Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yule Log

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! As part of our celebration I thought I'd give the classic yule log a try. I've never made it before but it used to be one of my favourite things about Christmas! The origins of the Yule log date back to midwinter festivals and it is suggested that people would select a large log and would then keep it burning anywhere between twleve hours and twelve days. If the log remained alight it would bring health, fruitfulness and productivity.
The recipe I used was by Mary Berry and it was featured on the Great British Bake Off Christmas special last week. You can find the recipe here.
This was really simple to make, it's just a chocolate sponge which is made by whipping up eggs and sugar until it's really pale and frothy. Flour and good quality cocoa powder was then folded in before pouring the mixture into a lined 33 x 23cm swiss roll tin. It's then only baked for around 8-10 minutes.
The secret to rolling the log so that it doesn't crack is to immediately turn it out onto baking paper, which is generously covered in icing sugar, whilst it is still hot. Then score a line one inch in from the long edge nearest to you and then roll the whole thing tightly with the parchment paper inside. Leave to cool completely. Once cool, the log can be unrolled and covered with whipped cream, then re-roll tightly using the baking paper to help. Eventually you shouuld end up with a neat roll with the join on the bottom.
To make a branch a quarter of the roll was sliced off on the diagonal and then placed up against the log. The whole thing is then covered in chocolate ganache, this can either be applied with a palette knife and then given the bark texture by running a fork over it, or alternatively the ganache can be piped on using a star nozzle which is what I did. The yule log is then finished with a sprinkling of icing sugar and some Christmas decorations.
I am entering my yule log into this month's Calendar Cakes hosted by Rachel at Dolly Bakes, along with me here at Laura Loves Cakes.
In addition this month's Classic French challenge by Jen from Blue Kitchen Bakes is the Yule Log, so I'm also entering it into her challenge.

Monday, December 24, 2012

3D Cookie Christmas Tree

We're nearly's Christmas Eve and I can't wait for the big day. Here is my final bake before Christmas...a 3D Cookie Christmas Tree. I bought these cookie cutters last year but never got round to making a tree but I'm really glad I made it this year, as it turned out even better than I expected. The cutters are from Lakeland, I've seen them in store this year but can't find them online.
The tree was fairly simple to make, although it was rather time consuming. If you buy the Lakeland cutters it comes with a recipe for a vanilla cookie dough and it is in the right proportions to make all 20 of the cookies. However, you could use any cookie recipe you like, such as this one (although you might have to make double) and you could also make any flavour...maybe spiced or orange for Christmas!
This bake was time consuming as you have to chill your dough and I also cooked the trays of cookies one at a time and there were 4 trays. As with any cookies it is also advisable to put them back in the fridge once you've stamped out the shape as this firms them up again and stops them spreading in the oven. If you don't have the Lakeland cutters you could easily still make a cookie tree if you have an assortment of different sized star cutters.
Once all the cookies were cooled I used green sugarpaste and used the cookie cutters to stamp out the paste to top each cookie. It's the little star on top of the tree that makes this bake. It's covered in white sugarpaste and then given a liberal brush over with edible glue before sprinkling with edible glitter, it really does sparkle.
To assemble I covered a small cake board with white sugarpaste and finished with a Christmassy red ribbon. This was then the base upon which to build my tree. I put just a little royal icing between each layer to keep it together and the direction of each cookie was alternated to give the tree effect.
The finishing touches were the large silver balls or dragees on each corner of the star to represent the Christmas decorations and then a final spray with silver lustre dust to add some festive sparkle. This would make a lovely Christmas gift and youngsters would love it!
I'm entering my 3D Cookie Christmas Tree into this month's Calendar Cakes where the theme is 'Go Crackers for Christmas'. This month's host is Rachel over at Dolly Bakes and we host alternately. Check out Rachel's blog for more details...we'd love for you to join us!
So all that remains is for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stollen Topped Mince Pies & Clementine and Apple Mince Pies

What is Christmas without a mince pie or two? I thought I'd try out a couple of variations on the traditional mince pie this year.
First up are Stollen topped mince pies. The pastry is a lovely sweet shortcrust which you can either make using your favourite recipe or using shop bought pastry. The BBC has a good recipe for sweet shortcrust pastry here.
Each pastry case is filled with a couple of teaspoons of mincemeat...again if time allows you can make your own mincemeat in advance.
Each mince pie is then topped with a stollen mixture which interestingly has madeira cake in it, along with ground almonds, caster sugar, butter, an egg yolk, candied peel and marzipan.
I took a little ball of the stollen mixture and flattened it into a disc before placing on top and pushing it down into place which made it a little easier. Each mince pie was then finished off with some toasted flaked almonds before going into the oven. Once baked they were dusted with icing sugar. These are a great alternative to traditional mince pies and stollen is another festive favourite. They were light and tasty and the stollen stayed soft when baked.
My second mince pies are Clementine and Apple. The recipe is by Paul Hollywood and they were featured on the Great British Bake Off Christmas special earlier in the week.
You can find the recipe here, Paul used tangerines but any Christmassy orange will do. Again I used sweet shortcrust pastry and for the filling, mincemeat was mixed with clementine zest, diced apple and clementine flesh. Orange pastry might also work quite well with this recipe.
These mince pies are slightly larger as they were made in muffin tins and the cutter was 9cm. They have a lovely fruity taste and will fill your home with the aroma of Christmas.
If you fancy some more variations on mince pies which are less traditional check out these mince pie rings and spiced mincemeat fairy cakes that I made last year.
I'm entering my Stollen mince pies into this month's Alpha Bakes as the letter of the month is 'S'. Alpha Bakes is hosted by Ros at the More Than Occasional Baker and she is hosting for December. Her partner in crime and co-host is Caroline of Caroline Makes.

375g sweet shortcrust pastry or follow the recipe from BBC GoodFood
375g mincemeat
50g madeira cake
50g ground almonds
25g caster sugar
50g butter, softened
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp candied peel
100g marzipan, finely diced
25g toasted flaked almonds
Icing sugar for dusting.

Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan/gas 6. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board and then cut out 12 8cm rounds using a circle cutter. Re-roll the trimmings if necessary. Press the 8cm circles into the holes of a bun tin. I greased my bun tin beforehand to ensure the mince pies came out.

Put a couple of teaspoons of mincemeat to each pastry case. To create the stollen topping, you can use a food processor or I used a hand mixer which worked just as well. Blitz the madeira cake, ground almonds, caster sugar, egg yolk and butter until it is smooth. Tip into a bowl and then mix in the candied peel and diced marzipan. Divide this mix into 12 roughly even balls, then flatten each one into a disc which is roughly the size of the pastry case top. Place a disc on top of each mince pie and gently press down. Finish by sprinkling toasted flaked almonds over each one.

The mince pies should be baked for 20-25 minutes and should be lightly golden when down. Remove from the oven and dust with icing sugar, when they have cooled a little remove from the tin and place on a cooling wrack. You may want to dust again with icing when they're cold as I find if you do it when hot the icing sugar seems to disappear.

* Adapted from BBC GoodFood magazine

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Icing

These gingerbread cupcakes are getting me into the festive mood with the little gingerbread men and candy cane toppers, as well as some gingerbread men sprinkles. I recently made Nigella's classic gingerbread recipe but these will be a popular variation with the addition of a gorgeous, creamy salted caramel buttercream.
If you want to make a delicious frosting for any of your bakes then this caramel frosting is a good un! It's a regular buttercream with homemade caramel beaten in. It's got a lovely flavour and is great for kids without the salt or big kids with the salt! :-)

The cute cupcake cases and toppers are from Cake Craft World, as are the gingerbread men sprinkles. Alternatively you often see gingerbread cupcakes topped with a little gingerbread man biscuit. If you'd like to make your own gingerbread men, you can find a recipe here. They look really cute with a little royal icing decoration.
I'm entering these into our monthly baking challenge - Calendar Cakes. This month it's hosted by Rachel from Dolly Bakes and we host alternately. The theme is 'Go Crackers for Christmas'. If you'd like to enter you can find the details over at Dolly Bakes.

140g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
60g black treacle
60g golden syrup
2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
300g plain flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
240 ml warm milk

Salted Caramel Buttercream

125g white caster sugar
80 ml double cream
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste...I found this to be very salty)
1 tsp vanilla extract
160g salted butter
200g icing sugar

Pre heat the oven to 190c/170c fan/gas 5 and place the cases into the holes of a muffin tin. This recipe will make about 15 cupcakes.

Start by creaming together the butter and sugar together in a bowl, it should be light and fluffy and become paler. Then add the treacle, syrup, eggs and yolds adn combine thoroughly.

In a separate bowl sift together the plain flour, baking powder, nutmeg, ginger and salt. Add half the flour mixtue and half the warm milk to the butter and sugar mixutre. Combine well before adding the remaining flour and milk and mixing again.

Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for around 20 to 25 minutes. The cakes should be risen and lightly firm to the touch. Cool on a wire rack out of the tin.

To make the frosting, first you must make the caramel. Heat the caster sugar along with 4 tablespoons of water. The sugar should dissolve but don't stir it, otherwise it could crystalise, you can however swirl it. When the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat. The caramel should bubble and will thicken and turn a light amber colour after about 5 or so minutes. Take the caramel off the heat and immediately stir in the cream, sugar and vanilla extract but do take care as it may sputter. Leave to cool completely.

Mix the icing sugar and softened butter together for at least 4-5 minutes. Then add the caramel and beat it in. This frosting is then ready to be piped on top of the cooled cupcakes. Make sure you only put soft caramel into the frosting, if there are any set or crystalised parts they will block up the piping nozzle.

* Adapted from the BBC GoodFood Website

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rose Petal & Pistachio Meringues

I recently made some chocolate leaves using rose leaves. The roses actually ended up serving a triple purpose...making the chocolate leaves, adding some aesthetic appeal to my lounge and the third use was making rose petal sugar.
I made the rose petal sugar by putting 240g of caster sugar and a small handful of rose petals into a pestle and mortar and then gently bashing them together. Both the sugar and rose petals were then tipped into a jar and sealed. This mixture was in the jar for two weeks before I used it.
The recipe calls for chopped pistachios which were incorporated into the meringue mixture and sprinkled on top.
These were simple to make and the mixture made about 8 moderately sized meringues that were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
These rose petal and pistachio meringues actually turned out better than I expected, although I did think they'd have a slightly rosier taste. I think if I made them again I might try 2 teaspoons of rose water but overall a tasty bake which I imagine could be modified by using other flavours such as orange water etc.


4 egg whites, at room temperature
2 tsp rose water
60g shelled, unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped

Rose Petal Sugar

240g caster sugar
small handful of rose petals

In order to make these meringues you will need to make the rose petal a week or two in advance. I washed my rose petals first but if you do this they need to be thoroughly dry before using them. Put the sugar and rose petals in a pestle and mortar and gently bash them together before tipping both the petals and sugar into a dry jar which should then be sealed.

Whenever you make meringues always ensure there is no grease in the bowl or on the whisk, they should be really clean. Prepare a baking sheet or tray with baking parchment which should be non-stick and preheat the oven to 150c/130c fan/gas 2.

Seperate the eggs into whites and yolks and then put the 4 egg whites in your clean bowl, beat until stiff. Add the rose petal sugar, a spoonful at a time, to the egg whites whilst whisking. Beat well after each spoonful until you have added all the sugar, this should make the mixture stiff and glossy.

Add the rosewater...the initial recipe said 1 tsp but the meringues didn't necessarily taste that much of rose, so if I was going to make these again I might add 2 tsp...but you can choose. Also add two thirds of the pistachios and fold them in with a metal spoon.

The mixture is now ready, spoon it onto the baking tray in large dollops. Scatter the remaining third of the pistachios over the top of the meringues before putting them straight in the oven. As soon as they go in you should turn the temperature down to 110c/90c fan/gas 1/4. Bake the meringues for an hour and a quarter, you should be able to lift them off the baking sheet without them sticking. Finally, turn off the oven and leave the meringues in until they dry out and the oven temperature has cooled. This could even be overnight. These meringues will keep in an airtight tin for 3-4 days.

*  Adapted from Christmas Heaven Magazine

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Festive Bread Baking

I don't really know a great deal about bread or how to make it...but I'd love to be one of those people who can knock up a quick homemade loaf as quick as a flash. So I thought I'd take some tentative steps towards becoming a bread baker by attending a 'Festive Bread Baking' course.
Our host was Anna, a.k.a the Culinary Anthropologist. Anna hosts courses from her gorgeous kitchen in north London, these range from bread to preserves to new Nordic cuisine. We were greeted with a very warm welcome along with tea and coffee, juice and some toasted breads for breakfast. Then it was time to get started as we had four breads to get through in a day.
First up was the festive favourite Panettone. Anna had started us off the day before with the base, from there we worked in teams of 4 to produce our breads. There were lots of delicious ingredients in the panettone including plump rum soaked raisins. There were 7 people on the course altogether and one team had a Kenwood stand mixer and one team had a Kitchen Aid to knead the dough, there was much debate as to which was the best but we didn't reach any firm conclusions. At home I have a Kenwood K-Mix so I'd come down on the side of Kenwood.
Once our panettone's were proved we slashed a cross in the top of each one before baking. Interestingly you can buy something called Aroma Panettone which adds the distintive smell to your bake! Anna recommended the Bakery Bits website for some specialist baking buys. They also sell various sizes of panettone cases. 
Our next bread was Stollen which contained crystallised ginger, sour cherries and more rum soaked raisins. We more specifically made a Dresden Stollen. When the dough is ready it is pressed out into an oval which is then folded over on itself but not quite in half. Once baked the whole thing is brushed with melted butter and then dusted with icing.
We used Anna's homemade candied peel in both the panettone and the stollen. I'd never really considered making candied peel before and it is rather time consuming but it was also very tasty, so it might be worth giving it a go. Here is the recipe for candied peel on Anna's website. Waitrose also describe a method on their website.
Next up, brioche. This is the bread that I have made before having made a plaited loaf as well as chocolate brioche rolls. Once our brioche dough was ready we shaped it into small traditional rolls called 'brioche a tete' as they look like they've got little heads. We also made loaves, one with three balls sitting together in the tin, as you can see below, and another with raisins and spices rolled up inside.
The brioche can then be used for a number of other recipes such as the rum babas above or some french toast perhaps.
Our final loaf was the Challah which is a special Jewish plaited loaf eaten on the Sabbath and for holidays. I've never heard of a Challah before but it really was quick to make and it was very light. This loaf was slightly sweet as it has honey in the recipe and overall it is a good multi-purpose loaf. Anna showed us how to plait and my loaf is the one on the left above. The Challah were finished with an egg wash and a sprinkling of either poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
Once all our doughs were made and proving it was time to sit down to lunch which was a tasty spread of winter coleslaw, pheasant rillette, gravadlax, bread, chutneys and cheese, all washed down with a glass of wine. Lunch was delicious and we even got pudding which was rum babas and brioche bread and butter pudding.
This was a great course and our host Anna certainly knew here stuff. Before we started baking we had a little introduction to the science of bread making, Anna also runs other bread courses which go into this in more detail. Her knowledge and enthusiasm for food were evident throughout the day and we came away with detailed recipes and instructions about how to make our bread at home. In addition there were recipes for the rum babas, bread and butter pudding and candied peel. The ingredients we used throughout the day were also top class, of particular note was the flour which was from Shipton Mill where you can buy it online by the sack.

Anna trained at the Tante Marie Cookery School in San Francisco and then took specialised courses at the San Francisco Baking Institute. She is also currently studying for an MA in the anthroplogy of food and consults for BBC Radio 4's 'The Kitchen Cabinet' so she certainly knows her onions! I'd highly recommend her courses and I've already signed up for a preserves course in the spring.
To end the day whilst we were waiting for our last loaves to bake we were treated to a glass of Glogg which is a Swedish mulled wine with a kick of was the perfect way to end a great day!