Sunday, 28 June 2015

Madeira LSP Cake

I am so totally out of the loop on current television ‘must sees’ that it’s embarrassing.  You name a hit show of the last 5-10 years and I can guarantee I won’t have seen it.  Mad Men?  Breaking Bad?  Game of Thrones?  Nope.  Never even seen a snippet of them.  House of Cards? No, which really baffles me given I’m a huge Kevin Spacey fan.  What about home grown ‘must sees’ like The Thick of It?  Downton Abbey? Broadchurch?  Nope, they are just names to me.  I’m not trying to be cool, and I’m certainly not one of those people who says, ‘oh no, we don’t watch television’ in a tone that suggests you’ve just asked them whether they eat babies.  I can’t explain it – modern drama just doesn’t appeal.  There is however one TV show we are utterly obsessed with and it’s a cartoon series called Adventure Time.  I don’t usually like animation but there is something about Adventure Time that is so original, imaginative and downright bonkers that I am hooked.  It packs more creativity into one short episode than most shows could dream of doing in a series.

Adventure Time is set in a post-apocalyptic world, which is never-quite-explained.  We know that the world and most humans seem to have been wiped out in the ‘Mushroom Wars’ and all the characters now live in the Land of Ooo, which is divided into different regions most of which are ruled by a princess or a king.  The protagonists are brothers Jake the Dog and Finn the Human (it is explained- Jake’s family adopted Finn as a baby, yes I have got it the right way round!) but for me the best character by a country mile is Lumpy Space Princess (often referred to as LSP).  LSP is the self-centred, pretty horrible princess of Lumpy Space who prefers to live rough in the woods and is happy as long as she has a can of beans to heat up for dinner.  Even her apologies turn into insults this is my favourite so far: ‘I'm sorry that you're starving because I ate all of your crops, even though you're all still really fat, and I probably helped you lose some weight.  Completely convinced of her gorgeousness (fair enough – look at her!) she has a brilliant voice and way of speaking that is quite hard to impersonate, much as I try.

This cake is my tribute to the awesomeness of LSP.  The flower tin I used gives an approximation of her luscious lumps but isn’t 100% accurate.  It was better than trying to carve a cake into the right proportions….me and cake carving do not get along; look at the issues I’ve had with the decoration alone!

The cake itself is a classic madeira – buttery, spongey and, thanks to the addition of the almonds, moist and keeps well (I say that, but I’m guessing….don’t judge!).  If LSP does nothing for you, then overlook the decoration and focus on the lovely Madeira underneath – it’s a cracker!  I am under no illusions that my decoration skills are poor.  If I asked LSP what she thought of it I have no doubt she would say something like: ‘it’s totally lame, whatever.’


For the cake:
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g self raising flour
50g ground almonds
1 tablespoon milk – only add if needed (see method)

For the glaze:
300 icing sugar
1-3 teaspoons boiling water – you might not need it all
Purple food colouring

To decorate: gold star, black icing


Preheat oven to 170C/Fan oven 150C/340F/gas mark 3.

Grease a 20cm flower shaped pan – you can also use a normal 20cm round springform, or a 900g loaf tin if you’re not fussed about making your cake look like LSP!

Beat together the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy – don’t skimp on this stage.  Because of the ratios, and the fact that it’s golden caster sugar, the batter won’t go quite as light and fluffy as it would for say a normal sponge mix.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Beat in the vanilla.

Fold in the flour and ground almonds.

The mixture should be dropping consistency i.e. fall of the spoon with only gentle encouragement.  If it isn’t, fold in a tablespoon of milk to slacken it.

Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 40 mins – 1 hour.  It will take nearer the hour if you use a loaf tin, but less if you use a round tin.  Start checking after 30 minutes for a round tin, just to make sure you don’t leave it in too long.  The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before de-tinning and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

Once the cake is cool place a large sheet of foil under the cooling rack – this will catch any icing drips and make the clean up easy.

Now make the glaze:  Beat the boiling water into the icing sugar a teaspoon at a time.  This doesn’t seem like a lot of water but the glaze can become too runny so quickly that I like to go slow and monitor the change each teaspoon makes.

When the glaze is gloopy but not quite as runny as you want, add the food colouring.  As this is a gel it will also have an effect on the viscosity of the icing.

Once you reach the point where the icing is glossy and runny (but still thick) spoon it over the cake and gently spread it out so that it runs down the sides.  To get good coverage on the sides there will be waste, hence the foil under the cooling rack.

Leave to set.

Using a black icing pen (I wanted to get one from the supermarket but they didn’t have any – Tesco, grrrrr, so I ended up making one with food dye which was a bit grey) ice on LSP’s eyes, mouth and arms.

Place the gold star in the centre of her forehead.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Chocolate custard tarts


Did you miss me?  When I signed off in February I wasn’t planning on being away for so long but you know how things are sometimes...weeks become months and so it goes on.  Sorry.  If it’s any consolation I missed you all!    I can’t promise that I’ll go back to my regular-like-clockwork weekly updates but I shall try my very best.

This is the first time I have attempted chocolate pastry.  I’ve read before that it’s ‘tricky’ and can be difficult to roll etc, therefore I decided to take the approach I would to turn a sponge into a chocolate sponge: use a trusted recipe and replace some of the flour with cocoa.  It worked well and I didn’t have any issues with texture or rolling.

I didn’t have to pack chocolate flavour into the pastry as the tart filling was pure chocolate indulgence!  It combines the intense richness of ganache with the velvety texture of custard – be careful not to overbake it or you will lose the lightness of texture.  The use of milk chocolate makes it a tart to suit most palates (except those odd souls who like their chocolate so bitter it’s more of a punishment than a pleasure).

I only ever make individual pies and tarts in disposable foil cases now – they are so easy to use and the pastry never sticks.  There is no sadder sight in baking than a beautiful tart or pie ruined because it wouldn’t come out of the pan.  We’ve all been there – I remember mine was a batch of mince pies that ended up so scarred and battered by the knife I attacked them with to dislodge them, that I suspect they formed some sort of support group to get over the trauma.

Now of course these don’t need any adornment at all but I never know when to stop, so piped a simple rosette of whipped cream on the top of each tart.  I like the contrast it gave against the dark tarts.  I showed a modicum of restraint in not sprinkling crushed flake over the top….but you can bet your life I thought about it (and wanted to!).


For the pastry:
150g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
85g unsalted butter – cold
30g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water

For the filling:
225ml single cream
75ml whole milk
300g milk chocolate
2 eggs

To decorate:
200ml whipping cream


Start by making the pastry: place the flour, cocoa and butter in a food processor and blitz until you have crumbs that look a bit like wet sand.

Add the sugar and blitz again.

Add the egg yolk and water and blitz just until the pastry starts to form.

Tip out onto a sheet of clingfilm and bring together into a ball of dough – don’t over handle or it may become tough.

Roll the pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm and, using a cutter of the appropriate size, cut out rounds to line either a cupcake pan or individual foil tart tins (I use the latter as they are a nice way to transport and protect the tarts).  I got 18 tartlets.

Prick the base of each tart with a fork, then cover with clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.  It won’t do any harm to chill overnight, if you want to get a head start!

Preheat the oven to 180C/fan oven 160C/350F/gas mark 4.

Line each pastry case with baking paper or non stick foil, then weigh down with baking beans or rice.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the baking beans/rice and paper/foil and return to the oven – uncovered – for a further 5 minutes or until the pastry base no longer looks wet or shiny.  This is the best test for chocolate pastry as the colour will not help you!

Put to one side to cool.

Reduce the oven to 140C/fan oven 120C/275F/gas mark 1

Now make the filling: place the cream and milk in a saucepan and bring just to boiling point.
Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.

Stir until all the ingredients are combined.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before beating in the eggs.

Spoon into the pastry cases – I found a ladle worked best.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the filling looks set but wobbles when you shake the tray – they will continue to set as they cool.

[If you have leftover filling spoon into ramekins and place them in a roasting tin.  Fill the tray with hot water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until set with a wobble – bonus dessert!]

Leave to cool on wire rack.

Decorate with whipped cream if required.

Refrigerate until about an hour before you wish to serve.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Blood orange and almond sponge

When I saw some beautiful blood oranges for sale I bought two without really knowing what I was going to do with them.  Did I mention how beautiful they were?  Having given the matter some thought, I decided on a blood orange upside down cake but wanted something a little more than a standard sponge.  One of my first ever posts, way back in the mists of 2007, was an almond sponge.  I have taken this recipe and switched the variety of sugar (from caster to soft light brown) and added some zest. 

Orange and almond is a lovely combination – both add so much in terms of flavour and texture.  The first hit is the sharp citrus zing of the orange, then the almost creaminess of the almond takes over.  The cake keeps beautifully for days; it actually improves with age as the almond releases its oil…I think this is almond’s greatest gift to baking!

Blood oranges can be a bit of a lottery; until you cut it open you never know whether it will look disappointingly like an ordinary orange or gloriously, glowing red.  Mine had flashes of red but weren’t the vivid red I was hoping for.

This post will be my last for a while.  I’m going to take a short break from blogging.  If I’m honest, I feel like I’ve lost my baking mojo of late; I haven’t yet settled into my new kitchen and need to have a tinker with the layout to get things right so I feel happy and relaxed again during my baking.  Fear not – I am the Arnold Schwarzenegger of baking….I will be back!


For the blood oranges:
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g soft light brown sugar
2 blood oranges, peeled and cut into slices

For the sponge:
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g soft light brown sugar
4 eggs
Grated zest of one blood orange
1 teaspoon almond extract
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
50g ground almonds


Preheat the oven to 160C/fan oven 140C/325F/gas mark 3.

Line a 20cm round with baking paper.  It is advisable to wrap the outside of the tin with foil in case the oranges ooze juice during baking – better to have a sticky tin, than a sticky oven!

Start by making the blood orange layer: beat together the butter and sugar until it is whippy and well combined. 

Spread, as best you can, over the bottom of the cake tin.

Lay the blood orange slices over the bottom of the cake tin – pack them in as tightly as you can so it will look pretty when you turn the cake out (the bottom during baking will become the top when the cake is turned out).

Now make the sponge: beat together the butter and sugar until the batter is light and fluffy looking.  Do not skimp on this stage.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Beat in the orange zest and almond extract.

Fold in the flour, baking powder and ground almonds.  It will be  a firm batter but this is ideal as it will absorb the orange juice and hold its shape.

Spoon the batter over the blood oranges, taking care not to disturb them.

Level the surface and then spread the batter from the centre out to the edges so it ends up with a dip in the centre i.e. the batter is higher at the edges than the centre.  This will help keep the top level during baking; the top will become the base of the cake when baked so keeping it level will save having to cut any cake away when baked.

Bake for approximately 1 ½ hours or until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out cleanly. (Start testing the cake after an hour and 10 minutes).

Let the cake cool in the tin for about 20 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.  If the top of your cake has peaked during baking, level the surface with a knife before turning out.

Leave to cool completely on the wire rack.

Serve either on its own, or with a blob of cream.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Monday, 9 February 2015

Rhubarb and custard cupcakes

When Duerr’s kindly offered me a sample of their new range of baking jams and told me they would send me the rhubarb and custard flavour, I was very excited as these are two of my favourite things!  I started thinking about what to use it for.   Since we have moved I haven’t fully unpacked all my baking boxes and every time I walk from the kitchen to the dining room I see boxes of cupcake paraphernalia staring at me as if they’re saying, ‘hey, what about us?  We want to move into our new home too!’  To placate my cupcake overlords I decided to make some cupcakes.

The jam is amazing.  It messed with my head a little bit because it was jam that tasted like rhubarb and custard boiled sweets....yes, that good!

I nearly didn’t post these cupcakes.
  They were meant to have a custard buttercream I’d successfully made before...but it was one of those days were everything felt against me.  Lots of anguish and an abandoned buttercream later I decided to top them with a simple glace icing.  I was so fed up at this point I didn’t even let it set properly before photographing the cakes.  It would be a fair assessment to say I was in a bit of a mood (ahem).  You can see how angry I was by the fact I didn’t even stick a wafer daisy on top to pretty them up!

Summary: yes, they look like they were made by a particularly un-artistic five year old but, in their defence, they taste amazing.  The sponge was so fluffy, the jam so sweet and sticky and the simple glaze was actually all they needed.  I still wasn’t going to post them, but Mr CC took them into work and they turned out to be one of most popular bakes for a long time.  I’m a little ashamed by how they look but I shall bow to my eaters on this one!

For the sponges:
175g unsalted butter at room temperature
175g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
175g  self raising flour
2 tablespoons milk
6 teaspoons jam – I used Duerr’s rhubarb and custard jam

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Enough hot water to make a thick icing – add a teaspoon at a time – mine took 3 teaspoons


Preheat the oven to 180C/ fan oven 160C/350F/Gas mark 4.

Line a cupcake pan with 12 paper cases.

Start by making the sponges: beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  The mix should look almost whipped – don’t be tempted to skimp on this stage.

Beat in the vanilla and the eggs, one by one.

Fold in the flour.

Stir in enough milk to get a dropping consistency batter.

Spoon into the cupcake cases and bake for about 12-14 minutes or when a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean – better to be a little under than over, as they will continue to cook as they cool.  Don’t worry if they take longer (mine took nearer to 20 minutes) – they are big cupcakes.

Remove from the baking pan as soon as you can do so safely (the heat from the tin may cause them to overbake), and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Use a cupcake corer or knife to remove some of the sponge.

Spoon half a teaspoon of jam into each cupcake.

Now make the icing: beat together the ingredients until you have a really thick, glossy icing.

Spoon over the cupcakes.

Leave to cool and firm up.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.