My 21 baking essentials

My boxes are currently winging their way over to me in Cambodia.  I am so excited about being reunited with them.  It’s been two months! I keep clicking on the ‘track your shipment’ link, like an excited child counting down the days until Christmas.  I’m looking forward to being able to hang up my artwork, rifle through my CELTA notes and of course, reacquaint myself with my cookery books.

But most of all, I’m excited about using my Microplane zester and dough scraper again.

track my shipment

Do you know, it’s weird reading facebook status updates of the first frost, gingerbread lattes and the Good Food Show – all of which I associate with Christmas – when it is 30°C and humid outside.  I never really liked the run-up to Christmas with all the commercialisation and hype.  Especially, when shops started selling Christmas decorations in October!!!  Ask my family and friends – I was more Mrs. Bah-Humbug than Mrs Santa Claus.  So, I like it that I’m kind of removed from it all in Cambodia; it still feels weird.  A signal of how life and time is moving on for my friends in the UK, while I feel like I’m still in summer.

Anyway, back to zesters and dough scrapers – why all the excitement about them?

During my two month moniversary street food dinner, Simon asked me what I was most looking forward to having again from my boxes.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied, ‘my Microplane zester.’  It takes zest off oranges, lemons, limes… so effortlessly.  My previous zester had me almost reduced to tears because it would get so slippery with the moisture from the peel but without producing any zest!  So, when my brother bought this zester for me for my 30th birthday present, I was thrilled.  Every time I use it, I think of him and how much I love him for buying it for me.

You see, I’ve been wanting to make all sorts of things with pomelo since I first ate it in Cambodia.  Cakes, curds, puddings… but I feel like I can’t until I have my Microplane zester.  Pomelo is a citrus fruit, by the way, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’d never seen, heard or tasted one until I moved out here. Now, I can’t go a week without eating one.

And then there’s bread.  The marble work surfaces here cry out for some proper dough slapping, folding and kneading.  But, I need my trusty red dough scraper for that task.  I am also dying for some wholesome wholemeal loaves and can I find any in Phnom Penh?

There are other things that I am really looking forward to seeing and using again.  While I was listing them in my mind, I realised that it was fast becoming a list of my baking equipment essentials.

And just so we’re clear – I don’t get commission from Microplane, nor is this a product placement ad.

  1. Microplane zester
  2. Dough scraper
  3. Piping bags and nozzles
  4. Rolling pin
  5. Pastry cutters for making shortbread and tarts
  6. An assortment of cake tins – but definitely a 23cm spring form tin and 2x 20cm cake tin
  7. Various Baking trays – definitely have a square deep baking tray (metal or stoneware) and a high sided baking tray in my collection for making roulades, swiss rolls, opera cakes…
  8. Large plastic bowl for making bread
  9. 12 hole tart pan
  10. 2x 6 hole muffin tin
  11. Pastry brushes
  12. Metal sieves
  13. Measuring jugs
  14. Loaf tin – 1.5lb-2lb size
  15. Flexible spatulas – small and large sizes
  16. Pampered chef measuring spoons
  17. Pyrex bowls – small, medium, large
  18. Electronic kitchen scales.  I’d already packed them with me.  I figured that my scales have always made baking a much happier experience and I’d have a more contented existence with them.
  19. Oven thermometer – my current oven has no temperature markings on it at all, so it’s currently all guess work.

Lastly, I’d include:

20. Electric hand mixer.  My £6 Sainsbury’s basic mixer served me well for years before I left the UK.  However, I foolishly gave it away before I left because I thought that it would be easy to source one in Cambodia.  I haven’t spotted one yet.

And because it’s me.  I guess, my final final baking essential is a stool: so that I can get things from cupboards without precariously clambering onto kitchen surfaces.

Short girl in the kitchen

Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake: the first foray into baking in Cambodia

Banana and chocolate chunk cake

I hadn’t meant to create an entirely different cake when I decided to bake the chocolate, whiskey, currant banana cake (or Dumb Rum Banana Cake, as it’s known in Emma’s house) as my hello gift to Liberty Family Church.  The cake just morphed into something different as Becci and I trawled along the aisles in Lucky Supermarket, looking for ingredients, on my first Saturday in Cambodia.

  • Firstly, I discovered that butter is expensive.  The cheapest block of 227g of butter was $3.50
  • Chocolate is expensive as I expected.  There isn’t a tesco value or sainsbury basic equivalent block of dark chocolate that I can use either.  Hmm…
  • Sultanas and currants are ridiculously expensive.  The 180g of sultanas was going to cost me $1.90.
  • I couldn’t see a bag of walnuts or pecans that I can use in baking.
  • Rum or whiskey – well, alcohol is pretty cheap in Cambodia.  I wasn’t sure whether Cambodians would like the flavour of either one of them in a cake.

I’m standing looking at the dried food shelves and wondering if there’s any cheap dried fruit in Cambodia.   I’m scratching my head, ‘what am I going to do about flavour and texture?’  All my normal options were out and obviously I needed to economise on some ingredients.  And thus the cake transforms from a chocolate, nutty, whiskey, currant, banana cake into a spiced, banana cake with chocolate chunks.  ‘Out with the dried fruit and nuts’, I decide.  ‘I’m going to add flavour with a mix of spices and create texture by adding a greater quantity of chocolate chunks to it.’

Plenty of chocolate surely covers over a multitude of improvisations.

There was never a moment of questioning whether I should bother baking.  Needs must and all that – I wanted to give a hello present to the church and I needed to do some baking.

ingredients for banana and chocolate chunk cake

Ingredients for the Spiced Banana and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cake

  • 175g plain flour
  • 2 tsps of mixed spice or 1 tsp of cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger, 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line (preferably) springform cake tin, anywhere between 23-25cm. I only had a 25cm round cake tin at hand.  It was the first time I’d used it and it worked beautifully for sharing with so many people.

2. Measure out the plain flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

3. Melt the butter either in a pan or in zap it in the microwave in a pyrex bowl.  Now add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture.

Top tip: Emma shared a really good tip with me, if you are going to melt the butter in the microwave.  Use a pyrex bowl, add the butter and COVER IT WITH KITCHEN PAPER.  It means that if the butter happens to explode in the microwave, because you zap the butter for a bit too long, it won’t go all over the inside of your microwave.

preparing to bake banana and chocolate chunk cake

4.  Now add the mashed bananas,vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and mix them in well.

5. Add in the flour mix (from step 2) but add a third of it at a time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. The time needed for the cake to bake will vary depending on the size of the cake tin that you use, so don’t worry if the cake needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and the tester comes out clean.

6.  Let the cake cool completely.  Then cut it up into as many pieces as you like and share it around.

Of course, you could serve it whilst it’s still warm with cream or icecream.  I just find that the cake is easier to cut when it is cold and you don’t get so much chocolate goo all over the knife as you are cutting it.  The cake stores well in an airtight container – not that this one had a chance.  It was all gobbled up in under 10 minutes.

The verdict? The cake is really tasty.  The chocolate chunks give it texture and bite that would be missing if you omitted them.  The spices worked really well in transforming the flavour of this cake and it went down really well with the Cambodian palette too.  I still prefer the chocolatey, whiskey and currant version of the cake (who would blame me) but while I’m here, I will quite happily bake this new banana and chocolate cake.

Cake, anyone?

Kat’s mum’s apple cake

Apple cake baked in Phnom Penh
The apple cake that I baked living at Simon and Becci’s in Phnom Penh

I recently found out that these apples are really tasty and cheap, compared to the other varieties of imported apples that they sell here.  So, when I woke up, I realised that the one thing that I really wanted to do today was to bake Kat’s mum’s apple cake.

applesapples slices 2
Remember how I confessed to being a baking addict?  Since moving to Cambodia, I’ve limited myself to baking once a week and I think that’s as far as my baking addiction allows me to go before I get my next fix.

That need fuelled my first ever visit to a fruit stall in the Russian market, where I bought 8 pomme for 8400 riel (the equivalent of $3.50).    I may have overpaid for my apples: I haven’t learned yet how to bargain for food in the market.  But, I didn’t mind paying a bit extra if if meant that I could bake.  However, I wasn’t quite prepared to pay $3 for 250g of palm sugar (the only raw sugar they had available), when what I really wanted was demerara sugar.  Let’s bake together at a later date, palm sugar.  I think that you’ll be delightful in a cookie.

This apple cake goes down in my baking history as the third ever cake I made on my own.  I was 21 at the time.  Kat’s mum baked this apple cake for us when Kat invited a few friends to her Devonshire home for a holiday during our final year at university. The cake tasted wholesomely delicious and I found myself asking Kat’s mum for the recipe. I was no baker in those days so what convinced me to attempt making this cake was her reassurance that the recipe was really simple.

And it was.  Once it entered into my baking repertoire, it was then pretty much the only cake that I baked for the next 2 years.

I told you that I came late into this baking thing later than most foodies.

apple peel

The only step that requires a bit of time is peeling, coring and chopping the apples and this time, Simon and Becci did that bit for me this time round.  Hurrah for happy helpers.  But once you’ve done that, you can pretty much throw the ingredients altogether, mix it around with your hands and pop it into the oven.  There’s no faffing with trying to make it look pretty: part of the charm of baking this cake is that is meant to look rustic.  I’ve made it before when I’ve reserved a few choice apple pieces to make it look prettier, but the detail got lost underneath the topping of sugar and ground cinnamon.  You can also use a loaf tin or a round tin, as you can see from my photos.

Since being here and discovering how expensive it is to bake with butter (the cheapest i’ve found is $3.50 for 227g) I reverted back to using margarine.  The cake tastes better, I think, if you make it with margarine rather than butter.

You can also use any apples.  I really like using cooking apples because of their tartness and size, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Ingredients for Kat’s mum’s apple cake

  • 8oz/225g self-raising flour
  • 4oz/110g margarine
  • 4oz/110g granulated sugar, preferably golden but it can be white
  • 3 or 4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1-2cm slices.
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • a splash of milk

Cake topping – adapt the measures according to taste.

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.  Grease and line either a 2lb loaf tin or a cake tin, that is deepish and anything between 8-10 inches.
2. Prepare the topping first for ease because your hands will be gloopy by step 5.  In a small bowl, mix together the demerara sugar and cinnamon.
3. Peel, core and chop the apples and put them into a large mixing bowl.
4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, rub together the flour, butter and sugar until they resemble crumbs.  Add this crumbly mixture to the apples.

until the mixture resembles crumbsmixing the apple cake 2throw the cake mixture into the tin

5. Add in the eggs and a splash of milk.  Mix it around with your hands so that it all combines into a gloopy mess.
6. Sprinkle the demerara sugar and cinnamon mix on top of the cake.

Trying to make it pretty apple cake
you can prettify it if you want

7. Pop into the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 hour.  Check after 40 minutes.  If the top of the cake is browning too much  then cover the top with foil.  The cake is ready when a tester comes out clean.
8. Let it cool down and rest before taking it out of the tin.

trying to make it pretty baked apple cake
but the cinnamon/sugar topping negates the efforts

Enjoy while it’s still warm if you can.  I think that it’s worth pointing out, that with this cake you get one portion of your fruit and veg allowance, only if you eat a quarter of the cake.

Iced buns and some news: I handed in my notice

 

iced buns 1

 

I’ve handed in my notice at work.

In about 4 months time, I will be stepping onto a plane and waving good bye to the UK. Because… because (wait for it…) I am moving to Cambodia to join my friends Simon and Becci who lead a church in Phnom Penh. I haven’t got a job lined up for me, nor do I know exactly what I’ll be doing when I arrive, past the first couple of days of getting over jet lag. I imagine that my initial months will be spent learning Khmer language and culture. But, it’s all guess work if I’m honest.

iced buns 2
 

It’s both exciting and terrifying.

I don’t think that I’ve talked about this on the blogosphere before and that makes me feel somewhat dishonest with you. I’m sorry. So, let me give you a bit of context. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to live and work in another culture, specifically doing something that would help people have a better life and give hope. My earliest, serious career ambition was to live and work with street kids in a peruvian shanty town. I think that I was about 9 or 10 at the time and I definitely had some jacked up, romanticised ideas on poverty and ‘doing good’.

I’m 31 now and from what I know, romantic is definitely not the adjective to describe poverty or that kind of work. I’m expecting it will be uncomfortable as I adjust to a new climate and culture, confusing to be illiterate in a new language, hard work and lonely being so far away from my family and friends.

So, how come I’m upping sticks and moving to the other side of the world? Besides, what difference can one person affect?

Well, I know that one person can make all the difference. And that childhood dream never died, nor did I want it to. Instead, in all the intervening years, it’s been a real trusting game to wait for the right moment and opportunity.

About this time last year, I was sitting in a house, built on stilts over the sewers in Phnom Penh, thinking that sewage really did smell like durian. Between the floorboards, I could see faded, old rubbish lying a couple of feet below me. There were all these rustling sounds that kept distracting me from the conversation and I was trying really hard to curb my imagination as to what those sounds could be.

I think this was day 3 of a 10 day trip I was making with a team from my church, visiting Simon and Becci’s church. We had brilliant fun with them and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the airline did lose my luggage for 24 hours and I got really bad diarrhoea for 4 of those days. I never imagined that I’d be joining Simon and Becci in Cambodia. In fact, I distinctly remember the thought passing through my head, ‘I really admire what Simon and Becci are doing, but there is no way that I could do that or move out here’.

Ha! God definitely has a sense of humour. Unbeknownst to me, Simon and Becci were thinking the exact opposite.

making coconut milkoverladen motoCambodia team 2012
So, towards the end of 2012, they sprung it on me, out of the blue. A couple of months later, I told them yes and now I’m finally telling you. And to balance out my earlier apprehensions, let me tell you some of what I am looking forward to:

  • Learning a new language and culture
  • Being part of Liberty Family Church, Phnom Penh
  • Making new friends
  • South East Asian food – this is going to be one culinary adventure!
  • Riding a moto
  • Having lots of fun
  • Travelling around the region
  • Blue skies and the sun

And the time just seems to be right.

Which brings me neatly (!!!) to the subject of iced buns. No, honestly it does. Remember how I spoke about trusting and waiting for the right time and how it can be a bit emotional, earlier on? Well, that’s kind of how it feels baking with yeast and bread: you can’t rush the time the dough takes to rise on that first prove; you have to trust that the yeast will work and nothing beats the thrill of seeing your dough doubled in size. I could continue the analogy but suffice to say, there’s quite of bit of emotion and waiting involved!

iced buns attempt no. 1

Attempt no. 1: glazed cream buns

 This is a brilliant recipe that I’d wanted to make from the Great British Bake Off Series 2and I finally got round to trying it out 2 weeks ago. The first time, I stuck to the recipe (except I added too much water to the icing by mistake so ended up with glazed buns) and baked them into 12 buns, which I shared with my triathlon club. However, they were pretty big portion sizes and the cream was a bit bland, if I’m honest, not that they complained! So, the second time, I made them into 24 ‘mini’ iced buns, coloured the icing and added vanilla extract to the cream. They weren’t that mini, as you can see. Being somewhat unpracticed in the skill of whipping cream, I overwhipped the double cream on this second occasion and had to use my palette knife as a makeshift cream shovel! Not as pretty as my first attempt but that’s alright when it’s homebaking. I can’t imagine Paul or Mary raving about my presentation but the buns still tasted great and looked pretty. I took them to a charity clothes swap that my friend was organising and the buns were all polished off.

So, here is my iced buns recipe, adapted slightly from Paul Hollywood’s iced fingers recipe.

Ingredients for the dough

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 14g fast action yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 140ml water

Method

1. Scald the milk in a small pan, by heating it up until it is just about to boil, and leave it to one side to cool down. I find that doing this creates a softer dough. Alternatively, use the microwave to heat up the milk until it is neither hot nor cold. I added in the cold water to bring down the temperature even more.

iced bun dough 1iced bun dough 2
 

iced bun dough 3iced bun dough 4
2. If you’re doing it by hand, then measure out the flour in a large bowl, mix in the yeast, then add the sugar and the salt, rub in the butter and finally add in the eggs, milk and water. I use a scraper at this point to combine the ingredients, but you can use just your hands. It’ll make a wet dough but don’t be scared by it. The wetness of the dough should ensure that it’s soft texture. Turn it out onto your work surface and knead. If you’re like me and a bit slow at kneading, it’ll take about 15-20 minutes. Of course, you could use a machine fitted with a dough hook. In which case, put all ingredients for the dough into a large bowl, ensuring that the yeast and salt are added to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix on a slow speed until it all combines and then move it onto a medium-high speed for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

3. Pour a little bit of vegetable oil into the bowl and lightly cover the dough with oil. This helps the dough not to stick as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour and doubled in size.

4. Line two baking trays with baking paper

5. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knock out the air by pressing your fingers over the dough. I like to strengthen the dough at this stage. Shape into a vague rectangle. Take hold of a longer side, fold one third towards the centre and press down with your thumbs or the heel of your hand. Fold the other third towards the centre and press down. Finally fold it in half lengthways, press down and roll it out a bit with your hands. The dough should feel stronger.

shaping rolls 1shaping rolls 2

shaping rolls 3shaping rolls 4

shaping rolls 5shaping rolls 6

6. Divide the dough into half, then half again, so that you have 4 sections. Work with one section at a time and cover the others with a tea towel or cling film so that they don’t dry out. Divide each section into 6 equal-ish pieces. Each piece will probably with between 35-40g. Shape these into rolls, using exactly the same steps as before when strengthening the dough. Place them onto the baking tray, leaving about 1cm of space between them so that they can double in size in the second prove. Cover with a tea towel for about 30-40 minutes.

7. At this point, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas mark 7.

buns ready to prove
 

baked buns
 

8. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Check after 8 minutes and lower the temperature by 20C if they look like they’re browning too much. Then set them aside to cool on a wire rack. When the buns are completely cool, start on the icing.

Ingredients for the icing

  • 200g icing sugar
  • 5 tsp cold water
  • food colouring and edible decorations, such as chocolate curls, coloured sprinkles etc. (optional)

Method

1. You can just ice the buns and not fill them, if you want to. However, if you’d like to fill them with cream then use a bread knife to slice the buns in half horizontally, leaving one long edge intact. Do this step now, otherwise the icing transfers onto your hands and they get sticky holding the already iced buns.

2. Measure out icing sugar into a medium sized bowl. Add in the water, one teaspoon at a time until it becomes a thick paste. You want the mixture to be thick enough to stick onto the buns. I coloured half of my icing pink, just for fun, using a cocktail stick dipped into a tiny bit of red colour paste.

icing consistencydipping buns into icingsmoothing icing
3. Dip the top of the buns into the icing, smooth out with your finger and set them to dry on a wire rack. The icing may drip down the sides of the bun a bit, but that’s okay. Sprinkle on some decorations if you’d like. I used strawberry curls, white chocolate stars and sugar butterflies.

Ingredients for the filling

  • 300ml double cream or whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 5 tbsp jam – I used raspberry, Paul suggests strawberry, but you could use any flavour that takes your fancy

Method

1. Lightly whip up the cream with the vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl until it thickens but is pipeable. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle.

filling
2. Spoon the jam into another piping bag and snip off a very small opening.

3. Pipe a generous amount of cream, followed by a thin line of jam into the middle of each finger. Gently fold the top of the bun down.

Et voila – iced buns! Enjoy.

iced buns 3
 

 

How to… A beginners guide to creating chocolate butterflies


Cupcakes decorated with salted caramel buttercream and chocolate butterflies

Butterflies resting on banana cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream

I wanted to make a chocolate butterfly, the moment that I saw Emma’s beautiful chocolate butterfly resting on top of her Fleur de Sel Caramel Cake.

But I’d never made any form of chocolate decoration before. So, how could I do it?

I found out that Emma had bought some special chocolate that didn’t require tempering, which I didn’t want to splash out on. Otherwise, I needed to temper my chocolate using a thermometor. That put me off for a few weeks because it felt a bit too complicated and pricey, if I’m honest.

And then, a cherry blossom cake started to take shape in my imagination. Dark chocolate forms the silhouette of the tree and branches and I’d use real cherry blossoms for the flowers. However, I’m not sure what the cake mixture will be so this cherry blossom cake is still locked away in my mind. Since then, I’ve looked at some pictures of beautiful cherry blossom cakes but they mostly seem to rely on sugarpaste and fondant decorations. I’d still like to do my chocolate version.

Well, true to character, I read a few more blogs and watched a couple of youtube videos. On the note of youtube videos, I recommend watching Ann’s How to cook thattutorials for the variety of methods and decorations that one can attempt with chocolate.

Then, at 11 o’clock on Saturday night, armed with a bit more confidence and knowledge, I simplified the process of tempering chocolate as much as I dared, filled a piping bag, traced a butterfly template and gave it a go.

There are more complicated ways of tempering chocolate than the one that I’m going to share with you. Strictly speaking you need to use a minimum of 300g of chocolate in order to temper it. I chose to use 100g because it was meant to be a small trial and if it went wrong then it would be less of a waste. I also wanted to experiment with white and dark chocolate to see if they differed at all and 100g of each felt like it would be sufficient.

Next, I realised that I didn’t have enough pyrex bowls. Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s not meant to be – as if! I used my Denby bowls (they’re microwave and oven proof, so I was pretty sure they’d be okay).

Here’s how I did it.

You’ll need:

  • Chocolate for melting. I began with 100g but, as you know, you’re supposed to have a minimum of 300g of chocolate to temper it.
  • Non-stick baking paper
  • Template
  • Pen/Pencil
  • 1 large hardback book. I used 1 hardback and 2 smaller books to lift it up even more.

1. Preparation: I found a template of a butterfly and traced it onto my baking paper. Then I flipped the paper over, so that the chocolate doesn’t pick up the ink, folded the paper down the middle of the butterfly’s body and opened the paper back out so that it was flat on my worksurface. I opened up the hardback book in the middle. That’s where I rested my butterflies so that they’d dry in 3D.

butterfly template

2. I chopped up the chocolate and set aside 20g of the chocolate and put 80g of chocolate in the bowl and zapped it in the microwave at 15 second intervals to begin with, reducing it to 10 seconds. I burnt my first batch, but only in the middle. Rather than waste the chocolate, I scooped out the burnt bits with a teaspoon, gave the remaining chocolate a good stir and learned my first lesson.

When microwaving chocolate to melt, the chocolate in the middle of the bowl melts quickest. Stir the chocolate at each interval, even if they don’t look like they’ve begun to melt.

3. Once the chocolate in the bowl had melted, I stirred in the 20g. By doing this step, you are, in effect, bringing down the temperature of the chocolate. This is my very simple way of tempering the chocolate.

filling a piping bag with melted chocolate

4. I filled a disposable piping bag with the chocolate, pushed the chocolate down and twisted the top end. It’s better to do it now rather than when you snip off the tip, otherwise the chocolate will squirt out the hole. I’m not sure what you’d do if you weren’t to use a disposable one… If anyone’s got any helpful suggestions then please leave them as a comment at the bottom.

5. I snipped a bit off the tip. I began with the tiniest of openings and gradually made it bigger. Mostly because I realised, whilst piping, that I hadn’t fished out all the burnt bits and they were causing a blockage. Ooopsies.

piping bag readysnipped off end of piping bag

6. I barely used any pressure on the bag to pipe the chocolate carefully over the butterfly template. Once I finished, I lifted up the tip and quickly began work on my second, third, fourth.. you get the picture. That night, I went on to make chocolate stars and dragonflies.

chocolate butterfly 1butterfly setting in the books

7. I rested the baking paper in the open book so that the fold in the paper nestled into the fold of the open book.

8. Leave them to dry and then carefully peel the baking paper away from the chocolate.

gently peel off the butterfly

See. Not so difficult afterall and the decorations will certainly impress your friends.

The Han-Na of 6 months ago would have been put off making a chocolate butterfly because of the notion of tempering chocolate; I guess my resolution to push myself in developing new baking skills is slowly paying off. Recently I noticed that my attitude is taking on a bit more of a ‘if it’s difficult, I’ll give it a go’ sheen.

This makes me giggle ruefully. I always describe myself as one who ‘doesn’t like pushing themselves’. Honestly, really, I’m not. I’m part of a triathlon club and I constantly see evidence of everyday athletes pushing their physical limits. I don’t do that: my swimming at the end of lane two just doesn’t mirror their drive.

So… is it baking that is going to knead that push and determination into me?

Maybe.

A Twist on Cranachan: Raspberry, Oatmeal and Whiskey Roulade


Demolished Cranachan
Cranachan – pronounced ‘cran-ah-hkun’ (the ‘ch’ being the soft, guttural, scottish ‘ch’ sound, as in loch’). The scrummy, scottish dessert made with raspberries, whiskey, honey blended with cream and sprinkled with oats. I’d like to appease the purists in cyberspace by letting them know that I had planned to serve it up in the traditional way at my Haggis, Neeps and Tatties in 3 ways Dinner Party.

Until Friday. At 10pm, I had this hankering to make it into a roulade because I’d never made a roulade before. You see, I don’t have a swiss roll tin and previously, that has been the one barrier that has stopped me from baking a roulade. However, as I was in an inventive mood, I improvised with a suitably sized baking tray and it all worked out. Hurrah 🙂

Well, there was more improvising in store. I know that you can make the roulade base purely with egg whites and sugar; there were too many online recipes demanding that I add in some sort of flour or flour substitute. So, that’s when I came up with the idea of using toasted oatmeal. And as I couldn’t find a recipe for an oatmeal meringue online, I made it up. So, as the hand beater is whisking the egg whites, balancing somewhat precariously on the bowl, I measure out the oats, scatter them across a baking tray and carefully toast them in the oven until a wonderful nutty smell wafts around the kitchen. As you can imagine, I had more moments of K-mix envy as I stood attached to my electric mixer, passing it from one hand to the other as I waited for stiff peaks to form. I can only imagine the freedom of leaving the egg whites to whisk in the stand mixer, while I line the tin, toast and ground the oatflakes… Admittedly, not that it stopped me but that procedure wouldn’t have held the same amount of trepidation.

Naturally, I wanted to omit the cream to create a healthier, lighter dessert and I replaced it with full-fat greek yoghurt. If you’d like to do this, then wait until it’s almost time to serve the dessert before you start spreading the greek yoghurt onto the base. It’s much runnier and wetter than whipped cream so will seep through the base, softening the structure.

(Incidentally Friday was Burns Night. Perhaps the scottish bard inspired me to take artistic license with this dessert.)

whisky cake to go with the roulade
My guests really enjoyed the cranachan roulade on Saturday night. The raspberry, honey and whiskey combination is sweet but not overpowering. Those who like oats particularly enjoyed the nutty, oaty flavour of the base. So I’d make this again with a few tweaks (see below).

My own invention of Cranachan Roulade, serves 6-8 people

Ingredients for the meringue base

  • 4 egg whites
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 50g toasted oatmeal or finely ground oatflakes

Ingredients for the filling

  • 500g greek yoghurt or 250g lightly whipped double cream
  • 2 tbsp whiskey
  • 3 tsp runny honey, preferably of the heather honey variety. I didn’t have any so I used a Thai honey instead and it was good.
  • 350g raspberries

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Line a 23x33cm swiss roll tin (or a similar sized baking tray with raised sides) with tin foil or baking paper, folding the sides up so that you create a raised 4cm border and squeeze the corners together. Lightly spray or brush with vegetable oil.

2. If you are using a stand mixer, then you can do step 2 after you begin the whisking of the egg whites described in step 3. Measure out the oat flakes and spread them on a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 4-5 minutes. Then take them out, turn them over and pop back into the oven for a few more minutes. The oats should be a very light brown colour and smell deliciously nutty. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then grind them up in a food processer until they are the texture of ground almonds, at the very least. I think that I created oat flour, I ground the flakes so fine.

3. Whisk the egg whites until they have a firm peak. Then add the caster sugar in 4 stages if you are using an electric beater, or all in one go if you’re using a stand mixer, continuing to whisk for 5 minutes until stiff peaks form. I used an electric beater and made the mistake of adding all the sugar in one go. The resulting base was fine but it took at least 15 minutes before anything vaguely resembling stiff peaks formed.

making meringue
4. Now add the ground oatmeal to the meringue mixture. Fold it in using a metal spoon until it is just mixed in, making the utmost effort not to knock out the volume in the meringue mixture.

5. Spoon out the meringue mixture onto the prepared tin and evenly smooth it out using a palette knife. Now pop it into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until it is firm to touch and ever so slightly brown on top. In the meantime, prepare an additional sheet of foil or baking paper that is just larger than the size of the tin and sprinkle it with icing sugar or caster sugar. I didn’t do this and in hindsight I think that it’s a good way to further ensure that the base doesn’t stick to the foil.

6. Take the roulade base out of the oven and allow to cool for about 3 minutes. Here comes the slightly scary part, akin to when you flip pancakes, so do it with confidence. Quickly invert the baking tin onto the prepared sheet of foil, so that the lining is on top. Leave for a few minutes, then gently remove the foil on the base. Don’t worry if a few bits come off. No one will see it anyway. Leave to cool completely.

*You could make it up this point the day before and leave the base out on the side, like I did.

oatmeal rouladeSpread the cream on the roulade
6. For the filling, empty the yoghurt into a medium sized mixing bowl. Mix in the whiskey and honey. Spread the mixture evenly on top of the base but leave 2cms round the edges cream free. Sprinkle a thin layer of raspberries on top, reserving a few raspberries to decorate the roulade.

7. Now to roll. This proved trickier than I anticipated. Not helped by the fact that I chose to roll with the longer edge and my hands are too small to do it. When you’ve finished rolling, leave the foil around the roulade so that it is easier to gently transfer the roulade onto the serving dish. Or, if you are using cream, then you can store the roulade in the fridge for a couple of hours with the foil tightly wrapped around it before serving.

Enjoy and cheers!

Here are my top tips on rolling:

1. Sprinkle the foil with icing sugar or caster sugar before inverting the base onto it. This helps prevent the roulade base from sticking to the foil.

2. Make a cut along the edge of the roll, about 2 cms in, that you’re going to begin rolling with so that you are only cutting halfway into the base. This will help you create a roll, as opposed to a circle. Just so that you know, unlike moi, most people use the shortest edge.

3. Use the foil to create tight roll by firmly pulling the foil horizontally away from you with one hand and at the same time gently pressing down on the foil with the other. Do it slowly to start off.

4. Here’s an online video tutorial.

Variations on the theme: I’d like to experiment with a few tweaks to this recipe. Next time, either make a raspberry sauce by crushing raspberries and adding sugar to it or make a raspberry compote. Spread the raspberry sauce on the base. Substitute mascapone in place of the greek yoghurt or cream so that there’s a firmer mixture before adding the raspberries, rolling it up, sprinkling with icing sugar et voila!

Cranachan Roulade

Understudies in Nigella’s Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

img_1846.jpg
I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say ‘another’ because it isn’t the first time that I’ve improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman…

img_1818.jpg
The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.

Have you ever come across – ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that’s like a Christmas cake? You’ll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do 🙂 *giggle* I would welcome them.

While I’m asking – do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don’t know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?

mixing egg
So… a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I’m very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there’s always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.

So, I did with Nigella’s and Deb’s (from Smitten Kitchen).

 

According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), ‘[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it’s fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.’Well that sold it to me… as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella’s and it is just a tad easier to make. I’ll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella’s banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.

 

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

 

Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)

  • 100g currants.
  • 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
  • 150g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I’m rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.

banana and flour
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

4. Melt the butter. I’ve used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don’t seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.

6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don’t worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it’s warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.

Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I’ve made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you’ll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won’t dry out… if it lasts that long!

Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I’d also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum – this is Nigella’s original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen’s version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. – gave this one away before tasting it.

chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
 

An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?

When the olympics came to baking club: the olympic macaron rings

Quick! Hide this entry’s title with your hand. Can you guess what these are, without looking at the title of the blog entry?

olympic macaron ringsolympic macarons

¡Mira! They’re meant to be macarons imitating the Olympic Rings. However, even I as their co-creator, have to admit that in reality, they bear a greater resemblance to Homer Simpson’s donuts.

homer simpson dunut

See what I mean?

The story behind the photos goes something like this:

In Sarah’s sitting room. Sarah, Emma and I are tasting the results of our ‘experimenting with different sugars’ cupcakes and plotting what to bake next time.

Me: I’ve really enjoyed the olympics. Wouldn’t it be fun to do some baking that is olympic-inspired?

Sarah:We could do different flavoured cupcakes. Wouldn’t it be fun to do…

(a lengthy, rather detailed conversation ensues on the various flavours and colours that would figure in olympic inspired cupcakes, such as blueberries, raspberries, lemon, chocolate… we keep getting stuck on what would make the courgette and lime cupcakes a greener colour.)

Me:How about macarons instead? It would probably be easier to get the colours right on macarons than with cupcakes

Sarah and Emma: Oh that might be fun. I’ve never baked macarons before.

Me: They’re a bit tricky but we can give it a go. I’ve got Emma’s gel colours that we could use.

Emma: Olympic ring shaped macarons! We should be able to get the proper shape too!

Sarah: (enthusiastically) Yes! Let’s do it soon.

Me: (eyes popping out of head, trying to think through how to pipe ring shaped macarons! Actually don’t think that I’ve ever seen a non-conventional shaped macaron before in my life!) Uh… Um…

Emma: They’re like meringues aren’t they, so we can pipe them into circle shapes.

Me: Um… okay (really not convinced how this will work)… so I’ll get egg whites and ground almonds… if you’re alright with it, then shall we have it at mine, since I’ve got most of the equipment for baking them already? Save me lugging the stuff over here.

Sarah and Emma: Okay. That’s a plan.

Sarah: So, next Wednesday?

We finish clearing up and depart.

—– O —–

Unfortunately, Emma, who had the idea of olympic rings, was poorly on the night. I was kind of counting on Emma to bring the inspiration for the ring shapes. So, picture doubtful moi on baking club evening when an enthusiastic Sarah bounds in. Sarah is very decided that we should push on and experiment with colours and shapes. Hence, riding on the wave of Sarah’s determination, there happened a marathon macaron making evening of three different flavours and five bright colours over the course of the next 3 hours.

blue and yellow macaronspink and chocolatepink and chocolate macarons

I wasn’t at all convinced that we could pipe macaron circles. However, I knew that if we were going to have any luck with it, we would have to be really very careful in the macaronage stage and not overmix the batter. If you remember, the first time I attempted to bake macarons, I had a disastrous ‘my batter spilleth out of the piping nozzle and over everything’ moment.

pink and chocolate piped ringsblue and yellow piped rings

Thankfully, not this time round. 🙂

Do you know, I have yet to see one macaron recipe that is the same in it’s ingredients or methodology. Seriously! Each recipe book (Fiona’s, Nigella’s and the Pink Whisk) that Sarah and I looked at had varying cooking times, oven temperatures, the number of egg whites etc… I’m not sure that the perfect, foolproofmacaron recipe exists, you know. Besides, there are so many varying factors to consider, like the temperament of the oven you use and the humidity of the air for the drying out period. When it comes to baking macarons, I think that the key is to keep trying and practising and trying and practising.

So, back to our macaron marathon. We weren’t sure how to mix the three primary colours we had to produce black, so I thought that chocolate would be a good substitute. The chocolate macarons went down a treat with the kids when I took them to a congee party later that week! I think that we did a good job with the other remaining colours – apart from maybe the pink rings. We should have added more red colouring perhaps but Sarah and I were concerned about runniness with that mixture. Hence, we stopped at pink and I’m glad that we did because it proved a bit difficult to control the piping of that particular batter. We saved the hardest to last – green, pistachio macarons. Sarah mixed the colours and macaronaged, whilst I was peeling macaron shells and rings off baking sheets. We had a veritable production line going on!

Personally, as flavours go, I think that the chocolate and the pistachio ones were the yummiest. Both of those flavours married well with the orange flower white chocolate ganache filling, that you can see sandwiched between the rings. The other colours were filled with rosewater white chocolate ganache.

pistachio green macaronsolympic macaron rings

We did make conventionally shaped macaron shells, rather a lot of them in fact! But I never got a chance to photograph them to show you, because a) by the time I’d cleaned everything up, I was too exhausted on that Wednesday night and b) I took them into work the following day and they all got demolished by my intrigued colleagues!

So, one day in the future, I will bake some more pistachio macarons and take photos this time so that I can post you a blog recipe for the pistachio macarons.

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

beetroot chocolate cake
choc beetroot muffins

My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.

First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)

Oh dear…What was I thinking?

Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can’t believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.

I know that it’s silly, but there’s a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However – I just can’t face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I’ve been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It’s main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.

Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They’ll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.

beetroot beetroot

But first, I’ll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?

Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It’s alright. Not everyone tastes the “secret ingredient” in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I’m going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.

chocolate beetroot muffins 1packing up the muffins

The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend’s picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend’s dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious’s recipe. I’ve never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, ‘frosting’) as I’m not very fond of it. So, I’m pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.

chocolate beetroot muffins

What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I’d recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There’s no fooling yourself that it’s healthy, however, as there’s an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)

So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you’ll use a lot.

Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine’s Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

  • 250g plain chocolate
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g raw grated beetroot

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.

2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn’t burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.

3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.

4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.

5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I’d recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don’t want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.

6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.

dark violet beetroot chocolate batterbaked beetroot cake

7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you’ll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.

8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don’t have to wait that long.

Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g sour cream
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.

Spread it over the cake, et voila!

icing on beetroot chocolate cakechocolate beetroot cake

iced chocolate beetroot cakechocolate beetroot cake 2

When Han–Na baked Chocolate Macarons (with a SPLASH of Baileys)

Item no. 25 on my 30 for 30 list is: bake macarons.

(That’s not a typo, by the way. Remember the song: “You say eether, and I say eyether.” Well, “You say macaroons, and I say macarons...” I’ve taken to saying macarons to describe these delightful creations because whenever I called them macaroons, people automatically assumed that I meant coconut macaroons.)

cimg8219.jpg

not many photos (yet!) of these chocolate macarons. I was too busy focussing on getting them right.

Anyway, back to the subject of macaron baking. These chocolate baileys macarons were the first batch of successful macarons that I baked and I was so pleased with myself. You see, I decided to bake macarons as a birthday cake of sorts for Sarah (of the White Chocolate, Rosewater and Cardamon cake episode) because she likes things that are a bit different. However, I had a disastrous first attempt making white chocolate and raspberry macarons from the Pink Whisk because I over-folded the mixture. Thus, when I added the bright pink mixture into the piping bag, it all ran out of the piping nozzle… and there was no stopping it. What. A. Fail. The sides of my mouth dropped a few centimetres as I scrapped the pink batter into the bin, and my bottom lip came out a bit. No joke.

Well, on the plus side, at least I know what over-folded mixture feels like. However, that’s not much of a consolation prize when the clock is ticking.

The following day (which was the day I needed to present them), I decided to try another macaron recipe. I was still feeling somewhat deflated by the previous evening’s disastrous attempt so decided to skip the grinding together of the almonds and sugar. That’s why the macaron shells look rather rough and grainy, rather than smooth, on the photos. (I have done this for all subsequent macaron baking.) I was understandably slightly cautious when folding in the almonds and icing sugar into the eggwhites. I halted all folding action the second the batter slid slowly off my spoon in a somewhat ribbony fashion. No river of sugary, chocolatey, almond goo fell out of the piping nozzle this time. Success!

They (I don’t know who precisely ‘they’ are) say that chocolate macarons are harder to make than normal ones because the cocoa powder drys them out. So maybe I lucked out with this. But I’ll always remember them as the first batch of macarons that I baked successfully.

Ingredients for the chocolate macaron shells from Green and Blacks: Chocolate Recipes

  • 125g/4½oz ground almonds
  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder
  • 250g/9oz icing sugar (225g in with the almonds + 25g with the egg whites)
  • 100g egg whites, which is between 3-4 large egg whites
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 and line 3 baking sheets with non stick baking liners, such as Bake-O-Glide. Fit a large piping bag with a 1cm plain circle nozzle. Twist the piping bag and push the twist into the nozzle so that the mixture doesn’t spill out of the nozzle. Stand it in a large receptacle, such as a pint glass.

2. Measure out the icing sugar and ground almonds. Put them into a food processor to grind down to an even finer mixture. I use my Bamix Dry Grinder and have to do it in 3 batches. When you’re finished add in the cocoa powder then sift the almond, sugar, cocoa powder mixture and leave out the residue of ground almonds that weren’t ground fine enough. (I always find that there can be up to a tablespoon of ground almonds leftover.) Then leave the sifted powders to one side.

3. Measure out the eggwhites and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they are thick and glossy. (I sound like I’m describing hair for a shampoo advert!)

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in the almond, icing sugar and cocoa into the egg whites in a figure of eight. It will feel really dry at first and you’ll wonder whether it’ll ever come together, but don’t worry. It will. It’s important not to over-mix (see above) so stop when you feel like the mixture is dropping off the spatula in a thick ribbon. This is the tricky part to get right and it even has a name – macaronage.

5. Pour or use the spatula to spoon the mixture into the prepared piping bag. Once it’s full, gently untwist the piping bag and begin piping the mixture onto the baking sheets. With the nozzle perpendicular to the baking sheet, squeeze out the mixture until it forms the circular size you’re after. Firmly flick up your nozzle and move onto the next one. Leave 2cm of space between each circle, in case the macaron mixture spreads a bit.

6. Next, here’s the noisy part. In order to remove spare air in the macarons, bang the baking trays firmly on a flat surface. Let them rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour for a film to form on the macarons. They’re ready when you can lightly press your finger on the wet macaron circles and your finger comes away clean. This is also a good time to press down any remaining peaks on your macarons. Something that I clearly forgot to do with the one in the top photo.

7. Put the baking trays in the oven to cook at 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 for 1 minute, and then reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and bake the shells for another 10-12 minutes. The shells should still be soft to touch but not gooey.

8. Let them rest for a minute on the baking trays and then remove them gently from the baking sheets to cool on a wire rack.

Ingredients for the chocolate baileys ganache filling

  • 100g double cream
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp baileys or an irish cream liquor substitute (or more splashes of baileys if you prefer)

Method

1. Break up the chocolate and put it into a heat proof bowl.

2. In a small pan, bring to boil the double cream and then pour the double cream on top of the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes so that the chocolate starts melting of it’s own accord.

3. Gently stir the cream into melting chocolate to encourage the remainder of the chocolate to melt away. Add in the baileys for flavour.

4. Let it cool completely and put it into the fridge to harden for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.

To assemble the macarons:

1. Lay out the macarons so that the flat side is looking at you, and pair up similar sizes – you can tell that I’m a novice macaron baker.

2. When the ganache is ready, you can spoon the ganache onto the shells using a teaspoon, or better still, transfer the ganache into a piping bag, fitted with a 1cm nozzle, and pipe the chocolate ganache onto half of the shells. Sandwich them together with the other half of the shells.

3. Ta DA!

cimg8226.jpg

How does the story end with Sarah’s birthday treat? Is it happily ever after? Oh no – my list of things that went wrong in baking macarons didn’t stop there. Once I’d arranged the macarons and the candles on the plate, I decided to hide them in the bottom oven. And then I used the top oven to warm the bread. You already know how this story ends, right? Yup, you’ve guessed it – when I took the plate out to surprise Sarah, virtually all the candles had bent over like the tops of walking sticks. Only three of them had survived the oven. We were all amused!

Oh and the verdict on the macarons? Tasty, of course. Sarah was really pleased with the alternative birthday ‘cake’. Now, if you were patient enough to eat one 3 days later – heavenly! The flavours had matured and melded together. Elegantly scrum!