Baking and Fund-raising – Natural Partners

Pic of home-made millionaire's shortbread

Ah the joys of baking sweet stuff; and baking for a good cause too.

My sisters, mother and I love baking so we’re in the process of getting ready for a coffee morning on 2 November.

It’s a fund-raising event for Motor Neurone Disease, as last year my aunt was diagnosed with this awful illness. MND is name for a group of illnesses which cause damage to the nerves called the motor neurones, the nerves that carry messages to the muscles. It can result in difficulties with walking, lifting your arms, chewing or swallowing. It’s also a progressive condition which means the damage gets worse in time and there is no cure at present.

The money we raise will go towards important research. There is awful lot of important medical research which is funded through charity and people’s donations to a cause; choosing between so many valid causes can be difficult, but obviously this is a personal one for my family and I. If anyone reading this does feel moved to contribute, there’s a link to my sister’s Just Giving Page here. (And thank you ever so much in advance.)

Anyway, for our baking morning I’m planning to make one of Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cakes. It’s gluten-free and dairy-free, which makes it sound terribly earnest and “a good for you kind of thing”, but it is absolutely delicious because it’s so chocolate-y and moist. I’ve adapted it slightly according to my own baking experiments.

I’m also planning some millionaire’s shortbread with a marbled chocolate topping as most folks love the combination of buttery shortbread, super sweet caramel and the crisp chocolate topping. I was toying with the idea of coconut ice too – retro but pretty, hmm?

 

Nigella Lawson’s Dairy and Gluten-free Chocolate Cake

  • 50g good quality cocoa powder (Green & Black’s make a nice one)
  • 125ml boiling water
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 3 large, free-range eggs
  • 150ml olive oil (the mild stuff, not the extra virgin kind)
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 1tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 2tsp vanilla extract or paste

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C. Grease and line a loose-bottomed square 20cm cake tin.

Mix the cocoa powder with the boiling water and whisk until smooth. Leave to cool.

Using an electric hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together with the vanilla extract for three or four minutes until you have a smooth, pale-yellow coloured mix.

Add the eggs and whisk in one by one. Add the cocoa and water and the ground almonds and mix thoroughly (using a wooden spoon to keep the volume the eggs have added). Add the baking powder and mix in.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. If you stick in a skewer or a knife it should come out with a few crumbs sticking to it. Turn out, leave to cool and cut into squares. You can serve as a cake  dusted with icing sugar just before serving, or serve warmed with a spoonful of sweetened cream or ice-cream.

 

 

 

A Writing Reward; Mars Bar Crispy Cake

A tray bake topped with choccie - winner, surely?

A tray bake topped with choccie – winner, surely?

Esteemed audience, as a reward for finishing off writing jobs I often bake or cook. And sometimes as an additional treat, I write about cooking as well.

For the past few weeks, I have been writing about dieting. My scribbles have been for a series of diet books shortly to be published on Amazon (do please forgive my lapse of writing etiquette with such a shameless plug of my own material) so tonight’s writing antidote is to provide you with a recipe for… Drum roll… Mars Bar Crispy Cake.

Ah, the joys! This is possibly the world’s easiest tray bake. Everyone loves it and if you ever want to achieve sell-out status at your local community bake sale or just curry favour with family, friends and your boss, bags full of cut-up Mars Bar Crispy Cake will probably achieve your aim.

The other bonus is this. If you need to babysit children (those aged 6-12, say) this is a great recipe to try out with them. I did this with my nieces (in-law) recently. There’s two of them so I divided the jobs – “ok, you grease the pan and you chop up the Mars bars (I watched!), whilst you mix up the Mars bar and butter and you get to mix up the rice crispies with the melty Mars bars” (this was the task of choice). Oh no it wasn’t. The task of choice was melting the Dairy Milk chocolate topping in the microwave was the task of choice. One square in bowl, one square in mouth etc.

Anyway, here’s the recipe. Enjoy… [I’ve used American measurements for the rice crispies because it’s easier to measure them by volume than by weight.]

Mars Bars Crispy Cake – makes 16-20

  • 3 x Mars Bar (British weight, 48g)
  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 50g mini marshmallows
  • 200g Dairy Milk chocolate
  • 4 cups rice crispies

Grease and line a 20cm square tray. Chop the Mars Bars and put in a thick-bottomed pan with 90g of the butter and melt over a low heat slowly. Keep stirring. Add the marshmallows and mix well until it resembles a smooth sauce.

Add the rice crispies and mix well. Tip into the prepared tray and press down well until it is flat. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate and the remaining butter together (30 secs at a time in the microwave is the easiest way, stir well after each 30 secs and remember that food will continue to cook outside the microwave so it’s better to stray on the side of undercooking). Top the crispie cake with the chocolate/butter mix and allow to cool. Cut up into the slices (about 16-20).

Thanks to Milky Mouthwatering Chocolates for the pic.

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?

Victoria Beckham Scoffs Enormous Cheesecake…

282045-victoria-beckham

Vickie B – pic courtesy of the International Business Times

A friend of a friend of a friend once told me a story about Victoria Beckham

Apparently, the Beckhams are actually lovely employers (the friend of a friend etc knew someone employed by them), but they do (allegedly) insist on one stipulation from their employees – thou shalt not eat in front of Victoria.

I am intrigued. Is such a rule put in place because Victoria turns feral when faced with people tucking into food? There you are, innocently eating your cheese and ham sandwich and about to dive into that home-made flapjack when suddenly Victoria ATTACKS you. She snatches the sandwich from your lips and wolves it down in seconds. She grabs the flapjack from your hands and crams it into her gob. She finishes the food and howls at the moon, “GIMME MORE!!”

Oh please, let my imagining of this story be true! Anyway, I mention this as I am conscientiously trying to live as Paleo as possible (more of this in the next blog post), so I fear a feral moment of my own may well be coming on soon.

If such a wild deviation from the path of the hunter-gatherer diet did present itself, it would probably take the form of Mama Highheelsandpinkglitter’s white chocolate cheesecake. Don’t bother with that baking cheesecake nonsense and instead create this lovely vision of white deliciousness…

Enjoy – and if you do want to go feral on it, I’d recommend reading the following guide to The Attack on The Cheesecake

White Chocolate Cheesecake (serves 10-12)

Sunflower Oil for greasing
40g unsalted butter
50g dark chocolate
200g packet hob nobs
250 g marscapone
200g Greek yogurt
500g white chocolate (cheaper stuff melts better)
75g castor sugar
284 ml double cream, lightly whipped
Cocoa powder for dusting

Lightly oil a n 8-in loose bottomed cake tin with the sunflower oil. Melt the butter and half the dark chocolate in a pan, then stir in the biscuit crumbs until well mixed. Press on to the base of the cake tin and chill.

Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. When it’s melted beat in the marscapone, yogurt and sugar.

Fold the whipped cream in and pour on to the biscuit base.

Grate the rest of the dark chocolate and scatter over the top of the cheesecake, then dust with sieved cocoa. Chill 4 hours or overnight.
 

 

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

 

A Farewell to Carbs

Doesn't the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Doesn’t the marbled chocolate make this look so pretty?

Has something weird happened to time? It appears that I am now a mere nine days away from wedding bells and I am not entirely sure how that happened…

As is my wont, I set myself various ambitious goals at yon time when the wedding day seemed like an occasion far, far into the future. Most of them, in a purely shallow fashion, centred around being a size 6, sporting arms like Madonna and having come through the other side of the world’s harshest detox to guarantee skin so fresh, shiny and young-looking people mistook me for a 39-year-old instead of a… (er, ladylike modesty forbids me to reveal the truth dear reader).

Aye, all rather shallow hmm? So, what happened instead? There was wine, ladies and gentlemen. There were cakes and there was a lot of cheese. Yum! So, I’m now on Atkins*. Rumour has it that the 5.2 diet and the Cambridge diet are among those my guests are trying. Possibly I should contact said diet companies and ask for commission…?

So yes, Atkins, and carbs are now the mere daydream of mashed potatoes, or the enticing whiff of baked goods. To compensate for my carb-free life, I made millionaire’s shortbread today** to serve as favours for my wedding. I cut the normal sized-pieces into cute mini portions and I’ll be putting a couple of each into a china teacup and adding a hand-written note. Kitsch hmm?

I have to share the recipe for the shortbread as it’s one of the world’s nicest biscuits and three trillion times (at least) nicer home-made.

MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD (makes shed loads)

100g cornflour

250g plain flour

250g unsalted butter

110g golden caster sugar

2 tins condensed milk (397g each)

100g unsalted butter

100g dark brown soft sugar

150g plain chocolate

150g milk chocolate

150g white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and grease two 18cm/7-inch square tins (I find it’s easiest to use loose-bottomed cake tins – it makes removal of the finished shortbread much easier.)

Combine the flours and sugar in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Bring the whole lot together until it forms a bowl, divide in two and press into the bases of the two tins. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden. Leave to cool, but do not remove from the tin.

Place the condensed milk, unsalted butter and dark brown soft sugar into a heavy based sauce pan and heat very gently until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Once it has boiled, turn down to a simmer and cook for five minutes. The mixture will turn a lovely fudgy colour. Pour half over one shortbread base, and half over the other. Leave to cool and set.

Melt the three chocolates separately (I favour 30-sec bursts in the microwave) and place spoonfuls of each kind over the cooled caramel and shortbread. Aim to roughly cover each surface in the three different kinds of chocolate and then lightly tap the tin on the surface so that the chocolates merge into one. Using a skewer or a knife tip, swirl the chocolates to create a marbled effect.

Leave to cool and cut into small squares. You’ll get roughly 40-45 squares from this, but mini ones look sweet. Tip – if you cut this up before the chocolate has fully set, the chocolate topping won’t crack.

*Atkins, for those of you for whom dieting is a blissfully unfamiliar habit, is a low-carbohydrate/ high protein diet. While unlimited eggs, bacon and steak sounds good in theory, without toast, chips and other starchy gloriousness it all gets rather tedious after a while. It does, however, produce results though if you do it and fall desperately ill, IT IS NOTHING TO DO WITH MOI.

**Worry not, the said millionaire’s shortbread is currently residing in my freezer so it can be just-baked fresh on the day.

Never Let An Ingredient Go to Waste

Ooh, Mr Kipling - I may well have bettered you...

Ooh, Mr Kipling – I may well have bettered you…

Any excuse for a little baking… I had ground and flaked almonds in the cupboards rapidly about to go out of date* and home-made raspberry jam in the fridge so Bakewell Tart beckoned.

I borrowed from the Mary Berry recipe as her recipes are excellent, but in my new tradition of confident baking I fiddled a little with the recipe. The impulse is born not out of arrogance – ‘of course I can do better’ – but more because I’m not keen on being told exactly what to do. The inner rebel emerges and recipes are thus adapted**.

Mary, as you may know from her TV appearances, is whippet thin and therefore I conclude that baked goodies aren’t a big part of her daily diet. I, of course, am on the wedding diet so would also promote her message –eat delicious home-made cakes and biscuits in very small quantities no more than two or three times a week and enjoy a lovely life!

Bakewell Tart – serves (depends on how many slices you deem fit)

  • 175g plain flour
  • 75g chilled  butter (salted is fine)
  • 2tbsp icing sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water
  • 4 tbsp raspberry jam
  • 125g butter , unsalted
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 50g flaked almonds

Heat the oven to 180 degrees.

To make the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the chilled butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can also use a food processor or – a ‘me trick’, use a handheld blender, dipping into the mix briefly and pulsing. Once breadcrumbed, add the water slowly, mixing until the flour and butter mix together all comes together.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface and use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed tart or flan tin. Allow the excess pastry to hang over as it will shrink. Prick it all over. Chill for 30 mins. Line with foil and fill with baking beans or rice (to weigh the pastry down).

Cook for 15 minutes, then take out the foil and baking beans/rice and cook for another three minutes to dry it out.

Take out and allow to cool for five minutes. Spread the jam evenly over the base. Melt the butter in a pan, then take off and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved and add the ground almonds, beaten eggs and lemon juice. Pour into the pastry base.

Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes (watch the pastry as it may burn over this time). Serve warm with ice-cream or whipped double cream. Or served cold – still yum!

 

 

*Ahem. About to go out of date? Gone out of date several months ago. Ah well, Sandy and I lived to tell the tale, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

**Sometimes anarchy ensues as a result of this culinary disobedience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.