Sunday, 28 August 2011

Coconut almond macarons

I can take a hint; for as long as I can remember whenever I have mused out loud what to bake Mr CC has helpfully suggested, “macarons”.
Much as I love macarons – their crisp, light shells sandwiching rich delights – I have been a little wary of making them. They seem so….high maintenance….so needy.

I’ve read on many a website that macarons hate, of course, I end up baking them on one of the most humid weekends of the year. This isn’t as bad a tactic as it sounds – if they succeed I am a baking genius who can defy all the odds; if they fail it’s the stupid weather’s fault!

But, never let it be said I shy away from a challenge.
Armed with my new non-stick macaron mats from Squires I got to work.

I’m torn as to my favourite flavour macaron from Laduree; it’s either coconut or chestnut.
Sadly, both are seasonal flavours rather than all-year round, so for my first attempt at macarosn I opted for coconut. The fact that they were sandwiched with white rum white chocolate Ganache may have been a factor!

OK, so they’re maybe not as uniform or pretty as the lovelies that you see for sale at Laduree or Pierre Herme, but they’re not bad!
And they taste heavenly.

As is often the way with much in life, what you fear and dread most actually turns out fine.
I enjoyed making these and, while they’re not a quick bake, I think they’re worth the work. Oh yes, did I mention? In your face, weather!


For the macaron shells:

90g ground almonds
20g desiccated coconut
3 egg whites
55g caster sugar
½ teaspoon coconut extract
200g icing sugar, sifted

For the Ganache filling:

60ml single cream
150g white chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons coconut liqueur – I used Malibu


Start by placing the ground almonds and desiccated coconut into a food processor and blitz until you have finely ground powder.

Tip into a bowl and put to one side.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper or macaron mats (see above).

Beat the egg whites until you have soft peaks.

Add the caster sugar and coconut extract and beat further until the sugar has dissolved (rub a small amount of the mix between your fingers – if you can feel grains it needs more beating).

Fold in half the icing sugar, ground almonds and coconut.

Fold in the rest of the icing sugar, ground almonds and coconut – it’s easier to do it in two lots.

Spoon the mixture into a piping bag, which has a round nozzle – about 2cm is ideal.

Pipe rounds approx 3cm across leaving a gap between them to allow for spreading. Don’t expect the mixture to be firm like buttercream; it’s firm enough to hold its shape but it will run out of the icing bag without you squeezing so work quickly and precisely.

Lightly tap the baking sheets on the work top to encourage the macarons to spread a little. At this point the macarons are sticky and, if you tap you finger on one, some of the mix will come away.

Leave to stand for 30-40 minutes. This is important as they need to develop a thin skin and their “foot”. If you tap the macaron again, you will feel the shell and nothing will stick to your finger.

Preheat the oven to 150˚C/fan oven 130˚C/300˚F/Gas mark 2.

Bake the macarons for approximately 25 minutes or until they have a firm-ish shell but aren’t brown. I gave them 15 minutes, then turned the trays and gave a further 10 minutes – they must be cooked otherwise they won’t lift cleanly off the baking sheet.

Leave to cool, on their trays, on a wire rack.

When cool, they can be stored in an airtight container. Only fill and sandwich them on the day of serving.

To make the Ganache filling: bring the cream to the boil over a low heat.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate.

Stir until melted and smooth.

Stir in the liqueur.

Pour into a bowl and refrigerate for approximately 20 minutes, or, until the Ganache is smooth enough to spread. I found that 10 minutes in the freezer got the ganache to a perfect spreadable consistency.

Sandwich the macarons using the Ganache.

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


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Damson Jelly

Please stop sniggering long enough to read this very serious post on jelly making! Mr CC and I went to a local antiques fair last month and I was delighted to find a ceramic cone jelly mould. Once I’d checked it over for cracks and found none, I was so excited I almost forgot to haggle. Almost! My vintage mould cost me £12, which seems ridiculously cheap.

Making a jelly with damsons as beautiful as these cannot result in anything less than deliciousness!

Ceramic, like glass, can be a nightmare for turning out jellies therefore I made this jelly much firmer set than I usually would. Also, this mould is tall and tapers towards the top making it far less stable than a lower, rounder jelly. I gave the very tip of the mould a squirt of cake release spray and I think this helped (you don’t taste it).

Turning out a jelly is always a heart in your mouth moment but thankfully, this one came out perfectly. As you can see, it suffered a little with “Brewer’s droop” but that didn’t matter as it caused mirth all round...a little too much mirth perhaps, we reverted to 5 year olds. And yes, I am fully aware of what it looks like!

Damson plums have such a lovely fruity flavour that they are perfectly suited to jams and jellies. Didn’t it come out a pretty colour?


Note – this is the basic quantity for the jelly – you can scale it up as required but allow extra setting time. For my mould I used 1.5x the quantities.
8 leaves gelatine
750g damsons – washed, but no need to stone
225g caster sugar
600ml cold water

To serve: cream


Start by soaking the gelatine leaves in cold water until they are soft.
Place the damsons, sugar and water in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Simmer further and mash the damsons with a spoon or – and I found this really productive – the masher you’d use to make mash potato.
The stones will naturally come out of the fruit and be captured in the next stage.
Pass through a sieve and return the liquid to a clean pan.
Heat gently and then remove the pan from the heat.
Squeeze all the water from the gelatine and whisk into the damson juice – it will dissolve very quickly.
Leave the jelly to cool a little.
Pass through a sieve into your chosen mould – sieving again will strain out any bits that passed through first time.
Chill until set – I left overnight.
Turn out of the jelly mould any way that you find works for you! For this ceramic mould we stood it in warm water for a minute then gave it a vigorous shake!
Serve with cream.
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Damson sponge sandwich with cheesecake filling

The strangely changeable weather we’ve had this summer has resulted in a bumper crop on my parents’ damson tree. The branches are heaving with so many damson plums that some are almost reaching down to the ground.

There is so much fruit that the damsons are clumping together and resemble giant bunches of grapes:

This cake came about because I couldn’t decide whether to make a sponge cake or a cheesecake. Of course, the answer was obvious – combine them so you get both! I’ve never really ‘got’ the concept of self deprivation.....

Each sponge layer is, in itself, an upside down cake – the damsons hide underneath the batter and become caramelised and sticky during baking. When the cakes are de-tinned, the damsons become the top of the cake.

Sandwiching a sponge with cheesecake is ridiculously decadent and I genuinely haven’t seen any other recipes that do it. My conclusion was that I am in a league of my own for self-indulgence!

I cannot recommend this recipe enough – the cheesecake filling works so well with the sponge and the flavours and textures of each seemed enhanced. Absolutely yummy!

Proving I can be as prone to arty photos as the next person, here’s the juice and sugar pooling in a damson half. Doesn’t it look pretty?

Hopefully by now, you’ve picked up on my ethos being “cake for all”. Some people in my family either don’t like (what can I say? Every family has a couple of ‘crazies’!), or can’t eat, cheesecake so I made another cake using the ingredients and method below but I made it all in one deep 20cm tin and omitted the cheesecake filling.

Here’s what I did: Placed all the damsons (they will form two tiers) in the bottom of the tin, made the batter and spread it over the damsons. Bake for approximately 35 minutes and serve in generous slices with whipped cream. Cake for all!


For the cake:
Approx 16 damson plums, or plums, washed, cut in half and de-stoned (damson plums are small – similar in size and shape to Victoria plums)
200g caster sugar, plus 2 extra tablespoons
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

For the filling:
1 vanilla pod
300g cream cheese – I used Philadelphia
50g icing sugar
150ml double cream

For decoration:
300ml double cream, whipped


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

Line two 20cm loose bottomed sandwich tins with baking paper ensuring that the paper comes up above the height of the tin.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar in the bottom of each tin then arrange the damsons, cut side down, into the tin

Place the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Take your time over this stage and only move on when the mixture starts to resemble whipped cream – it will take 10 minutes or so.

Beat in the eggs one at a time; if it looks like the mixture might curdle add some of the flour.

Fold in the flour, baking powder and milk.

Spoon the mixture into the tins – taking care not to disturb the damsons - and level the surface.

Place the cake tins on a baking sheet then place in the oven. Normally I put my baking tins straight onto the oven shelf, but when the cake might leak juice I take an extra precaution!

Bake for approximately 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the batter comes out cleanly. Mine took 40 minutes – I think the plums bubbling away with their juice under the batter means it takes longer!

Leave to cool in the tins until cool enough to de-tin; then leave to cool completely on a wire rack. The sponges can be made a day ahead of serving.

Now make the cheesecake filling, this can also be made a day ahead: Slice the vanilla pod in half and remove the seeds.

Place seeds in a bowl along with the cream cheese and icing sugar and beat until smooth and well combined.

Pour in the cream and beat until the mixture is completely combined.

Spoon into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate.

On the day of serving build the sponge: place one of the sponges on a plate, damsons on the top, and spread with the cheesecake filling (if the cheesecake filling is stiff beat it with a spoon until it softens enough to spread).

Place remaining sponge on top, also damsons on the top.

Refrigerate until serving – try to remember to take the cake from the fridge 20 minutes or so in advance of serving so the flavours can come through.

Serve with whipped cream.

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


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Syrup crunch biscuits

This recipe was on the very last page in the September issue of BBC’s Good Food magazine - t
alk about ending on a high!

When I see a recipe I like the look of in a magazine I always scan the ingredients to double check that it’s as good as it seems from the photo.
The ingredient list for these biscuits is a roll call of deliciousness: butter, condensed milk, syrup, cornflakes, oats AND custard powder? Why BBC, with these ingredients you are really spoiling me! Here are the luscious wet ingredients in a saucepan:

The biscuit mix is made entirely in the saucepan so make sure you pick one large enough!

These are meaty biscuits; obviously I don’t mean they contain meat, but they are substantial.
No wispy wafery air-like nothingness here – you know you’ve eaten one! They have the dense texture of a flapjack but with more crunch.

I love the mix of crunch and stickiness.
These could just be the perfect biscuit. They keep for several days in an airtight tin too.


250g unsalted butter
200g condensed milk
175g golden syrup
175g cornflakes, plus a few extra – I used Kellogg’s original
175g porridge oats
250g plain flour
100g custard powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda


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

Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper.

Place the butter, condensed milk and golden syrup in a large saucepan and heat gently.

Stir occasionally until the ingredients have melted and evenly combined; they should be runny.

In a separate bowl crush the cornflakes by hand – you don’t want them crumbed, just broken up a bit.

Stir in the oats, flour, custard powder and bicarbonate of soda.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet mix in the saucepan.

Scoop heaped tablespoons onto the baking sheets, leaving a gap around the biscuits for expansion while baking. I found this easiest by taking the spoonful of mixture into my other hand and gently squeezing it into a ball.

Crumble a few more cornflakes over the biscuits and flatten them a little using your hands.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Leave to cool, on their baking sheets, on a wire rack. They will be soft on leaving the oven but will firm up as they cool.

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


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Apple and blackberry frangipane tarts

About three weeks back (maybe further) Mr CC requested something with pastry that could be served hot with custard. Inattentive wife that I am, I’ve only just got round to it. He requested apple and blackberry so the recent fruity theme of the blog continues for another week!

By placing some of the blackberries underneath the frangipane sponge, the finished tart is similar to a bakewell i.e. almond sponge hiding fruitiness beneath; however, the apple slices on top differentiate it. I left my apple slices quite chunky so that they contributed texture as well as flavour.

Here’s what lies beneath the frangipane, apple puree and blackberries:

Initially, I planned on placing only blackberries under the sponge, but when Mr CC came home with a huge bucket full of Bramley apples grown by a work colleague, I made apple puree and put some of that in too:

I made a huge batch and only used some of it in these tarts. The leftover puree went in the freezer and will be used in a future apple crumble! My method for apple puree uses more water than those I found online; having followed these in the past I find them too dry. Using more water seems to make a lighter, fluffier puree.

I decided to revisit the pastry from Raymond Blanc’s apple tart. It worked so well with apples and had the time saving bonus of not needing to be blind baked in advance of baking the filling.

My flan tins were called “mini flan tins”, but as you’ve probably noticed they were actually quite large – about 10cm across. Anything called ‘mini’ instantly means a single serving to me...I don’t tend to use my eyes in such situations. In truth, half a tart would’ve been plenty!

Pastry, fruit and custard together are the holy trinity of puddings, as far as I’m concerned; add almond sponge into the mix and I’m in heaven! Whisper it softly, but I actually prefer the thicker, darker…dare I say, lower end, type of custard, the kind that coats the back of the spoon with a viscous layer of yellow goodness. The soft vanilla aroma that wafts up from a jugful of custard surely contains endorphins (or something, I’m not a scientist) as it makes everyone happy!

I end with a confession. Having admitted half a tart would’ve been a generous portion I still dished up a whole tart each. The following is photographic proof of why I am The Caked Crusader G.G. Hons (Greedy Guts) – my bowl is on the left; a mortal’s is on the right:


For the pastry:
250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter, diced
1 teaspoon milk or water (I used milk)
1 egg

For the apple puree (puree is never an exact science so make whatever quantity you wish – it freezes brilliantly):
Bramley apples
Sugar – to taste

For the filling:
200g blackberries
140g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
1400g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8s – I used Granny Smith apples


Start by making the pastry: pulse the flour and butter in a food processor until you have crumbs.

Add the egg and milk and pulse again until the pastry clumps but does not form a ball – be careful not to overwork it.

Tip the dough onto a sheet of clingfilm and kneed it just enough to form a ball. Flatten, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the apple puree. Take a saucepan of appropriate size – roughly so that the apples will half fill the pan.

Cover the bottom of the pan with water – ideally about 2cm deep.

Peel, core and thinly slice the cooking apples.

Slowly simmer until the apples break down and you have a puree; if the pan looks dry add some more water. You can speed this up placing the pan lid 3/4s over the pan.

Personally, I like my puree with some apple chunks still in it; if you don’t cook until smooth.

Add the sugar right at the end – this is totally to taste so add gradually until you have the right sweetness for you.

Roll out the chilled dough between two sheets of clingfilm. I didn’t need to add any extra flour. Use one sheet of the clingfilm to lift the pastry to line a 20cm loose bottomed flan tin or 4 individual tart tins (mine measured 10cm across). Press the pastry into the tin and use the rolling pin to roll over the top and cut of any excess pastry.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/fan oven 180˚C/390˚F/Gas mark 6

Spoon 2 tablespoons of the apple puree into the pastry case and arrange the blackberries on top.

Place back in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

Beat together the butter and sugar until it’s pale and smooth.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, if it looks like it might curdle add some of the flour.

Stir in the almonds, flour and, if using, the extract.

Spoon into the pastry case and level the surface; take care not to disturb the blackberries too much as they need to be evenly distributed.

Arrange the apple slices on the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the almond sponge is cooked – test with a skewer, the same way you would for a cake. If the skewer comes out clean it’s ready.

Leave to cool, in the tins, on a wire rack.

Serve either at room temperature with thick cream, or warm with custard.

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


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cake & Sugarcraft magazine

When the lovely people at Squires Kitchen contacted me asking if I would like to be the first blogger to star in their new "Baker's Blog" feature in Cakes & Sugarcraft magazine I was, of course, flattered. Very flattered.

When I got my copy of the Autumn 2011 (issue 114) magazine I was stunned - nay flabbergasted - to see that my blog had been given a TWO PAGE SPREAD (no, you naughty people, not the centrefold!)

Thanks to Squires Kitchen, firstly for reading my blog, and secondly, thinking it worthy of such attention. Much ego is now the size of a planet!

Cake & Sugarcraft magazine issue 114, Autumn 2011 costs £4.99 and is available in some large newsagents or directly from Squires

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Blackberry curd cupcakes

It’s that time of year when Mr CC and I don sensible shoes, dig out our ‘fruit harvesting tupperware’ and venture into the wilds of the Lea Valley park to go blackberrying.

It’s also that time of year when we enthusiastically discuss how we need to learn more about the fruits, berries and leaves surrounding us and how we must go foraging as there’s so much free food on our doorstep. Upshot of this conversation? Nothing (maybe that’s harsh, sometimes I buy a book from Amazon on foraging and identifying plants), until blackberry season comes round again and then we repeat the conversation perhaps with a little more earnestness about how we “really mean it this time”.

Anyhow, we gathered our blackberries and I have used them to make a blackberry curd. Until recently, I didn’t realise you could make curd from most fruits and thought it was solely for lemons. This blackberry curd has a thick curdy texture and comforting sweet edge. To showcase it, I placed some in the cupcake and then beat some more into the Swiss meringue buttercream. I think you could beat it into any type of buttercream; I just like the silkiness of Swiss meringue buttercream…mmm butter!

My bain-marie pan doesn’t get much use but, as I use it for making lemon curd, I gave it an outing for this recipe. The pan is double walled and has a small hole on top of the handle; you fill it with water then use it as a normal pan – a bain-marie in one pan! No more balancing bowls on simmering saucepans!

Something I have learned whilst writing this post: I find “curd” a tricky word to type, not sure why as it only has four letters. I have read and re-read this post as blackberry crud cupcakes do not sound appealing!


For the blackberry curd (this made enough for the cupcakes, and to spread on one slice of toast!):
225g blackberries
2 tablespoons water
140g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
35g unsalted butter

For the cupcakes:
125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar – I used vanilla infused caster sugar
2 eggs
125g self raising flour
2 tablespoons milk (whole or semi skimmed)
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the swiss meringue buttercream:
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar – I used vanilla infused caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 teaspoons blackberry curd


Start by making the blackberry curd: place the blackberries in a saucepan with the water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 mins.

Pass through a sieve – use a spoon to push through as much of the puree as possible.

Discard the pulp and put the puree either in a bain marie saucepan, or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water).

Add the caster sugar, stirring to melt and slowly whisk in the beaten eggs.

Add the unsalted butter and continue to stir until it is melted.

Keep the curd on the heat and continue to stir. Gradually it will thicken, although this can take a while. Mine took at least 15 minutes.

Once the curd leaves a trail on its surface, it is ready. Another test is whether it falls from the spoon in a gloopy blob rather than as a liquid. It will firm up on cooling so take it off the heat just before it reaches the firmness you’d like the finished curd to have.

Spoon into a bowl and leave to cool, when cool store in the fridge.

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

Line a 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases.

To make the cupcake sponge beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, flour, milk and vanilla to the bowl and beat until the mixture is well combined and smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Mine took 17 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. The cupcakes can be made a day in advance and stored, when cool, in an airtight container. I made the buttercream on the day I wanted it.

Core the cupcakes and spoon enough blackberry curd into the well to fill it.

Eat the discarded cores of sponge – cook’s perks!

Now make the buttercream: Place the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and stir constantly to stop the egg from cooking.

After 5-10 minutes the sugar should have dissolved. You will know whether this has happened by looking at the back of the spoon – if you can see any sugar crystals the mix needs more heating and stirring.

When no crystals are visible, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk the meringue mixture until it has puffed up and cooled.

Add the butter and vanilla to the meringue and continue to whisk. The mixture will collapse initially but don’t panic; keep whisking and it will form a smooth, fluffy buttercream. This may take a while so, I repeat, don’t panic and don’t give up! This buttercream will only fail if you skimp on this stage – however sloppy it seems, keep whisking and it will come good. The time it takes varies hugely with the weather (I find) so there are no hard and fast guidelines.

When the buttercream is plump and fluffy, beat in the blackberry curd.

Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag. If it feels very soft refrigerate for 5 mins or so to firm up a little – don’t leave it for too long as piping hard buttercream is not fun!

Pipe on to the cupcakes and decorate as you wish. I went for the simplicity of a blackberry on top of each one.

The finished cupcakes will keep for a couple of days at room temperature. Not that they’ll have the chance!

Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.