Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nellie the Elephant Cake

I recently attended the 'Cute Carved Elephant Cake' course at Cakes 4 Fun  and the cake certainly lives up to it's billing as it's super cute! But what is the secret to this gravity defying cake? Rice Krispie squares! If you've ever seen Ace of Cakes you'll know that Rice Krispie squares can be used to make more intricate structures that you could never make out of cake, whilst keeping your creation food safe and edible.
The good news is you don't have to go to the supermarket and clear ths shelves of little packs of Rice Krispie can now buy 'Treat Sheets' as above which is 907g of the stuff! You can buy a sheet from Jane Asher for £16.99 but I'm sure you can buy it at other online stores too. The crispy marshmallow is perfect for moulding as you can squish it into any shape that you'd like and you can also cut it with a sharp knife.
To make Nellie, the body is carved out of cake and cut and filled as usual. It's then crumb coated and covered with grey sugarpaste. However, both the head and legs are made out of Rice Krispies, as is the ball balanced on the top. The paste sticks naturally as if you've ever had Rice Krispie treats, you'll know that they're very sticky! Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of Nellie pre-covering!

The good thing about this cake is that elephants are naturally creased and wrinkly so the sugarpaste covering doesn't have to be perfect. In order to make the legs and head mould seamlessly to the body, a roll of grey paste was wrapped around the joint and then pressed in with a Dresden tool to make it look creased. In order to secure Nellie's ball to the top of her trunk, a skewer was pushed down through. The ball itself is glittery as it was covered lightly in edible glue and then rolled in glitter.
Rice Krispie Treats are a great way to model more complex structures on cakes and I'm looking forward to using them in the future...I've already got a couple of projects in mind! :-)
And to finish...a herd of Nellies...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Plum & Almond Crumble Slices

The September letter of the month for Alpha Bakes is 'P' and what better 'P' than plums. Plums are decliciously juicy and perfectly in season. I love nothing better than stewing plums and eating them as they are or adding them on top of porridge. It's a plum crumble slice too which has a really autumnal feel; as the nights draw in thoughts turn to warm puddings and espcially crumbles...or maybe that's just me always thinking of puddings! :-)
This is quite an interesting bake it's got an almondy, buttery, sugary, floury base which is baked on it's own for 20 minutes. Once golden an almond, sugar and butter paste is spread over the top to give a soft layer which the plums sit on top off. The paste also has eggs, cinnamon, baking powder and a small amount of flour. This is then baked again for 20 minutes.
The final step is to sprinkle over a crumble topping and flaked almonds. Then it's a final 20 minutes in the oven. The bake cools in the tin before slicing. If you decide to make this one, I found I pretty much had to make my own crumble topping from scratch. The recipe suggests reserving a few tablespoons of the almond, sugar and buter mix before making the paste layer. However, I was quite literal and did 3 tablespoons (a few) and found that this wasn't nearly enough, it was also quite soft and unlike crumble due to the amount of butter. I did put it in the fridge but it wasn't quite how I wanted it, so I made a small amount of regular crumble topping and sprinkled that on top instead.
Overall, this was a really tasty bake. The plums were lovely and sweet and gave you a real hit of flavour when you bit into it. The biscuity base, the soft almond paste and the crumbly top also provide a real contrast in textures and the plum and almond combination married together really well. I know that some people when they make crumble at home add ground or flaked almonds to their crumble mixture which I think would work really well in a plum crumble. The cinnamon in this bake also adds a little somthing extra.
The randomly selected letter from AlphaBakes for September was 'P' so these Plum and Almond Crumble slices are my entry. This month's host of AlphaBakes is Caroline from Caroline Makes. Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker hosts on alternate months.
Finally, this is the perfect recipe for 'Simple and in Season'. This month it's hosted by Katie at Feeding Boys and a Firefighter The home of Simple and in Season is Fabulicious Food. Plums are at their peak right now and really make me think of late summer/autumn.


250g cold butter
225g caster sugar
300g almonds
140g plain flour, plus 25g
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
6 plums cut into sixths
50g flaked almonds

Heat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas 4 and then prepare you're tin which should be 20 x 30cm, although mine wasn't quite this size. Butter and line it with baking paper.

Use a food processor to whizz together the butter, sugar and ground almonds, you should end up with rough breadcrumbs. Place half of this mixture into another bowl and then add 140g flour to the half that is still in the processor, if you whizz it, it should form a dough. This dough forms the base of the back, so tip it into the tin and press down with the back of a spoon until level. Then pop this base in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden. The set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

A filling then goes on top of the base. To make this take the remaining butter, sugar and almond mixture and tip it back into the processor but reserve a few tablespoons for the topping. Add 25g flour, eggs, cinnamon and baking powder and then whizz. This should form a soft batter which you can then spread over the base.

Finally, top this mixture with the plum slices and then sprinkle with a little caster sugar and cinnamon. Bake this for about 20 minutes before sprinkling with the reserved crumble mix and flaked almonds. Then there's a final bake for another 20 minutes until the whole bake is golden. Cool in the tin and then slice.

If you wish to make your own crumble topping for the last step there are plenty of recipes online.

* Recipe adapted from BBC GoodFood

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cake & Bake Show

Today I've been at the Cake and Bake Show at Earls Court. The Cake and Bake Show is apparently the 'first live event dedicated to cakes, breads and the art of baking!' As I'm in the midst of moving house at the moment I thought I'd just pop down for a couple of hours and then get back to my packing...but six hours later I was still there and the packing had fallen by the wayside.
After a less than auspicious start, there was a bit of a queue debacle outside, I had a great day! When I arrived at 10am there was a MASSIVE queue to get in but that is probably testament to how popular baking has become in the last few years. In the Cake and Bake programme official statistics indicate that the market has almost doubled in the last 5 years and is up nearly 20% in the last year alone.
So what did I get up to at the show? Well on arrival I was lucky enough to get a seat in the 'Cake Kitchen to watch Eric Lanlard create a Carribean Chocolate Tart from his latest book - Tart it Up! Eric's top tips were as follows:
  1. Make sure you have an oven thermometre as ovens can be 20-30 degrees off
  2. Add a little glucose syrup to your ganache to give it a nice smooth finish.
  3. You can flavour your ganache, Eric added vanilla, cinnamon and star anise but you can add anything you like...I quite fancy orange.
  4. You can buy ovenproof clingfilm which is better than greaseproof paper for lining a pastry case as it gets into the corners and doesn't cut or indent the pastry.
After Eric I had a ticket for a classroom session with Paul Barker from Cinnamon Square. Cinnamon Square is a bakery offering bread and cake classes in Hertfordshire. Paul demonstrated a Panetonne for us. It turns out panetonne is quite difficult and time consuming to make...about 4 hours in real time! It also involves different kneading techniques due to the fact that the dough starts of quite dry and then becomes a wet dough with the addition of sugar and eggs. Paul's top tips:
  1. If a recipe indicates that you need fresh yeast, you can use half the quantity of dry yeast (e.g. 40g fresh = 20g dry). Doves Farm do a good quick yeast.
  2. When kneading a white bread it will need 10-12 minutes of good kneading. Wholemeal will need longer.
  3. To test if you're dough is sufficiently kneaded do the 'Window Pane' test. If you can stretch your dough thin enough to see your finger through without tearing then it's ready.
Next up was Jo Wheatley, winner of the Great British Bake Off. Jo demonstrated a Chocolate Mud cake from her recent book - A Passion for Baking. Jo did seem a little nervous which is hardly surprising given the number of people watching. Jo demonstrated a variety of ways to decorate her mud cake including standing matchmakers or chocolate fingers around the sides and topping with raspberries, malteasers or smarties. Jo's top tip:
  1. Soak an old tea towel in water and then pin it around the outside of your cake tin, this will help the cake to rise evenly.
After three demonstrations it was time for something a little bit different - a Betty's Baking Bliss session. The Betty Crocker team had their own baking area where visitors could bake along using Betty Crocker products. I joined a Caramel Cupcake session. We used the packet mix to make the cupcakes and then watched a piping demonstration. Although this was really simple stuff and there is no substitute for baking from scratch, this was a fun session as it was a chance to get hands on...the finished product didn't taste too bad either!
After Betty it was on to probably my favourite session of the day with Mich Turner of the 'Little Venice Cake Company'. This was yet another chocolate recipe involving the Cake Kitchen host Alistair Appleton (him off Cash in the Attic) pointed out, today was an 'extravaganza of ganaches'. Mich made a 'Chocolatey Cherry Cake' using the Little Venice recipe which they use in all their celebration cakes...I'll definitely be giving this one a go! Mich's top tips:
  1. Take your time when making cakes. You can't overbeat the sugar and the butter whilst creaming...the fluffier the better...this could take 10 minutes or more. Then add your eggs really slowly a bit at a time.
  2. If you make ganache you can leave it to set. This can then be whipped in a mixer and piped. If it's a bit too rich or to sweeten it up you can add ganache to buttercream for piping or filling cakes.
  3. If you want a deeper vanilla flavour, use vanilla paste instead of vanilla extract.
After Mich Turner I was starting to think about heading home...partly due to the fact that I was so hungry and thristy. The queues for the food stalls were also huge and I didn't really fancy spending half an hour waiting. However, when I was heading towards the door I happened upon Tom Herbet's session in 'The Bakery'. I'm glad I stayed as he was really entertaining and I've never really had the urge to make a sour dough loaf before but after his demonstration I think I might give it a go. I also ended up sitting next to Cathryn, John and Sarah-Jane from this year's Great British Bake Off. In the next couple of months keep your eyes peeled for Tom's new baking and butchery school which he is opening along with his brother Henry in the new year. By this time I was a bit tired for top tips but here are two:
  1. Use the best quality ingredients you can afford.
  2. Invest in a bread scraper as they're invaluable and only cost about 2 to 3 pounds.
Other than the demonstrations and classes there were also wedding cakes on display such as the one above from Rachelle's Beautiful Bespoke Cakes, an edible beach competition where all the competition entries were on display, book signings and exhibitors from all sorts of cakey companies. Other famous names at the show included Peggy Porshen, Paul Hollywood, Richard Bertinet and Edd Kimber. Sadly there wasn't time to see them all. Mary Berry is also the star attraction tomorrow.
There were plenty of exhibitors ready to help you part with your money...but I came over unusually frugal and bought very little. I did however invest in a fab book called 'Great Cake Places in London'. It's got sections on Cupcakes & Bakeries, Coffee & Cake, Afternoon Tea, Wedding Cakes and Chocolate & Sweets, not to mention a section of recipes. I will now have to start working my way through!

The Cake and Bake Show was certainly worth a visit and if you couldn't make it or don't live near London then the good news is there will be a Cake and Bake Show in Manchester in April 2013! Top tips for anyone going tomorrow:
  1. Take your own lunch and drinks
  2. Be prepared for the queues outside upon arrival
  3. If you want to join in with a Betty Crocker baking session head straight there when you arrive to register for one of the 5 sessions throughout the day...they book up quickly.
  4. If you can't get a seat in one of the demonstration theatres...just sit on the floor at the front...that's what everyone did today.
Have fun! :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nigella's Apple & Cinnamon Muffins

I don't very often make muffins...I'm not sure why as I'm more than happy to eat them! However, when I saw the theme for this month's Forever Nigella was 'Packed Lunch Stars' I leafed through my Nigella cookbooks and came across this recipe for Apple and Cinnamon Muffins. The recipe is from 'Kitchen - Recipes from the heart of the home'.
These muffins are perfect for a packed lunch...they're a little sweet treat but they're also healthier than a regular muffin as they're not laiden with sugar. The apples give them a natural sweetness so they'll be a hit with the kids. Nigella describes them as a 'wholesome treat' which is exactly what you want to find in your packed lunch. These muffins were also made with spelt flour which is a first for me as I've never used it. For those of you like me who aren't very au fait with spelt, it's a non-wheat flour that gives a slightly nutty flavour.
The muffins were really moist and had a lovely hint of cinnamon. The tops were sprinkled with an (unblanched) almond, sugar and cinnamon rubble and there were also almonds in the muffin batter which gave them a contrasting texture. I think the optimal time for eating these is the day after making as the flavour had developed a little...but don't leave it too long to eat them as after a couple of days the apple made them a little too moist! Nigella also suggests they can be eaten warm or if you make a batch and wish to freeze them then they'll last for around 2 months...perfect for busy mums! :-)
As I mentioned this was my first time using spelt, it was also my first time using Tulip muffin cases...I loved the results, the muffins look so pretty and professional...just like you'd see in a cafe!
Why not check out this month's Forever Nigella, the theme is 'Packed Lunch Stars'. This month's guest host is Working London Mummy and the creator of Forever Nigella is Sarah over at Maison Cupcake.


2 eating apples
250g spelt flour (or you can use plain flour)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
125g light brown sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
125ml honey
60ml natural yogurt (not set)
125ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
75g unblanched almonds

Heat your oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6 and choose your muffin wrappers and line the muffin tin, this recipe makes 12.

Peel the apples and then cut into small 1cm cubes. Next weigh out the flour, baking powder and a teaspoon on cinnamon into a bowl. In a seperate bowl measure out the brown sugar, honey, yogurt, vegetable oil and eggs and mix together.

Chop the almonds (I used a mini food processor but it gave quite varying sizes of almond). Add half of the almonds to the flour and pop the other half in another small bowl. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon and 4 teaspoons of sugar to the small bowl of almonds...this is the 'rubble' topping for sprinkling on top of the muffins.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and then fold gently. Next add the chopped apple and combine. Spoon or use an ice cream scoop to divide the batter between the 12 muffin cases and then sprinkle the almond, sugar and cinnamon topping over each one.

Bake for around 20 minutes. The finished product should be risen and golden. Once removed from the oven leave in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring the muffins to a cooling rack.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Croquembouche Cupcakes

As you are probably aware National Cupcake Week starts tomorrow (17th-23rd September) so what better time to attempt these Croquembouche Cupcakes than now. I've been wanting to make them for ages but was put off by making the choux pastry but having successfully made choux swans last weekend I thought I'd give them a go.
In order to make these cupcakes I followed a mixture of recipes. To start I made some tasty vanilla cupcakes (recipe below) but you could try out a different flavour of cupcake if you'd prefer. I then thought that maybe a vanilla cupcake with choux pastry might need a little something extra to lift the flavour, so I cored out the centre of some of my cupcakes and filled them with caramel sauce that I happened to have in the cupboard. You could also try a butterscotch, toffee or fudge sauce...and if you have the time and inclination there are plenty of recipes on the internet if you want to make your own. Dulce de leche could also be good.
To make the choux I then used the choux recipe from the latest Great British Bake Off book which I also used for the choux swans (find the recipe with the choux swans). I used a Wilton 2A to pipe rounds which were slightly smaller than a profiterole. Once piped if you have any peaks on your pastry you can dip your finger in cold water and pat them down. I baked mine at 200c/180c fan for 20 minutes and then quickly opened the door a crack to let the steam out before baking for around a further 5 minutes.
Once the mini-choux buns were cool (which takes hardly any time) I whipped some cream and piped some into each one. You just need to push your nozzle end through the bottom and pipe until the edges appear to be expanding a little.
To finish the cupcakes I made some caramel. To do this is fairly need 75g of sugar to 1 tbsp of water. I used 300g sugar and 4 tbsps but you can modify according to how much you need. Use a heavy-based sauceapan (don't use non-stick) and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Don't stir but you can swirl the pan.

Once the sugar is dissolved you can turn up the heat and bring it to the boil. Boil until it reaches 160c (if you have a sugar thermometre) and it should turn a lovely amber colour. When you reach 160c plunge the base of the saucepan into cold water. After a minute or so your caramel will be ready to use. If you don't have a thermometre you can do this by eye and if after a few minutes of using your caramel it has harden you can put it back on a gentle heat and it will soften again.
I made two different styles of croquembouche. The one above is my favourite, the top of each little choux is carefully dipped in the caramel to give a shiny amber surface which gives a really striking effect. Once the caramel on top is set the bottoms were then dipped in order to stick the choux to the cupcake and to each other. The inspiration for this style comes from Laduree and you can see their mini croquembouche below. If you are feeling even more adventurous you can also dip your caramel topped choux in sugar nibs or crushed pistachios to give more flavour and also adds contrast as below!
My second croquembouche cupcake was more traditional. The bottom of the  chouxs were dipped in caramel and stuck together on top of the cupcake. I used four chouxs per cupcake but if you made yours slightly smaller you could build up a higher tower if you wished. To finish these off I spun some sugar around the chouxs. Just dip a fork into your caramel and then pull away and you should get spun sugar strands. I dipped my fork and then wound the strands around the cake.
The theme for this month's Calendar Cakes is Cupcakes...what else! These cupcakes are my first cakey entry this month. Calendar Cakes is hosted alternately by myself and Dolly Bakes. So if you're making cupcakes this month you'd be most welcome to enter...check out the details here.
I'm also entering my Croquembouche Cupcakes into the Classic French Challenge from Blue Kitchen Bakes the theme this month is choux pastry so these cupcakes are perfect.
Finally, I'm entering for the first time into Cupcake Tuesday hosted by Liz over at Hoosier Homemade. Cupcake Tuesday is a weekly linky party to share you're cupcake creations.
These cupcakes are reasonably time consuming as they have lots of different elements but they are well worth a bake. If you've always wanted to try choux pastry like me or perhaps you fancy a go at caramel then these cupcakes are a good excuse! However, due to the cream and choux pastry they won't keep for long, so it may be a case of making them in the morning just before friends come over for a cup of tea and a chat in the afternoon! ;-)
Vanilla Cupcake Recipe
80g unsalted butter
280g caster sugar
240g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
240 ml whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
This is my favourite vanilla cupcake recipe as it gives a really tasty, moist cupcake....and they're simple to make.
To start pre-heat your oven to 190c/170c fan/gas 5 and prepare the muffin tin/cupcake tray by lining with cases. I used gold and pink foil cupcake wrappers. This recipe has slightly unusual methodology but you need to start by mixing the flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and salt with an electric mixer. The ingredients should be well combined and ressemble fine breadcrumbs by the time you've finished.
Next lightly mix together the wet ingredients in a measuring jug - milk, vanilla and eggs. Begin mixing the breadcrumb mixture again at a slow speed and then carefully pour in just over two-thirds of the milk mixture as you mix. Combine well, scraping down the sides if necessary. Finally add the rest of the milk mixture and beat until smooth.
Fill the cupcake cases with the batter to about two-thirds full. This should make you around 12-16 cupcakes. The cakes should then go straight into the oven and should bake for around 18-20 minutes until lightly brown and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool ever so slightly before removing them from the tin and cooling completely on a wire rack.
* Original recipe The Hummingbird Bakery - Cake Days

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Laduree Masterclass at Harrods

On Sunday I attended a Laduree masterclass in the kitchen at Harrods. Laduree is one of my favourite patisseries so I was really looking forward to attending! The masterclass was led by the Head Pastry Chef of Laduree UK, Frank Hiss. The masterclass was entitled 'Le Vie en Rose' as a celebration of French chanteuse Edith Piaf and also as a celebration of the joy of baking and a love of good food. 
We started by watching a demonstration of how the 'Ispahan' is made. The Ispahan is a rose flavoured soft macaron with rose petal cream, raspberries and lychees. It's also one of Laduree's signature creations. The Isaphan was also the inspiration for this Lychee, Rose and Raspberry Mousse Cake that I made previously. After the demonstration we got to sample! Incidentally, the Ispahan is named after a rose of the same name, it is also a town in Iran where the roses are grown.
Whilst watching the demonstrations we were able to enjoy Laduree's signature blend of tea which is a Chinese black tea with citrus fruit, flowers, light spices and vanilla. 
The next demonstration was of the 'Religieuse a la Rose' which is a cream puff pastry with rose petal custard cream and raspberries. Unless you speak French, you may be unaware that Religieuse actually translates as nun and is so named due to fact that a chocolate covered Religieuse resembled a nun's habit with a frilled collar! The demonstrations were really interesting and Frank Hiss was very knowledgable and more than happy to answer questions!
Following the demonstration it was then our turn to have a go at constructing a Religieuse. Covering the pastry wasn't too difficult...however, piping the cream is a lot harder than it looks!! Fortunately I don't have photographic evidence of my woeful attempt!
Whilst doing our best pastry chef impressions we enjoyed the petit four you can see here - a rose choux and a raspberry and rose delice. The name 'petit four' means small oven in French.
The final demonstration was the Laduree 'Marie-Antoinette' wedding cake. Inside the cake you can see the raspberries and lychees. The covering is made from almonds. The version you can see here is designed for only a few people but you can order a Marie-Antoinette which can serve hundreds of people! The flowers you can see are made of sugarpaste but it's made from scratch by Laduree. Random fact...Laduree provided the macarons for the film Marie Antoinette directed by Sofia Coppola!
I really enjoyed finding out a bit more about Laduree's creations and it's inspired me to have a go...although I'm not sure my offerings would look anything like the ones on display! If you'd like to master the art of French patisserie, youu can get the Laduree recipe book from any Laduree outlet or at Amazon.  
It was a good job I didn't have any lunch before I went to the event as we also enjoyed the petit four you can see above. The little lemon treats you can see were delicious and I particularly liked the vanilla petit four with an intense burst of orange jam in the centre.
As if we hadn't already had enough cake it was off to the Laduree tea room at Harrods to complete the Laduree experience. There were many delights to choose from but I went for a Saint Honore Rose & Raspberry which was washed down with a glass of Laduree champagne!
I think I may now be a bigger fan of Laduree than when I started...their creations are irresistable! I went home happy with goodie bag in hand...and I may have enjoyed a macaroon or two when I got home with a cup of Laduree tea!! Not so good for the diet! :-)

Finally, a little bit of the history of Laduree. Laduree is actually 150 years old this year and to celebrate there is a special anniversary pastry of the month every month this year. The first Laduree bakery was opened in 1862 in Paris by Louis Ernest Laduree. It was one of the first Parisian tearooms...and was one of the first establishments where women were welcome and free to come at any time.

You can find Laduree at Harrods, Covent Garden and Burlington Arcade as well as a new Laduree in the City at 14 Cornhill.