Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Carrot and cream cheese cupcakes


Tonight is Samhain – or to use it’s more common name nowadays – Halloween.  The night marks a time when the "door" to the Otherworld opens enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world.  Spooky, eh?

With all these souls of the dead turning up unannounced, the chances are you’ll need some cake to placate them.  What better than some spicy carrot cupcakes with lusciously thick cream cheese frosting?

Unlike many carrot cakes this one doesn’t contain nuts or dried fruit, resulting in a lighter than air sponge.  It was difficult to cut for a photo because the sponge just crumbled into fat juicy crumbs.  I rather like the witch who has decided to embed herself in the frosting – she looks ever so comfortable!

I’m not really one for Halloween and the commercialisation thereof, but when I saw the most beautifully round, unblemished little pumpkin in my local supermarket – for just £1 – I knew I had to have it.  I would rather eat my own feet than pumpkin so the only option was to turn my perfect pumpkin into a little personality.  So here we are – my first ever attempt at pumpkin carving.  Try as I might, I just couldn’t get him to look evil – there are happy pumpkins, surely? 


For the cupcakes:
175g muscovado sugar
100g wholemeal self raising flour
100g self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 orange – zest
150ml sunflower or any flavourless cooking oil – I used light olive oil (for baking and roasting)
2 eggs
200g carrots – grated (about 2 normal sized carrots)
1 tablespoon orange juice

For the frosting:
100g unsalted butter – at room temperature
300g cream cheese – at room temperature (I used Philly)
100g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To decorate: Sprinkles of your choice


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 sugar, flours, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and orange zest.

In a jug, measure out the oil and then add the eggs; whisk lightly so they are combined.

Stir the oil into the dry mixture.

Stir in the grated carrot and orange juice.

Spoon into the paper cases – take care to be neat; it’s tricky to spoon because of the carrot – the mix will want to slide off the spoon!

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Now make the frosting: beat the butter until it is soft and whippy.

Beat in the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla.

Spoon onto the cupcakes in generous dollops.  This isn’t a frosting to do fancy piping with!

Decorate as desired – I used witch, spider and bat sprinkles.

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


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Caramel cake with pumpkin seed brittle

When I saw this recipe in Olive magazine I knew I had to make it – partly because it used yoghurt and caramel, two of my favourite ingredients; but mostly because of the pumpkin seed brittle.  This is as close to a Samhain (or Halloween, if you must!) bake as I’ll get...because I hate pumpkin.

There.  I’ve said it.  I hate pumpkin.  I’ve tried it in sweet dishes and I’ve tried it in savoury and just don’t get it.  The texture is icky, the flavour is icky.  Bleugh.  I’ve had it cooked by Americans who have grown up on the stuff and love it and watched their happy faces fall as they realise they’re not going to convert me!   Of course, it doesn’t help me that it’s a squash – one of the worst nights of my life came about from a violent reaction (no – not of the ‘bathroom’ kind!) to an onion squash soup I’d made...but let’s save that story for another day. 

Pumpkin seeds however, I quite like (even though their ultimate purpose is to create more pumpkins) and adding some crunch to an otherwise soft and squidgy cake worked really well.  The caramel buttercream is so light and flavoursome – I’m already thinking of it on a cupcake....

My decoration of rice paper spiders added a festive twist but not too over the top.  I saved some to sprinkle on each slice so it looked like they were walking over the cake:

Whether you’re celebrating Samhain or Halloween – have a good one!


For the sponge:
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 eggs
300g self raising flour
75g Greek yoghurt
2-3 tablespoons milk

For the brittle:
200g golden caster sugar
50g pumpkin seeds

For the buttercream:
160g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g icing sugar
4 tablespoons Carnation caramel (or dulce de leche if you have it) – you will need a further 4 tablespoons when you ‘build’ the cake


Preheat the oven to 160°C/ fan oven 140°C/320°F/gas mark 3.

Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.  If you prefer, use two 20cm loose bottomed sandwich sponge tins – you need the cake in two pieces so why not make it easier and avoid having to cut the cake!

Start by making the sponge: beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Don’t skimp on this and only move on when the mix looks whippy and light.

Beat in the vanilla.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by a tablespoon of flour after each egg.

Beat in the yoghurt.

Fold in the remaining flour, and the milk.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Baking the cakes in two sandwich tins will take approximately 50 minutes to an hour.

Place the cake – still in its tins – on a wire rack and leave to cool, removing the tin when it is cool enough to safely do so.

The cake can be made a day in advance if you store it overnight in an airtight container.

On the day you wish to serve the cake, start by making the brittle: line a baking sheet with non stick foil or baking paper.

Put the sugar in a pan (ideally one with a silver coloured liner as its easier to monitor the change in colour) and melt over a medium heat.  Swirl the pan occasionally but don’t stir – this may make the sugar crystallise.

When the melted sugar is golden brown add the pumpkin seeds – don’t panic if some make a cracking noise!  It sounded like fireworks going off and Mr CC came running in from another room fearing I was in peril....awww, what a guy!

Pour the sugar onto the prepared baking sheet – TAKE CARE because it will be dangerously hot!  Use a palette knife or heatproof spatula to spread the sugar thinly.  Work quickly as it will set surprisingly fast.

Put to one side to cool and set.

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

Gradually beat in the icing sugar followed by four tablespoons of the caramel.

Cut the cake in half, horizontally (if you baked it in one tin).

Place the bottom half on the serving plate and spread half of the buttercream over it.

Drizzle two of the remaining four tablespoons of caramel over the buttercream.  I tried to avoid going too close to the edge as I didn’t want it to leak out and look messy.

Put the top half of the cake onto the buttercream and gently press down.

Spread the remaining buttercream on top, and drizzle over the remaining two tablespoons of caramel.

Break the brittle into shards, and use to decorate the top of the cake.

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


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Famous Faces’ Favourite Fancies - Chocolate and ginger tiffin


If you’ve turned on the television before 9.30am at any point in time since 1984, the chances are you will have come across LorraineKelly.  I did an almost comic double take when I read that – 1984!  Lorraine Kelly has been getting up before the crack of dawn for 28 years to present live breakfast telly...and somehow looks younger now than when she started!

Fast approaching national treasure status (if not indeed already there) and famed for her infectious giggle, what I love about Lorraine is her ability to do funny and serious with equal success and her warmth – something that is often lacking in television.  Of course, the fact that she selected her favourite fancy as anything including chocolate and ginger didn’t hurt either...a woman after my own heart!

I chose a no-bake tiffin as it seemed the best of all worlds – biscuity, fruity, nutty, gingery and chocolaty.  I think that’s enough of words ending in ‘y’!  I mixed milk and dark chocolate for the topping but you can use whichever blend you choose.  Here it is before the chocolate:

The chocolate sets nice and thickly on the top and requires a satisfying amount of pressure to bite through it, at which point you are rewarded with a biscuity mixture of fruit and nuts.  Using ginger nut biscuits adds an extra punch of flavour but you could use plainer biscuits if you preferred.  You have to love something that you can leave a set of teeth marks in:


For the base:
225g ginger nut biscuits
125g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
25g cocoa powder
80g raisins
75g toasted flaked almonds

For the topping:
200g chocolate – I used half dark, half milk, but you can use all dark or all milk if you prefer


Have ready a 20cm x 13cm disposable foil tin.  I bought mine in the local supermarket – there were three in the pack and it came with a cardboard lid.

Crush the ginger nut biscuits in the food processor or using a bag and a rolling pin.  If using the processor, pulse, because you want a mixture of crumbs and lumps of biscuit – don’t treat it like you’re making a biscuit base for a cheesecake.

Place the butter and golden syrup in a large saucepan and melt together, stirring occasionally so that the mixture doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan.

NB. When weighing out the flaked almonds give them a squeeze in your clenched hand to crush them a little – it will make the finished tiffin easier to cut.

Tip the biscuits into the melted butter along with the cocoa, raisins and almonds.

Stir until well combined then press into the foil tray.  Press down so the mixture feels compact.

Cover and refrigerate.

When cold and hard, make the topping: melt the chocolate either in short bursts in the microwave (my preferred method) or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water – take care that the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Pour the melted chocolate over the set base and spread to ensure an even covering.
Leave to set (no need to refrigerate but it won’t do it any harm – just might take the gloss off the chocolate).

Cut into bars and enjoy with a cup of tea.

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


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Orange sponge with curd filling

I love a fair, I truly do!  This weekend Mr CC and I visited a fair with many craft and cottage industry type stalls; one of my favourite stalls was run by a Hertfordshire bee keeper selling their honey.  They even bought along some bees for us to meet!  They also made honey curds.  Yes – honey curd!  Chatting to the lady who made the curd, she explained it was a classic curd recipe but she simply replaced the sugar with honey.  Here’s my classic curd recipe  I shall be adapting to make honey curd in the future.   Yes, there is some curd missing from the pot in the photo – Mr CC snaffled some to have on bread before I used it all up for this cake!

I purchased a pot of honey and lime curd and – oh my – it was heaven!  The first hit was thick, rich honey and then the lime cut in with a light sharpness.  I instantly ditched the recipe I was going to bake this week and picked an orange sponge which I suspected would work with the curd perfectly.

The orange sponge gets its intense flavour purely from orange zest.  I know!  Me using the hated peel!  But I did, for I have made a discovery.  I don’t mind zest if it’s so fine it has no texture in the baked sponge.  Step forward Lakeland with their awesome ceramic grater for zest.  Seriously – look at how fine it grates!  It’s finer than strands of saffron:

Now, it must seem like I bang on about Lakeland a lot – truth be told, if they set up a cult I’d probably be an early follower!  I sometimes think it would just be cheaper to do a Victor Kiam and buy the company (now there’s a reference for all of you who enjoyed TV adverts in the 80s!).  But, I must stress that I bought it (the grater, not Lakeland) – it’s not a product plug and I don’t have an advertising deal with them! 

Tempting though it was to make buttercream and beat the curd into it, I decided to keep it very pure and use the curd on its own.  The curd had a pleasingly citrus edge to it and I didn’t want to dilute that and lose its punch.  I topped the cake with an orange glace icing which added good flavour and texture.

For a cake designed and created on the hoof, I’m rather proud of this one – it’s fresh, zingy, light and beautiful.  I’m looking out the window and seeing grey skies and Autumn; I’m looking at my plate and seeing sunshine and Summer.  What more could one ask for? 


For the sponge:
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self raising flour
Finely grated zest of 1 orange

For the glace:
100g icing sugar
1-2 tablespoon fresh orange juice

For the curd filling:
I bought the curd for the filling.  Next time I will make the honey curd adapting my trusted curd recipe by swapping the sugar for honey.


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

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

Start with the sponges: beat together the butter and sugar until paler and fluffier.  Because of the ratios, you won’t get a very whipped mix but you will notice it turn paler.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little of the flour should the mixture start to curdle.

Fold in the remaining flour and grated zest.

Spoon evenly into the prepared tins and level the surface.

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean.  Mine took 30 minutes.  Don’t panic as the cakes don’t turn particularly golden.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, removing the sponges from the tins when they are cool enough to safely handle.

When you wish to build the cake, cut each sponge through horizontally so you end up with four layers.

Place a layer on the plate you will be serving the cake.

Spread 2 tablespoons of curd over the sponge and place a disc of sponge on top.

Repeat until you put the top disc of sponge in place.

Now make the glace: place the icing sugar in a bowl and beat in one tablespoon of fresh orange juice.

Add more orange juice if required – I needed an extra ½ tablespoon.  Don’t add too much – if it’s too runny it won’t set on top of the cake.

Spoon onto the centre of the cake and let it spread out at its own pace.  It’s nice if a little runs down the side.

Serve in thick slices with a mug of tea!

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


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Golden syrup ginger cake

There’s something about the onset of Autumn that just makes me want spice, syrup and this cake was the perfect choice for me! 

As soon as I made the batter I thought ‘this is far too runny to support the sultanas during baking’ and I was right.  The sultanas sank – even dusting them in flour couldn’t save them.  Personally, I didn’t care; my logic is that sunken sultanas are better than no sultanas but I think next time I might hold the sultanas back till the end and scatter them over the batter hoping that the sponge will start to firm before they can reach the bottom.

I served this as a cake with a cup of tea, but it would also be heaven warm with custard for dessert.  It’s a joyously sticky cake – best eaten with a fork!  At first it’s all about the golden syrup then the ginger burns through and you get that heavenly warming sensation in your mouth – I love ginger!

Chop the stem ginger as finely as you can – I used a mini processor because, as with peel, I find lumps of ginger an unpleasant texture to encounter in a cake.  Also, as with my note on the sultanas above, this is a runny batter and won’t support large inclusions.

I must end with a comment regarding the texture of this cake – it’s amazingly light.  It has the airy sponginess you only normally get from a steamed sponge pudding.  Of course, this means you can eat a much bigger slice.....


200g golden syrup
2 tablespoons ginger syrup from the stem ginger jar
110g unsalted butter
50g (approx 3 balls) stem ginger – chopped as finely as possible
130g sultanas
110g muscovado sugar – I used half light, half dark
250g self raising flour
3 teaspoons ground ginger – I like it hot, use 2 teaspoons if you don’t!
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
250ml milk – I used full fat (normally I use semi-skimmed, but I had some full fat to use up)


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

Line a 20cm round springform tin with a paper liner.  The batter is very runny so make sure you line the tin well.

Place the syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a sauce pan and melt over a very low heat; stir occasionally to ensure it combines.

Add the chopped ginger, sultanas and sugar and continue to heat until melted and combined.  Don’t let it boil at all.  Turn off the heat and put to one side.

In a large mixing bowl mix together the flour, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda.

Stir the contents of the saucepan into the flour.

Gradually stir in the eggs and milk.

Don’t panic – the mix is runny.  But, make sure you bring the dry ingredients up from the bottom of the bowl as the batter is resistant to mixing!

Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Mine took a bit longer – just over 40 minutes.

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

Store in an airtight container – the cake keeps well for days...actually it improves with age.

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