Monday, April 11th, 2016
I have not made a cake it a very long time. In fact, the last cake I remember making was a birthday cake in November. November. That’s five months ago. For someone who claims cooking as part of her soul this is appalling. Thus I present: The Chocolate Beer Cake.
I bumped into a friend the other day who asked if I’d done any baking recently, he’s a fan of my cakes, and I had to say no. In my book, stress baking brownies to eat straight out of of the tin between bouts of dissertation writing doesn’t count. It was almost shameful.
And thus, here is what I came up with on the train home on Friday whilst scribbling ideas for ‘giant fuck off recipes’ to make over the next few days while I determinedly don’t think about University, applications for Master’s degrees, my looming dissertation deadline and the 10 000 words I need to write, or my inevitable graduation into the adult world (ha) in July.
I admit, it’s not the most extravagant of giant fuck off cakes, but it’s been a long term and I am very tired. Chocolate and laced with booze is the best that can be hoped for.
I first started making this when I was probably about 14, and clearly couldn’t buy any alcohol, which meant I had to ask my Dad to buy it for me and ended up making it with some very strange combinations. I think once I even used Aspalls cyder, which sort of worked.
(Note: this works best with stout, but I forgot my ID when I went to the supermarket and couldn’t buy Guinness because I have the face of a child, the village shop only stocks Adnams or Scrumpy Jacks)
To make one cake:
(Loosely based on this Delia recipe)
200g soft dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
175g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the icing:
2 tbsp beer
165g dark chocolate (the darker the better)
165g icing sugar
You can also add walnuts, 25g chopped for the icing in the middle of the cake and 8 halves to decorate, but as I have an allergy I don’t.
Start by preheating your oven to 180C/170C fan/gas mark 4, grease and line 2 cake tins
Cream together the butter and sugar until fairly light and fluffy, I lack the upper body strength to do this by hand so use a mixer. Then, gently beat in your eggs, one at a time. By this point you’re mixture should be a light brown.
In a separate bowl, mix together your beer and cocoa powder, it doesn’t matter if there are still a few lumps.
Add the rest of your dry ingredients to the egg mix and gently fold in the cocoa and beer. It will start to look like a bit of a hot mess at this point, but don’t worry!
Once all of the beer/cocoa mix has been incorporated give it one more stir for luck and pour into your tins.
Level off and pop them in the oven for about 30mins, they’ll be level and springy when cooked.
Take your cakes out of the oven, and turn onto a cooling rack to completely cool.
For the icing, melt the chocolate and beer together in a bain-marie.
Once the chocolate is melted take it off the heat to cool a little and cream the butter and icing sugar together. When light and fluffy, mix in the chocolate and beer.
Start by taking your least pretty cake and smoothing 1/4ish of icing over the top before sandwiching on the second cake.
Now take the rest of your icing and divide into 3. Take the first 1/3 and spread it over the top of your cake. Take the remaining 2/3 and spread them around the sides, you might not use it all so spread the rest on the top of the cake.
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
Last Friday I bought a bag of apricots from the village greengrocer’s for 50p. (Yes, my village still has a greengrocer’s, it’s occasionally like living in Victorian England only there are fewer corsets, though tweed and flat caps remain in earnest.) When I got home and opened the bag, it quickly transpired that the apricots were very close to being over ripe and something had to be done with them sharpish. After a little brainstorming this ‘rustic’ tarte aux abricots was born.
My apricots were so ripe that the poaching stage would have been utterly superfluous, they would have fallen apart. If you don’t make my mistake and buy apricots which are actually ripe, poach them to soften them for about fifteen minutes. You can find a recipe on BBC Good Food here, just follow the first two sentences.
The pastry is a sweet crust recipe my mum has been using for as long as I can remember. It’s the first pastry she taught me to make. If I was very lucky, I’d be allowed to help her make it for her baked chocolate tart, which she made for years whenever my parents hosted dinner parties, which meant I could snaffle pieces (half the roll) and eat them when we were lining the tin. While chocolate tart as been ousted in favour of other puddings, this pastry remains my all time favourite for sweet foods. I use it for every possible pastry based pudding and treat. The recipe makes enough for two tarts, you can line another tin and keep it in the freezer, unbaked, for up to a month.
The crème pâtissière is very loosely based on a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was leafing through How to Bake but I found that the original wouldn’t set no matter what I did so I’ve adjusted it significantly.
For one tart, you’ll need:
500g plain flour
100g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter (cut into cubes and put back in the fridge to completely chill again)
100g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
500ml milk (most recipes state full fat milk but I’ve never really found a difference whichever milk I use)
The contents of 2 vanilla pods (good vanilla pods are pretty hard to track down and fairly expensive, I got mine at a market in the Midi-Pyrenees. If you don’t have any use half a teaspoon of vanilla extract and add more to taste.)
You need about 14 apricots cut in half. If you can’t get your hands on any fresh apricots (i.e. if you have a real hankering in the depths of winter) a couple of tins of preserved ones will do just fine.
Start by making your crème pâtissière. Put your sugar, cornflour and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk them together. Pop to one side and bring your milk and vanilla pods to the boil in a heavy bottomed pan. As soon as the milk is boiling remove from the heat and stir about 1/4 into your egg mix. Return this straight to the pan and the heat. Stir until it’s thick and smooth. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Give it a quick stir, if you’re using vanilla extract now’s the time to add it, and leave to one side to cool completely. When pushed for time, I’ve been known to stick the bowl in the fridge, or even the freezer, to speed up the chilling process.
To make your pastry beat together your butter, eggs and sugar and then add in your flour. I tend to use a food processor for this as it’s a bit sticky. Add a splash of milk and form a ball of pastry. Roll into a chunky sausage and leave in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
Preheat your oven to 180 celsius and grease a loose bottom flan tin. Take your pastry sausage and slice off disks. Press them into the tin, making sure you go about 5mm over the top. Prick the bottom with a fork and blind bake for 15mins, or until the edges start to brown. Take out of the oven and brush with a beaten egg. Put back in the oven until golden brown. Take out and cool completely.
Once cooled, spread your crème pâtissière fairly evenly across the pastry and add the apricot halves in concentric circles, et voilà!
Monday, June 9th, 2014
Sansa Stark (aka the fictional character I will defend beyond all others) loves lemon cakes. By complete coincidence I also love lemon cakes. To be honest I love anything with lemon, even my tea. These light, fluffy bundles of yum are essentially the golden retriever of cake*. Adorable. They are especially good fresh from the oven (cakes not golden retrievers), served with cream and a helping of Game of Thrones, book or TV. They’re also easy as pie to make, basically it’s a fairy cake batter with some lemon thrown into the mix. So, in fact, easier than pie.
For twelve, you need:
3 large, free range eggs
170g unsalted butter (let it come up to room temperature and soften)
170g caster sugar
170g self raising flour
The zest and juice of 2 lemons (keep one of your lemons, you’ll use it later)
Start by preheating your oven to 180c (that universal temperature) and then grease and line your muffin tin. If you’d prefer you can make this as one big cake, a remake of the 70s classic pineapple upsidedown cake if you will. Just remember to cook at 160c and for slightly longer.
Now put your eggs, butter, sugar and flour into a bowl and beat until you have a smooth batter, about 5 mins. Then mix in the juice and zest from your lemon. See, told you it was simple.
Mix it well and then leave it to one side while you slice the lemon and add one ring to the bottom of each muffin tin. Pour your batter on top and bake for 20mins. They should be a golden brown when you remove them from the oven. If you aren’t sure, stick a knife in to the middle cake. If it comes out clean they’re done, if not give them a few more minutes.
Now all you have to do is take them out of the tin and peel off the baking paper. Careful though, the sugar in the lemon gets really hot, I managed to burn my finger tips doing this. Smooth, I know.
To serve, place the cake on a plate with the lemon side facing up, and you’re done. Simple as that.
Settle down for a GoT sesh, raise a toast to the Bad Ass that is Sansa Stark and maybe try to finish your food before that scene from last week’s episode. We all know the one I mean. I knew it was coming. It was still gutwrenchingly awful.
*There is a small chance I have spent this evening scrolling through pictures of dogs on Tumblr. A very small chance.
Wednesday, April 16th, 2014
Spring is well and truly here. Bunnies, calves, and lambs are frolicking in the fields surrounding my parent’s house where I’m attempting to knuckle down to some serious revision and essay writing. 8500 words in three weeks, no problem! *whimpers* For me, the best part of Spring is Easter. Chocolate! Easter Egg hunts! Roast Lamb! Christmas Pudding in April! And the best part is the Hot Cross Buns! Smothered in salty butter and jam. Yum.
As with most things in life, sadly, the home made can outdo the supermarket blindfolded. Hot Cross Buns are no exception. These will trump anything you can buy in Sainsbury’s. They’re a Paul Hollywood recipe I found when I was procrastinating rather a lot by taking all of the books from my parents shelves, dusting, and then putting them back on. Positive procrastination, anyone?
I made a couple of adaptations, ie. switching the dried fruit and mixed peel for a bag of raisins and dried orange peel, in the name of avoiding the hell that is the supermarket on any day during the school holidays.
To make twelve, fairly large, Hot Cross Buns you’ll need:
500g stong white bread flour
10g instant yeast
40g unsalted butter
2 medium eggs
120ml milk (warm it up a little)
120ml cool water
130g dried fruit
Zest of two oranges
1 apple, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cinnamon
It sounds like a lot, I know, but it’s so worth it.
Start by putting the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into a bowl. Make sure that the sugar and salt are on a different side from the yeast or your buns won’t rise at all. Add all your milk, the two eggs (beat them a bit first) and half your water. Mix it together a bit, you may want to use a mixer with a dough hook rather than your hands for this, much easier and less messy. Gradually add more water, mixing all the time, until you have a rough dough. You might not need all of the water. Now the kneading starts. Keep going for about ten minutes, working right through the wet, sloppy stage until your dough is smooth and springy, like a baby’s bottom. Pop in in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave well alone, somewhere warm for at least an hour.
When your dough is double the size it was before you proved it tip it onto a really well floured surface, we’re talking two or three handfuls here, and add the fruity bits and cinnamon.
Give it a good knead to mix everything in well, I have no shame admitting that I used the mixer for this, and pop it back in the bowl, cover and leave in a warm place for another hour.
When you take it out of the bowl you’re going to want another good two handfuls of flour. What you should have is something resembling one of the Goblin King’s chins. Attractive, I know.
Fold inwards a few times, until all the air has been knocked out and then roll into a sausage shape.
From this, cut off twelve roughly similar sized chunks and roll each one into something that vaguely resembles a ball and pop them onto a tray covered with a sheet of baking parchment.
Cover them again (with cling film or a plastic bag this time) and leave for ANOTHER hour. As with all good things, hot cross buns take time.
Pop your oven to 220C to preheat and get mixing your paste for the crosses, 75g plain flour and 75ml water. After an hour pipe crosses onto your bun and pop them into the oven for about 20minutes, they might need a little less time, you want golden brown.
Warm 75g of apricot jam and a splash or so of water in a pan and paint onto your buns to glaze them.
I suppose the lady like thing to do would be to wait for hot cross buns to cool and then serve them lighlty toasted with a sliver of butter, but er, no.
Dig right in. Smother with jam and butter in artery hardening quantities. It’s far more enjoyable that way, although maybe avoidy doing so in public places…
Saturday, March 8th, 2014
As you’ve probably guessed, I spend a huge amount of time in the library (mostly) nose deep in texts books on long dead writers or obscure points of French grammar. To make Sundays spent buried under text books more bearable I’ve started to make little goodies to keep my friends and me going when, frankly, we’d rather be sipping mimosas and having brunch somewhere without strip lighting. I’ve done croissants, tarts, and cookies but these little cappuccino cupcakes have been the most popular by far.
They’re basically mini coffee cakes, so ridiculously easy to whip up at a moment’s notice.
To make 12, you’ll need:
225g unsalted butter (leave it out to get really soft, especially if you haven’t got an electric whisk)
175g caster sugar
50g dark brown sugar
225g self raising flour
4 large eggs
1tsp baking powder
1 espresso (or you can disolve 4 heaped tsp of instant coffee in 1 tbsp of boiling water)
For the icing:
75g very soft unsalted butter (just leave the butter on the side when making the cakes)
175g icing sugar
Start off by preheating your oven to 180C (that’s gas mark 4) and creaming together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.
Add your eggs and sieve in your flour and baking powder. Now beat everything together until nice and smooth. Gradually add your coffee until it’s all mixed in well. Have a little taste, if you want a stronger flavour now’s the time to add more.
Spoon your batter into your cases and pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. When done, they should be springy.
Take your cakes out of the tin and leave them on a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re in a hurry pop them next to an open window (obviously only if it isn’t raining!) to cool faster.
To make your icing, the frothy milk part of the cappuccino if you will, beat your butter until it’s creamy and soft. Add your icing sugar and mix well, it really is that simple.
Spoon about a teaspoon full of icing onto each cake and spread it about a bit so it looks like the top of a cappuccino. Add a sprinkling of cocoa powder and you’re done!
If you can exercise enough self restraint the cakes will keep in an airtight container for a few days, as long as excitable housemates don’t get there first!
I’ve given up coffee for Lent, so please enjoy on my behalf!
Sunday, December 29th, 2013
Technically this is a brandy and prune bûche de Noël, I made it before Christmas but then I got so caught up in all the festivities that it completely slipped my mind to post it. Never mind, it’s also fabulous for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
To make one loaf (you’ll get about 12 servings), you need:
1 tin of prunes (get ones without stones in them)
175g plain chocolate
6 large eggs (separated)
175g golden caster sugar
4tbsp cocoa powder
25g icing sugar
Lustredust (Edible glitter! I know! How cool!)
Start off by rinsing all the juice/syrup off your prunes and dry them off with a bit of kitchen roll. Then pop them in a bowl or jam jar with a few slugs of brandy and cover to soak overnight.
Next morning grease and line a Swiss roll tin, melt your chocolate, and separate your eggs. When the chocolate is melted pop it to one side to cool down, you don’t want to mix it with your egg yolks yet as you’ll get a sort of chocolaty scrambled eggs…
Mix your egg yolks and sugar together and beat them until they’re smooth and pale.
When your chocolate is cool mix the two together.
In another bowl, beat your egg whites until they form soft peaks, and then ever so gently mix in your chocolate and egg mix.
Pour the mixture into your tin and bake for about 25 minutes. When it’s done it should be springy if you poke it.
Once it’s cooled down, cover with a damp tea towel and leave for at least two hours.
To make your filling and topping pop your mascarpone, icing sugar, and cocoa powder in a bowl and add a good few slugs of brandy.
Beat it really well, until you have an even colour. Spread half of your filling on what is going to be the inside of your roll and arrange the prunes evenly over it.
Next up is the tricky bit. Very carefully start rolling from one end to the other. This has never been my strength, but logs aren’t exactly perfect so don’t worry too much if yours cracks or goes a bit skewif…
Take the rest of your filling and spread it over your log. Use a fork to make some grooves in the icing.
Use some gold leaf and lustredust to decorate the top. If gold doesn’t take your fancy try something else. Go wild.
Personally, I like mine with a little cream or crème fraîche but it’s quite rich so you can have it with out anything.
Friday, December 13th, 2013
I love Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year. When it comes to the food, turkey and Christmas cake I can take or leave (I’d much rather have goose and a Bûche de Noël), but mince pies are non-negotiable. Can you believe I have friends who’ve never had a mince pie?! Yes, they’re Canadian, but even so..
I made these last time I was at home for reading week, using my mum’s homemade mincemeat. If you haven’t got homemade stuff then Waitrose do some really good stuff.
These outdo the ones you can get from the supermarket by far. The pastry is buttery and flakey with just a teeny kick of citrus and the filling is perfect, although maybe I’m a little bit biased.
To make 24 you need:
150g unsalted butter
350g plain flour
The zest of 1 orange (make sure it’s unwaxed!)
1 jar of mincemeat
1 beaten egg
You’ll also need a cupcake tin and two round or fluted pastry cutters, one 7cm and on 6.5cm. If you haven’t got pastry cutters draw circles on baking paper and use these as a template for cutting you circles, they just won’t be as neat.
Start off by cutting your butter into cubes and chuck it in a bowl with your flour and salt.
Rub it together (use the tips of your fingers and thumbs) until you have what looks like bread crumbs.
Mix in your orange zest and add a dash of water. Stir it all together, everything should start to come together. Keep adding water and stirring until the pastry has come together and formed a ball. Be careful you don’t add too much water though. You’ll get mince pies with soggy bottoms, which no one wants…
Pop your pastry in the fridge to chill for about half an hour. While your pastry is in the fridge, grease your tin and cut strips of baking paper about ten centimeters long and a couple of centimeters across. Lay these in the individual places where your pies are going to go. It makes it so much easier to get the pies out of the tin once they’re cooked! Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
After half an hour, dust your work surface with a little bit of flour and roll out your pastry. Try to get it to about half a centimetre thick. Cut 24 of the larger circles and 24 of the small ones. Don’t worry if you have to roll your pastry out a couple of times. As long as you don’t handle it loads it’ll be fine.
Carefully lift the larger circles into the tins and add a teaspoon or so of mincemeat in each space.
Add a smaller circle and brush each pie with a little bit of beaten egg.
Pop your pies into the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, they should be a beautiful golden brown when they’re done.
Take your pies out of the oven and make sure you resist the temptation to dig in straight away. They’re going to be hot! Pop them on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before stacking them high and covering with a snow storm of icing sugar.
What’s your favourite Christmas treat?
Monday, July 15th, 2013
It was my mum’s birthday last week. All birthdays, especially your mum’s, merit a special cake. This one is seriously special. Fresh strawberries and double cream sandwiched between two soft, buttery layers of Victoria sandwich cake, covered in icing sugar, dark chocolate and popping candy.
Once the cakes are completely cool, this will take a good couple of hours, wash your strawberries and slice them in half. Put them to one side and whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks, but be careful not to over whip it or it becomes really difficult to spread.
Here’s the complicated bit: Take one of your cakes and turn it upside down on a chopping board, so the top is now on the bottom. Spread about half the cream on the side of the cake that’s facing up and then very carefully arrange the strawberries so that they go in circles with the flat side facing outwards, gradually getting smaller.
Add a few candles and present it to the birthday girl/boy, hopefully accompanied by gasps of amazement and admiration. And of course, lashings of Champagne.
Monday, June 24th, 2013
There’s no way of putting this modestly, these are the best brownies you will ever taste. Ever. Rich, gooey and decidedly naughty, you won’t find a more delicious brownie anywhere. In fact, just writing this is enough to make me want to whip up another batch. They trump any dry, bland, tasteless, overpriced imposter you’ll find in a chain coffee shop.They’re probably better for you too. Well, they’re still choc full of calories, fat and sugar but there aren’t any additives or other nasties. Plus, it only costs about £2 to make a whole batch.
To make on tray’s worth, you need:
100g unsalted butter
50g cocoa powder
225g caster sugar
50g self raising flour
Firstly, grease and line a medium sized tray and turn your oven to 180 Celsius or Gas Mark 4.
Then, put your butter into a microwave proof bowl and microwave it until it’s all melted, this usually takes about a minute, depending on your microwave.
Meanwhile, beat your eggs and mix in the sugar.
Once the butter has melted, mix it with the cocoa powder before adding it to the egg and sugar mix along with the flour and vanilla extract.
At this point you can add things like popping candy, for childhood nostalgia moments; salted caramel, for feeling like a grown up; or if you’re feeling really luxurious, brandy soaked cherries or prunes.
Make sure that everything is really well mixed and then pour the lot into your tray and put it in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
I like my brownies to be really gooey, in my family we call them squodge, so I tend to take them out after about 20 minutes. If you prefer brownies to be a little firmer, more like cake, leave them in for longer.
When you take the tray out of the oven , you should have something like this:
Leave it to cool for a few minutes before carefully removing it from the tray and leaving it on a wire rack to cool completely. Once it’s completely cool slice it into portions, one tray usually makes anything between 6 and 12 brownies, depending on how big you want them to be.
Serve with a giant mug of tea or coffee.
The recipe isn’t just for brownies either. I’ve used it to make birthday cakes, loaf cakes and even served it as a hot chocolate pudding. Experiment with it and let me know what you come up with!