Finishing books and making cakes

This week I’ve…

a golf-themed birthday cake made by Emma BairdMade cakes! The man in my life turned 50 this week, so I made him a golf themed cake—mainly because the decoration didn’t seem too complicated. Green icing*, a golf figurine and some golf ball wafers equals job done.

I’m not a talented baker. It requires precision whereas my first instinct when I look at any recipe is to wonder what would happen if I switch one ingredient for another and double up the cheese quantity specified.

Cake tins

Then there’s that whole cake tin thing, where every single recipe for cake appears to use a different-sized tin. True. Do proper bakers have room in their kitchens for a dedicated cake tin cupboard stacked from top to bottom with tins of varying sizes? Luckily, I found this handy conversion calculator on CakeBaker which gives you ingredient quantities for your size of tin.

I made a Madeira cake as that’s one recommendation for celebration cakes—sturdy and minimal crumble, apparently. The filling inside is home-made lemon curd (see this super easy microwave recipe here) and the cake’s iced with lemon butter cream and topped with green fondant paste.

Taking to the hills

Did my first trail run. Pounding the pavements can get awfy boring after a while, so I ventured up into the hills behind my house this week. It’s seriously hilly, but the deal was I could walk in places just like proper trail runners do. Another added bonus is that you don’t take in lungfuls of exhaust fumes.

Trail running is supposed to benefit your training regime as you use different muscles and it gives your brain more of a challenge as you tackle varying terrain.

Moved out of my comfort zone. On my list of ‘to do’s’ this year was to do a book event. As an introvert, I prefer hiding behind my laptop when book promoting. The arguments in favour include the ability to reach far more people and it’s much less time consuming/a better return on investment. Nevertheless, you don’t grow as a human unless you venture out of the places you find safe, so I approached my local library and asked if they’d be willing to run a Q&A event where I and another writer talk about our books, our writing processes and self-publishing.

And they said… YES.

Times and dates are still to be confirmed, but the event will take place during Scottish Book Week, 19-25th November. Yike-sy. More details to follow.

Beautiful biters

beautiful biters Finished a book—or the first draft of it, anyway. I’ve finally written ‘THE END’ (among the world’s most satisfying sentences to write) of Beautiful Biters. It started life as Beauty and the Vampires and then got a name change half-way through. It’s a story about a 16-year-old living side by side with vampires and doing make-up tutorials for them on YouTube as I wanted to give it a modern feel.

Now my least favourite part of writing begins; the rewriting bit. Ker-ist. I’d rather pluck my own eyeballs out. Or start another story so Beautiful Biters can meet the fate of all my other books—rusting away, forgotten and neglected, in the back of my hard drive.

Ate delicious Indian food. Sandy and I went out with his family to celebrate his half-century. The Dining Room is a local restaurant you’d be within your rights to describe as a “wee gem”. It’s tiny, so we were the biggest party in there and everyone joined in when we sang Happy Birthday. My go-to with Indian restaurants is saag paneer and Tarka dhal. Indian and Pakistani cuisines do amazing things to vegetables, and make the prospect of full-time vegetarianism do-able.

Tomorrow, to continue the birthday celebrations, we’re off to Edinburgh to see Brexit and eat in Sylvester’s. As it’s August, the place will be heaving. Unfortunately, I booked this excursion before realising the Scottish Premiership season starts this weekend and Rangers FC is to play Aberdeen on Sunday. I married a fervent footie fan and I fear my wee surprise won’t be greeted enthusiastically…

Ah well!

What highlights has your week brought? And what’s your favourite dish in an Indian restaurant?

*I say ‘not complicated’ but the air around me turned blue as I tried to fit that f*****g fondant paste on the cake.

Cakes, Sausages and Quality Street: You Know it Makes Sense

If I knew you were coming, I'd a baked a cake, baked a cake

If I knew you were coming, I’d a baked a cake, baked a cake

Granted that most of us in the developed world eat for many reasons – few of which are hunger and the necessity of refuelling with nutrient-dense food – my family decided to use food as the basis of celebration and remembrance today.

My nephew came up with the idea of a ‘grandpa’ foods day, as today is the third anniversary of my dad’s death. I suspect that the motivation behind ‘grandpa’ foods day may have been the idea that it was a licence to eat Dairy Milk chocolate all day. My nephew is eight after all. Nonetheless, a meal which showcased all of my dad’s favourite foods was greeted enthusiastically by everyone, including those of us considerably longer in the tooth than eight years old.

The menu was thus:

My own contribution was the Coffee and Walnut Cake. Here’s the recipe:

  • 225g Stork margarine*
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 75g walnuts, chopped finely (the Pampered Chef vegetable chopper makes this really easy)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 50ml boiling water and allowed to cool

ICING:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 2tbsp boiling water and allowed to cool.
  • 8 walnut halves

1 x 20cm loose-bottomed square cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the margarine and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for five minutes. Add a tbsp of the flour and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can add in one or two extra tbsps of flour to make this easier. Add the vanilla extract, the cooled coffee and the flour and mix well to combine. Add the finely chopped walnuts and mix with a wooden spoon until distributed equally throughout.

Spoon into the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes (if you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean). Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, until turning out onto a wire rack and leaving to cool thoroughly.

For the icing, cream together the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar for five minutes and then add the cooled coffee mixture. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Ice the sides and top of the cake and decorate with the walnut halves. Serves 12-14.

 

*I know, I know – purists would favour unsalted butter (preferably organic, preferably from grass-fed animals) but Stork is the baker’s secret. Light cakes every time! Don’t you reckon?

Words Vs Cake: Cake Wins

 

Delia Smith's Sachertorte - yum...

Delia Smith’s Sachertorte – yum…

Post wedding I need other topics to write about (*sighs*) so I decided to make my blog about cooking and writing.

Should the two pair together you ask? Writers, I believe from a quick straw polls of friends, are the kings and queens of procrastination… They have turned it into an art form and cooking is the ideal tool for procrastinators.

Picture the scene. You sit in front of your screen staring at the blank document in front of you. You stare into space for five minutes or so. You write 15 words. You re-read them. You discard them as utter, banal rubbish, highlight them and delete. Repeat ad nauseum.

Picture the scene two. You do all of the above, but after the 15th time of staring into space, you think to yourself: “Aha! My partner/family/friends/cat has always hankered after a home-made pork pie, one that needs many ingredients, complicated pastry techniques, tricky meat jelly developments and HOURS AND HOURS in the kitchen.”

As a writer, you abandon your screen with joy. “Hooray!” you say to yourself. “My partner/family/friends/cat need me to create said, complicated home-made pork pie. The demanding so-and so’s! I must jump to it and get myself into the kitchen ASAP. This could take DAYS.”

Do you see then the natural affinity that writing has with cooking? Baking seems to be a particular favourite. In theory as the writer cum baker allows their home-made pastry to rest in the fridge, a good 500 words or so could be bashed out while waiting.

I think not. The baker cum writer hovers by the fridge, tidies the kitchen surfaces so that said pastry can be rolled out and does a quick check of friends’ social media updates.

Which leads me neatly to complex recipes. I have scoured the internet for the complicated, the multi-ingrediented, the tough of task and the time consuming. Here they are (writers you can thank me later):

Macaroons
Sachertorte
Millionaire’s shortbread (well, of course I’m going to reference my own recipe)
Gravadalax
Christmas cake 
Swiss roll

 

Lordie… January Blues…

Image

Doing double time on the detox – cakes and wine are playing a much less significant role in my life these days, money spending is at a minimum (I’ve got a wedding to pay for, for heaven’s sake!) and, as I’ve been fairly organised so far, I can’t even write any more lists for said wedding.

Dull, dull double dull!

So, post-work I’m forced to find other ways to entertain myself, such as tidying up the kitchen cupboards. Most of it was tedious, but the ordering of the baking cupboard was joyful and it is now a thing of beauty, which leads me neatly on to another top ten list (thank you Lesley Carter) – the baking essentials:

  1. Digital scales for precise measuring

  2. Cup measures so you can easily use American recipes as well as British ones

  3. Vanilla extract/paste for delicious flavouring

  4. 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate (so many lovely things to create with it)

  5. A good, solid mixing bowl

  6. Condensed milk (see dark chocolate above)

  7. Soft brown sugar

  8. Icing sugar

  9. Stork margarine – use half and half with unsalted butter for lusciously light cakes

  10. ANYTHING from Lakeland.

New Year Shortbread

Happy New Year y’all – health and happiness I hope is yours in 2013…

I was going to write a piece about this being the year of our wedding and my feelings about the approaching nuptials. It would have been philosophical, meaningful and thoughtful. It might even have made sentimentally-minded readers cry (though that might be more related to delayed hangovers than anything else).

But, the urge to blog baking efforts triumphed once more. It’s new year and I’m Scottish so of course, I’m going to blog a shortbread recipe! It’s kind of a last-ditch extravaganza of excess before the usual January healthy eating/wedding diet stuff kicks in (sorry to be a cliché).

A few tips – when you don’t have many ingredients for a recipe, you need to make sure they are the best so very good quality butter and organic flour is a must. I’m a shortbread purist too, so I would never recommend any other ingredients other than flour, butter and sugar (though the odd batch with added chopped up chocolate is OK).

Butter Shortbread

  • 125g butter (you can use salted or unsalted)
  • 140g plain flour
  • 40g cornflour
  • 60g caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease and line an 8” square baking tin with grease-proof paper. Beat together the butter and sugar and then add the flour. Combine and then turn onto a clean work surface and knead together briefly (you don’t want to overwork shortbread).

Press into the tin and prick all over with a fork. Bake for 20-25 minutes (you want the top to be light golden) and then mark into squares while still warm. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes and then gently ease out the marked squares. Press them into a saucer of caster sugar to give them a sugar topping and allow to cool completely.

Enjoy with a cup of tea (or for extra decadence – a wee sherry.)

 

 

 

Mint Choc Chip; Cake that Also Freshens Breath

Made by my own fair hand (not the hand in this pic!)

Made by my own fair hand (not the hand in this pic!)

Five months to go to the wedding and I’m still obsessing over making my own cake and what form this should take…

So, I’ve experimented with a Rachel Allen recipe for a chocolate mint cake she has suggested as a  New Year celebration option. There’s a link to the original recipe above, but my own version involved the odd substitution.

A few years ago, I wasn’t that keen on baking as it involved precision, whereas I’m an easy-osy kind of gal. Recipe says one tsp chilli flakes, I immediately think two or three. 25G grated cheese? Nowhere near enough. No onions in the fridge, let’s substitute celery kind of thing.

Then I decided on a cake and fizz theme for my birthday this year and spent a blissful weekend with my mum and sister baking cakes in advance of the event. Oh the joy of measuring, mixing, beating and watching the magic work. It also helps that an afternoon of baking fills your home with warm vanilla scents and produces such delicious results (though my whisky and sultana cake wasn’t that great…)

A few more cakes down the line and confidence creeps in – what if I swapped this for this? I’m not so keen on butter icing (too sweet) either, so mixing and matching toppings and flavourings is fun too. And you wouldn’t believe the number of great baking blogs and websites out there!

Anyway, here it is – my Rachel Allen-inspired mint choc cake:

  • 75g baking margarine
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 3 large, free range eggs
  • 125g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 50ml double cream
  • 100g after dinner mint chocolates (broken into small pieces)
  • Pinch of salt

Icing:

  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g full-fat cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • ½ tsp green food colouring
  • 20g mint leaves, chopped finely
  • After dinner mint chocolates, halved into triangles

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment paper. Line the sides too, so that they overlap the top of the tin (it makes for a better finish on your cake).

Melt the chocolate and double cream together, either over a pan of hot water or in the microwave. Beat the margarine, butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (this takes about five minutes, even if you are using an electrical mixer). Add the eggs one at a time and then add the cooled chocolate mix and continuing beating until well combined. Fold in the four, pinch of salt and the broken up chocolate mints. Put the mix in the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting, mix a tbsp of the icing sugar with the mint leaves and pour over 3tbsp just boiled water. Steep for an hour and then strain (keeping the liquid and discarding the mint leaves). Whisk the double cream together with the liquid until thick. Beat the remaining icing sugar with the cream cheese until combined and then whisk in the double cream. You should get a fairly thick mixture. Add in the green food colouring until you get an even colour.

Use to decorate the top of the cake and then cut into evenly-sized squares. Top each square with a halved after dinner chocolate mint.

VERDICT FROM MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD NIECE: yuck. I’ll put that down to the intense chocolate flavour… And if I was making it again, I’d split the cake and put icing in the middle too.

 

 

Red Velvet (Hint: Cakes not Dresses)

Christmas-y and wedding-y at the same time?

Christmas-y and wedding-y at the same time?

Saturday’s topic covered dieting…So now that’s all done and dusted (can you sense the change in tone here from downbeat to very, very upbeat?) we’re back to blogging about cake!

A few weeks ago, I sampled a friend’s incredibly delicious red velvet cake. She also provided a little food history – in ye olden days, the red colour was the result of cocoa reacting with the cake’s other ingredients (buttermilk). As cocoa is a different product now, the red colour doesn’t occur naturally and must be introduced artificially via plenty of food colouring.

Anyway, red velvet cake covered in some kind of white icing and artfully decorated is very festive (and generally celebratory, so a good option for a wedding cake, no?). Here is my Lucy Janes-inspired version…

Red Velvet Cake – cuts into roughly 10 generous slices
200g unsalted butter
150g baking margarine
Six large, free-range eggs
300g self-raising flour
30g cocoa powder
350g golden caster sugar
2 x 38ml red food colouring bottles
½ tsp salt
2 tsps vanilla extract
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
1½ tbsp bicarbonate of soda

24cm loose-bottomed baking tin, greased and lined with baking paper. Line the sides too with a double thickness of paper which should extend two inches above the top of the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Cream together the butter, margarine and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add three of the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly between each addition.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add a third of it to the butter, sugar and eggs. Beat in the rest of the eggs, one by one. Add the vanilla extract and red food colouring and then mix in the white wine vinegar mixed with the bicarb of soda. (For the last bit, mix it in quickly and lightly with a spoon rather than an electric mixer if you’ve been using this for the rest of the cake preparation.)

Pour into the tin and bake immediately for 1 hour 15 mins. Once the cooking time is more than two-thirds of the way through, you can open the oven door to check if you need to put foil on top of the cake to stop it burning.

Take the cake out of the oven and leave to stand for five minutes before turning out onto a rack. Cool thoroughly and then loosely cover and leave overnight. (It’s easier to decorate if you do this the next day.)

Decoration

300ml double cream, 600g full-fat cream cheese,300g icing sugar, sifted; and 50-75g dessicated coconut (optional)
Using a sharp knife and a steady hand (!), slice the cake in two horizontally. Place the bottom half on a cake stand. Whip the cream until it is stiff and mix together the cream cheese and icing suar. Mix with the cream. Spread evenly over the bottom cake and place the other half of the cake on top and decorate the top and sides with the rest of the icing. Dredge with the coconut, if using.