Sunday, 29 July 2012

Famous Faces’ Favourite Fancies – Olympian chocolate cake

You may have noticed that the Olympics have started...if you live anywhere near London (as I do) your local news has featured at least one Olympic themed story every day for seven years and there has been much unrest over how London will work (and get to work) during the Olympics.  Personally, I love the Olympics, but enduring the protracted build up has rather threatened to take the shine off it all.  I’m hoping that, now it’s actually started, my love will return... I’m sure that an hour or two spent enjoying the mens’ rowing will be just what the doctor ordered!

One of our great medal hopes (and certainly one of the most popular) is the diver Tom Daley. It is hard to believe he is only 18 years old as he seems to have been around forever!  What I admire about Tom, apart from his immense talent and dedication to his sport, is the aplomb with which he conducts himself – he always comes across so well in interviews, and seems to enjoy himself.  I think so many modern sports people often look like they forget they’re meant to enjoy it.

I heartily approve of Tom’s choice of chocolate cake and I went all out to make this as chocolatey as possible; the recipe is basically a Victoria sponge but chocolated up at every opportunity! (NB.  I suspect that “chocolatey” and “chocolated up” are not proper words, and if they are, they aren’t very pretty.   But they just seem right somehow!)

The addition of melted chocolate into the buttercream made it a firmer, more moussey texture than normal and it had a deep chocolate flavour.  It kept well too.  Whenever I comment that a cake keeps well I hope it conveys to you the magnitude of the cake.  I think mountaineers could scale the north face of this one!

Best of luck Tom – the country is behind you!  Win us the gold!


For the cake:
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
200g self raising flour
50g cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
100ml milk

For the filling:
100g milk chocolate, melted
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
25g cocoa powder
75g icing sugar


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

Line two 20cm round loose bottomed sandwich tins with baking paper.

In a large bowl beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – don’t skimp on this stage as this is where the air is added.  Your mixture should look like over-whipped cream before you stop.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.  If the mixture looks like it might curdle add some of the flour.
Fold in the flour, cocoa and baking powder.

Fold in the milk.

Spoon into the two prepared tins, as evenly as possible (I do it by eye but you can weigh it if you wish to be more precise) and level the surfaces.

Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tins until you can safely de-tin; then leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

You can keep the sponges in an airtight container for a day or two before building the finished cake.

Now make the filling: Let the melted chocolate cool a little, but not so much it sets again.  I like to melt small quantities of chocolate like this in a microwave, giving short 20 second bursts – but a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water works just as well.

Whisk the butter, on its own, until it is white and fluffy – looking like whipped cream almost.

Add the cocoa, icing sugar and melted chocolate and whisk until well combined and the mixture resembles a thick mousse.

Place one of the sponges, flat side up, on the serving plate and spread half the filling over it.

Place the other sponge, flat side down, on top and press gently to make a good seal.

Spread the remaining filling on top and spread over.

Decorate as required.

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


Sunday, 22 July 2012

Pink praline tarts

How pretty are these tarts?  I don’t think I have ever baked anything so pink!  Pink pralines are a French speciality – particularly in Lyons – and are basically an almond with a pink sugary shell.  Broken up and cooked with cream they form an almond flavoured caramel that is thick but not sticky or heavy.

A French recipe seemed an appropriate bake for the closing weekend of the Tour de France and, as an Englishman –Bradley Wiggins, has won it for the first time (Go Wiggo!) I couldn’t let it go without some sort of commemoration.

I couldn’t find pink pralines in any of my local shops so ordered mine online from MSK . The downside is that they only sell them in 500g quantities, and they cost £20.  I chose the whole, rather than crushed, as I figured that it gave me more options i.e. I could crush them (and control how crushed they were!), or use them whole.  I realise that they’re expensive but they do have a very long ‘best before’ date so you have time to use them in many different recipes.

Perhaps the fact they are sold in 500g tubs was a blessing because I got through a fair few “testing” that they were ok.  I need to test most foodstuffs, but I find that anything sweet needs the most testing.   What can I say?  I care about the welfare of my eaters!  Here are the pralines at the start of cooking:

Here they are at the end of the cooking time:

I followed Eric Lanlard’s recipe given in his latest book “Tart it Up!". I love Eric Lanlard for his unfussy, unpretentious presentation of sophisticated patisserie.  So many pink praline tart recipes call for precise thermometer readings, but his recipe simplified the process and worked brilliantly.  The only change I made was to leave out the additional sugar in the tart filling as I feared it might be a sweet overload.

The only other tweak I made was to serve the tarts with thick cream, rather than Eric’s suggestion of crème fraiche.  Call me a peasant, but I have never understood how crème fraiche adds anything but unpleasantness when added to a dessert.  I get the whole idea of balancing flavours, evening out sweet with sharp but crème fraiche??? Bleugh.  It’s up there with mint leaves on my ‘hate’ list.


For the pastry:
300g plain flour
4 tablespoons golden caster sugar
200g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge, chopped into cubes
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
275g pink pralines, plus extra for decoration
225ml single cream


Start by making the pastry: place the flour, sugar and butter into the food processor and blitz until you have fine breadcrumbs. If you prefer, you can make the pastry by hand using the rubbing in method, also until you have breadcrumbs.

Add the egg yolks, water and vanilla and pulse the food processor until the pastry just starts to form a ball.  If you are making it by hand, use your fingertips to incorporate the wet ingredients.

Tip out the pastry and handle just enough to bring together into a ball.

Cut in half and form each half into a fat disc.

Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

This recipe will make 7 individual tarts using shallow tart tins approximately 8-10cm across (mine were 10cm measured across the top, 8cm measured across the bottom).

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

Roll one of the discs of pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm – you’re aiming for about 0.5cm thick.  I found the pastry particularly soft and buttery so dusted the clingfilm with a little extra flour.

Cut the pastry into three pieces (cut it like the Mercedes logo!) and line three of the tart tins – leave a small overhang and cut off any excess.

Use the second disc of pastry to line a further three tins, and then re-roll the offcuts from both to line the seventh tin.

Gently prick the base with a fork before pressing some tin foil onto the pastry – you can use baking beans if you wish but for small cases I find it unnecessary.

Place the tins on a baking sheet (or two) and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake for a further 5-10 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked.  There will be no further baking so the pastry must be cooked through.

Leave the pastry cases to cool.

When cool, trim off any excess pastry.

Now make the filling: place the pink pralines in a thick plastic bag and bash with a saucepan to crush them.  Recipes vary as to how far you should crush them, but as the pink praline shell melts when heated, it’s really just about how big a piece of nut you want in your tart.  I kept them quite chunky.

Place the crushed pralines in a saucepan along with the cream and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Ladle the mixture into the prepared pastry cases and leave to cool before refrigerating until you wish to serve.

Before serving, decorate with further pink pralines, if you wish.

Serve with thick spooning cream.

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


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Immortalised in last!

As many of you will already know, there is a great new cake blogger on the scene called Cakeyboi.

Alongside all his lovely bakes (seriously, lovely bakes – check them out!) he’s also a pretty awesome artist.  Being as vain as I am, when he emailed me asking if he could do a Caked Crusader cartoon I was hardly going to say no!

Here is his latest masterpiece...of moi.  I still can’t decide which I like more – the whisk or the cupcake symbol beamed into the sky to tell me that someone, somewhere needs cake.  Love it!  

Thanks Cakeyboi!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Chocolate and stout cupcakes


I don’t like drinking beer of any kind, but I am rather partial to baking with beer, particularly with chocolate.  This recipe uses stout and adds a rich depth to the chocolate – you wouldn’t know it was stout but you’d know something extra was there.  I say this to ease the minds of fellow beer-haters!

Like many women, I am an emotional shopper and rather than go for the obvious choice of Guinness, my eye was drawn to the beautiful bottle of March of the Penguins stout, made by a microbrewer (Williams Bros BrewingCo) in Alloa, Scotland.  What can I say?  Who could resist the penguins?

The frosting for these cupcakes is incredibly simple – just two ingredients – but works perfectly in flavour and texture.  The dark, rich, moist cupcakes carry the light whippy frosting perfectly.  The frosting needs nothing else, not even vanilla...and how often do I say that?  (Answer: never!  Except for today!)

I know I’m banging on about frosting a lot lately, but I’ve been trying different things; I wouldn’t exactly say I am bored with buttercream but it’s nice to discover all the alternatives out there.  This one is heavenly – like a softer, creamier ice cream.

The dark, rich cupcake topped with the creamy white frosting resembles a glass of stout...but with lots of chocolaty sugary goodness thus better!

On an unrelated note, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Lakeland
 Christmas preview this week.  Wow!  And if I can just repeat: wow!  I am saving up my pennies already as I saw so many things I will be buying.  In the style of the Generation Game conveyor belt memory test bit, here are some of the things I want: speech bubble cookie cutters, topsy turvy cake pans, Christmas pudding plate, bowl and jug, slender rolling pins with Christmas designs on them so that when you roll out the icing it embosses it, cute little ice cream bowls and matching spoons, cheese making equipment, giant biscuit cutters in the shape of Christmas baubles with little cut out panels, Russian doll salt and pepper set...and did I mention the awesome, yet affordable, copper pans?  I am going to have to be a very good little girl right up until Christmas for Father Christmas to deem me worthy of all those goodies!


For the cupcakes:

250g soft brown sugar
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
150g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
205ml stout – I used March of the Penguins, but Guinness or Mackeson would also be perfect
50g cocoa powder

For the frosting:

500g mascarpone cheese
100g icing sugar
To decorate: chocolate sprinkles or a dusting of cocoa powder


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

Line a cupcake pan with 12 paper cases – use deep cupcake or muffin cases rather than shallow fairy cake cases.

Place the sugar and butter in a bowl and beat together until fluffy and light.

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

Measure out the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

In a jug, measure out the stout and stir in the cocoa powder.  NB. Let the head on the stout settle before you take your final reading of the measurement - you will need to top it up in the jug as it settles.

Pour some of the stout mixture into the batter and beat.

Add a couple of tablespoons of the flour mix and beat.

Continue until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the paper cases and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the batter comes out clean.  Sadly, I can’t tell you how long mine took as I forgot to set an oven timer....doh!

Leave to cool on a wire rack, and remove from the cupcake pan as soon as you can safely handle the cakes.

When the cakes are cool you can make the frosting (you can also make the cakes a day before frosting if you wish): Place the mascarpone in a bowl and beat to soften.

Gradually beat in the icing sugar.

Spoon onto the cupcakes and spread, or pipe if you prefer (I piped).

Decorate with either chocolate sprinkles or cocoa powder.

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


Saturday, 7 July 2012

Blackberry cupcakes

Blackberries work so well in baking, as do most berries.  They have a strong flavour and I love it when they break down during cooking and ooze their colourful juice into the sponge batter.

I was drawn to this recipe for two reasons: firstly, the unusual (to me) sponge recipe and secondly, for the buttercream using more cream than butter.  It sounded light and whippy and delicious...and oh how it was!

These are big cupcakes so don’t expect a dainty bite; personally, that doesn’t present a problem! The yoghurt added a tang to the sponge which I really liked; it worked so well with the blackberries.

The buttercream, if I can call it that when it contains so little butter, is a revelation – so light and soft.  It melts in your mouth like ice cream leaving behind an aromatic hint of vanilla creaminess.  When I made it and tasted it I was disappointed as it was very sweet, however when eaten with the cake it is perfect.

The other odd thing about this buttercream is that it’s a man pleaser...every single man who tried it said (without knowing the other men had said it) how much they preferred it to the more usual buttercream.  I guess men really are a different species!


For the cupcakes:
225g self raising flour
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
100ml plain yoghurt
175g unsalted butter – melted
150g blackberries

For the buttercream:
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100ml double cream, plus extra if needed
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
350g icing sugar
12 blackberries


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

Line a 12 hole cupcake pan with paper cases.

Mix together the flour and caster sugar in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and yoghurt (I used the bowl on my scales to cut down on washing up!)

Pour the eggs and yoghurt, along with the melted butter, into the dry mix and stir together.  Don’t over work it.

Stir in the blackberries – it’s best if some break up and ooze their juice.

Spoon into the paper cases.  Don’t panic that the cases look full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes (they will need this long – they are big cakes), or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Mine took almost 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin.

When cool enough to safely handle, de-tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Now make the buttercream: beat the butter until soft and whippy.

Beat in the cream and vanilla.

Sift in the icing sugar and beat until smooth.

If the icing is too thick, add more cream – a tablespoon at a time.

Spoon into a piping bag (if it’s a bit soft refrigerate for 5 minutes or so) and pipe generous swirls on top of each cake.

Place a blackberry on the top of each cake.

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


Sunday, 1 July 2012

Coconut and raspberry set cheesecake

My default cheesecake recipe is a no-faff, no bake recipe but this set cheesecake (set with gelatine) caught my eye because of my love of coconut and raspberry.

I panicked at how runny the cheesecake was, and it certainly adds tension when you pour it over the base and wait to see if your biscuit base is water-tight enough to contain it, but the gelatine then does its work resulting in a lovely soft set, summery cheesecake.  The texture is lighter than any cheesecake I’ve had – almost a hybrid of mousse and marshmallow but with the unmistakable tang of cheesecake.

The addition of golden syrup gave an almost flapjacky vibe to the base.  I used hobnobs but any plain biscuit such as a shortbread, digestive, rich tea etc would work.  I just like the oatiness of a hobnob!

 ng coconut milk in the body of the cheesecake gives a delicate, almost perfumed whisp of coconut to the taste – I liked it very much.  It wasn’t how I’m used to coconut, which is usually desiccated coconut in a cake or biscuit – this was far more aromatic.

As I made this recipe I realised that whenever anything requires cream cheese I default to Philadelphia.  Does everybody do that or am I being unambitious?


For the base:
250g biscuits – I used plain hobnobs
100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup

For the topping:
4 leaves gelatine, immersed in a bowl of cold water
400ml double cream
400g cream cheese – I used Philadelphia
400ml coconut milk
200g icing sugar
400g raspberries – washed and dried
1 tablespoon desiccated coconut


Place either the ring from a 20cm round springform tin or an adjustable dessert ring on the plate you’ll server the cheesecake from. Wrap the ring in either clingfilm or greaseproof paper to ensure that you can free the cheesecake easily.  Alternatively, you can make this in a 30cm x 20cm traybake tin.
Break the biscuits into crumbs – either in a food processor or with the bag and rolling pin method (i.e. place biscuits in a bag. Secure end. Bash with rolling pin)
If using the food processor method add the butter and golden syrup to the crumbs and pulse it until the butter is distributed. If using the bag method, melt the butter and syrup and stir in.
Use the crumbs to line the base of the cheesecake. Press them down onto the plate but not so hard that you create biscuity concrete!  Take care to go right to the edge of the ring to make a seal – the cheesecake mix is very runny and you don’t want it to leak.
Refrigerate while making the cheesecake.
Pour 100ml of the double cream into a saucepan and heat until almost boiling.
Meanwhile, put the cream cheese, the remaining 300ml of the double cream, coconut milk and icing sugar into a bowl and beat until thick and smooth.  In truth, mine never got thicker than very lightly whipped cream – it certainly wouldn’t hold a shape.
Take the cream off the heat and, after squeezing all the water from the gelatine leaves, whisk them into the hot cream.
Tip the cream/gelatine mixture into the cream cheese mixture and whisk thoroughly – again, mine didn’t thicken all that much.
Add half the raspberries to the mix and whisk again – you want the raspberries to break down and turn the mix a light pink.
Pour the mixture over the biscuit base – pour a little at first just to make sure you have no leaks, then the rest.  NB. If you do spot a little creaminess oozing out (I did) just place some kitchen towel against the outside of the mould – the chill of the fridge will stop it pretty quickly.
Scatter the remaining raspberries over the cheesecake mix (as mine was so runny they sunk!)
Scatter the desiccated coconut over the top.
Refrigerate overnight
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.