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.

 

 

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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.

Artistic Pretensions, Moi?

Fate festooned me with many blessings.

I was born in the western world – hunger, financial hardship and violent war haven’t been anything I have ever experienced. I was born to parents who absolutely adored my sisters and I and distributed love, money and time with largesse. I keep good health, as do most of those around me, and I have met with many wonderful people I am lucky enough to call friends.

Plus, all the things I like – cats, books, wine, good food and company – are all readily available to me on a weekly basis. Joy!

Before this gets a little too sickly, do know that there is something I still hanker for, even though it seems a might ungrateful.

I wish I had artistic abilities…

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late and how this might apply to a budget wedding. If I was artistically inclined, for instance, I would find flowers at wholesale and create my own beautiful table decorations. A friend recently commented that I could make my own favours for my wedding using the colour theme and I thought to myself: “blimey, a colour scheme, I never even thought of that!”. See, she has aesthetic sensibilities (her flat is decorated par excellence) and I’m 300 light years away from even getting a ‘c’ grade in school level art.

This is the before version - not yet cooked

The extent of my artistic ability; home-made pizza with careful basil leaf arrangement

Let’s take decorating my own cake, say. (Determined to make my own cake – that bit doesn’t require too much in terms of an imaginative eye, just patience and the ability to measure properly.) I picked up a book recently: The Busy Girl’s Guide to Cake Decorating – and perhaps this is the answer to the non-artistic person’s desire for creativity.

The Busy Girl (aka Ruth Clemens) suggests lovely ideas such as butterfly biscuits – you make them using cutters. Foolproof surely, even for the Pictionary dunce that I am. Then, you get smaller cutters and stamp out sugar paste before giving it a light dusting of powder and glitter and then placing on top of the biscuits. So, quite simple and possibly a favour idea…?

Ms Clemens is self-taught and her cake decorating ideas look relatively simple – so long as you can perfect that covering cakes with sugarpaste/marzipan technique. [It’s a lot flamin’ harder than it looks – smoothness is your goal, lumpiness, air bubbles, cracks et al are often the reality.]

In my ideal world*, I’d be sticking flower stems into chunks of oasis (no, not the band, but this weird, green & spongy stuff you use in flower arrangement), throwing colour co-ordinated scarves elegantly over my shoulder, and using a mixture of icing sugar, egg white and colouring to create some moulded sculpture sitting atop of cake guaranteed to make guests go “mmm” and “ahhh”.

But surrendering the ego – who but me will care that the cake is home-made? Who but me will be bothered by the fact that the favours have been out-sourced? Who but me will remark that the floral decorations weren’t created in-house (so to speak)?

Aye, no one!

 

 

*I’d also have upgraded to the design pro bit of WordPress! I could have my own fonts! I could juggle around text boxes (I think) and upload videos! Er… these might be limited to cookery demonstrations so posibly, dear reader, you aren’t missing out.