Posts Tagged ‘Birthday Cake’

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Short & Sweet

November 4, 2011

I have been baking almost exclusively from Dan Lepard’s ‘Short & Sweet’ since it arrived a few weeks ago. A comprehensive compilation of recipes from choux to pita; muffins to meringues and tarts to tapenade dinner rolls. The ‘tips & techniques’ at the start of each  chapter – whilst present in any decent baking book – I’ve found more enlightening than usual. For example pointing out that ripe bananas are alkaline and may need the addition of more baking powder to stop the finished cakes turning out on the heavy side (noted Mr Lepard).

Dan writes a weekly column ‘How to Bake’ for the Saturday Guardian magazine. A regular cut-out-and-keep for me, my collection of his recipes are tucked between the pages of other baking books, and now they will have a place of their own. What I’m particularly pleased about is that the book isn’t just a collection of the recipes already available online and, as was recently pointed out in another review – the book stays open at the page required making life just a little easier.

 

 

 

I have now twice made the savoury choux pastry recipe and Black Olive Gourgeres (mini choux bites with thyme, garlic, parmesan and kalamata olives – divine). A chance to revisit the choux first attempted at River Cottage and to hone those skills. The gourgeres are a fantastic pre dinner party nibble as they can be made ahead and reheated easily before serving. They’re messy buggers to spoon onto a baking tray (line that tray with parchment) but they don’t need to be too uniform in shape as the their rough edges crisp up and add wonderful crunch.

 

 

 

The savoury choux paste with added parmesan and a hint of mace along with the cayenne (top spice tip from River Cottage – try it) was easier to work with although my quenelle-ing skills need a fair amount of work. I was able to try out my theory that a filling of horseradish creme fraiche would go well with the spicy buns. I can confirm it does make a lovely pairing; the light and crispy pastry, warm with gentle heat from the spices and parmesan compliments the smooth zingy and firey mixture of creme fraiche (I used low fat)  and horseradish (the English Provender Co makes a great substitute for the fresh stuff) lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Make your mixture and chill in the fridge before piping into the cooled buns. A great mixture that goes wonderfully well with beef or smoked fish too. Top tip of my own – remember to warn guests that the buns are filled. Chances are they will be eaten with glass in one hand and the eater’s focus on conversation – the spilling potential would seem to be moderately high.

 

 

 

From the sweeter end of the recipe selection I made the Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake for a neighbours birthday. A fine crumbed cake containing condensed milk it’s better for a day left well wrapped but pretty damn tasty straight away if it calls to you from the kitchen.

 

 

 

Another day found me looking at the collection of dried fruits in my baking cupboard. First off was a Cinnamon Honey Fruit Cake which I baked in a tray, all the better for portioning to share out (a suggestion made by Dan that I can confirm works well). This too benefits from sitting for a day or two and I really would leave it if you can, a far moister cake awaits you if you can resist. I used a mixture of prunes, figs and apricots as well as adding 100g of whole blanched almonds, which in the tray form didn’t have the opportunity to sink – mind you the batter is thick enough with chopped fruit that they should stay suspended even in a deep tin. The discovery of a nut adds delightful texture and interest to the bites of cake.

 

 

 

For me though the star of the show so far has been the Marrakesh Express Loaf Cake. Containing coffee, lots of walnuts and sesame seeds, rich sticky dates and pomegranate I felt sure I would enjoy it, but the layers of taste are amazing. Like a complex perfume it has a deep earthiness from the coffee and walnuts surrounded by the sweet dates and then the syrupy top notes of the pomegranate syrup float around your mouth. Dan says that treacle could substitute for the pomegranate syrup but I can’t believe the flavours would then dance around your palate in quite the same way. The syrup is worth getting if you can, a little goes a long way and if you enjoy middle easter food or follow the Ottolenghi column adjacent to Dan’s in the Guardian then you will find plenty of uses for it.

 

 

 

The recipe states half wholemeal or spelt flour and half hemp flour – I just used all wholemeal and it turned out fine, although I might just have to get me some spelt and hemp and see if the flavours can be any better.

 

 

 

There is still so much to try in the book and I know from last year that the Caramel Christmas Cake is a winner and sure to make another outing, or four, this year.

 

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Crammed with Cranberries

November 29, 2010

For my birthday, which fell on the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I decided to honour the theme and the season with two cranberry laden cakes to take into work. As a great deal of my baking inspiration comes from the blogs I read, most of which are American, there was no shortage of potential recipes to be found in the weeks leading up to the 25th. I always have frozen and dried cranberries in the house but bought two bags of fresh that have appeared in the shops recently to use in the recipes below. I would imagine frozen would work just as well with b recipes, you might just need to extend the baking time by a couple of minutes and give them a quick toss in flour to help with the additional moisture.

I had to bake a bundt as they’re my favourite type of cake and I’m glad did as on the morning of my birthday I received my ‘I Like Big Bundts’ badge from Mary the Food Librarian  which I earned by baking on National Bundt Day on the 15th of this month you can see the round up of all those bundts baked in honour of the day, including mine, over at her site. Thank you Mary for taking the time to post one of these all the way over to the UK, I actually squealed with delight when I opened the envelope, along with my birthday cards, on the morning of the 25th.

Both recipes are courtesy of Joy the Baker, chosen for their main ingredient of cranberries, and also because I thought the two together offered a nice contrast of flavours and choice for my colleagues; the richness of a cake laden with fruit, spices and bourbon offset by the zing of lime zest in a light muffin. The original muffin recipe states whole milk, but I had buttermilk to be used. I worried initially that it might be a little too sharp a flavour on top of the cranberries and  lime zest, which is why I kept in the sugar topping, a step I often leave out. I really don’t think it was too sharp, these muffins were light and tasty and possibly my favourite thing for a long time. However,I have a confession, I didn’t manage to brown my butter. It’s not something I’ve done before and it just didn’t seem to be happening.  I’ve no idea how long it actually takes to brown butter but I seemed to be standing over the pan for ages. I had my iPhone and googled hints and tips but my impatience won out and I just used un-browned melted butter. On a positive note, this means I will have to make them again once I’ve established what I was doing wrong.

For the bundt, the apples and bourbon go together nicely, but I think I would perhaps try using a brandy next time, I even have some orange flavoured rum that I need to experiment with. I just used apples I had in the fruit bowl which were British coxes

Browned Butter, Cranberry and Lime Muffins

Joy the Baker

for 12 Muffins:

100g melted butter

1/3 cup of buttermilk or whole milk

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp vanilla extract

Grated zest of a lime

225g plain flour

140g caster sugar

3.4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups / 162g fresh or frozen cranberries

40g muscavado sugar for topping

Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with cases.

Brown the butter by melting over a low heat until brown bits appear, once the cracking has subsided it will brown quickly so remove from the heat (or just stand stirring for a while then remove melted, un-browned butter from the heat)

Whisk together the milk or buttermilk, whole egg and additional yolk, vanilla and lime zest in a large jug. Add the browned butter and whisk in.

Whisk together the flour, sugar baking powder and salt in a large bowl and then add the wet ingredients, gently but thoroughly combining.

Fold in the cranberries, spoon into muffin cases, sprinkle with a little of the extra sugar and bake for 18 – 20 minutes. Allow to cool in the trays for 15 mins.

The batter seemed very cranberry heavy – almost as if there wouldn’t be enough muffin to encase them all once cooked, but I needn’t have worried, the cranberries were perfectly encased in the batter although they did need a little over the 20 mins to brown nicely.

Apple, Cranberry and Bourbon Cake

Joy the Baker

450g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups of vegetable oil

3 large eggs

337.5g granulated sugar (I used caster)

87.5g muscavado sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon dark rum/ bourbon /orange juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 apples; peeled, cored ad cut into 1/4″ pieces (approx 245g) and a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent them browning

1/2 cup fresh cranberries

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a large (12 cup) bundt pan.

Whisk or sift together the flour, bicarb and salt.

Whisk together the oil, eggs, sugars, spices rum and vanilla in a large bowl.

Fold the dry ingredients in to the wet and then fold in the fruit. Joy points out that the batter will be thick and heavy and it’s definitely one that needs to be spooned in the pan rather than poured.

Bake for 60 – 74 minutes (it was 60 for me) and then allow to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before turning out onto a wire wrap to cool completely.

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The Anxiety of Birthday Baking

April 23, 2010
I have made several cakes recently for colleagues and friends that have been for birthdays (or on one occasion a leaving do) and I think I may soon stop. Usually, I bake, allow to cool , then cut and portion the cakes at home before leaving on the doorsteps of neighbours or taking into work to share. But when, for a particular person or occasion, I take the cake into work whole, without cutting into it, so I can’t tell how it’s turned out. I’ve had a couple of baking fails where the finished product looks and smells divine – the batter was tasty and enjoyed from the bowl – but when I’ve cut into it the inside has been leaden, dense and uncooked – inedible. The image of these stays with me, as does the disappointment at the waste of the time, effort and ingredients. Then there’s the confusion over what went wrong, or worse the frustration at realising the stupid, and avoidable error.


I made Nigella’s Quadruple Chocolate Cake (although mine technically is only a triple version as I didn’t finish with the chocolate curls, but hey there’s still plenty of chocolate in there) in bundt form for a colleagues birthday a while ago. I’m fairly confident that doubling loaf cake recipes makes for a good large bundt (and the reverse) and have made this cake before, albeit in loaf form and did my usual of substituting the sour cream for buttermilk. I have no idea what I was doing when making this but I did think, as I spooned the batter into the pan, that the recipe direction of ‘pouring’ was a little off but it wasn’t until the cake was in the oven and I was reviewing the recipe to check baking times I realised that I had missed out an entire step; adding the boiling water. 250ml of boiling water, not a tablespoon or a piffling amount, but 250ml.


I stared at the cake in the oven a fair amount whilst it was baking, trying to imagine what this error might mean. The cake came out of the oven fine, it felt a little heavy, but it’s a chocolate bundt, not a chiffon cake, it was hardly going to be a light and airy thing that I held in my hands. I couldn’t work out how this might have affected the finished cake and spent an evening of anxiety, trawling the net for advice, asking the question on the Serious Eats Talk board (a great resource and an enjoyable and compelling read, there are some great threads on there and some very knowledgeable, helpful and amusing people on there). I eventually cored out a small section of cake from the underneath, which whilst dense seemed ok – in fact it tasted great. It was cooked all the way through which was my main fear, so I decided to risk it. Everyone commented on how rich and moist the cake was, and whoever got the slice with the missing section didn’t say anything!


I have also made Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake twice recently. I’ve had this cake in my ‘Cakes to Make’ folder for months and when you look at the recipe and photo’s you’ll understand why it’s a cake to make. I have yet to come across a recipe from Deb that hasn’t not only been reliable, but also absolutely delicious. She has such a loyal and proactive following that reading the comments below her posts in full is always worth it for the revisions and suggestions. The reason this cake had remained in the folder rather than in my oven was due to the quantity of lemons needed. I usually have a couple of lemons in the fruit bowl ready to lend their zest to a cake (or, of course, to contribute to a Saturday evening G&T) but to have 8 at one time takes planning. I discovered that a colleague, due to leave work, liked lemon cakes so I had time to plan and purchase enough lemons. It was more than worth it.



So much so that I made another later the same week, with the frosting, for a good friends birthday. The syrup should brushed on slowly over a cake pierced multiple times with a toothpick or skewer – it’s worth the effort of taking the time to make sure as much as possible is absorbed as the difference it makes to the taste and moistness of the cake is considerable.


Another, more recent citrusy, request was for a Tart au Citron. For the recipe I reverted to the trusty Leith’s Baking Bible as I’m anxious about the technicalities of pastry and despite the success of December’s Gin Mince Pies was still hesitant. The recipe for the Pate Sucree was for one to be made by hand and there were no tips on converting to be made in a food processor, an essential adaptation as these hands were not for pastry making made. Once more Serious Eats helped me out and I ended up with pastry that came together well. I suspect I didn’t quite leave it to chill for long enough before trying to work with it, or perhaps it was because I was trying to bake in the evening rather than the morning, so unbalancing the natural order of things, but I didn’t have the time to leave it for that long and the recipe was vague, with only the direction to ‘chill’. When I came to roll it out it cracked and split and was an absolute disaster. I tried to rescue it by putting it back in the fridge but was too tired and frustrated too leave it long enough. I toyed with the idea of using to make little mini jam tarts but to be honest I had lost the will to bake and just gave up. I went to bed intending to nip to the local French Patisserie to buy one of their spectacular tarts to give along with the story of my disastrous effort. However, I woke at 5, and decided to have a go at another lemon recipe from Smitten. Not something I would usually make, but when searching the site for a lemon cake it had come up. Oh the anxiety! It’s been a while since I made shortbread, I’ve not made lemon curd before and to top it all off the pictures of the finished recipe weren’t displaying properly so I couldn’t see how it should turn out. And of course I had to take the bars in the tin they were baked in as they would not have travelled well so I had no opportunity to taste to see what they look like. In my anxiety to get this ready in time to take to work I didn’t manage to take a photo, but I have a plan to make them again in the near future and will make sure there are pics. Oh, and it was enjoyed.



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Citrus Cakes for Birthdays

November 29, 2009
The past week has seen the creation of two citrus themed birthday cakes. The first followed a request for a lemon birthday cake and I went with another Mary Berry Recipe. Her Crunchy Top Lemon Cake is a lemon infused sponge with a sugar and lemon glaze pasted onto the piping hot cake, as usual I substituted the milk in the recipe with buttermilk, I really need to start making comparison cakes to see exactly what difference this makes.

The second was for my 35th Birthday and I recently bookmarked a recipe for a lemon cake with gin drizzle from Madalane of The British Larder (not sure if I was searching for cake or gin at the time – either is likely). I think because this cake was going to be for me I felt able to be more adventurous and decided to play around a little more than I usually do. Having made a fair few lemon cakes over the year I didn’t really want one for my birthday but the gin was fitting. My mother had a recipe for a Gin and Grapefruit Sorbet that was part of every Christmas celebration I can remember and one of my favourite party dishes. It’s a wonderfully sharp and refreshing way to cut through the richness of any feast, whilst ensuring that your alcohol levels remain topped up – and no feast is complete without gin in my opinion. Deb from Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for a Grapefruit Yoghurt cake so I went about combining the two. I baked it for about 35 mins and this was a little too long, the edges had started to brown so I will check earlier next time. The ‘drizzle’ is just that, however the original recipe had more icing sugar (100g) and less gin (10ml) so was more of a glaze, it was poured over the cakes after they’d been turned out of their tins (after 5 mins, so while still warm), I may try this next time as the photos of the originals look so pretty.

Gin and Grapefruit Cake
120g butter
170g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
170g caster sugar
2 large eggs
60mk buttermilk
Zest of 2 grapefruit
Juice of half a grapefruit
1/4tsp of salt

Grease and flour a loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180C
Mix butter and sugar until light and creamy, combine buttermilk and eggs in a jug then add to batter in stages.
Add zest and juice then sift in flour, baking powder and salt and combine without over mixing.
Bake for 30 – 35 mins

The Drizzle
Juice of one grapefruit
70g of icing sugar
15ml (ahem) gin, I used Tanqueray of course

Keeps well for a couple of days wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight container.

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Victoria Sandwich Challenge

October 22, 2009

I am a bad blogger, I have such a backlog of posts and recipes to post on here, I’m going through the jottings in my notebook and pictures on my laptop to try and match them up – this should have been posted months ago.
On one of my recent cake distributions at work I was asked by a colleague if I had any tips for Victoria Sandwiches as he was due to enter a competition at a local horticultural society show and had, after six years of entries, yet to place. I had to confess that I’d never attempted one and after a brief conversation about the merits of double sifting flour and the use of margarine over butter he jotted down the required recipe (6oz each of SR flour, butter and sugar and 3 eggs to be baked in two 7″ or 8″ tins) and off I went to bake. I made several cakes over the following weeks (thanks/apologies to neighbours and colleagues for consuming them all).
The trouble with a Victoria Sandwich is there’s nowhere to hide. The competition rules are clear – only jam inside, SR flour and no additional raising agents – it really all is about the lightness of the crumb.

I experimented with butter (best for taste), margarine, which did give a better rise but resulted in a greasy, paler cake and I also tried a ‘spreadable’ butter which apparently gives the rise of marg with the superior butter taste, but I still felt was greasy. In the end I decided to be a purist and went with butter in a 7″ tin to get a deeper sponge.
There was no rosette for me this year, (you can see my entry, and the competition here) but I’ll share a few tips I picked up along the way:
  • Double sifting flour – it really does make a difference and enables you to reduce the amount you have to work the batter to incorporate the flour, which will help with lightness.
  • Beating the eggs before adding – this also helps if you decide to weigh the eggs and measure the other ingredients this way i.e. if 3 eggs out of their shells weigh 174g then you should add that amount of flour, fat and sugar *
  • If the mixture starts to curdle when adding the eggs add a tbsp of the flour to bring it back together
  • Turn your tins – depending on your oven of course but I found that rotating the cakes with about 7 minutes to go resulted in an even even colour on top.
  • Raspberry jam is easier to spread than strawberry and means a neater finish at the edges (I used Bon Maman).
  • A dusting of caster sugar is supposedly acceptable for the competition.
Finally, a week after the competition it was Miss M’s 14th birthday and of all the cakes she could have requested she went with a VS. So, after weeks of sticking to various rules and regulations I really went for it, behold The Scooby Doo Cake
*sometime after the competition, said colleague reported that beating the egg whites separately might add even more lightness, after swearing off these cakes for at least a year I had to go straight home and give it a go … no difference that I could see.