Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Meh Halloween....

Ok so maybe it's not a choice between Halloween or Christmas, but in my case, I don't see the fascination with Halloween, so I give Christmas my all. I'm really glad I've never lost my child-like love of the festive season, hopefully I never will. I've always preferred winter to summer, perhaps that's down to Christmas falling in the centre of winter? Either way, I'll be thrilled when Halloween is out of the way and I can start planning for Christmas. 

We'll come back to this...for now, we'll focus on Halloween. Maybe I'm boring, or getting old or something, I just don't like Halloween... It gives kids with nothing better to do an excuse to go out and start fires and those old enough to know better, the excuse to wear next to nothing around town even though it's freezing! I don't resent the enjoyment that children take from the day, the dressing up, playing games and eating their body weight in chocolate......I just wish that fun could be left to the kids for the day, and then we move on... 

As we all know, nobody really needs an excuse to bake, so even in my 'Meh Halloween' phase, I managed to throw together some Halloween themed desserts.. I'll post the recipes soon, if anyone wants them sooner, feel free to leave a comment, or tweet @gingerbreadmiss and I'll get it to you sooner :) 

Spider Cheesecake.. Cointreau topping with bourbon biscuit base

Gingerbread Massacre - Red Velvet cake with marshmallow meringue icing

I promise that the run up to Christmas will be much more cheerful!!! 

For now... Happy Halloween! 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tis the season to be spooky....

I'm a real Christmas fan, but I felt it was only right to mark Halloween by baking some suitably spooky and traditional treats. Any excuse to bake right?

First off, I decided to give Barm Brack a go...we usually had tea brack in my house, so brack made with yeast was always a little bit special at Halloween..

I was feeling a bit lazy, so used the first recipe I came across on the RTE website, but as usual, added some personal touches to make it even better. Firstly, I didn't have fresh yeast, so followed the interweb's instruction that 1 ounce fresh yeast = 0.45 ounce active dry yeast = 0.33 ounce quick acting dried yeast I love a really flavourful brack, so I added 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, and the zest of 1 large orange to the mixture.

Since I was using quick acting yeast, there was no need to add the yeast to the milk to prove, so this method is a little different to the one on the website above.

Start by sieving the flour, caster sugar and spices Rub in the butter, and add the dried yeast. Make a well in the centre and beat in milk, egg and zest. Once you have a dough, knead in the dried fruit and salt. Knead for 5 mins (I used the dough hook on my mixer cos I'm lazy!)

Cover the dough with lightly greased cling film (resting directly on top rather than across the bowl). Leave to rise for 30 minutes, before kneading again gently and shaping into a round.

Place on baking tray, and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Once you remove the baked brack from the oven, glaze the top immediately. For the glaze I used 2 tbsp of sugar dissolved in 3tbsp of orange juice and 1 tbsp of marmalade. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top of the brack, and leave to cool  (if you can resist the smell). I couldn't and as soon as I was sure I wasn't going to burn my fingers, had to cut a slice... warm brack with butter....YUM!

Friday, 26 October 2012

One to make anyone crumble...

A lot of people hate winter and everything that comes with it....Me on the other hand, never one to conform, LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Everything from the warm cosy clothes to Christmas to open fires, and most importantly the warming delicious comfort food that cheers us all up on a cold and dreary day.

I'm a huge fan of using simple ingredients to create delicious dishes that are quite simply YUM. Sometimes the oldies really are the goodies... 

I woke up this morning with rain beating on the windows at 7am (whoever said Velux skylight windows were a good idea was wrong... they're noisy and annoying when I should be dreaming of baking!). Such a dull day deserves a delicious teatime treat using seasonal ingredients.... what could be better than using apples from our orchard, and hand picked blackberries..I honestly can't think of anything right now... 

Apple and blackberry crumble cake it is! This is a really simple, warming cake that will cheer anyone up on a cold winter's day... 
To begin...                                   
1. Preheat the oven to 180d celsius.
2. Grease a loose base 8 inch flan dish. 

For the crumble:  
2 oz plain flour  
2oz butter
1.5oz caster sugar

1. Rub butter into flour until you have no lumps of butter left. 
2. Stir in caster sugar.

For the cake: 
5oz self-raising flour
2oz ground almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
2oz caster sugar 
1 egg
50ml milk
100g butter, melted

1. Sieve dry ingredients together, and stir gently until just combined. 
2. Melt butter. Whisk in one beaten egg and the milk. 
3. Add liquid ingredients to the flour mix, and beat until well mixed. 

For the filling:   
2 large cooking apples                    
100g blackberries                                  
2 tbsp caster sugar                
1 tsp cinnamon    

1. Peel, core and slice apples. 
2. Toss slices in caster sugar and cinnamon. 
3. Wash blackberries, and pat dry with kitchen paper. 

Pecan topping:
50g chopped pecans
1tbsp runny honey

1. Chop pecans roughly. 
2. Toss in honey until coated. This will give them an amazing sweet, toasted flavour once the cake is baked. 

To assemble:
1. Spoon cake mixture into prepared tin. 
2. Arrange fruit on top of the cake mixture, pressing it down gently with a spoon. 
3. Next top with the crumble mixture. 
4. Spoon the honeyed pecans over the top. 
5. Place cake in the preheated oven, and bake for 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Just before baking...

I can't decide if this cake is nicer warm, or cold... maybe try a slice of both and let me know what you think! 

Unfortunately someone cut the cake before I managed to get a photo.. I guess that's a sort of compliment to the chef!
Ultimate comfort cake...
My food photography skills need a crash course I think, but we'll get there eventually!

Speaking of skills, a big congratulations to the very talented Laoise on winning the Great Irish Bake Off challenge with her stunning Heaven & Hell cake.

Happy eating :) 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Get your bake on for the Irish Bake Off final!!!

Two posts in one day since I baked like crazy this weekend..

The final of the Wholesome Ireland Bake Off is upon us, and anyone following on Twitter will know there's been lots of banter, scaremongering, psyching each other out and laughs over the couple of days. In keeping with tradition, the challenge for this week is based on the challenge faced by the contestants on the Great British Bake Off last Tuesday.

So bakers... ready, steady, bake the best chiffon cake you can!

As a total chiffon newbie, a lot of recipes were read before deciding on one suitable for the finale. As I mentioned in my last post, I love all things orange at the moment.... orange chiffon cake it is!!

Let the chiffon war commence!

Anyone tracking the challenge on Twitter will have read that I may have been over zealous in my baking, failed to realise that a combination of self raising flour, baking powder, cream of tartar and 8 egg whites may result in this....

Deflated, just like my confidence.....

Here's a tip.... read the recipe correctly, and use plain flour instead!

Attempt number 2 couldn't get worse right? Lesson the recipe right this time....

I decided at the last minute to change the recipe. If this 'Hell' cake recipe was good enough for John Whaites, then it's good enough for me...

I really took my time with this, given how badly round one went!!

I started by separating the eggs, and whisking the egg whites in the electric mixer. Meanwhile, I mixed all the remaining ingredients in another bowl until just combined.

Once the egg whites are ready, it's time to fold them gently into the chocolate mixture. I would recommend doing this slowly, be patient when you fold them in, or you'll knock out all the air in the egg white and end up with a flat, heavy textured cake. Add the egg whites in 3 or 4 batches, this will make it easier to combine the two mixtures.

When you no longer have trails of egg white in the mixture, you are ready to pour into the lined 11" round cake tin. Tap the tin a couple of times on the counter top, this will knock out any big air bubbles, and prevent large holes in the cake.

Next step... and this is really important, you have to sit by the oven watching the cake for the next 1 1/4 hours or it couldn't possibly turn out right! Thankfully I followed this step, and the end result was a well risen, spongy textured chiffon cake that smells just like a Terry's chocolate orange bar.

Seriously relieved!!
Preparing the icings and decoration for the cake was a little slow....I promise it's worth the effort so stick with me...

Firstly, if you've read my previous post on Fondant Fancies, you'll see how I made the jelly for the filling in the Jaffa Cake inspired cakes. You'll need an 8" round disc of jaffa jelly for this cake. 

The next step is to melt 150g of white chocolate and spread on parchment. Make up a small batch of pink glace icing (2oz icing sugar, drop of pink colouring, rose water, and enough water to make icing thin enough to drizzle over the white chocolate). 

I used the leftover icing from the Fondant Fancies.... yes there is a pink, girly theme emerging to my weekend of baking!

Using a cake wire, slice the cake horizontally into three even layers. 

Now for the orange zesty buttercream... Start by beating 4oz of butter with the zest of one orange, and 2 heaped tbsp of marshmallow fluff. 

Once you have pale, fluffy consistency, beat in the sieved icing sugar. Continue to beat until the icing is smooth and creamy. 

To make the chocolate ganache topping, bring 200ml of cream almost to the boil with 1tbsp of finely grated orange zest. Add 200g of broken Terry's chocolate orange and stir until melted in the cream. Add 2tbsp of sieved icing sugar, and whisk until smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool. Once the white chocolate has set, break into rough shards. 

It's finally time to assemble the cake! 

Start by spreading a generous layer of the orange butter cream on the first two layers of the cake. 

Place the third layer on top. 

Using a palette knife, spread a thick coating of the chocolate ganache 
over the top and sides of the cake. 

Now, taking the disc of jelly, invert onto the top of the cake, taking care when peeling off the parchment. 

Do this slowly, or you will crack the jelly. 

Next, take the white chocolate shards, and press firmly into a mosaic style around the sides of the cake. 

The final step (FINALLY!), is to pipe chocolate ganache rosettes around the disc of jelly. 

And the finished product.....

Piece of cake....

So there you have it, after a weekend of baking, I'm delighted with the end result. I wanted to create a 
centre-piece cake, which paid tribute to the final challenges set in the Great British Bake Off. The bakers were given the challenge of creating a biographical showstopper.. I think I've answered this brief, by combining my childhood favourites; Fondant Fancies and Jaffa Cakes, with my current favourite of chocolate cake... 

The flavours in this cake compliment each other perfectly... a light orange chocolate sponge, orange buttercream, jaffa topping, chocolate ganache, white chocolate shards with rose flavoured icing swirls... and to top it all off, it's adorned with Fondant Fancies.. 

This cake is light and flavourful, and is definitely going to be baked again soon. 

Best of luck to all the other bakers! 

Fancy some bake off fever....

It seems like everyone was glued to the final of the Great British Bake Off this week... I watched it, joined by my housemates who munched happily on my Gateaux Honore inspired by Brendan's choux creation. 

I was a little surprised when I heard the bakers would be making Fondant Fancies. They're just a mini iced sponge, what's so complicated about that?!

What's so fancy about these fancies???
I have never been a fan of shop bought, pre-packed cakes, but these little treats were always the exception when I was a child. I'm not sure if it was the colourful icing, the taste, or simply the novelty of a bought cake in our house, but I adored them. 

These days, I'm a cake snob. I tend to look at most cakes and desserts, and think, 'I would do that differently/better'. My snobbishness hasn't extended to these colourful beauties. Occasionally, after a bad day, or in need of a little bit of comfort, I'll find myself lusting after a Fondant Fancy. I'm not sure why I've never thought to make them at home... but this weekend was my chance...

Orange is my flavouring of choice at the moment, so I went with an orange Victoria Sponge mixture for the cake. 

6oz caster sugar
6oz butter
zest of 1 large orange
3 large eggs
6oz self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
2tbsp orange juice

I always prefer to make this sponge in stages, rather than using the all-in-one method as it makes a lighter cake. I started by beating the caster sugar, butter and zest until light and creamy. Add in one egg at a time, beating after each addition. It's always helpful to add a spoonful of flour if the mixture starts to curdle. Fold in sieved flour and baking powder until just combined. Stir in 1 or 2 tbsp of orange juice to make the mixture less dense. I baked this cake in a 9" square tin, for 30 minutes (until golden and firm) at 160 degrees in a fan oven. 

Most of the recipes I looked at, had a layer of marzipan... I'm not really a fan, so decided to stick with my orange theme and make jaffa cake inspired cakes... I melted a pack of orange jelly and 2tbsp of marmalade with no peel in 125ml of boiling water. I poured half the jelly into a lined 9" square tin, and popped in the fridge for 30 minutes to set. 

I poured the remainder of the jelly into a lined 8" round tin (all will be revealed later!) 

While the jelly was setting, I made a start on my orange buttercream icing. 

10oz icing sugar
4oz butter
zest of 1 orange

For a really light, creamy buttercream I started by whisking the butter with the zest in an electric mixer until pale and smooth. Finally add in the sieved icing sugar, and leave to mix for 5 minutes. The texture of buttercream improves the more it's beaten, so it's good to be patient and leave it mixing for at least 5 minutes. 

Remove the jelly from the fridge, invert onto the cake, before carefully peeling away the parchment. 

Divide the cake into 25 squares. 

Start by putting a thin layer of buttercream on each side of the squares. Be warned, this is time consuming, but a necessary step to even out the edges of the individual cakes, and prevent crumbs in the fondant icing.

Once this step is complete, pipe a generous rosette of the buttercream on the top of each square.  

Finally, make the icing to cover the cakes. Pink has always been my favourite..

Icing ingredients: 
10oz icing sugar
pink food colouring paste

I love the fresh flavour combination of orange and rose, so decided pink rose icing was perfect! Start by adding a tsp of rosewater, and a drop of food colouring to the icing sugar, before adding enough water to create icing with a think coating consistency. 

This is where the challenge begins... dip them? coat them using a palette knife? pour the icing over the top? Now I realised why the contestants found  these cakes challenging... 

DO NOT dip them, the icing rosette will slide off.. 

The best solution I found, was to pour the icing generously over each cake, then use a knife to coat and smooth the icing around the sides. This is MESSY... put some parchment paper under your wire rack to catch the run off... 

Finish by drizzling melted chocolate over the top, and resting each square in a cupcake case. 


My entry for the Irish Bake Off Challenge is coming soon! Exciting!!!!! 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ginger people have feelings too....

This has been a really busy week so far... I started off by baking a Gateau St Honore inspired dessert for the Irish Bake Off challenge set by Wholesome Ireland and I'm thrilled to have won this task :) Thanks to Caitriona  for organising the weekly challenges.

This week is the final challenge, so the pressure is on to recreate a chiffon cake as made by the finalists of The Great British Bake Off. For most of the regular entrants, it seems like it will be the first time to try out a chiffon cake, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!

Now...what's this post's title all about? Blossoming gingerbread friendships that's what!! I was in the mood to bake this afternoon (nothing new there), and what could be better than gingerbread people...

I followed the above recipe from the BBC website, but being somewhat of a traditionalist, I tend not to use a food processor in baking. I much prefer getting my hands dirty..

This is a pretty simple recipe, perfect for throwing together in a hurry..

Start by sieving the flour, cinnamon and ginger into a mixing bowl, and rubbing in the butter until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency with no lumps of butter remaining.

Stir in the brown sugar. Add beaten egg and golden syrup, and mix with your hands until the mixture comes together into a firm round. It will seem quite dry at first, but don't be tempted to add more liquid to the mixture, it will come together...just keep pressing the mixture together with your hands.

Chill the dough for 15 minutes. Try to resist  the temptation to roll it out immediately; as chilling makes the dough easier to work with, and room temperature dough has a tendency to spread once it hits the heat of the oven.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to around 1/2cm thickness. I used my new gingerbread family cutters (a present which made me smile for ages!)

Place the gingerbread people on a baking tray (there's no need to grease the tray), and pop in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until firm and golden in colour.

Transfer biscuits to a wire rack, and leave to cool.

Decorating gingerbread people is always the best part! I made up a small quantity (about 4oz) of thick glace icing. You need to be patient making this, and just add the water slowly to avoid ending up with a thin icing that will be difficult to work with. If you do add too much, it's not the end of the world, just beat in some more icing sugar.

I coloured about 1/4 of the icing with red food colouring. I use paste, as it provides a more vibrant colour than liquid colouring, and doesn't affect the consistency of the icing... though liquid will work fine if it's all you have, just add less water. I used a small plain nozzle for piping the designs onto the biscuits, and used a mixture of pink sugar sparkles , white chocolate chips, and jelly tots to decorate.

The finished product! 
These are really easy to make, and it's definitely worth taking the time to decorate them to make them extra special.

I'm already looking forward to making a chiffon cake for the final challenge... I better make it a good one!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Tribute to the Great British Bake Off....

Like millions of others, I've been addicted to the Great British Bake Off over the past few months. I'm so excited about the finale tonight, I decided to take inspiration from last week's show, and recreate Brendan's Gateau St. Honore. 

I was really looking forward to getting started, and decided to make some small adjustments since I was a little short on time. 

I began by making the rough puff pastry (something I'd never done before), and found it very straight forward. While the puff pastry chilled, I made a head start on the choux pastry. I've baked eclairs and profiteroles before, so wasn't really daunted by this part of the recipe. The quantities given for the choux pastry in this recipe are quite generous, so don't be greedy like me, double the recipe and end up with about 50 profiteroles  (I suspect I'll have some very happy friends this evening when I visit with stacks of dessert!!) 

This dessert seems pretty daunting, but honestly, it's not... take it step by step; each step is relatively simple. It is time consuming, but is definitely worth the effort. 

Take your puff pastry from the fridge, and roll out a rectangular shape. Using a piping bag, pipe a swirl of choux pastry, starting in the centre, and leaving about an inch gap until you have a swirl of choux ending about 2 inches from the edge of the puff pastry. Finally, pipe a border around the outside of the choux, to make a ridge around the edge. It should look like this  (you can make a round version like this one if you prefer). The spiral in the centre gives the cake extra structure. Use the remaining choux pastry, pipe small profiteroles. While the puff/choux base, and profiteroles were baking, I made a start on the filling... 

This is where I decided to make some changes to the recipe. Instead of making the creme patissiere, I decided to use some leftover dulce de leche (caramel) and spread a generous layer over the pastry base. Chantilly cream is a wonderfully light filling for choux pastry, and makes them a little more special than just plain whipped cream. I followed Brendan's recipe, adding a dash of rum to one third of the Chantilly cream (reserving a third of the plain Chantilly cream to fill the choux border and profiteroles , and cooled melted Belgian chocolate to the remaining third of the mixture (fold the chocolate into the cream gently, don't be tempted to whisk the mixture again or it'll end up too thick and resemble a buttery texture..) 

Once the base came out of the oven, and cooled, I used the plain Chantilly cream to fill the choux border on the pastry base. To do this, I used a narrow piping nozzle, and piped the cream into the choux slowly. If you pipe the cream gradually at 3 inch intervals, it's a lot simpler than trying to pipe through the whole border. Using the same nozzle, I filled each of the profiteroles  Once completed, I coated each profiterole generously in caramel.

I spread the leftover caramel over the base, and then placed a row of profiteroles around the edge of the cake. Using a medium piping nozzle, I piped rosettes alternating between the rum and chocolate cream to decorate the top of the cake. 

Clearly, I hadn't given myself enough work, so decided to make the cake a little more special, by adding some spun sugar to the top. This cake is time consuming, and requires patience, but it's really worth it. It looks and tastes great, and would be the perfect dessert for a special occasion. I'll definitely be making it again... 

I'm very excited about tonight's show, rumour has it the finalists will be baking Fondant Fancies  which are one of my favourite childhood cakes. I suspect they may feature in an upcoming post!!

Enjoy the show tonight! 

Monday, 15 October 2012

And so the gingerbread girl was born....

If like me, you love everything about cake, then you've come to the right place....

I realised recently, that I've been baking for over 10 years. I've never loved anything for that long; shoes and boyfriends come and go, but my love of baking has remained. A friend told me, that "if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life". It's cheesy, but true. I've always wanted to bake professionally, but somewhere along the way, I got side tracked and instead got a 'real' job playing with a calculator in a shiny office with a view. I'm ditching the suit and heels, for an apron, and I hope you'll enjoy sharing the (sugar induced) highs and lows of my adventure...

When I was a little girl, I always thought there was nothing like my mum's baking. Now that I've supposedly grown up, I realise there really is nothing like my mum's baking. Every birthday and Christmas, she would bake an array of simple, but delicious cakes and bakes. For school parties, and cake sales, she would whip up fruit cakes, biscuit cakes, cream horns and marzipan fruits that nobody, and I mean nobody else could recreate. Recipes would be shared, with friend's parents, but it never tasted as good as when my mum baked them... She had no secret to baking, she didn't strive to create visually stunning works of art... instead, she followed recipes which she had learnt from her mum; traditional cakes which were beautiful in their simplicity. 

My grandmother, who unfortunately I don't remember, was by all accounts an incredible baker. I'm lucky enough to have her recipe book, which though it's tattered and splattered, has survived since 1964 when she started writing it.

I'm lucky enough to have recipes from my both my grandmother, and my mother's kitchen. For me, baking is about sharing, and making people happy. There is a cake for every occasion, for every break up, every make up.....  though who am I kidding, you don't need an excuse to have cake!

If you're a true cake lover, then you're going to love this blog. I can promise recipes, photos of baked deliciousness, rants and raves, and idle musings of a cake addict...

For now...have a cupcake, or two.... Happy Monday :)