Sunday, 30 June 2013

Hazelnut and Chocolate Cupcakes

The name of this blog is particularly apt right now because what I should be doing is packing bits and bobs ready to move into the house I am renting with one of my friends for the third year of my degree. Note I didn't say final year. Nope, with me it's always the case of if I think I might be capable and if the effort will be worth it then I'll ouch for the extra little bit. Hence the reason why I chose to do a four year course with the penultimate year being spent in industry while doing a full years worth of modules simultaneously. But now isn't the time to be crying out 'Why? WHY did I do this?' I'm going to be brave and say everything will be ok and take comfort in the fact that my little bit of industry will be research and foodie based. It will be fun, a little bit away from the norm and the effort entirely worth it. Just like these (cup)makes really.

You see, the sponge and the icing of these aren't of the usual format, yet they are still gorgeously moist, springy and yummy. And hazelnuts are good for you right? So that must mean these cakes are practically healthy surely? Well I'll leave that decision up to you if you need the convincing. I used a recipe which cuts down on the added fat leaving the better for you oils from the hazelnuts do all the hard work, though now might be a good time to mention that it is probably best if you ignore the ingredients of the icing if you are indeed requiring some kind of justification that these cakes are the best option for a slightly healthier treat. I wasn't sure if the addition of ground nuts to such a liquidy cake mix would work but decided to go for it anyway and then thought why take one risk when I can take two and made up an icing that I haven't tried before. It's sort of like Italian meringue buttercream but not. However it does go along the same lines and use a sugar syrup to make a very light but ultra rich icing that would have piped like a dream if I hadn't been adamant that I wanted to practise the Hummingbird Bakery swirl. I thought now would be a good time to practise the swirl because if I made a complete mess of it the decoration would hide all my sins and it gave me the opportunity to christen my new mini palette knife that I treated myself to as a reward for my exam results. As it happened all my risks paid off. I got a half decent swirl (you can just see if peaking through in the picture if you know what to look for), a sponge that accepted the oddball ground hazelnuts and a lovely light cream that matched the base so very well.

If you are wondering what the chocolate topping is then you might be interested to know that it is the Ferrero version of the much celebrated Lindtt bunny. I found these for the bargain price of 60p and so thought I'd pop back for another to crush and put as a surprise in the centre of the cakes but sadly they had all gone. I found it very hard to break into cute chocolate animals but my taste buds won out here and I was soon in. It's the same chocolate found on the outside of a Ferrero Rocher ball sweetie which in my opinion could have been improved by a filling of Nutella and a few hazelnuts in the centre but the people at Ferrero spoiled my dreams. I don't believe for one second that I am the only person out there who thinks an animal sized Ferrero Rocher ball would be a brilliant idea so maybe it will give the company chocolatiers something to think on. If you can't get hold of one of these bunnies then chopped Galaxy with caramelised hazelnuts will be a perfect alternative. An added benefit in that case would be that there is more leftover to find a home for. Note that leftover chocolate does not like to live in kitchen cupboards. Keep it in your tummy for the greatest mutual benefit.

100g hazelnuts
80g butter, cubed and softened
280g caster sugar
150g plain flour, sifted
1 tbsp baking powder
240ml semi-skimmed or whole milk
1tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

85g caster sugar
4tbsp water
2 large egg yolks
150g unsalted butter, cubed and very soft
About 28 whole hazelnuts
About 28 chunks of chocolate
Hazelnut chocolate, roughly crushed/chopped

  1. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and place in a pan over a medium heat and allow them to go a slightly golden brown, jiggling them about every so often. Be careful not to over toast them or they will taste nasty. A slight sizzling sound is fine. A burning smell/smoke isn't. Once done, spread on a board or plate to cool completely then grind up similar to a ground almonds consistency in a blender or food processor if you are lucky enough to have one to make me jealous. Adding a tbsp or so of the measured sugar will stop the nuts forming a paste.
  2. Set the oven to 190C/170C fan. Put the dry ingredients into a bowl with the ground nuts and stir together then rub in the butter so it looks sort of like breadcrumbs. 
  3. Whisk the liquid ingredients together in a jug then pour into the dry ingredients in a steady stream, whisking on a low speed all the while with an electric mixer. It's a good idea to stop midway and scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is mixed in evenly. 
  4.  Divide the mixture between muffin cases set in a muffin tray or two. I made 14 cakes but you could probably get 16 out of the mixture. Place a chocolate chunk and a hazelnut on top of each cake and gently push down slightly. Not so they disappear because they will sink down while in the oven anyway. This just stops them burning first. 
  5. Bake in the oven for 18-20 mins, turning after about 15 mins if necessary. Remove the trays from the oven when the cakes are risen, golden and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 mins then remove the cakes from the tins and leave to cool completely. 
  6. To make the icing, place the sugar and water in a small heavy based pan and dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Then increase the temperature and bring the syrup to the boil then reduce the temperature as necessary to maintain a simmer while the syrup reaches 110 C on a sugar thermometer. Meanwhile, briefly beat the egg yolks in a bowl and when the syrup is ready, pour onto the yolks in a thin steady stream while whisking with an electric mixer until a very pale, completely cold mousse-like texture is achieved. Now whisk in the butter a bit at a time. You will notice the icing thicken and look more manageable. Once everything is incorporated pipe or swirl the icing onto the cold cakes and decorate with a whole hazelnut and a sprinkling of crushed hazelnut chocolate.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Pi Pie (or Ginger and Apple Pie for less nerdy people)

Finally finished!
This pie had been a real labour of love but one which was totally worth it. Oh don't get me wrong, it's actually a very simple idea and if you are going to do the normal crust topping then it is just as simple to make. It was only when I was working out my timings that I didn't take into account how fiddly and time consuming it would be to poke out each of the numbers from the cutters. When we were FINALLY eating it I had the type of sense of achievement that you get from studying hard for months then finally getting really good results and having that immensely happy but somewhat exhausted feeling. Really, nobody should get that tired from making just one pie but I've wanted to try out my own version of a pi pie since someone posted a picture of a less detailed version on my Facebook wall. The recipe for a apple and ginger one popped into my head for some reason, just knowing that it would work well and I'm pleased to say that I was right.

Now in my defense, even though I did go more than 2 hours over my expected completion time, I did have to do tea break for my mum when she got back from work, then again for my dad when he got in as well as making the dinner (bacon and sausage frittata with salad if anyone is interested). Couple that with my dad hovering about in the kitchen where he is notorious for getting in the way and I almost feel like I was justified in taking so long. Almost. I based my recipe on my normal apple pie which was originally the Hairy Bikers' Perfect Apple Pie but I did my usually tweaking as I went along when I was supposed to be sticking to the recipe when trying it for the first time. I have the greatest respect for the Hairy Bikers - they seem to have a great work ethic and attitude, really caring about the people they work with, an appreciation of the effort that goes into cooking for normal families and on top of that are genuinely nice guys. So I do feel a tad guilty about saying that my version of their recipe is better. I'm deeply grateful for them coming up with it in the first place because otherwise I probably wouldn't have developed my own but I think it would be great fun to show them how to make it that oh-so-important bit better. And seeing as how a number of their shows involve other people showing them what they cook, I think they would be fine with be saying I've messed about with one of the recipes that they got so ecstatic over on one of their shows.

I get the feeling that I'm always saying that the recipe I'm writing about is really good so I want to make it clear before I get a reputation for being a boastful so-and-so that for each recipe that ends up on here there are at least two that are mediocre at best and complete embarrassments at worst. For example, recently I made Jo Wheatley's lemon and white chocolate muffins. These appear in the children's section of her book Home Baking which goes to show how simple they are and yet I made the rookie mistake of overfilling the cases (and eating some of the chocolate) causing them to come out of the oven looking as if they had completely failed to grasp the meaning of the phrase 'muffin top'. Sure, some of the cases were so overfull that some mixture had escaped over the sides but not in the cheerful comforting way that you expect from the most delectable muffins. No, it was more in a sad, pathetic way of a creature so depressed it could only muster a half-hearted attempt to remove itself from its current predicament. The only reason why I am proclaiming with such alacrity that my apple pie is a step up from two well loved bakers is that I have had such praise from the two people who would tell me straight if anything were amiss with my baking. If my mum likes something she will give me a positive 'that was nice Laura' but the first time I did the unadulterated apple pie Mum could not/would not stop praising it, to the point where I was slightly embarrassed. My dad, well, I will get a resounding 'eurgh!' if something I present him with doesn't pass muster.

I am well aware of how protective my mother is over her children but you would realise soon after meeting her that she is fair and honest, especially when it comes to my baking because she knows how much I value unbiased comments so that I can improve where necessary. However, if you still think the familial reviews of my baking produce may be far too skewed then I urge you to try this one. The nerdy reference to the digits of the number denoted by the Greek letter pi (I am an enthusiastic chemistry student after all) are not a necessity, a standard pie crust with or without pastry leaves decoration will be more than adequate for someone who neither has the inclination or the time on their hands to mess about with mini cutters. In fact, I wouldn't recommend constructing the topping as depicted unless you have someone to clean up after you with infinite patience to scrub and then dry into the nooks and crannies of the necessary equipment but I do urge you to try it in the non-nerdy form. I welcome any pictures or comments here or on my Facebook page I'd Much Rather Bake Than of your efforts so please do give it a go. It is even a pie that suits any weather which is great news for us here in Britain. It is warming, delicious and comforting for those days when you are thankful to be out of any rain/wind/fog or whatever else a typically British summer throws at you and if a miracle happens and the sun comes out then it is simply perfect and light with ice-cream (my accompaniment of choice two days on the trot). Go on, give it a go. It really is very yummy.

300g bramley apples (weight when peeled, cored and thinly sliced)
2 tsp ground ginger
1 heaped tbsp cornflour
65g demerara sugar
1 piece stem ginger
milk or beaten egg or syrup from the ginger jar to glaze
demerara sugar for sprinkling

200g plain flour
25-50g ground almonds (your preference) 
2tsp ground ginger
100g chilled butter, diced
finely grated zest of one lemon
1 egg beaten with 1tbsp cold water and 1tsp syrup from the ginger jar

  1. Sift the flour, ground almonds and ginger into the bowl and mix so evenly distributed. Rub in the butter until it looks sort of like breadcrumbs. This will seem like it is taking ages at first but will then suddenly be ready. Stir in the lemons zest. I would love one of those microplane gadgets for zesting but I had to make do with a normal zester and a sharp knife to chop it up as fine as I could. Mix in the liquid with a knife and bring everything together. The dough will be very soft and delicate but with care can be handled if you don't want to wait while it chills.
  2. Draw round a 1 pint pie tin on a piece of greaseproof parchment then turn it over ready to arrange the numbers on.
  3. Break off about a third of the pastry and set side, covered.
     Roll out the larger piece on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, lifting the edges of the dough every few rolls to prevent sticking and to allow it to relax. (You aren't allowed to relax while rolling out, just the pastry!) It needs to be about 3mm thick. Not much more or it won't cook properly. Line the pie dish and cut off the excess flush with the edge of the tin. Cover the dish with a plastic bag and chill it in the fridge.
  4. Gather up the pastry trimmings and squidge together with the smaller piece of pastry set aside earlier. Roll out the the same thickness as before. If you are doing a normal crust, set the oven to 200C/180C fan with a baking tray inside and prepare the filling now. If you want to attempt the numbers arrangement, use cutters to cut out the digits, you could use this reference here. Arrange them on the template starting with the 3 in the centre and rotate the numbers outwards until you get to the line you drew on the sheet all the way round the circle. Using roughly 2cm high cutters I got to ...4825342. As you are arranging them, stick them together with a dab of milk or water on the edges. I had a saucer of milk ready for this along with one of flour to dip the cutters into before each use. I also had a spoon to hand to use the handle to poke out the larger areas from the cutters and a cocktail stick for the finer areas. Once the circle is full, place the sheet in the fridge to firm up. Now preheat the oven as above and prepare the filling.
  5.  Peel and core the apples then slice thinly. Mine were about 3mm thick. Let's just ignore the odd shaped slices where I wasn't paying enough attention. Toss in a bowl with the cornflour, ground ginger and sugar until well coated. Chop or grate the piece of stem ginger as finely as you can then mix into the filling mix. Remove the lined pie tin from the fridge and transfer the whole lot to it, arranging the slices as best as is possible so the top layer is flat and doesn't come above the top of the tin. 
  6. If you are doing the normal pie crust, wet the edges of the pastry lining, lift the rolled out piece onto the top of the filled pie,press down to seal around the edges of the tin and trim off the excess. You could make jam tarts with these trimmings if you wished - I ended up mixing bramble berry and strawberry jams for mine which is surprisingly nice. Crimp the edges and cut a steam hole in the pie top to stop the pastry from going soggy during baking. Decorate with pastry leaves stuck down with a dab of water if you wish.
  7. For the numbers crust, remove the sheet from the fridge. There is no easy way to explain how to get it off the paper onto the pie - you may have to find your own way. I had intended to slide it off the paper onto the pie but it just wouldn't do that. In the end I placed another sheet of greaseproof on top, flipped it over onto a flat tray, peeled off the original template sheet, held my fingers over the pie filling, flipped the pie onto the numbers then flipped the whole lot back the right way up. Finally I pressed the number round the edge down onto the pie base and replaced the ones that had fell off during flipping and breathed a sigh of relief before popping it into the oven on the heated baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 40 mins ish for the normal crust and about 30 mins ish for the numbers crust. Turn the pie around half way through cooking and have a foil hot ready to place over the top if it looks like it is browning too quickly. Once baked, rest the pie out of the oven for 5-10 mins before serving with something nice. Double cream, custard, ice-cream, clotted cream, whipped cream, whisky cream...Hmm, now there's a thought.
Happy baking!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thumb Buns

Some people may recognise these as jammy thumbprints or simply jammy biscuits but they are in fact thumb buns. It's ok, I'll forgive you, especially if you go bake some of these right now to see how wonderful they are. I first learned how to make these during a cookery lesson at primary school from a friends mum who came in to show us how to make these and  the odd other thing. I thought that they were so great that I guarded the recipe that we were told to copy out after we had come out of the tiny student kitchen for years, before I put it in a safe place. Yep, one of those very special safe places that are safe even from themselves. As a result I've had to go many years without eating these while I find another recipe from a book that looks similar enough. You see, it isn't as simple as picking any old plain biscuit recipe and sticking a hole in the middle of it to fill with jam. Proper thumb buns are a cakey biscuit, one of the rare variety where you don't want to wail when you bite into it expecting perfect crispness after all your hard work and attention  only to find a soft centre. Some things are so wonderful from a person's childhood that they shouldn't be changed if it is the authentic taste that is desired. This is one of them, the true thumb bun. Sadly, I can't claim full credit for this particularly recipe, which I found in the book that accompanies the first series of The Great British Bake Off but I am going to tell you a whole load of adaptations that are just as fantastic if you are willing to divert from the original.

As you can probably tell front the above, I love tradition but there are some things about being older that are highly beneficial. For instance, as a child going shoe shopping there was no way on earth that I would've got away with trying on multiple pairs of shoes that I wasn't even going to buy. Earlier today while my parents were off down the other end of Brantano I amused myself by trying on shoes that were, for me personally, a ridiculous height. I surprised both my parents and myself by being able to walk in them within barely a wobble. No really, I didn't fall over or anything. I was only on the first pair when the male shop assistant started giving me funny looks like he knew I was only having a bit of fun instead of seriously browsing. Somebody really needed to point out to him that if he didn't want people to try the shoes on then they shouldn't have been on display. It's not as if I was leaving the discarded shoes all over the place, I put them all back in their proper places taking as much care as if I was handling my most precious piece of baking equipment. Then again, this was the same assistant that I saw move a dismay ballet shoe about 1cm because someone put it back at the wrong angle so may be I was causing him undue distress by even momentarily disrupting his some parades. It's not as if I was completely wasting his time. Since leaving the store I have completely fell in love with a pair of shiny mint green heels that are making me toy with the idea of changing my outfit for my cousin's upcoming wedding. This picture doesn't do them any justice. But before I get any more attached to shoes that would have me hammering on the shop doors before they open tomorrow morning, here is the recipe for fun, yummy and nostalgia inducing biscuits.

225g self raising flour
100g salter sugar
125g butter, softened but not as muck as for a cake
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1tbsp milk

Fruit curd
Milk or white chocolate buttons (replace 25-50g of flour with cocoa powder for a double chocolate biscuit)
  1. Mix together the sugar and flour in a large bowl, dice and rub in the butter until it looks sort of like  breadcrumbs. Most rubbing in methods call for chilled butter but I couldn't be bothered to wait until the butter had hardened again after I took it out of the fridge too early and I found this worked really well for getting the right texture. 
  2. Mix the egg, milk and vanilla with a fork then mix into the flour mixture to make a soft dough. If it is sticky, add a little more flour or if it is dry, add a little more milk. Now set the oven to 200 C/180C fan.
  3. Line a couple of trays with greaseproof paper. Roll the mixture into balls and place on the baking tray with lots of space in between for them to puff up and spread. (I did 12 on one sheet and the rest on another.) The size of the balls really depends on how generous you want the biscuits to be. I did them weighing about 25g each. I'm not ashamed to admit I weighed out each one. I do it quite often - I like to get things even at the start, even if when they go into the oven the don't necessarily rise and spread evenly. At least I've done my bit to help them on their way to GBBO uniformity!
  4. Partially flatten the balls with your fingers then flour your thumb and poke a holl into the centre of each biscuit-to-be being bareful to not go all the way through. Spoon a little jam/marmalade/curd/Nutella into each hole or place one or two buttons in each. Make sure you don't overfill the holes or the jam tend to go all over the biscuits in the oven. My mum used to go off to do some housework while I was busy filling the thumb holes as a kid so naturally I put as much jam in them as possible only to find they came out of the oven looking like exploded strawberry craters.
  5. Next, place in the preheated oven for 10 mins ish then reduce the temperature by 20C , rotate the trays and time another 5 mins ish. Take the tray out of the oven when the biscuits are a light golden brown. Cool on the tray for a few mins then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Do this with a fish slice or palette knife if you are a careful person. I often don't do this because I am slowly getting asbestos fingertips but I am in no way whatsoever encouraging anybody to play silly devils and touch anything hot with bare fingers. Really now, that isn't very sensible. Bake the other biscuits on the second tray in the same way. These are a biscuit that might be even better when eaten warm. Mum caught me dunking mine and even though they aren't the best for doing so, if you judge it correctly you can get a bite where it disintegrates perfectly to give you a moment of bliss. Hmmm, I wonder what a mocha thumb buns would be like.
Happy baking everyone!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Peanut Butter Brownies

As I sit here writing this I'm deliberately not thinking that it is approximately 20 hours until I get my results for  the second year of my MChem degree. Nope, I'm not thinking about how I will be either elated or utterly ashamed of myself come 4pm tomorrow at all. I've only narrowly avoided being told off by my mother this evening for mentioning it. There really is no point in wondering how badly going blank in one of your exams, specifically over a question you knew was going to be on there, will affect your grade. If anyone reading this has ever been in a similar state of mind then may I suggest a recipe such as this as a form of distraction?

Peanut butter is much like Marmite in that it has the fantastic ability to divide a room into two sides hissing and spitting insults at each other, half because they can't fathom why the others like the stuff and the other half vice versa. Personally I love both and because I love chocolate even more, I was very eager to try peanut butter brownies. About a year ago I printed out a load of recipes from the BBC Good Food website to help pad out my recipe (leaver arch) file that sits alongside my 27 and counting recipe books. My aim was to slowly work my way through them and one of the first to catch my eye was for peanut butter brownies. I was so disappointed that I vowed to make my own at some point but then other recipes and ideas got in the way so it is only now that I've made something that is worth it. My mum was a little unsure of the idea but when she arrived home from work to find these cooling I think she may have changed her mind. The recipe is so easy as well, I just adapted my original brownie recipe and kept my fingers crossed that it would work. I was also really surprised at the number of people who liked the idea when I popped a photo on Facebook. It almost makes me feel guilty for having a pile of cakes and not being able to share them with those who showed such positive support. I really would have shared them if I could. Though not the centre square which is the absolute yummiest. Mum gets that one if I'm doing the original brownies but I felt like I had earned it on this occasion.

In case anyone is wondering how I got on with working my way through my collection of loose recipes the I'm sorry to say that it isn't going well. The trouble is that I seem to accrue them faster than I can use them especially as more often than not now I'm trying out my own ideas. Well, where is the fun in following something that you know works?! I'm that obsessed that I check and every morning for the daily featured recipes in the same way that most people check the daily papers. Does that make me sad? I hope that bakers and other foodie people will understand but even if it is true then I'm not sure that I'm even bothered.  I have too much fun inventing ideas and testing out being theories. Heaven forbid I actually get to go to the BBC Good Food show like I have been wanting to for yonks, you won't see me for a month outside of the kitchen with all the gadgets and baking paraphernalia I'd come back with to test.

About 20 hours to go!

135g Bournville type chocolate
100g ish milk chocolate 
50g butter
120g peanut butter split into 2 lots (not the reduced fat stuff)
3 large eggs
175g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g plain flour
50g self raising flour
35g cocoa powder

  1. Melt the Bournville type chocolate with the butter and 60g peanut butter in a bowl over gently simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Stir occasionally to mix then set aside to cool once it is all melted together.
  2. Grease and line a 8 inch square tin with greaseproof paper. Set the oven to 170C/150 fan.
  3. Chop the milk chocolate and set aside. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk together until slightly frothy. Not too much though because if you incorporate too much air you will end up with a cake, not a scrumptious gooey brownie. Once the chocoalte mix has cooled enough so it is not more than slightly warm to your finger then mix it into the eggs and sugar.
  4. Sift the flours and cocoa into a bowl then fold into the chocolate bowl in two batches. When nearly incorporated, fold in the chopped chocolate then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Warm the second lot of 60g peanut butter for around 30 seconds in the microwave then drizzle over the mixture surface. Use a skewer or spoon handle to swirl it into the mix but not so much that it disappears. 
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35mins ish. When it is ready it will have a slight wobble in the centre, where a cake tester can be inserted and withdrawn with a small amount of the mixture clinging to it. Cool in the tin on a wire rack then turn out and cut into 9 squares. Or place in the centre of the table in one piece and let everyone dig in if you are that way inclined.
Hope you enjoy!!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Super Swiss Roll

This isn't just any chocolate Swiss roll. Neither is it an M&S Swiss roll. It's a chocolate chip chocolate Swiss roll filled with caramel and chocolate buttercream. It's an achievement not only because I wanted to try making a chocolate Swiss roll this summer but also because I finally managed to make a soft caramel properly. My mum makes the best ever millionaires shortbread and it has been the bane of my baking career so far that I have not been able to do the caramel right in order to live up to her standard. It's always lovely when you do something right, especially when it is an experiment.

Yesterday while I was making this I came to the conclusion that it is ok for me to own all the recipe books that I do because each one I buy is an extra source for research, a sentiment that I am sure that any baker in the land will agree with. When I said this to my mum she gave me the 'oh really' look. It is the only explanation that I can come up with to justify why out of the half a dozen or so things I have made since returning home from university at the end of my exams, only one was to a recipe I wasn't making up as I went along. The more research sources the better so that is why it is fully acceptable for me to buy an American recipe book that focuses entirely on chocolate. I've picked up several if this type of book on the numerous occasions I have drifted into books shops (seriously, why is it that these places have a stronger gravity than anywhere else?) but none can compare to the incredible decadence of Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson. I discovered this delight in the university library last year. I can't remember what I was supposed to be looking for at the time, probably some textbook to help explain Physical Chemistry, when I was distracted by a book with the word 'chocolate' in the title that someone had left behind on the desk opposite me. Evidently my mind wasn't on my work because I decided to search the library system to see what other more interesting books I could find. This Chocolate Chocolate came up and it only took me a brief glance inside to make me decide the university wasn't having it back until the last possible moment. The only negative thing I could say about it is that it is all in cups measurements and I wasn't sure I fancied converting to grams every time I wanted to bake. That minor issue is now resolved because a fortnight ago I found a set of scoops in a random shop in Doncaster that had cups measurements at one end and spoons at the other. So now I need a recipe book to test them out! And while I'm at it, I might as well order the set of mini alphabet and number cutters I've been after as well. I've got plans for those. Rather geeky plans but then I am a Chemistry student after all. All will be revealed soon.

3 large eggs
55g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
75g caster sugar
60g ish chocolate, I used Bournville but most will be suitable I'm sure

125g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp water
50g butter
4 tbsp double cream

50g softened butter or Clover (no idea why but chocolate buttercream made with Clover is yummy)
80g icing sugar
a splash of milk
  • First make the cake. Grease a 23cm x 33cm and line with greaseproof paper. Setthe oven to 220 degrees C/200 fan. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a bowl. Set aside 20g ish of chocolate to eat while you finely chop the remaining 40g. You need some extra som you don't eat the stuff that is actually going into the cake and it must be finely chopped so it doesn't sink through the cake mix knocking out the air as it goes.
  • Whisk the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl until very pale, mousse like and increased in volume sevral times. It will take at least five minutes but I like to keep going a bit longer. Most recipe books will tell you to look for the stage when you lift the mixer out of the bowl and a ribbon trail runs off the beaters. I got slightly passed this stage so it doesn't fall off in a steady stream and I've found that as long as you are very careful with folding the rest of the ingredients it is fine - you just end up with a thicker swiss roll. Of course, Paul Hoillywood will probably tell you it is over-whisked at that stage but I'll carry on doing it this way and maintain all my respect for him.
  • Sift half the flour/cocoa from the bowl onto the whisked mixture and carefully fold in with a spatula or large metal spoon, then fold in the remaining flour and the chocolate chips until there are no streaks left. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and level off. It is imperative that you be very gentle with whisked egg mixtures so you knock as little of the air out as possible because it is this trapped air that will make the cake rise.
  • Bake in the oven for 8-10 mins. It needs to be just firm and a slioghtly darker brown colour. Try not to overbake or you run the risk of having a dry cake that will crack when you roll it up.
  • While the cake is baking, lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on the kitchen side and sprinkle over a good layer of caster sugar. As son as the cake comes out of the oven, turn it onto the sugared paper, lift off the tin and carfeully peel away the lining paper. Roll up the cake with the sugared paper inside and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Now for the caramel. Put the sugar, water and syrup in a saucepan over a low heat and stir untilall the sugar has dissolved. Gradually increase the heat so the caramel syrup comes to the boil, then simmer for around 8-10 mins until it has turned a golden caramel colour and is thicker, stirring all the while to prevent any patches from burning. You can see this caramel onthe right is too pale to be ready yet. Once the caramel is ready remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and cream. Allow to cool but not go completely cold because you want to be able to spread it still.
  • Next make the buttercream. Beat the butter or Clover in a bowl for a few seconds to creamify it then sift and beat in the cocoa and icing sugar bit by bit until it is all incorporated. Adding it all at once will simply mean you will be inhaling a sugar cloud. I have a full set of sweet teeth but even I don't find that pleasant. If the buttercream is a bit stiff, beat in a bit of milk until it is easily spreadable. 
  • Unroll the cooled cake and drizzle on the caramel before spreading it in an even layer. Leave a small border all the way around to prevent the filling going everywhere when you roll it back up. Then spread on the buttercream. You don't need to make the whole amount of caramel and buttercream - adjust it to what you prefer or how indulgent you are feeling. I used half the caramel and the full lot of buttercream but found the caramel sunk partly into the cake. This makes it lovely and squidgy but next time I think I will try the whole lot of caramel and half buttercream because I adore caramel. 
  • Finally roll the cake back up, dust with cocoa and caster sugar and serve. 
Hope you enjoy!!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Praline Coffee Cupcakes

I hate coffee. I really can't stand the foul stuff, no matter how many proprietors insist on calling their tea rooms coffee shops or coffee houses. Yet I adore coffee flavoured cakes and chocolate - one of my favourite Thornton's chocolates are the cappuccino ones. It's the same thing with alcohol. Most people are slightly surprised to find that I don't drink, and it isn't because I have some ridiculously high moral theories about the rights effects of excessive drinking on society, I simply don't like the taste of it. Recently I was only forgiven when someone discovered this fact because I had just brought in a tin of chocolate cake into the student union for them. However, if someone takes the liqueur truffles from a box of chocolates then it is all out war. This little Miss Nice has claws.

This abhorrence of coffee has led me to collect quite a few of those little sample sachets so that I always have something to bake with if the fancy takes me. Or so I can play the cordial host if anyone pops round who I cannot persuade to try one of my numerous types of tea (tea is amazing). I'm an absolute sucker for those freebie sites and have gathered quite a collection of bits and bobs. Today's haul was some new samples of NescafĂ©'s Gold Crema. They went in my box along with some caramel flavoured Douwe Egberts. When I saw the full size jars of those in Asda yesterday I almost wished I liked coffee so I could buy some just for the dinky little jars. 

On that note, these cakes seemed to take on a caramel flavour on the second day which was a pleasant surprise because caramel is another of my favourites. I think it must've been the diffusion of the praline through the sponge. Plus, the whole caramelised walnuts on top start to dissolve due to the moisture from the buttercream so you get little rivulets of caramel flowing through the grooves of the swirl. I knew the toppers wouldn't stay crunchy for long but I hadn't anticipated the benefits of them softening! These really do have to be one of my most successful baking experiments, possibly more so because I didn't have all the ingredients. They were originally going to be extra special coffee and walnut cupcakes with white chocolate chips and walnut praline using an adaption of Jo Wheatley's coffee and walnut tray bake from her latest book, Home Baking. Not so unfortunately though after bounding eagerly down the stairs, recipe book in hand, I discover we only have half the amount of walnuts I wanted to use in the house. I was too looking forward to baking these to divert to my plan B recipe of peanut butter cupcakes so I decided to top make up the weight with pecans and miss out the chocolate altogether (yep, a shocker for me) and these yummy cakes were born. So here it is, a recipes deemed a 'bake again' one by my mum, along with a picture of my accidental spun sugar creation. Now, I really had better go and sort out all those freebie moisturiser samples....

80g mixed walnuts and pecans, roughly chopped
12 whole walnut halves OR pecan halves
120g granulated sugar

175g tub margarine
175g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
3 large eggs
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1 tbsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1.5tbsp boiling water and cooled.

100g very soft butter
225g icing sugar, sifted
1tbsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1tbsp milk

  • First make the praline. Grease a baking tray and line a second tray with some baking paper. Onto the lined sheet, spread the walnut or pecan halves. Put the sugar in a sturdy pan over a medium-high heat. Once you see it start to melt, start turning it down. The key to any type of caramel or heated sugar based food (Mmmmmm) is to get the temperature just right so it behaves as it should and doesn't burn. Also once it has started to melt, LEAVE IT ALONE!!! Yes, it is tempting to stir it but you really must not. No spoons, no spatulas. Nope. The only think you are allowed to do is swirl the pan about to check the colour - you want a lovely amber shade. Once all the sugar has melted you need to work quickly. Spoon a little blob of caramel over each nut half then mix the chopped nuts into the remaining caramel and spread out onto the greased baking sheet trying to spread it in as thin a layer as possible, leaving both trays to cool and harden. They should look something like this:

    • When the chopped nuts praline is cold, crush or chop into small pieces, trying not to eat too much. It only needs testing once. Ok, three times. Now preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/170 fan and place 12 muffin cases in a muffin tray.
    • In a large bowl place all the cake ingredients and mix with an electric mixer for a couple of minutes until smooth and even, scraping down the sides once or twice to make sure everything gets a chance. Then gently fold in the praline bits until evenly distributed. 
    • Divide the mixture between the cake cases. You could probably squeeze out another cake, or even more if using the slightly smaller cupcake cases but don't use fairy cake cases or you will be making rather a lot of very small cakes. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 to 25 mins ish. Timing depends on your ovens individual personality. For example, in mine, or rather Mum's, I timed 20 mins, turned the tray around and turned it down 10 degrees, timed another 5 mins then gave it another 5 mins with the ove turned off. Once risen and a cake tester or tooth pick cooks out of the centre with no cake mix clinging to it, take the tray out of the oven and cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before taking the cakes out of the tray to finsih cooling on the rack.
    • To make the icing, beat the butter until creamy (an electric mixer is best) then beat in the icing sugar in batches alternating with the coffee liquid. Once everything it mixed together to a fluffy state, filling a piping bag equipped with your favourite icing nozzle and decorate the caps as desired, topping with the caramelised whole nuts. And if you run out of icing then, oh deary me, you are simply going to have to eat the remaining caramelised nuts on their own =) Enjoy!