quarter of this recipe. Seeing I had all the elements in my stores, I set to work and made my dough. Whilst the dough was resting, I made a sauce of tinned chopped tomatoes, paprika, garlic, squirt of ketchup, and squirt of Smoky BBQ sauce, and dash of salt & pepper. Smoked paprika would be best but I didn't have any. 

Bargain chicken and easy peasy tortilla dough.

Then I started on my tortillas. The recipe states a hot dry pan so I heated the pan and started rolling out my first one. I went thin, as I was rolling this up for a baked dish but for sandwich style wraps, you could easily go a tad thicker - perfect with falafel I think! I rolled thin enough that I could see light through my dough when I held it up. It should be lovely and stretchy too. The tortillas should bubble beautifully in the pan. It seems odd to dry fry, but it does work and they crisp wonderfully. At this point I started imagining all the delicious things I could come up with for these wraps - hot & crisp served with fresh guacamole, home made salsa and hummous as an appetiser, perhaps?
Once all the tortillas were done, and the sauce had simmered to a lovely thick consistency, I assembled the dish. I spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the dish and took each tortilla, filled with a squeeze of BBQ sauce, shredded chicken, and then rolled up, placing it seam-side down in the dish. 

Then I took the remaining sauce and spread it over the top of the rolled up wraps and covered in grated cheese. This would have been better with monterey cheese or even a mozzarella - cheddar mix (for their melty stringy properties) but I only had cheddar to hand. I sprinkled a touch of paprika on top of the cheese and popped it into a hot oven for around 20 mins or so. Here is what came out:
A dish of sweet, smoky, tomatoey, cheesy, meaty, tortilla deliciousness.

I will definitely make this again!! The tortillas stayed soft, with a few crisp edges whereas I have made a similar dish with shop bough wraps and they can go a tad soggy (bleugh!)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Here Goes...

I wonder how may people have started their first blog post with that title, "Here goes..." Those three little dots, loaded with anticipation  excitement, or perhaps even fear? It's quite something, putting a little piece of your heart in writing and hoping that someone, somewhere, somehow will stumble across your teeny corner  of the blog-o-sphere and read it. Maybe they'll enjoy it, laugh a little with you. Perhaps even come back and read your musings again, becoming a small part of your journey.

Well, here goes... :)

I am Rachel. I am a wife, mother, avid baker, amateur cake decorator, even more amateur sewer, and a below-average musician and an ok singer (I can't ever imagining getting to the point of being able to say I'm a good singer - seems weird, to like your own voice, doesn't it?!) I digress. The point of this blog stems from my love of list making so it seems only natural to make a BIG list. Not long, but BIG in stature. The bucket type big.
At the tender age of 21, I met the most wonderful man I could ever have hoped to meet, because he was made to be mine. My first proper boyfriend and, as it happens, my husband just a year later. 6 years on and we have 2 extraordinary sons who challenge and delight us daily (in almost equal measures.) My twenties have been the most drastically life-altering years so far and I am turning 30 in exactly 2 years and 5 months, which brings me back to the list:

ONE : Learn to drive
TWO: Learn to bake. Properly.
THREE: Learn to decorate cakes. Properly.
FOUR: Sew an item of clothing from scratch.
FIVE: Write (and finish writing) a song.

There, that's my BIG list. I told you it wouldn't be long! I will be blogging about my reasons for each item on the list and my efforts in each of these areas as I go along. Of course, there are many more I could add, but I know myself and if I see a list which feels as though it may be bigger than my ability to complete it, I'll very likely not bother at all. So, these five are enough.... for now.

Thank you for reading and I'll keep you posted (in between changing two sets of nappies and keeping my eyes open with intravenous caffeine shots)

R x

ps. re: item ONE - booked my first driving lesson today! EEEEEEEEK!
pps. re: item TWO & THREE - booked my place on my first CCC Meeting too. Bring on the baking!