Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas cake

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and will have a happy new year too. I stuck to my classics this Christmas, with mince pies, gingerbread men and Christmas cake. I’ve posted them all many times before so thought I’d spare you another trip down memory lane!

I did make some tweaks with my Christmas cake this year so thought I should document them...if only to aide my aging brain come October 2012 when I’m desperately trying to recall what I did!

I stuck with my classic Christmas cake and fondant icing recipe and used brandy as the spirit in the cake this year. The holly decoration is made from leftover fondant icing coloured red and green – I used Dr Oetker natural colouring.

For the marzipan I used the dead easy no-faff recipe that I first tried at Easter with my simnel cake – it tastes divine and is sooooo good natured to roll out. I’ve never had such a lovely smooth covering:

Normally, I only cover the top of the cake, but this year I decided to do a full covering...I have to admit it does look nicer when you cut a slice. I think the key to it is getting the marzipan and icing thin enough so that it doesn’t over power the cake.

Apologies for the slightly fuzzy photos, but it was rather late on Christmas day when I suddenly realised, “oh bother, I am yet to photograph my Christmas cake”. Yes, that’s exactly how the thought formed in my mind.....!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Father Christmas honey and almond biscuits

I’m not much of a cake decorator and when I look at beautifully decorated cakes and biscuits my reaction is always, “wow, that’s gorgeous....but what a faff.” However, when I saw these biscuits in a magazine (can’t remember which one) I loved them so much I decided I had to make them. And do you know what? For something so cute, they’re pretty low faff (nb. do not equate “low faff” with “speedy”!)

The biscuits are tasty - like a gingerbread without any ginger. They’re not a crisp biscuit but neither are they chewy – they’re somewhere in between, almost a cakey biscuit. You can’t really go wrong with the subtle honey and almond flavour and the brown sugar adds an almost caramel/toffee element; they could also take a smidge of spice, should you so wish.

The hat and gloves in the original recipe were made with ready rolled icing. I’m not a fan of that – to me, it’s just an irritant you have to pick off before you can start eating...but chocolate appealed to me! (in other shock news, I can report that the sun will be rising tomorrow morning).

In a rare moment of foresight, I looked up whether you can add food colouring to white chocolate and it all seems rather complex. The short answer is “no you can’t”– I think liquid food colouring would make the chocolate seize i.e. go grainy and stiff, but I can’t see why gel or powdered colouring would be an issue. Anyway, to eliminate any risk, I purchased specific chocolate colouring which did the job (details in the ingredients list below).

If this was the real Father Christmas then I think I've just ended his present delivering days....

Happy Christmas everybody! May your festive period be full of tasty treats and happy times with those you love.


For the biscuits:
250g clear honey – I ran out of honey so used 150g honey, 100g golden syrup
100g soft light brown sugar
150g unsalted butter
2 egg whites
500g self raising flour
100g ground almonds

To decorate:
200g white chocolate, melted
Red colourant suitable for chocolate – I bought mine from Cakes, Cookies and Crafts

1 small tube of white icing (and black icing if you’re making the eyes, I used ready made eyes)
Gold ball decorations – I used Dr Oetker
Red balls or cupcake sprinkles for the nose


First make the dough: Place the honey, sugar and butter into a saucepan and melt over a gentle heat, stirring often. You will know when it’s ready because the ingredients will be well combined and there won’t be any sugar granules on the back of your spoon.

Pour into a bowl and leave to cool.

When cool, stir in the egg white.

Stir in the flour and ground almonds and mix to a dough. It will be a very soft dough – quite gloopy and you may think you’ve done something wrong....you haven’t!

Divide the dough in two, and wrap each part in clingfilm. If you shape the dough like a fat disc it makes rolling out easier.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but an hour is better.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/gas mark 5.

Line 4 baking sheets with baking paper. If you don’t have 4 baking sheets, use what you have and bake your biscuits in batches. It doesn’t really matter as it turned out I needed 6 trays!

Take one of the discs of dough from the fridge and roll out between two sheets of clingfilm – this stops you needing to use any additional flour. However, if your dough still feels really soft put a fine sprinkling of flour on the clingfilm

You want the dough quite thin – remember that it contains self raising flour and will rise a little whilst baking.

Using a large 5 pointed star cutter cut out the stars and leave 2-3cm between biscuits on the baking sheet.

Re-roll the trimmings (it’s an incredibly good natured dough and re-rolls with ease as many times as necessary) and then repeat with the second ball of dough.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden. As the biscuits have angular points, they will catch so it’s best to turn the tray halfway through baking. It doesn’t matter if you forget – just make sure they’re the points you dip in chocolate!

Leave to cool, on the baking sheets, on a wire rack – the biscuits will be soft when they come out of the oven. Wait until they have firmed up before removing the baking sheet.

To decorate the biscuits melt the white chocolate (i do it in the microwave) and add the colouring per the instructions on the colouring’s packet. If you don’t wish to use chocolate, you could decorate with sugar paste or icing.

Dip three of the star’s points in the red chocolate – one for the hat, the other two for mittens.

Place each dipped biscuit on a sheet of baking paper to set.

When set, pipe white icing around the edge of the hat and gloves for fur trim. Also, pipe on the beard.

Use the white icing to fix the eyes and the gold balls for buttons and hat bobble. For the noses I picked the red dots out of a packet of cupcake sprinkles.

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


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Maraschino cherry and banana loaf

Most tasks in life have either a sensible or a silly order in which to tackle them; let’s take the totally random example of baking:

Sensible order – ooh, that recipe looks nice; I’ll go out and buy the ingredients to make it

Silly order – ooh, that enormous jar of maraschino cherries is irresistible. I have to buy it...I’m sure I’ll find a recipe to use it somehow.

I was perusing my local market this week and came across the bargain groceries stall; most markets will have a similar stall selling stock that they’ve bought up cheap –it might be well known brands but with foreign labels, or orders that fell through and the manufacturer just wants rid. Anyway, long story short, I found myself in possession of a kilo jar of Belgian maraschino cherries (for £1.50 – bargain of the year or what?). I figured I’d either find a nice cake recipe or Christmas for Mr CC and I would be a cocktail-tastic blur!

For those of you unsure what a maraschino cherry actually is it’s that festively red cherry you will find floating about in your cocktail. It’s a sweetened, preserved cherry and I think when they’re candied they become glace cherries. I should also warn you that chopping up maraschino cherries is a terribly sad task – it feels like chopping up hundreds of tiny clown noses:

Without being too obviously so, I think this is a festive looking cake. It packs a great flavour, hardly surprising when you consider it contains a lot of cherries plus banana and walnuts. It’s also a plain cake, by which I mean it doesn’t need cream, buttercream or any other jazzy accompaniment.

If, like Mr CC, you’re not mad about bananas in cake but, like me, have an impulse-purchase jar of maraschino cherries you’d like to use you could do worse than make my Madeira cake recipe and simply add 250g of cherries to it! The recipe can be found

So, both cakes made and a whole jar of cherries emptied. Of course, what a truly crazy person would do is go back to the market stall and buy another jar....mwah hah hah ha!


300g maraschino cherries, plus 2 tablespoons of the syrup from the jar
110g unsalted butter, at room temperature
110g light muscovado sugar, plus 2 tablespoons extra to sprinkle on top
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas
225g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
50g walnuts, chopped


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

Line a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with baking paper.

Drain the maraschino cherries, reserving 2 tablespoons of the syrup.

Cut the cherries into quarters and put to one side.

Beat together the butter and sugar until they are smooth and whipped.

Beat in the eggs and reserved syrup until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, mash the bananas – recipes always say to do it with a fork but I think it’s easiest to do this with your potato masher.

Stir in half the flour to the butter mix followed by half the bananas.

Add the remaining flour plus the baking powder, followed by the remaining bananas.

Stir in the chopped cherries and walnuts.

Spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Sprinkle the additional 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top and bake for approximately 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour 10 minutes.

Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack until it is cool enough to handle and remove the tin. Then leave to cool completely on the wire rack. The cake will keep for several days in an airtight tin.

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


Sunday, 4 December 2011

History Corner - Coconut and almond cake

I am well aware of the old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, but I completely disregard it when considering the purchase of a vintage cookbook. The cover for “Home Cookery illustrated” is so fab I wouldn’t have cared if the book was just blank pages. Except for the child with the red horns at the front, this picture could be a portrait of Mr CC and me when I’m preparing dinner. I still can’t work out the husband’s expression; is it one of delight, horror or surprise at what’s in the pan?

There is no date anywhere in the book but online resources place it in the region of 1955-57. I like the subtitle of “A practical guide for the beginner and the experienced housewife” and wonder what purpose it serves, why not just “a practical guide for housewives”?

Published in the 1950s this book highlights that Britain, even post rationing, was still an austere place. The introduction to the book, which covers buying, preparing and cooking food stresses:
“Nowadays it is more a question of making the most of what is available than choosing what we prefer.” It goes on to suggest it is the housewife’s duty to ensure that shops sell all their stock: “Whenever you see a plentiful supply of any kind of perishable food, buy that in preference to goods that will keep. If the shopkeepers do not sell that food it may mean that it may have to be wasted. Help avoid that by buying.”

I chose this recipe because I am a fiend for coconut, plus I loved the inclusion of ratafia essence in the ingredients list. I’d heard of ratafia biscuits but not essence; some hunting around online told me that ratafia essence is made from peach, almond and apricot kernels and is no longer available. The closest modern substitute is good quality almond extract as that contains ground up bitter almond kernels – so that’s what I used!

This is a versatile cake – you can have it, as we did today, plain with a cup of tea, but Mr CC was mooting adding some jam to it. Tomorrow night I’m going to warm two slices and serve as dessert with custard.

Coconut and almond is a lovely combination and this flavoursome, light, cumbly sponge is a worthy teatime treat in any era – austerity or otherwise! It is a plain cake...but in a good way! The coconut is the dominant flavour with a hint of almond coming through at the end. The one aspect of austerity cooking I couldn’t let lie was the meagre quantities; my quantities below are double those of the book.


230g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g / 6oz caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract (or ratafia essence – but good luck finding it!)
340g / 12oz self raising flour
115g / 4oz desiccated coconut
6 tablespoons milk


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

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until you have a soft, whippy, pale cream. Don’t be tempted to skimp on this stage as this is where you get the air into the sponge.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond extract.

Beat in the flour.

Beat in the coconut and milk.

Spoon into the prepared baking tin and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 1 hour. It’s done when a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. Mine took 1 hour 5 minutes.

Leave to cool, still in the tin, on a wire rack.

Remove from the tin and store in an airtight container.

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


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Quick and easy shortbread

The CCMIL (Caked Crusader’s Mother in Law) has a birthday only two days after mine. As she has to be careful about her sugar intake I decided against a cake and, knowing her fondness for a ‘plain’ biscuit, decided on birthday biscuits.

This is such a simple recipe yet the results are amazing. I know some people think shortbread can only be called shortbread if it contains rice flour or similar to “rough” the texture up, but I think this recipe produces a wonderful, buttery, crisp yet crumbly biccie. And surely that’s what we all want?

It was a first outing for my Wilton biscuit cutter and stamp. The ‘happy birthday’ message just about survived baking! I think it would work better on a less buttery biscuit that would hold its definition more on baking – I did try chilling the biscuits before baking to hold the shape more, but it made no difference at all.

This is the type of recipe that works as a standalone biscuit to enjoy with a cup of tea, but would also be a fab accompaniment to a mousse or pannacotta for dessert. You could flavour the biscuit with any extract or alcohol and you could also add dried fruit or chocolate chips. Just think how yummy it would be with dried cranberries for Christmas. It only takes a few minutes to make the dough so is a good recipe to have in your armoury!


125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
55g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinking
180g plain flour


Preheat oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/gas mark5

Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until you have a smooth paste.

Stir in the flour and bring together to a dough.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of clingfilm. You’re aiming for a thickness of approximately 1cm.

Cut into rounds and place on the baking tray; allow a little room for expansion but no need to leave more than about 1cm. NB. The dough re-rolls easily so don’t waste any of it!

Sprinkle with additional caster sugar.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown. Mine took nearer 18 minutes.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Store in an airtight container – they will keep for days and days!

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


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Pineapple birthday cake

Sorry for the strange look of this post - blogger is having "a moment" with me and doesn't believe I want any of the formatting I've asked for. Before I combust in rage, I'll call it a day and revisit at a later date!

I always put so much thought and planning into my family’s birthday cakes, yet when my own birthday comes around I leave it all to the last minute and hope that some sort of inspiration will strike. It struck late this year, but I think it was worth the wait!

If it were just for me, my birthday cake would be coconut every year – no deviation. Sadly, some of my family don’t like coconut so it’s never the right cake to pick for a family get together. Everyone likes pineapple though so I came up with the idea of a pineapple sponge sandwich cake...and just kept adding detail. What if I cut each layer into two, making four layers? What if there was pineapple curd between the outer layers? What if I beat some of that curd into the Swiss meringue buttercream? What if I added juicy chunks of pineapple into the centre layer? What if I made some mini meringues for decoration and a nice bit of crunch? It all snowballed into this rather OTT creation:

There are quite a few processes to this cake but none are difficult and can, except for the buttercream, be made in advance. I made each element on a different day so it didn’t take that long. I made them in the order: curd, sponge, meringue, buttercream.

The mini meringues looked so cute on the baking sheet – take care to place them on the cake at the last minute as they go soft quickly when they hit the buttercream.

There is a nice mix of texture in every slice – crumbly sponge, crunchy meringue, creamy buttercream and juicy curd and fruit. Not bad for a last minute creation (I say last minute, but it was actually about 5 days before the event...which for me thinking about cake is total red alert panic stations!)

I’ve had several comments and emails that people find Swiss meringue buttercream an elusive technique to master, so I took photos and made a note of timings while I made it. Here’s the journey:

Start with the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. The bowl must not touch the water. Stir the whole time until the sugar has dissolved – you can tell when this has happened as, if you run your finger over the back of the spoon, it will feel smooth. Mine took 6 minutes. It froths a little from the stirring and will look like this:

Next, transfer to a clean bowl for whisking. I used my kitchenaid. Whisk until the egg white is fluffy and stiff and – most importantly – until it is cool. If you add the butter to hot egg you will get a rather yucky mess. Mine took 9 minutes of whisking at a high speed:

Now beat in the diced, soft butter. This is the key stage for whisking. At first the mix will turn sloppy and won’t hold on to the beaters – it will look gloopy, sunken and almost curdled. If you lift the beater all the buttercream will slide off and resemble slop (from the emails I've had I'm guessing this is the point some of you panic and give up):

KEEP GOING! If you keep beating – at a high speed – you will suddenly notice the buttercream firm up and start to look like whipped cream. Mine took 10 minutes. Here it is thick and whipped up:

The next thing to do is beat in any flavouring/jam/curd that you’re using to flavour the buttercream. Don’t add too much as you don’t want to risk making it wet and sloppy. I added my pineapple curd while the beater was still running. I gave the mix a further 5 minutes of beating.

You should now have light, whipped, smooth mousselike cream – the most heavenly of buttercreams! Pipe over cupcakes or use to sandwich together a layer cake. Enjoy!


For the pineapple curd:

2 egg yolks (keep the whites for the buttercream!)
200ml pineapple juice
50g caster sugar
25g cornflour

For the cake:
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
220g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
80ml milk
300g self raising flour
227g can of pineapple chunks – drained and chopped smaller

To decorate: Large can of pineapple rings or chunks

For the mini meringues:

2 egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
60g caster sugar

For the swiss meringue buttercream:
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar – I used vanilla infused caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-4 teaspoons of the pineapple curd (made earlier)


Start by making the pineapple curd and keep, covered, in the fridge: place all the ingredients into a saucepan and stir, over a low heat, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then refrigerate until needed. It will thicken further as it chills.

Now make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.

Line the bases of two 20cm loose bottomed sandwich tins with baking paper.

To make the cakes: Beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as this is when you get lots of lovely air into your sponge.

Beat in the eggs gradually, add some of the flour if it looks like it might curdle. (NB. If you have beaten the eggs and sugar for long enough the mix should not curdle).

Beat in the milk.

Stir in the flour until the mixture is smooth and well combined.

Gently stir in the pineapple chunks.

Spoon into the prepared tins and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the sponge comes out clean. Another good sign is if the sponge is just pulling away from the edge of the tin.

Leave to cool in the tins for about 20 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

You can make the sponges a couple of days in advance and store in an airtight tin.

Now make the mini meringues: Preheat the oven to 110°C/fan oven 90°C/230°F/Gas mark ¼ .

Line two baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.

Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until you reach the stiff peak stage.

Keep whisking and add the sugar a spoonful at a time.

Whisk in the cream of tartar.

Spoon the thick meringue into a piping bag and pipe small rosettes no bigger than 2cm across. Leave a little gap between each one.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the meringues are crisp – you’re not really ‘baking’ them, more ‘drying them out’.

Leave to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Do not place on the buttercream until you are ready to serve the cake otherwise the meringue will turn soft due to the moisture in the buttercream.

On the day of serving the cake make the swiss meringue buttercream: Place the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir pretty much constantly to prevent the egg from cooking.

After 5-10 minutes, when the sugar has dissolved (when you cannot see any crystals on the back of the spoon), remove the bowl from the pan of simmering water and whisk until the meringue has puffed up and the mix is cool.

Add the butter to the meringue and whisk until the butter has been completely incorporated into the meringue. At first it will look a disaster – it will collapse and look curdled but don’t worry! Stop when the mixture is smooth, light and fluffy.

Beat in 3-4 teaspoons of the pineapple curd.

Cut both the sponges through so that you have 4 layers of sponge.

Take one of the sponge layers and cover with some pineapple curd.

Place the second layer on top and spread with some buttercream.

Lay the pineapple chunks or rings over the buttercream and cover with some more buttercream.

Place the third sponge layer on top and gently press to ensure it has “stuck”. Cover this layer with some pineapple curd.

Place the final sponge layer on top and gently press to ensure it has stuck.

Spread or pipe the remaining buttercream over the top and outside of the cake.

Decorate as you choose – I used the mini meringues (place these on the cake at the last minute or they will go soggy)

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


Friday, 18 November 2011

Cream buttons

An early update from me this weekend as Mr CC and I are out and about having adventures and thus I won’t be at my computer. These little biscuits are great to have in your armoury – they are lovely just to eat, but you can also serve them on the side of a dessert to “glam it up”, or you can sandwich them with jam, nutella, or whipped cream and fruit. That’s a lot of options from one, rather plain looking, biscuit!

What attracted me to this recipe is that there is no sugar actually in the biscuit dough; the sugar is dredged over the dough once it is rolled out. Not only does this give the outside of the biscuit a pleasing crispness, but it also allows the cream to be the dominant flavour of the biscuit dough.

I wouldn’t make these biscuits any bigger – the ideal size is small enough to pop on your tongue and just feel it melt; the sugary crispness gives way to creamy crumbly biscuit and is divine! The texture is incredible – the biscuits puff a little while baking giving a layered texture like puff pastry.

The biscuits are small so you get quite a lot from a batch. They are also extremely easy to eat – they’re the kind of biscuit that you have with a cup of tea and then realise you’ve eaten half the batch! So save yourself time and heart ache and double the recipe up...but chill it in two bowls so it’s more manageable to roll out.

The aroma while these cooked was of warm cream; it reminded me of a oven baked, creamy rice pudding. Here they are ready to go into the oven – yes it looks a lot of sugar but remember, there’s no sugar in the dough:

Because of the unusual method of preparation and rolling, there is no option to re-roll unused dough. This forces you to be economical with your cutting out. Here’s what I had left over:


100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoon double cream
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain flour
6 tablespoons caster sugar


Beat the butter until very soft and whippy.

Beat in the cream and vanilla, then stir in the flour.

Don’t panic – the dough will be incredibly soft!

Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/Gas mark 5.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of clingfilm. The dough needs to be thin – about 1/2cm thick.

The dough will soften and be sticky but gently peel the top sheet of clingfilm back and sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the caster sugar over the dough. The dough should be covered with sugar but so you can still see the dough through the sugar.

Place the clingfilm back over the dough and fold up the clingfilm edges.

Carefully flip the dough and clingfilm so that the sugared side is now underneath.

Peel back the clingfilm and sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the caster sugar over the dough. Once the dough is fully sugared you will experience no problems with cutting it and lifting it from the clingfilm.

Using a 4cm round cutter, cut out the dough and place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. Be economical with your cutting out as the dough does not lend itself to re-rolling.

Bake for 10 minutes or until the biscuits are golden and slightly puffed.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before removing from the tray. Biscuits can be very fragile until they have cooled and you don’t want to risk breaking them.

Store in an airtight container.

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