Poppies for Remembrance

16 Nov

Every year my school commemorates past conflicts on Remembrance Day by inviting “Old Boys” to join our pupils in a service of remembrance, after which they enjoy tea and cake – hosted by me. I confess this is one of my favourite events in the school calendar. It is so lovely chatting to the old chaps, and so delightful seeing them interact with our young boys and girls.

For this year’s tea I decided to make a large chocolate cake decorated as a wreath of poppies. It took much of the weekend before the big day to roll out the red sugar paste and cut the flowers, but ably assisted by my sister Jenny, we managed to create dozens of poppies – enough for one large cake as well as two dozen cup cakes.

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To get the poppy shape I overlaid two four-petal flowers, then used a slice of licorice to make the black centre. A little green sugar paste was also rolled to make a few leaves – these were cut free-hand to give the cake a fairly “natural” appearance.

I iced the cake with a vanilla butter cream in rose-like swirls, then started to apply the poppies.

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Here’s a close up of the poppies.

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The finished cupcakes and the large chocolate wreath cake .

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I was very happy with my finished cake…

 

 

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…and so were our guests ūüôā

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Let them eat…JAM!

28 Oct

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I’ve been very busy in the kitchen this past month, not only baking but making jams, jellies and chutneys too.¬†

The crab apple trees have been laden with fruit and as a result I have been bottling crab apple jelly most weekends. The apple and pear trees have also had a really good season and so we have a cupboard full of chutneys too. 

However, it seemed like a good idea to try something a little different with all the cooking apples, as I was running out of ways to use them. Apple strudel, apple crumble, apple pie… mind you, the family have been quite happy about it!¬†

Some internet research led me to a Victorian recipe for spiced apple jam. I made up a batch and the results have been most impressive, so here is the recipe. I’m sure you’ll love it too.

3 kg sharp cooking apples (you’ll have about 2.7 kg by the time you’ve cleaned them up)
1.5 to 2 litres water
2 kg granulated sugar
Grated rind and juice of 3 unwaxed lemons
1 large cinnamon stick
a handful of cloves

METHOD

  1. Wash the apples and remove the stalks and cores,  then roughly chop them up. No need to peel.
  2. Pour over enough water to just cover the fruit.
  3. Add the lemon juice and grated rind, along with the cinnamon stick and cloves.
  4. Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the fruit has broken down and become soft and pulpy.
  5. Press the pulp through a sieve and return the sieved pulp to the clean jam pan.
  6. Now add the sugar to the sieved pulp.
  7. Bring it gently to the boil, stirring all the time, to dissolve the sugar.
  8. Allow it to reach a rolling boil, and continue to boil until  it reaches 105 C, boiling rapidly for at least ten minutes.
  9. Test for setting on a cold plate – a little jam dropped on the plate should crinkle when pushed with a wooden spoon, and feel set fairly quickly. Continue to boil if not yet at setting point.
  10. When setting point is reached pour immediately into hot, sterilised jars. 

 

Bugby

29 Sep

My elder son has recently bought his first car. Soon after getting it home, his friend noticed the letters B and U and G in the number plate and so the little car has been named Bugby. It seemed appropriate that I mad a car themed cake for his birthday and so the challenge of the month was a Bugby cake. I first thought about sculpting the car shape from a number of square and rectangular cakes, but then I discovered a car-shaped mold on the internet and decided that it was worth the investment. It’s a great little cake tin and I think I’ll get a lot of use from it.

I made a bog standard beat and mix chocolate cake, my usual recipe which is always so successful. The first attempt however was a disaster. Despite greasing and spraying the tin, the cake refused to come out. It sat in the tin, clinging on to the sides until as a last resort I scraped it out with a spoon and ended up using the chucks as the base of a trifle..

It wasn’t just the car cake that was a disaster. I’d also made a round chocolate cake as we were expecting quite ¬†a few guests, and as it was cooling, one foot of the cooling rack slipped off the kitchen counter and the entire cake slid, n slow motion, onto the floor…..

There was nothing I could do but start all over again and pretend it hadn’t happened. Car cake round 2 worked perfectly.

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Turned out beautifully! I used a little warm apricot jam to “glue” some pieces of foil into place to represent windows.

 
20130906_215624I used blue colouring to tint the butter cream and then piped rosettes onto the cake, covering every section except the tyres and the windows.

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Red gel icing for the tail lights and a little card “number plate”.

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A little gel icing for the head lights too…

20130906_222610I added some cocoa to a little plain butter cream for the tyres and for the hubcaps I used “Flying Saucers”. Yum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here I am with the finished product ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

Romany Cream Tribute Biscuits

28 Aug

Any ex-pat South African in England will tell you that the sweets, the chocolates, the crisps (chips!) and the bubblegum are all so much better back there, out in the old country. Whether true or not is not for me to say. Nostalgia plays games with our taste buds, but I have to admit that Simba chips (never call them crisps – please!) Chappies bubblegum and Peppermint crisp chocolate bars have always been. to my mind (and tongue) unbeatable. And Tex bars, oh my! And Wicks. And Milo bars. And…and….the list goes on.

However, the pinnacle of Saffrican yumminess is the biscuits. The sort you buy in packets from the corner shop. I have fond memories of Lemon Creams, those square-shaped biscuits between which was sandwiched a layer of tart, lemony goodness. The trick was to pull the two halves apart, scrape off the bright yellow cream and eat that first, before dunking the biscuit squares into a cup of tea or coffee.

Up there on the Olympus of bought biscuits, however, is the Romany Cream. Why Romany? I have no idea and I’m sure whoever named them originally had no idea either as I can’t quite fathom the connection between chocolate, coconut and gypsies. But who cares when the combination is so delicious and so more-ish.

It’s possible to get Romany Creams here in England and occasionally I treat myself to a pack from my excellent local supplier of South African goodies. But the challenge was to make my own. Or at least something a bit like them. So here we are…Romany Cream Tribute Biscuits.

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INGREDIENTS

60 g pure cocoa
60 g drinking chocolate ( I used Nesquik)
110 ml boiling water
180 g softened butter
180 g self raising flour
180 g caster sugar
i teaspoon Baking Powder
pinch of salt
110 g desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla

FILLING

100 g plain chocolate – 70 % cocoa solids
30 g softened butter
10 g drinking chocolate

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C and line at least four large oven trays with baking paper.
  2. Dissolve the cocoa and drinking chocolate in the boiling water. Stir until the mixture is smooth a thick and leave to cool.
  3. Cream the butter and caster sugar and pale and light.
  4. Add the sifted dry ingredients and beat to combine.
  5. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and continue beating. (I used the food processor for this but will probably use the large Kenwood mixer and  K beater next time)
  6. Stir in the vanilla and coconut and combine thoroughly. Use a wooden spoon at this point as the mixture is dense and heavy. My food processor found it difficult to cope.
  7. Dip your hands in cool water and shake off the excess. Use your damp hands to shape small balls of mixture and flatten to approximate oval shapes using the back of a fork.

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Be sure to spread them out quite a bit as they will spread when they bake.

Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for 12 – 15 minutes then leave to cool on a cooling rack while you make the filling.

 

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The finished biscuits are then sandwiched together with the cream filling. They were a lot less crunchy than the real thing (I may have to let them bake a little longer next time) but I think they tasted just like the Romany Creams of my dreams. Richly chocolatey and cocnutty too. Bliss.

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A Gluten-free Cake for my Cuz :-)

15 May

When my¬†lovely¬† cousin comes to visit my attention turns to flourless cakes as she is unable to eat gluten. Having previously made a gluten free lemon cake (using polenta) I was more than happy to find this recipe for an almond and orange cake. Citrus flavours are just so yum! This is not my own recipe – it comes from a rather wonderful book called “Polpo” which features recipes from Venice.

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INGREDIENTS

2 large oranges
100 g brown sugar
400 g caster sugar
6 medium free range eggs
250 g ground almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
zest and juice of one orange

METHOD

Preheat the oven t 180 C and grease and line a large round springform tin.

  1. Plcae the two oranges, unpeeled, in a large pan of water and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for two hours then remove the oranges and leave to cool. Reserve the liquid. (I did this the evening before I made the cake)
  2. Place the brown sugar and 200 g of the caster sugar in a food processor and break in the eggs. Whizz until creamy and fluffy.
  3. Cut the cooled ranges into rough chunks, remove the pips but not the skin, then add them to the food processor and continue to whizz until smooth.
  4. Add the ground almonds and the baking powder and whizz to combine.
  5. Pour the smooth mixture into the prepared ti and bake for 1 – 11/2 hours until golden and risen, Test with a skewer in the centre of the cake to see if it is done.
  6. While the cake cools, mix the remaining 200 g of caster sugar with the juice and rind on the third orange and pour over the cake.

A delicious cake with coffee, enjoyed by one and all! Cin cin Cuz!

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Pecan and Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies!

6 May

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OH WOW! Talk about overkill. These awesomely gorgeous brownies are the cover stars on this month’s Sainsbury’s magazine and I couldn’t wait to have a go at making them. Unfortunately I didn’t have any white chocolate – a crucial ingredient! – so I¬†decided¬†to make up the weight with pecan nuts instead. This added a delicious crunch to these moistly decadent brownies. So here’s the original recipe with my variations alongside

INGREDIENTS

100g very dark chocolate
100g soft butter
200g light muscovado sugar (I used 100g with another 100g dark brown sugar)
2 large eggs lightly beaten
100g plain flour
100g white chocolate, roughly chopped (I used 100g roughly chopped pecans)
150g raspberries

For the cheesecake mixture

1 large egg
200g cream cheese
50g granulated sugar (I used golden caster sugar – I just prefer it)
1 tablespoon plain flour

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line an 18cm square cake tin. (I used a smallish rectangular brownie tin)
  2. Melt the dark chocolate over barely simmering water or in the microwave and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer. Add the eggs a little at a time and continue mixing. Add the flour and the melted chocolate and beat gently to combine.
  4. Fold in the chopped white chocolate (or, if you;re me, the pecans!) and 125g of the raspberries.
  5. In a large bowl place all the cheesecake ingredients and whisk together.
  6. Now spoon out half of the brownie mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly.
  7. Add half the cheesecake mixture to the brownie base in blobs. gently swirl together using a skewer.
  8. Spread over the remaining brownie mixture, then swirl in the rest of the cheesecake mixture.
  9. Bake the brownies for 50 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin before cutting into squares. Decorate with the remaining raspberries.

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This recipe is from the May 2013 edition of the Sainsbury’s magazine and is not my original idea.

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Biscotti

13 Apr

Mmmmm Biscotti. So divinely delicious and so simple to make. And guaranteed to win loads of praise from non-baking friends who won’t believe something this fabulous is so easy to rustle up. With a spare hour or two and some very basic store cupboard ingredients, you’ll be able to produce¬†Biscotti¬†as pretty as the sort they sell for a fortune in the shops.

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First of all a little¬†history¬†lesson. These Italian biscuits take their name from “biscotto” which¬†literally¬†means to bake twice. Because that’s exactly what you do – you bake them twice. Dried out biscuits such as these were used by the Ancient Romans because they stayed crunchy and tasty for a long time, and can be enjoyed dunked in a little wine or coffee. If it was good enough for the Ancient Romans, well then it’s good enough for me.

My version is quite¬†chocolatey (of course) with the added crunch of walnuts and pecans. Actually you can use any nuts you like – pistachios are particularly good – but as I didn’t have enough of either I used a combination.

Preheat the oven to 160 C

Line two baking sheets with non-stick baking paper or silicone sheets

INGREDIENTS

250 g plain flour
250 g caster sugar
half teaspoon baking powder
1 heaped tablespoon cocoa powder
3 medium eggs, beaten
50 g plain chocolate chips
50 g mixed walnuts/pecans or almonds or pistachios

METHOD

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl.

20130412_160347Work through with your fingertips to break up lumps in the sugar.

Now pour in the beaten egg, a little at a time, and mix together until you have a really stiff dough.

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Add the chocolate chips and the nuts and mix through thoroughly.

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It will be quite stiff and dry and bitty – don’t worry, that’s fine.

Divide the dough into four and shape into sausage shapes on a floured surface.

Place these on the baking sheets.

Pop them in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.

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Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about fifteen minutes.

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Now they are cool enough to handle. Using a sharp, serrated knife, carefully cut chunky slices on the diagonal.

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Place these slices back on the baking trays and back into the oven for a further twenty minutes.

Half way through this second baking, turn the Biscotti over to help them dry out completely.

After the second¬†baking¬†leave the¬†Biscotti¬†to cool on a wire rack, and that’s it.

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You can store them in an airtight tin for several weeks. Enjoy them with a glass of sweet wine, a nice espresso and sunshine:-)

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