Tag Archives: Cakes

Apple & pecan streusel cake

There’s something about seeing boats and the sea that always soothes me, whether the sea is calm or stormy, and if I ever feel a bit down and just need to get outside, I tend to seek out a view of the ocean.  This was easy enough in St Andrews, where there was only a squat church and some rather high cliffs that separated the end of my street and the sea.  I was spoilt – there were plenty stunning sea views around town, and most of them no more than a 5 minute walk from my flat, if that.  Here in Auckland, I’m not quite as lucky, but the Viaduct harbour is a 15 minute walk from my flat, and full of beautiful yachts, so I can’t complain too much.  This weekend I happened to be near the harbour as the sun was setting, so I headed over for a wander around (incidentally, there are restaurants and bars around the harbour, so there are always people around and it feels quite safe to hang around even in the evenings).

I hadn’t realised that I’d been feeling quite so down until I got to the harbour and watched the sun set over the gorgeous yachts.  Feeling more at peace (and having satisfied my Instagram addiction for the day), I headed home and baked, just to reinforce my improved mood.  I find the process of creating something scrumptious out of butter, flour, sugar, eggs and a few added extras really therapeutic (well, when it works… which isn’t always the case).  The only problem with baking to cheer myself up is that, whilst I do have a sweet tooth, there’s no way I can eat an entire batch of cupcakes or a whole cake all by myself before they go stale (except that Greek yoghurt and honey cake, which provided me with breakfast for several days, thanks to the syrup that kept it moist and flavourful).  Luckily the issue is easily solved by bringing surplus baked goods into the lab, and they get polished off rather quickly.

My post-harbour baking choice was an apple and pecan streusel cake, a fantastic autumnal combination made with the last of the season’s apples (actually, I think the season might have just ended here, so I guess we’re now getting the stragglers that were hanging out in storage).  I love pecans, but sadly they tend to be a little expensive, so I hoard them whenever they’re on sale (which is how I happened to have 325g of pecans lying around).  The cake itself is moist thanks to the apples, with a bit of crunch running through it due to the pecans, and topped off more pecans in the form of a crunchy pecan and brown sugar streusel topping (I never said it was a healthy cake).  I really think it’s the topping that makes this cake so special.  Some of the topping fell off the cake in transport (although more of it stayed intact than I was expecting), and once all the cake was gone, fingers were surreptitiously dipping into the cake tin to pick up remaining bits of topping.  The tin was exceptionally clean by the time we were done…

Apple & pecan streusel cake

Makes about 25 squares
Adapted from Bubby’s Brunch Cookbook

This cake makes a wonderful afternoon snack, accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee, and is delicious served both warm or cold.  It would also work very well with walnuts instead of pecans (the original recipe actually uses walnuts).  The cake will keep for a few days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the streusel topping:
150g pecans
110g light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
15g unsalted butter

For the cake:
100g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
312g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
175g pecans
2 large apples
225g unsalted butter
4 medium eggs
250ml (230g) sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Line a 22 x 30 cm baking tin with baking paper (or if you don’t have such a large tin, use a 19 x 25 cm baking tin and a 9 x 20 cm loaf tin).  Preheat the oven to 175°C.

2.  Prepare the streusel topping.  Roughly chop the pecans and mix them together in a medium mixing bowl with the sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until crumbly.  Set aside.

3.  In a small bowl, combine the two sugars for the cake.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt.  Set both aside.  Roughly chop the pecans and dice the apple into 1cm pieces.  Set aside.

4.  Using an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter in a large bowl for 2-3 mins until pale and fluffy.  Add the sugar gradually, and mix until fully incorporated.  Then beat in the eggs one by one, making sure to beat well between each addition.  Mix in the sour cream and vanilla (don’t worry if it looks like the mixture has curdled, this will be fixed in the next step).

5.  Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated, but with no visible flour.  Fold in the apples and pecans.

6.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin(s), and try to spread it out more or less evenly (I found that the batter wasn’t very spreadable, but just do the best you can, and make sure to push it into the corners).  Evenly sprinkle the topping over the cake.

7.  Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 mins before either cutting into squares to serve or allowing to cool fully on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

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Greek yoghurt & honey cake: Deliciousness guaranteed, sharing optional

A large portion of this blog wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my trusty electric whisk.  All the macarons, the seal cake, the meerkat cake and most of the cupcakes – basically anything involving whisking egg whites into peaks or creaming together butter and sugar (which I’m too lazy to do by hand – shocking, I know).  The whisk also had a stick blender attachment, which made it ideal – only one appliance to make both cakes and soups saves on storage space – and was why I commandeered it from was given it by my mum when I moved up to St Andrews for uni (maybe also because it was free).  I forget whether it was my mum’s just before or just after she was married, but either way, it was older than me.  By several years.  And yet it still worked wonderfully.  It served me well whilst I was in St Andrews, and I loved it to bits, but by the time I started packing for my move to NZ, it was nearing the end of its (long) life span.  The motor was clearly just a few icing sugar explosions away from giving up (I’d had a couple of scares towards the end of my time in St Andrews).  Rather than shipping it over, having it break and then having to get a new one, I figured I’d skip the first two steps, give the whisk/blender an early retirement and just get a new one when I arrived here.  Simple as.

Well… in theory.  Apparently electric whisks with a stick blender attachment are few and far between now, and those that do exist have pretty poor reviews.  Damn.  So I’ve had to buy an electric whisk and a stick blender separately, which is slightly frustrating in terms of storage, but I guess that now I can whisk egg whites or make buttercream icing and blend soup at the same time.  Because that would totally end well…  I’m just hoping that they last me a long time (although their predecessor has set the bar pretty high).  It’s taken me four months to actually get round to buying them.  Four months of getting excited about recipes until realising they require egg whites to be whisked into soft peaks.  Four months of no soup (I like my soups smooth).  A bit ridiculous really, but when I realised that my Random Recipe entry for this month involved whisking egg whites I finally had to get my act together (thanks Dom!).  And it turned out to be a fantastic recipe to test out my new electric whisk.

Following on from last month’s theme of “first and last,” the theme for this month’s Random Recipe challenge is “the middle.”  I randomly picked A Treasury of New Zealand Baking as my book, which has 232 pages of recipes, so I turned to page 116, which houses a recipe for… Greek yoghurt and honey cake with a raisin lemon syrup.  I’ve been rather lucky with my Random Recipe entries over the last few months, and it seems that the streak continues.  I’m not complaining!  The cake turned out rather scrumptious.  It’s wonderfully moist and full of flavour thanks to the syrup that gets poured over the top at the end.  It’s excellent for breakfast (the amount of whisky in the syrup is minimal and it gets simmered anyway), for morning tea, for afternoon tea and for dessert.  I can say that with confidence, because I’ve (enthusiastically) tested all those options out personally.  I know, I know, I totally took one for the team.  It also keeps for a good few days, and it’s almost tastier after a couple of days as the flavours in the syrup pervade the cake over time.  Confession: this cake is so tasty that it’s a little difficult to share.  I had originally planned to take it in to the lab, and well… that never really happened.  Ahem.  I’ve had great breakfasts this week though (it has raisins, thus it’s totally breakfast food…  Don’t judge).  I think next time I’ll tell them I’m bringing cake so that I have to actually follow through with it.

Greek yoghurt & honey cake, with a raisin, lemon & whisky syrup

Serves 8-10 as a snack, 5-6 for breakfast
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The syrup would also work wonderfully with spiced rum instead of whisky, or alcohol-free if necessary.  It’s quite dense so it works wonderfully for breakfast or as a snack (in smaller portions) accompanied by tea.  The cake is kept moist by the yoghurt in it, so it’ll keep for a good few days (in fact, I think I preferred it after a couple of a days as the flavours of the syrup develop).

Ingredients

240g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
240g unsalted butter, softened
120g caster sugar
3 tbsp honey
Zest of 2 lemons
4 eggs
240g unsweetened Greek yoghurt

For the syrup:
180ml water
120g caster sugar
120g seedless raisins
Juice of 2 lemons
2-3 tbsp whisky
2 tbsp honey
1 star anise

Unsweetened Greek yoghurt, to serve (optional)

Directions

1.  Butter a 24cm round cake tin.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.

3.  Zest the lemons into a large bowl (keep the lemons to use the juice in the syrup later on) and add the cubed butter, sugar and honey.  Beat together until light and creamy.  Then beat in the egg yolks one at a time (put the egg whites directly into a large clean bowl for later).  Once all the egg yolks are incorporated, add about a spoonful of the flour mixture and beat in, followed by about a spoonful yoghurt, and continue alternating between the two.

4.  In a large, clean bowl whisk the egg whites into soft peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the cake mixture.

5.  Pour into the cake tin and bake for 1h05 until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 10 mins in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

Making the syrup:
6.  Whilst the cake is in the oven, start prepare the syrup.  Add all the syrup ingredients, except for the yoghurt, to a small saucepan and allow to marinate whilst the cake is baking.

7.  As the cake is cooling, heat over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 10 mins until thickened and syrupy (a syrupy syrup – my descriptive abilities amaze me sometimes).  Allow to cool a little, but not completely, and fish out the star anise.  Once the cake is completely cool, slide it onto a plate and then gently pour the syrup over the top and spread the raisins out evenly.

8.  Serve warm or cold, with a large spoonful of yoghurt if desired.

Enjoy!

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For the love of butter

The random letter for this month’s AlphaBakes blog challenge, started by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker (who is currently hosting) and Caroline at Caroline Makes is “B“.  Easy-peasy (lemon squeezy), I thought to myself when I read it, I can submit the blueberry jam that I’ve got planned.  It wasn’t until I was halfway through writing the blueberry jam post that I realised that jam doesn’t count as baked goods…  Not my brightest moment there.  As I mentioned in that post, if I’d been smart, I’d have bought twice as many blueberries and frozen half for baking.  But I wasn’t smart, and I didn’t.  So baking something with blueberries was out (although I have since found frozen blueberries at the supermarket).  With my not-so- genius plan scuppered, I wasn’t too sure what I was going to make for my entry.  And then, as I opened my fridge suddenly it hit me (almost literally as a pack of butter came tumbling out).

Anybody who has looked in my fridge can tell you that I usually have quite a reserve of butter.  At the moment I have just under 1.5kg stored in there.  1.5kg of butter for one person, I know.  I don’t usually stockpile quite as much, but butter is sold in 500g packs here and the supermarket is currently running a 2-for-1 promotion.  Between making quiche pastry on a very regular basis, general baking and occasionally (or not so occasionally…) things like buttercream icing, I do get through quite a bit of butter, so since I know it definitely won’t be going to waste, I’d quite like a pack of free butter, thank you very much.  I also seem to have a (slightly) irrational fear of running out of butter, and so I seem to stockpile it anyway (like I said, it doesn’t go to waste).  If there’s ever a butter shortage, I’ll probably make a fortune on the black market.  Anyway, I digress, so as a stray pack of butter tumbled out of my fridge, I realised that I should make boterkoek!!  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before…  By the way, I think one of the AlphaBakes rules is that a standard ingredient doesn’t count as the letter (such as “flour” for F), so I know that butter probably doesn’t count, but since boterkoek obviously starts with a B, I think that this is still a valid entry (right?).

Perhaps I should back up a little and explain what boterkoek (pronounced botter-cook) actually is…  Boterkoek is a Dutch cake, best served alongside coffee.  The name translates as “butter cake” – butter makes up ⅓ of the total ingredients that go into this cake.  Now would probably be a good time to mention that this isn’t exactly the healthiest thing in the world.  In case you hadn’t realised that already.  If you’re on a diet, you should probably just stop reading.  Or stop your diet (clearly the better option).  I adore boterkoek – it might well be my favourite Dutch food ever – but you don’t come across it particularly often.  I’m not really sure why, perhaps because it’s not super healthy.  It’s a dense and compact crumbly cake, quite heavy and very buttery (you don’t say?).  It’s best eaten in small quantities and with a good, strong, black coffee to cut through the butteriness.  I don’t think I’m selling this very well.  It’s not like eating a stick of butter or anything, and although the texture is quite heavy, the flavour is fairly delicate (and yes, a bit buttery, but in a good way).  The best description that I can think of is that it’s just… lekker, but as that’s Dutch and this is an English blog, that doesn’t help much (unless you happen to speak Dutch).  Basically, it’s totally delicious, I promise!  One word of warning though: I find that it’s also a little bit addictive.  And by a little bit I mean a lot, because despite everything that I’ve just said, I can easily eat about a third of the cake in one go.  On its own, with no coffee to wash it down.  It went down a storm during our lab coffee break yesterday, with everybody helping themselves to seconds (thirds in some cases)… how’s that for a recommendation?

Boterkoek

Makes about 20 slices
Recipe from one of my mum’s friend

This makes a perfect coffe-time treat, and is incredibly easy and quick to throw together (and you probably already have all the ingredients), although it does take a while to cool.  It’s best served in small portions as it is quite rich – people can always help themselves to more if they wish!  Adding the egg makes the boterkoek more moist (and delicious), but apparently you can choose to omit it (though I’ve never tried without the egg).  If you choose not to use the egg, then brush the top of the cake with a little bit of milk instead.  The boterkoek will keep for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container.

Ingredients

300g all-purpose flour
300g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
300g unsalted butter
1 egg

Directions

1.  Line a 20 x 25 cm baking tin with baking parchment (lining the tin means that it’s much easier to lift the cake out once it’s baked.  You can choose not to line the tin because there’s enough butter in the recipe for the cake not to stick, but it will probably get a little messy).  Pre-heat the oven to fan 175°C.

2.  Add the flour, sugar and vanilla sugar to a large mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the bowl.  Rub together with chilled hands (or cut through with two knives, but with your hands is better – and more fun!) to form a crumbly mixture that starts to come together.

3.  Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl, and add ½ of the egg to the butter mixture (yes, ½.  I know that’s a stupid amount, but if you add any more, the dough will be too soggy and wet).  Set the remaining egg aside.  Knead together to form a slightly sticky dough (there are a couple of photos of the dough at the end if you’re unsure).

4.  Transfer the dough to the lined baking tin and press it down evenly across the tin (make sure to get it into the corners and everything – it won’t spread too much, and shouldn’t be too thick or it won’t bake properly) and so that the top is smooth.  Brush the top of the cake with the remaining egg and score pretty patterns across the top using a fork.  Bake for about 35 mins until wonderfully golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

5.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 30-35 mins in the tin before lifting out and transferring it to a wire rack to cool fully before cutting up and serving.

Enjoy!

I’ve been asked to put up a photo of the dough before baking – it should come together as a slightly sticky dough, but still a bit crumbly when you handle it:

When you transfer it to the lined baking tin, press it into the edges so that it’s an even thickness across the whole baking tray.  Make sure to get it right into the corners and smooth the top (I haven’t quite finished with the dough below, but you get the idea) before brushing with the egg and scoring with a fork, and then popping into the oven.

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Zoosday Tuesday: Killer whale birthday cake

I’ve had a bit of a blog hiatus, mostly because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I thought I’d better sort that out, and it would seem appropriate to end the hiatus with a Zoosday Tuesday post (which I haven’t done in a while) in the form of a slightly epic birthday cake.  It seems to have been the year of the animal birthday cakes – we had the seal pup cake in January, Craig’s meerkat cake, and the latest offering…  A killer whale cake!  Before anybody panics, let me just make it clear that by killer whale cake I mean a cake shaped like a killer whale, not a whale cake that is lethal.

You may well be wondering why I decided to spend seven hours of my life making a cake in the shape of a killer whale (before anybody feels the need to point out that it doesn’t have a tail, the whale is surfacing, so the tail is underwater).  Aside from the fact that cake is awesome and killer whales are pretty awesome, thus the two put together would automatically be totally awesome, Kat happens to love killer whales and has just started the Marine Mammals MRes in St Andrews (she’s clever like that).  She also happens to love amaretto (an almond-flavoured liqueur), so when it came to making her a surprise birthday cake, an amaretto cake in the shape of a killer whale was a bit of a no-brainer…

Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really come across many amaretto cake recipes, so that was the first step.  I eventually found a cake recipe that involved apricots and amaretto which sounded promising.  In view of the epic amount of buttercream icing that was likely to cover the cake, I decided that attempting to be vaguely healthy with the apricots was a bit pointless so I substituted chocolate chips instead.  The next step was to work out how to make the chocolate and Amaretto cake into the shape of a killer whale.  I decided that baking the cake in a loaf tin was a good first step, and pretty much winged it from there.  So basically, I knew roughly what I wanted the finished cake to look like (a surfacing killer whale – to avoid faffing around and having to make a tail), but effectively made it up as I went along.  Thankfully it turned out to be fairly straightforward.  The final step was to get the cake from Edinburgh to St Andrews… on public transport.  Remarkably, we managed it to get it there in one piece.  All that remained to do was to stick a candle in its blowhole and all over Craig’s delicious chilli and lime chocolate brownies and celebrate Kat’s (slightly belated) birthday by spending two days eating cake…  In case you’re wondering, the cake not only looked pretty amazing (if I do say so myself…) but tasted rather good, too.  Phew!

Chocolate & amaretto cake

Serves 8-10 people
Adapted from Waitrose

Since I was making a whale cake, I made the cake in a loaf tin, but obviously a round cake tin works perfectly, too.  I’ve given the instructions here on how to make the cake into a whale, but if you’re not making a killer whale, but still want to ice the cake, use about ⅓ of the icing ingredients and sprinkle with flaked almonds and cocoa powder to decorate.  Just a warning, the killer whale cake did take me about 7 hours from start to finish, though most of that time was the cake’s cooking time and waiting for it to cool – the actual shaping and icing maybe took about 1 ½ hours since I faffed around quite a bit.  The cake keeps well for a few days in an air-tight box.

Ingredients

For the cake:
25g self-raising flour
165g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
110g ground almonds
115g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
100ml amaretto (this is a bit of an approximation)
3 eggs
125ml sour cream
125g dark chocolate chips

For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
200g butter (softened to room temperature)
5-6 tbsp amaretto
Blue and black food colouring paste/gel
Edible blue sparkles (optional)

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Butter and flour a 21 x 11 cm loaf tin (or if you’re not making a killer whale, you can use a 23 cm round cake tin), and line the bottom with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

2.  Sift the two flours, the bicarbonate of soda and a large pinch of salt into a medium-sized bowl.  Add 75g of ground almonds and mix together.  Set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the cubed butter and golden caster sugar together using an electric whisk.  Add the remaining ground almonds and about 4 tbsp of amaretto, and whisk together.  Beat in the eggs one at a time before adding the remaining 65 ml of amaretto and mixing well (don’t panic if the mixture appears to separate – I don’t know if that’s normal, but it happened to mine and the cake turned out perfectly fine.  Adding the dry ingredients in the next step will sort the mixture out again).

4.  Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the amaretto mixture, alternating each addition with folding in a spoonful of sour cream.  Make sure not to let the mixture get too dry.  Fold in the chocolate chips and spoon into the loaf tin.

5.  Bake for 1h25 (1h20 if using a round cake tin).  A toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean, but make sure not to overcook the cake (or it will come out really dry).  Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To turn the cake into a killer whale:
6.  Once the cake is completely cool, using a sharp knife, cut the ends of the cake into a rounded shape (try to keep at least one of the corners in one piece to make the fin with), making one end slightly more pointy than the other (this will be the whale’s head).  If necessary, trim the top edges of the loaf at an angle to try and make the overall shape more rounded and whale-like (if none of that made sense, hopefully the photo below will explain better).

7.  Using one of the corners that have been cut off the cake, trim it into a fin shape (again, see the photo below if you’re not too sure).  Stick a toothpick or two through the fin and into the cake to secure it into place, and use a toothpick on either side to make sure it doesn’t fall over.

8.  To make the buttercream icing, cream together the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl until smooth (be prepared for an icing sugar explosion).  Place 1-2 tsp of icing in the centre of the underside of the cake and place the cake onto the cake board of plate that you’ll be presenting it on, pressing it down gently (this is to vaguely stick the cake to the cake board/plate so that it doesn’t slide around in transit).

9.  Transfer just under half of the remaining icing to a medium sized bowl, add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a dollop (very technical term) of black food colouring gel/paste.  Mix well until the icing is smooth.  Add a tiny bit more black food colouring if necessary and mix until the icing has turned very dark grey.  Using a small tapered spatula or knife, spread the dark grey icing over the whale, making sure to leave space for the white icing under the mouth (alternatively, cover the entire cake in dark grey icing and then pipe the white icing over the top as with the white bits over the eyes).  Use icing to cover the toothpicks on either side of the fin, and shape it a little if necessary.  Try and make the icing as smooth as possible.  Refer to the photos of the cake, or to photos of real killer whales as guides.

10.  Prepare a piping bag with a 5 mm round tip, and spoon 2-3 heaped tbsp of the white icing into it.  Pipe the white spots over the top of the killer whale’s eyes, and the the white parts of its belly under its mouth (see photos of the cake or real killer whales to use as guides).  If there is any icing left in the piping bag, return it to the rest of the original white icing in the large bowl.

11.  Dip the end of a toothpick into the black food colouring paste and draw a small eye between the white patch above the eye and the white belly under the mouth.  Use the other end of the toothpick to do the eye on the other side.  Use another toothpick to shape a blowhole in the centre of the top of the whale’s head (the blowhole I made was about 6 mm across).

12.  Prepare another piping bag with a tear-drop or rose-petal tip (or if you don’t have either of those, a 5 mm round tip would probably work, too).  Add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a tiny bit of blue food colouring paste to the remaining icing and mix well until the icing is smooth.  Spoon the icing into the prepared piping bag and pipe squiggles across the cake board or plate to make the waves of the sea.  Sprinkle some edible blue sparkles across the top of the “sea” to finish off the cake (optional).

Enjoy!  (And remember to warn people about the toothpicks in the fin…)

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Zoosday Tuesday: Meerkat birthday cake. Simples!

Today is the first Tuesday of April, which means that it’s Zoosday Tuesday, and I’m excited about the cake that I’m about to share with you…!

I’ve just realised that I could have done a Cakes for Craig mini-series of posts – last week I told you about the Gin & Tonic macarons that were his birthday present, then on Sunday I shared the chocolate délice that I attempted for his birthday dinner.  Today is the final installment (so I guess that makes it a trilogy?): the surprise cake that Kat, his housemate (who I shall call H for now, as I forgot to check if I could use her name) and I made for his birthday party, which was about ten days ago.  Kat and I previously ventured into the world of animal-themed cakes back in January with a seal pup cake.  We had so much fun that we wanted to make another animal-themed cake.  Now, Craig loves meerkats, so this is the cake we made for him…

Here’s a little secret: Kat and I have actually been planning this since January.  Before you accuse us of having too much time on our hands, let me just say that it’s amazing the amount of procrastination you can get out of designing a cake (and we’ve had a lot to procrastinate from – exams, review essays, practical reports, our dreaded dissertations…).  H helped us make it, and most importantly, was in charge of hiding it from Craig so that it would be a total surprise.  Since we didn’t want to arrive at the party with the cake, thus giving the game away, we took it round whilst he was out and H did a brilliant job of hiding it, because he clearly had no idea.  SUCCESS!!!

The cake itself was straightforward enough – we used the same chocolate cake and glaçage as the seal cake, but sprinkled it with gold sugar to resemble sand (meerkats live in the desert).  In keeping with the general chocolate theme, the meerkats were chocolate rolled cookies.  We scoured the internet for meerkat cookie-cutters, but to no avail.  Which is surprising, considering the whole meerkat craze at the moment.  I mean seriously, I have a shark cookie-cutter – do they really make shark cookie-cutters and not meerkat ones?!  It would appear so.  Astounding.  Anyway, I digress.  So Kat drew out a stencil instead and we used that to cut out the cookies by hand.  The icing was originally going to be a straightforward (American) royal icing, but well, we’re alcoholics students, and this was a birthday party, so the obvious thing to do was to lace the icing with kirsch (to go with the kirsch in the cake and in the cookies, the recipe of which we’d already altered to include some kirsch).  And by lace, what I really mean substitute kirsch for water.  We then used some edible glue to attach toothpicks to the backs of the meerkat cookies to so that they would stand up on top of the cake (this also made it easier to transport because we just stuck the meerkats into the cake once at Craig’s).  The cake was served with kirsch-infused whipped cream, well, actually, I may have surpassed myself and accidentally made cream-infused whipped kirsch (oops).

Getting the whole cake together took us about six hours.  But the cake nearly rendered Craig speechless (quite a feat) and he clearly deeply appreciated it, which makes the effort totally worth it (and we had so much fun with the icing).  He actually mentioned it in the sweetest post, and after a recent episode of somebody very obviously not eating a cake that I made them (despite it being tasty according to everybody else who tried it), cake appreciation means a lot to me.  I have to admit, I’m still amazed at how realistic we managed to make the meerkats, so here’s another photo (all photos thanks to Kat, by the way):

Chocolate rolled cookies with kirsch icing

Makes 5 meerkat cookies and a lot of stars
Cookies adapted from Glorious Treats
Icing adapted from Joy of Baking

If you want to make the whole cake, then follow this chocolate cake and chocolate glaçage recipe, and sprinkle gold sugar over the top of the cake before the glaçage hardens (so that it sticks to the cake). The cookie dough makes a lot of cookies – we only made 5 meerkats but we used the rest of the dough to make star cookies.  Luckily the dough freezes quite well in a zip-lock bag, just thaw it out in the fridge before using it (otherwise it will be too hard to roll out).  The icing would make enough to decorate at least 8 meerkats.

Ingredients

For the cookies:
375g all-purpose flour
45g cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
135g granulated sugar
110g brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp chocolate liqueur (I used dark crême de cacao)
1 tsp kirsch

For the icing:
1 large egg white
Kirsch
250-280g icing sugar
Food colouring pastes (we used hazelnut & black)

Directions

To make the cookies:
1.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together into a bowl, and mix them together.

2.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and two sugars together using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  Mix in the egg, chocolate liqueur and kirsch.

3.  Gradually add the cocoa powder and flour mixture to the butter mix roughly 100g at a time, making sure that it was been well incorporated before adding the next 100g (the mixer may slow up a bit towards the end).

4.  Once fully incorporated, split the dough into two or three balls (this makes it more manageable to work with later on), and put each into a zip-lock back and chill in the fridge for 1-2h or about 20mins in the freezer (don’t forget about it in the freezer or you’ll have to let it thaw out after).

5.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.  Line a few baking trays with baking paper.  (This is a good time to make stencils if that’s what you’ll be using.)

6.  Remove one ball of dough from the fridge (if you’ve chilled the dough in the freezer, move the other balls to the fridge so they don’t freeze completely) and place it on a lightly floured surface.  Place a piece of baking paper over the top of the dough (this minimises the amount of flour that you have to use) and roll out to a thickness of around 4mm.  Use cookie cutters (or cut around the stencil you’ve made) to cut out the cookies and place them on the baking trays.  Make the excess dough back into a ball and roll it out again, making sure that the surface you are rolling it out onto is lightly floured.

7.  Once you’ve got a full baking tray, chill it in the freezer for 5 mins (to help the cookies keep their shapes), then place it directly into the oven and bake for 7-10 mins (this will depend on the thickness and shape of your cookies).

8.  Allow the cookies to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

To decorate the cookies:
9.  As the cookies are cooling, prepare the icing.  Set out small bowls or tupperware boxes for the number of different colours you need (we had two – one large to make the icing in, and a small one in which to mix the black), and prepare the tips and icing bags that you will need (we used a Wilton #2 for the lining, a syringe for the flooding, and a Wilton #5 for the brown stripes and shading).

10.  Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white and 1 tsp of kirsch together until just mixed, before adding the sifted icing sugar.  Whisk until smooth and the correct consistency for lining the cookies.  If the icing is too runny, add a little more icing sugar.  Pour as much of the icing as you need into one of the bowls, and cover the big bowl so that the rest of the icing doesn’t dry out.  Add some black colouring to the small bowl and mix well (add more as necessary).  Spoon the black lining icing into a piping bag with a thin tip and outline the cookies.  You can extend the lining to define the paws, too.  Once done, put the icing bag aside, in an airtight box if possible – it will be required later for the eyes and nose.

11.  As the black lining dries on the cookies, prepare the flooding icing.  Uncover the large bowl of icing, add 1 tsp and mix well.  Add another 1 tsp of kirsch and mix well once again.  Continue adding a little bit of kirsch at a time until the icing is of the correct consistency (scoop some icing out of the bowl and drop it back in – it should disappear within 5s).  Add a tiny amount of hazelnut colouring and mix it in well, to achieve a beige colour (add a tiny bit more if necessary – err on the side of caution with quantities as it’s easier to add a tiny bit more than it is to remove any!).  Once the correct colour is achieved, spoon about ⅔ of the beige icing into a piping bag (or syringe) with a medium-sized tip, and cover the rest of the icing so that it doesn’t dry out.  Flood the cookies within the lining, using a toothpick to spread the icing as necessary.

12.  Once the cookies have been flooded, add more hazelnut colouring to the remaining icing and mix well to make a darker brown (you may have to add a sliver of black colouring, too).  Once the correct shade of brown is achieved, spoon the icing into a piping bag with a small tip (but not as small as for the lining), and pipe on the stripes on the back.  Each stripe consists of 3-4 dots, joined together with a toothpick, and mixed a little to make them less defined.  Add a few dots at the end of the tail, paws and around the nose, and blur them slightly with a toothpick.  Draw ears, too.

13.  Get the icing bag with the black icing back out again and draw the nose and eyes.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always add a tiny bit of shading to the ears with a toothpick.  Allow the cookies to dry a little before attaching the toothpicks to the back using edible glue and a fine paintbrush. Be careful when handling the cookies (to avoid smudging the icing)!  Allow to dry fully (this may take several hours) before decorating the cake or storing in an airtight box.

Enjoy!

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Raymond Blanc’s chocolate délice… With a slight twist

I’m not really what I would call a “television person” – if I have some time to kill, I’d rather flip through recipe books, surf the internet or read.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t even usually think of watching TV, which I realise might sound a little strange.  As a result, I’m not really familiar with all the TV chefs here in the UK.  Sure, I’ve heard of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith, etc.  But though I see their various cookbooks whenever I’m in a book shop (because I can’t go into a bookshop without perusing the cookbook section) I’ve never really watched their shows.  However, one chef I hadn’t heard of until recently is Raymond Blanc.  I first came across him a few weeks ago when Craig told me about his show, Kitchen Secrets, on the BBC, and how “incredibly French” he was.  A little bit of Googling revealed that Raymond Blanc is from Franche-Comté, the same region in France as me!  Very few people that I’ve met have ever even heard of my beloved Franche-Comté, never mind actually hailing from there, so I was immediately intrigued that a Franc-comtois chef had somehow ended up on British TV.  I headed over to iPlayer (the BBC’s re-watching programmes online thing) and watched the Cakes & pastries episode.  I have to say, I think he’s brilliant, and I may or may not secretly wish that I was related to him (we are from the same region, so it’s not that weird…) just so that he could teach me to cook.  I love his attitude to food, it’s so very French (funnily enough) – would you ever see a British chef nearly reduced to tears over the beauty of a sublime macaron-based chocolate délice?  I’m not so sure.

When we were later discussing the programme, Craig mentioned in passing that he wished Raymond Blanc would make that chocolate cake for him (the macaron-based chocolate délice mentioned above – the one that nearly reduced Raymond Blanc to tears).  Knowing that his birthday was coming up, I duly agreed that it looked scrumptious though maybe too rich for me (which was completely true), made a mental note to myself and never mentioned the cake again (to Craig – Kat has had to put up with my ideas for it for the last, I don’t know, month?).  I wanted to attempt the cake for his birthday, but we’d already planned a cake for his party (which I will tell you about in my next post, for Zoosday Tuesday), so I was faced with a bit of a problem.  There was really only one solution: cooking a Birthday dinner.  This happened last night – conveniently yesterday was also the Farmers’ Market in St Andrews, so I acquired some wonderful Scottish lamb for the main course (look out for a blog post about my slightly crazy ambitions for the lamb soon).

Now, because I’m a bit special, I wasn’t content with just following Raymond Blanc’s recipe.  No, that would be way too straightforward and sensible.  I have a precious jar of Griottines (cherries preserved in a kirsch liqueur – the exact recipe of which is secret – by a regional producer, brought over for me by mum the last time she went back to Franche-Comté), and it struck me that they might make a lovely addition to the chocolate délice.  Plus, they’re cherries preserved in alcohol.  It couldn’t possibly go wrong, right?  (Famous last words.)  I popped a few Griottines on top of the macaron base of the cakes (I didn’t have a giant chef’s ring, but I had smaller ones, so I made individual cakes rather than one big one) before pouring the chocolate délice mixture over the top.  I think I can say that the addition of the Griottines was a rather wonderful idea…  (In other words: thank goodness it worked.)  The cakes were decorated with some drizzled dark and white chocolate, a sprinkling of icing sugar and a few mini macarons, including number-shaped macarons on Craig’s cake, just in case he’d forgotten his new age (which would be rude if I wasn’t older than him).  Even if I do say so myself, they looked rather pretty – one could almost pretend they were from a pâtisserie.  Ok, perhaps I’m pushing it a little, but Craig enjoyed them, and that’s pretty crucial for a birthday cake, so hurrah!

Chocolate macaron-based délice with Griottines

Makes 4 x 9cm cakes
Recipe from Raymond Blanc’s
Kitchen Secrets (original idea here and délice recipe here)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!

As I suspected, this is a very rich concoction, but so tasty!  One 9cm cake was enough for 3 of us (after a filling meal).  You could also make one larger cake of 16cm diameter with these quantities.  Use your imagination for the decorations made from the leftover macaron shell mixture – teardrops, numbers, hearts, etc.  One of the best things about this dessert is that it can easily be prepared in advance.  Pour any leftover délice mixture into a ramekin and let it set in the fridge – it’s super yummy just on its own.

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
100g aged egg whites (age them for 4-5 days in a sealed jar in the fridge)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
7g cocoa powder (at least 70%)

For the délice:
24 Griottines, well drained (optional)
140ml whole milk
325ml double cream
2 eggs
340g dark chocolate (at least 70%)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1. Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

2.  Blend the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together (don’t skip this step!)  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites at room temperature (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand) to glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out 4 circles of 10-11cm diameter for the bases.  Use the rest of the macaron mixture to pipe small shapes to decorate the cakes with later, such as teardrops, lines, hearts, small circles (or numbers!).  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Leave to set for about 30mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 11-13mins for the larger rounds and 8-10mins for the smaller shapes (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays.

For the délice:
8.  Once the big rounds have cooled fully, use 9cm diameter chef’s rings to cut a circle in each, using a knife to cut away the excess macaron.  Place these on a baking tray or plate lined with baking paper (it helps if the tray or plate has slightly upturned edges, just in case some of the délice decides to ooze out).

9.  Roughly chop the dark chocolate and set aside.  Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and gently heat them together over a medium heat.

10.  Whisk the eggs together in a large heat-proof bowl.  When the milk and cream have just started to boil, pour them over the eggs and whisk constantly until smooth and slightly thickened.  Add the chocolate and continue to whisk until the chocolate has completely melted and the whole délice mixture is wonderfully smooth.

11.  Place 5 or 6 drained Griottines on each macaron base (optional) before carefully pouring délice over the top – fill the rings up as high as you wish (remember that the délice mixture is quite rich though).  Chill in the fridge overnight.

12.  Heat the rings with a hot cloth (or a blowtorch if you have one, which I do not) so that they are easier to remove.  Decorate the délices as you wish – sprinkle with cocoa powder or icing sugar, drizzle with dark and white chocolate, place the smaller macaron shapes around the sides or on top.

Enjoy!


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Fun fact: It takes 3h to make a seal pup out of grated chocolate…

A friend of mine had his birthday last week and, well, let’s just say that he’s not a huge fan of the cute and fluffy variety of animal.  I had to do a presentation with him last year, and I deliberately added pictures of cute baby seals to every single one of my slides, just for a laugh.  He made me take them out (to be fair, the presentation wasn’t even particularly related to seals – it was about biodiversity and climate change, so they were only briefly mentioned), but I managed to convince him to leave this baby harp seal on the title slide:

How adorably cute is it?!  Since then, we’ve had a bit of a running joke about cute baby seals, so when Kat and I made a surprise birthday cake for him, we just had to somehow include a baby seal.  It took us about 3 hours to decorate, but we managed it, and I think we did quite a good job, even if I do say so myself…

What do you think?  We modelled it on the harp seal pup photo from the presentation.  Thankfully, Kat can draw and so she drew the outline of the seal into the icing with a toothpick (actually, I don’t have any toothpicks, so a cocktail umbrella made a wonderful substitute – we’re students, what can I say?)  We made the eyes, nose and mouth with dark chocolate chips, used roughly grated white chocolate for the fur, finely grated dark chocolate for the shading and some random little square chocolate sprinkles for the eyebrows and whiskers.

Rich & decadent chocolate cake

Serves 10-12 (using a 26cm cake tin)
Recipe from Je Sais Cuisiner

This recipe can be multiplied by 1.5 and it still works fine, but has gone wrong whenever I’ve doubled it – I think there might be too many eggs or something.  It’s quite a rich and compact cake, so you don’t need massive slices, and I definitely recommend serving it with whipped cream – we made kirsch-infused whipped cream (since we used kirsch in the cake) and it went rather fabulously.

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour
140g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
140g caster sugar
70g unsalted butter
4 eggs
2 tbsp of liqueur (rum, kirsch, etc) or orange flower water
Chocolate glaçage (recipe below)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 120°C, and butter a 26cm round cake tin.

2.  Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter in a heat-proof bowl sitting over a saucepan filled with water and heated (you can also just do this in a saucepan heated over very low heat).

3.  Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks one-by-one, followed by the flour and then the sugar (if you want the texture of your cake to look like the photo above, and be quite “grainy” then use a wooden spoon, but if you want it to be smoother, use a hand whisk.  Both are scrumptious – it’s entirely a matter of personal taste).

4.  Whisk the four egg whites up into firm peaks, and fold them into the chocolate mixture along with your chosen liqueur.

5.  Pour the mixture into the buttered cake tin, and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean (or a cocktail umbrella…  I should really invest in some toothpicks!)

6.  Invert the cake onto a cake platter or plate or whatever you want to present it on, and cover it in chocolate glaçage (see recipe below) before decorating (use white chocolate chips, hundreds and thousands, cherries, etc).

Dark chocolate glaçage

Makes enough glaçage to cover a 26cm cake (and then some!)
Recipe from Je Sais Cuisiner.

Ingredients

60g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
60g unsalted butter
2 eggs

Directions

1.  Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter in a heat-proof bowl sitting over a saucepan filled with water and heated (you can also just do this in a saucepan heated over very low heat).

2.  Remove from the heat, and with a hand whisk, mix in each of the egg yolks.  Whisk the egg whites into firm peaks and fold them into the chocolate to make a smooth mixture.

3.  Spread onto the cake using a palette knife, making the top and sides as smooth as possible (don’t worry about getting chocolate all over the plate – it is fairly easy to clean up with a bit of damp kitchen roll).  The glaçage will set as it cools.

Enjoy the cake with liqueur-infused whipped cream!

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