Saturday, 31 October 2009

Spook-tacular Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Woooooooo! Happy Halloween. We don’t really celebrated Halloween here, not like they do in America, but after reading about all the Halloween themed treats that have been popping up on many blogs over the past week I was determined to join the party. Some ookey-spooky cupcakes seemed the way to go.

I am so happy about a recent discovery I made on Thursday…Waitrose stock canned pumpkin puree! YIPPEE! I have been hankering after this for years, having spent many months feeling envious of many delicious pumpkin inspired goodies baked by fellow bloggers from other countries. I have never found in sold here in the UK until now. Finally I can start making some pumpkin treats myself! I have tried making my own pumpkin puree and although successful enough, when you open that first can of pumpkin puree you can see it’s not in the same league. Just look how vibrantly orange it is – and it had such a lovely flavour too.

After finding a tasty sounding pumpkin cake recipe, I whipped up a batch of pumpkin cupcakes with much enjoyment. I baked them in Halloween themed cupcake cases I brought back from my recent trip to Chicago (I must have known they’d be needed). The batter was a lovely orangey brown colour and speckled with spices. They smelt absolutely amazing while they baked, a cross between carrot cake and Christmas cake, like hot caramel and spicy. Once baked, they were puffy with slightly domed tops and I had to resist the urge to eat one straight away but I knew they would be even tastier once frosted.

To give them a Halloween theme I cut some spooky faces out of some rounds of orange fondant which I lightly scored to make them look like pumpkins. It was rather fun. I found depending on how you cut out the eyes they could either end up looking cute, spooky or downright evil!

I let the fondant dry a bit before propping them up on top of the frosting before turning the lights out and shining a torch behind them. Ooooo spooky. On a recent outing I also found a small shop in Milton Keynes that sold American foods, including some candy corns – another thing I have been longing to try, so of course they had to make an appearance too.

The cupcakes were divine! They didn’t taste of pumpkin, but they were incredibly light, moist and airy and I’m sure that it’s thanks to the pumpkin. They had a wonderful spiciness and the sweet, creamy cream cheese frosting was the perfect accompaniment. In fact I would go as far as to say they were spook-tacular!

Spook-tacular Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
(Recipe adapted from Furey and The Feast blog)
Pumpkin Cupcakes
270g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
250g light brown sugar
4 eggs
225ml vegetable oil
425g pumpkin puree (1 standard can)
2 tbsp yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ lemon, zest only

Cream Cheese Frosting
200g cream cheese
150g unsalted butter
15g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
500g icing sugar

Method – Cream Cheese Frosting

Start by making the frosting. Make sure you butter is soft. Beat the together with the cream cheese, vanilla and brown sugar until well combined.
Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl to ensure it is lump free. Then add it gradually into the cream cheese mixture, about 2-3 tablespoons at a time. Mix with a spatula, as electric mixers will make the icing fly everywhere. Once all the icing sugar has been incorporated, beat with an electric mixer to ensure its smooth.
Cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge until required.

For the Pumpkin Cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two 12 holed muffin tins (24 total) with cupcake cases.Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves into a bowl and set aside.In another bowl, beat together the brown sugar and eggs. Add the vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, yoghurt, vanilla and the lemon zest. Whisk together until well combined.
Scatter half the spiced flour mixture over the top of the batter and fold in until combined. Fold in the remaining flour and whisk briefly to ensure everything is evenly mixed.
Divide the batter between the 24 muffin cases. I find using an old fashioned ice cream scoop works perfectly, but a large tablespoon would work just as well. Fill until three-quarters full.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes. They should be puffy, slightly domed on top and springy to the touch when ready.
Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.

Fondant Pumpkins
Knead the fondant lightly to soften it up. Add small amounts of red and yellow food dye and work into the fondant until you have an orange colour you are happy with.
Lightly dust a work surface with icing sugar and roll out the fondant until 2mm thick.
Stamp out rounds of fondant and then cut out small slits for eyes. Cut a small zig-zag line for the mouth and gently pull the bottom on the fondant to enlarge it into a mouth.
Place the spooky pumpkins on a rack and leave to air dry.

To Assemble
Remove the cream cheese frosting from the fridge and beat lightly to soften. Pipe or spread the frosting onto the top of the cooled cupcakes.
Decorate the tops of the cupcakes with the fondant pumpkins or other sweets. (I used a candy corn sweet to prop the fondant pumpkins up).
Eat and enjoy!
Makes 24 cupcakes

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Daring Bakers October 09 Challenge: Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

There are two distinct types of macaroon/macaron. Usually the term “macaroon” refers to a chewy cookie made of coconut and egg white, often on a base of rice paper, but French “macarons” are either ground almonds or almond paste, combined with sugar and egg whites and are sandwiched together after baking. The filling usually consists of ganache, buttercream or jam. The flavour combinations are almost endless and for our challenge we were allowed to make them any flavour we wished.

Until this challenge I had never made macarons before. They had been on my ‘to bake’ list for many months but I had always put off doing them as I felt daunted by how elegeant and dainty they were and had heard they were difficult to make. So it was with nervous excitement that I set about this challenge.

Macaroon making is a little time consuming but not actually as difficult as you may think. Although, to achieved picture perfect macarons does require a lot of skill and mine could certainly be improved upon. One thing you must do is have your egg whites at room temperature. This ensures they beat up properly, as the meringue base texture is an integral component to macarons.

As this was my first time making macarons I decided to keep things fairly simple. I made the a basic vanilla macaron mixture which I then decorated and filled in two different ways to create two different flavours of macaron. I topped half the batch with some freeze dried raspberry pieces and filling them with raspberry jam and the other half I filled with chocolate ganache and topped with a dusting of cocoa powder. I’ll let you in on a secret – you can buy freeze dried raspberries but they are quite expensive, but they often come as part of a berry mix in some types of breakfast cereal – just fish them out and save yourself some pennies!

Everything was going well until I tried to remove the macarons from the paper. They had stuck fast and the thin sugar shells were so delicate that they shattered when I tried to ease them off. In a panic I sourced the internet for help and found some very helpful advice from Tartlette (who makes the most amazing looking macarons!). She suggested dampening the base of the paper in a little water, which would dissolve just enough of the sugar crystals to allow you to remove the macaron safety from the paper. This worked a treat and I’m so greatful to Tartlette for her advice. Just don’t leave them on the damp paper for longer than about 5 seconds or else the macarons will start to go soggy.

I was really quite proud of my little macarons. They look so dainty and elegant that I decided to host an afternoon tea party with my family and grandparents, complete with scones, finger sandwiches and a tier or miniature cakes, in order to show them off (recipes to follow). They had a thin delicate sugar shell with a moist, slightly chewy almond middle. I found the raspberry one a little sweet for my tastes, but I loved the chocolate one. The bitter dark chocolate was the perfect partner to the sweet crisp macaron.

Thanks Ami S for such an elegant challenge. Click to see other Daring Bakers macarons.

Macarons – vanilla & raspberry and chocolate & vanilla macaron varieties
(Recipe by Claudia Fleming from The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern)
225g icing sugar
190g ground almonds
25g granulated sugar
5 egg whites (must be at room temperature)
(I added 1 tsp vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 93C. Combine the icing sugar and ground almonds in a medium bowl. (If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a half the icing sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery).Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.Sift a third of the almond mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond mix in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. Pipe 1inch/2.5cm sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners or parchment paper.Bake the macaron for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 190C. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly coloured.Cool on a rack before carefully peeling off the paper and sandwiching together with your choice of filling. (If they appear stuck to the paper, don’t pull them. Cut around the macarons and brush the underside of the paper with a little water. Leave for 5 seconds for the paper to go damp before easily peeling off the paper. Don’t leave too long or your macarons will go soggy).
Makes 25-35 macarons depending on size.

I made all vanilla macaron shells but made two differently flavoured macarons from them. I topped half the batch with some freeze dried raspberry pieces and filling them with raspberry jam and the other half I filled with chocolate ganache and topped with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Swirled Pumpkin & Chocolate Self Saucing Pudding

Autumn has well and truly arrived. The leaves have turned wonderful shades of russet red and golden amber, the daylight in dwindling and there is a distinct chill in the air. Autumn also marks the start of some of my favourite foods – squashes and root vegetables. Probably the most famous squash around this time is the pumpkin. When you say ‘pumpkin’ most people instantly think of the large orange pumpkins that are sold in supermarkets and destined to be turned into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. However, there is an almost numerous variety of pumpkins and squashes available, in a whole assortment of weird and wonderful shapes and colours so do try and hunt out some different ones.

Thanks to my obsession with food, when I recently heard the word ‘pumpkin’ I instantly thought of all the tasty baked pumpkin goodies I have recently seen appearing on blogs worldwide. One of the most popular choices this year seems to be pumpkin swirl chocolate brownies, as presented here by Liz, Joe and Esi. I decided it was high time I experimented with a sweet baked pumpkin treat myself (something which is not that common here in the UK) and loved the idea of combining it with chocolate. I have had a chocolate self saucing pudding recipe on my ‘to bake’ list for some time and decided to try and incorporate the two. This gooey looking pudding is the result!

I made my own pumpkin puree by cutting a pumpkin into chunks and then steaming it until tender and mashing it with a potato masher. This particular self saucing pudding is a little different to others I have tried, as it doesn’t contain any butter, only a little oil and no egg in the chocolate batter, so along with the added pumpkin puree you don’t need to feel too guilty eating it – just don’t look too closely at the sugar content. I added spices and a little cayenne to the pumpkin batter which added to the overall flavour but was not an obvious flavour. You mix the two batters separately and then swirl them together. I love how striking the two contrasting colours were, it was almost a shame to cover the surface with the sauce ingredients and flood it with water, but the resulting glossy chocolaty sauce was worth it.

Most self saucing puddings result in the sauce seeping to the bottom of the dish with the cakey batter on top. This did happen with my pudding but not all the sauce made it to the bottom. I think this was probably because the pumpkin made my batter heavier than a standard batter, resulting in a quirky bumpy pudding with pools of glossy sauce still flooding the surface, not quite what I planned but no less delicious.

I was thrilled when I took my first spoonful of the pudding to find the pudding underneath still nicely marbled pumpkin and chocolate and surrounded by plenty of the thick glossy chocolate sauce. This is not a light and fluffy pudding but if you like sticky, fudgy, stick-to-your-ribs type puddings then this is the one for you! Its definitely a comfort food and best eaten straight away, as the pudding starts to soak up the sauce if left until cold. This makes it go rather stodgy, but still oddly comforting. Some sauce does reappear if gently heated in the microwave. So although not one of the prettiest puddings I’ve made, it was certainly very tasty.

On a different note, you will notice that from now on I will be adding a watermark to my photos. This is because the lovely Elise from Simply Recipes alerted me to the fact that there is some guy completely ripping off/plagiarising my blog posts, blurb, recipes, photos, the lot!! I hope that he will cease to use my work once the photos come with a watermark – this is not ideal but I hope it will stop him! He’s doing it to other people too so be vigilant and look out for your friends!

Swirled Pumpkin & Chocolate Self Saucing Pudding
For the pumpkin batter
120g self raising flour
¼ tsp cayenne or chilli powder
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g mashed cooked pumpkin
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon

For the chocolate batter
150g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
160ml milk
1 tbsp neutral oil

For the sauce
70g light soft brown sugar
20g cocoa powder
1 tbsp cornflour
400ml boiling water

Preheat the oven to 180C and have a deep 9inch/23cm baking dish to hand.
To make the pumpkin batter simple add all the ingredients into a medium bowl and beat everything together, using an electric mixer, until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
In another clean bowl, add all the ingredients for the chocolate batter and beat until smooth. (Both batters will be quite soft).
Spoon large dollops of the pumpkin and chocolate batters into the baking dish, alternating each variety with every spoonful. Use a skewer or small knife to swirl the batters together to create a marbled effect.
To make the sauce, mix the brown sugar, cornflour and cocoa powder together in a small bowl. Scatter the sugar-cocoa mixture evenly over the surface of the pudding batter.
Boil the kettle and pour the 400ml of boiling water over the surface of the sugar-cocoa mix.
Carefully transfer the dish to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. The batter should start to rise up above the surface of the liquid as it thickens and seeps below to form a sauce. The batter protruding from the sauce should feel firm and springy to the touch when ready. (Some of the sauce will remain on the surface)
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Best eaten straight away, as the pudding absorbs most of the sauce if left until cold. (This makes it go rather stodgy, but oddly comforting.)
Serves 8

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Cake Slice October 09: Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake

This months Cake Slice cake is an extra special this month, as it marks the start of our next 12 months of baking adventures from our newly selected cake book and welcomes lots of new members into our group. I can now reveal that our new book is Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott! I’m thrilled our members voted this as our next book as it offers a whole variety of different cake styles, shapes and sizes. As much as I loved baking from our Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes book, it was sometimes difficult to find an occasion to bake a triple layer cake each month – this book offers much more scope for impromptu cake baking. It’s crammed full of cakes for every occasion, from layer cakes, tray bakes, bundts, cupcakes and loaves.

This Cinnamon Pecan Coffee Cake was voted the debut cake from the book. To me, the name is slightly confusing as the cake does not contain coffee. It is so called because in America it is the kind of cake that is often served with a cup of coffee. Similarly, here in the UK our toasted teacakes do not contain tea, but are often served alongside a cup of it in the afternoon. Either way I have decided to rename this cake as Cinnamon Pecan Raisin Crumb Cake. It consists of a moist butter cake with a generous middle layer of cinnamon sugar, pecans and raisins. It is also topped off with more of the same spiced fruit and nut sprinkles – strudel style.

During baking, the cake forms a delicate spiced sugar crust and the surface raisins become pleasantly chewy, like little nuggets of treacle, while the pecans get lightly toasted which gives them a wonderful depth of flavour. The cake itself remains incredibly moist and tender. It’s a lovely buttery yellow colour with a slightly crumbly crumb, reminiscent of a shortcake. The hidden middle layer of fruits, nuts and spices turns soft and gooey, adding sweetness, stickiness, crunch and spiciness to the soft and buttery crumb. The resulting cake is just heavenly, the kind of cake you eat before chasing the crumbs around the plate with your finger to ensure you get every last morsel.

The cake calls for an astonishing amount of cinnamon, and yet I’m pleased to say it wasn’t overpowering as it is only used in the filling and topping rather than the cake batter itself. So, although intense, the sweetness of the raisins and caramel flavour from the brown sugar helps balance the cinnamon with delicious results. The only change I made to the cake was to reduce the amount of sugar called for in both the cake and filling. I have a very sweet tooth, but I know from past experience that American cakes can be extremely sweet and when I noticed that the combined sugar content was 525g I decided to reduce it slightly. Also, the recipe for the cinnamon sugar makes an extremely large amount. I had about a third of mine leftover, despite being generous with it, so I will reduce the amount I make next time.

I loved how quick and easy it was to put together and once baked it required no extra work meaning you could be enjoying a piece in around an hour. This cake sort of reminds me of a sticky bun, only in cake form. Needless to say it didn’t last long in my house. It is one of the most delicious and enjoyable tray bake cakes I have made in a long time. It can be eaten hot as a pudding or cool at room temperature. I preferred it at room temperature and found it actually seemed to develop in flavour and become more tender the following day. If this cake is a sign of things to come from our new book I can’t wait to see what we’re baking next! Click here to see fellow Cake Slice bakers cakes.

Cinnamon Pecan Raisin Crumb Cake
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
For the Cake
360g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
225ml milk
200g butter, softened
225g sugar (I used 150g)
2 eggs

For the Cinnamon Raisin Filling
300g light soft brown sugar (I used 200g)
3 tbsp plain
3 tbsp cinnamon
225g raisins
175g pecans
150g butter

Method – Cinnamon Pecan Raisin Filling
Combine the light brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl and stir with a fork to mix everything well. Roughly chop the pecans and mix with the raisins and pecans in another bowl. In a third bowl, melt the butter until liquid and set aside until needed along with the cinnamon mixture and nut raisin mixture for use later.

For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and flour a 13x9 inch/32x23cm pan.
In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar and beat with a mixer on high speed until pale yellow and evenly mixed, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl to ensure a good mix. Add the eggs and beat for another 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl now and then, until the mixture is smooth and light.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Stir the vanilla into the milk.
Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir only until the flour disappears. Add a third of the milk and mix in. Repeat twice more until all the flour and milk mixtures have been incorporated. Stir just enough to keep the batter smooth.
Spread half the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Sprinkle half the cinnamon mixture over the batter followed by half the melted butter. Scatter half the raisins and nuts over the top.
Drop spoonfuls of the remaining batter carefully over the filling and use a spatula to smooth the batter all the way to the edges of the pan. Top with the leftover cinnamon, butter and nut mixture, covering the cake evenly.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown, fragrant and beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan. Place the pan on a wire rack and allow to cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before serving in squares right from the pan. The cake is delicious hot, warm or at room temperature. (I preferred room temperature).
Serves 15-18

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Apple & Blackberry Cake: Spiced Bramley Apple Cake with Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting & Coulis

It was my Grandmothers birthday a few weeks back and like me, she is a fellow fruit and foraging fanatic. This summer we have spent many a happy hour together, half engulfed by bushes down country lanes, picking plums and blackberries and enjoying days out at nearby pick-your-owns, digging up our own leeks and potatoes. When her birthday approached this year I was determined to bake her a special birthday cake making use of some of the fruits we had gathered together. As our most recent excursion had been blackberring I knew they would have to feature somewhere and decide to pair them with their best flavour companion, apple.

I have been working on my own recipe for apple sandwich cake layers, on and off, for some time now and have recently reached what I considered to be my ideal apple sponge cake. I decided that this would be the perfect time to give it its debut. It makes use of lots of freshly made Bramley apple puree and, naturally where I’m concerned, spices. The resulting cake is wonderfully moist but without it being dense or stodgy. It smells incredible during baking, sweet, warm apples and a mix of fragrant spices, reminiscent of cider warming on the hob at Christmas.

The blackberry cream cheese frosting was a bit of a wild card. I had an idea of adding lots of blackberry puree into the frosting, but I wasn’t at all sure it would work without turning into a runny goo, but I knew if I didn’t try, I would never know. I thickened the puree with a little arrowroot which stopped it being so ‘wet’ while ensuring its colour remained bright and glossy. I’m thrilled to say it worked well. I used half the coulis in the frosting which turned a gorgeous shade of purple, and spread the remaining half over the top of the finished cake as a glaze, which added an extra hit of intense blackberry flavour.

This finished cake was absolutely packed full of apple flavour - fresh and slightly sharp, that seemed to explode in your mouth, followed by an undertone of warming spices. The frosting was thick, creamy and smooth with a distinctive tang of fresh blackberries and such a striking natural colour! When paired together, the resulting cake with its moist spiced apply sweetness, velvety frosting and fruity twang is nothing short of heavenly.

The cake was meant to be a triple layer cake, but one of my cake layers suffered an accident, so I ended up only making a double layer cake – I was initially disappointed, but on the plus side this meant we had some leftover frosting to serve with the cake, which can never be a bad thing. So happy birthday Grandma! Thank you for so many happy fruit filled memories.

Spiced Bramley Apple Cake with Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting & Coulis

(Recipe by me)

Spiced Apple Cake

400g plain flour

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

220g butter

200g light soft brown sugar

4 eggs

Apple puree (see below)

Bramley Apple Puree

4 Bramley apples

200ml water

150g caster sugar

Blackberry Coulis

700g blackberries (400ml blackberry juice)

70g caster sugar

1 tsp arrowroot

Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting

250g icing sugar

200g cream cheese

100g butter

Half the blackberry coulis (above)

100ml double cream for decoration

Method – Bramley Apple Puree

Peel and core the Bramley apples and cut into small chunks. Place the apple into a saucepan and add the water.

Heat and allow to cook until softened and starting to break down and turn mushy. Stir in the sugar and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes until all of the water has evaporated and the apple is thick and pulpy. Remove from the heat and mash gently with a fork until a smooth puree is formed. Set aside to cool.

Spiced Apple Cake

Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease three 8inch/20cm sandwich pans and line the bases with greaseproof paper.

Beat the butter and sugar until well combined and soft. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the prepared apple puree (the mix will look very runny at this point, but this is ok).

Scatter the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices over the surface of the batter. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter using a large spatula or spoon, until no flour streaks remain.

Divide the batter evenly between the three cake tins (they will be very full).

Bake for 30-35 minutes until risen, lightly golden brown and springy to the touch. (The batter will rise to the top of the tin during baking, but will sink back down slightly on cooling).

Allow the cakes to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before unmoulding onto a cooling rack, peeling off the base paper and leaving to cool.

Blackberry Coulis

Rinse the blackberries under cool running water to remove any dust or dirt. Place the berries into a large pan and crush them slightly to release some of their juices. (There is no need to dry the berries first, as any water that remains on the berries will help start the cooking process).

Heat the blackberries and bring the mixture to the boil as the juices are released. Allow to boil for 15 – 20 minutes then remove from the heat.

Position a large bowl under a sieve and push the fruit through the sieve to remove the pips, catching the juice in the bowl below.

Rinse out the pan and pour the blackberry juice back in. Stir in the sugar and bring the mixture back to the boil.

Boil for 10 minutes until the juice has reduced by nearly half.

Dissolve the arrowroot in 2 tsp of cold water and add to the pan, stirring well. Continue to stir gently until the mixture has thickened and become slightly jelly like.

Remove from the heat and pour the coulis into a bowl and leave to cool before refrigerating until cold before using.

Blackberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and well combined. Sift over the icing sugar, a third at a time, beating well between each addition.

Fold in half of the cooled blackberry coulis, reserving the rest for later.

Cover and refrigerate for an hour, to firm up, before using.

To Assemble

Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate and spread over a quarter of the blackberry cream cheese frosting. Top with another cake layer, another quarter of the frosting and top with the final cake layer.

Use the remaining half of the frosting to generously cover the top and sides of the cake.

Whip the double cream until soft peaks form. Place the cream into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe a border of cream around the top outside rim of the cake and another middle ring of you wish.

Using the reserved blackberry coulis, drizzle it over the top of the frosted cake, inside the piped cream border. Gently spread it out into an even layer to cover the whole top of the cake. (I found putting the coulis into a squeezy bottle helped).

Decorate with extra flowers or candles as you wish.

Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Store any leftovers in the fridge and eat within 3-4 days.

Serves 12-16

(Makes an 8inch/20cm triple layer cake – I only ended up with a two layer cake as my third layer had an unfortunate accident with the floor!)

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Apple & Blackberry Pie

It has been a good year for blackberries and over the past couple of weeks I have collected quite a stash from the hedgerows. You have to have nimble fingers to avoid the sharp pointy thorns with which the berries are guarded, but the odd prick and scratch is worth it to get your hands on these flavoursome berries.

I have frozen the majority of the blackberries, in readiness for the next time a berry dessert, cake or coulis is required, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to bake some into a delicious pie - an apple and blackberry pie! These two fruits are so quintessentially English and autumnal that even the words “apple and blackberry” bring a smile to me face. When paired together inside a pie the blackberries release their moody purple juice, staining the apple a beautiful purple colour, allowing the flavours to intermingle with delicious results.

You don’t need to be too precise about how you pile in the fruit or add the pastry top. I actually think the more higgledy-piggledy the better, as it means the pastry bakes into golden bumps and lumps as the fruit inside cooks and softens, giving it a very homely appeal. The way the juice and fruit tumbles out as you cut into it is so heart warming. I love it served warm with custard, but it also tastes good cold, when it’s become a little firmer and can be cut into nice thick slices.

Apple & Blackberry Pie

400g sweet shortcrust pastry
2 large cooking apples (Bramley)
225g blackberries
30g ground almonds or breadcrumbs
70g caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 200C. Have an 8inch/20cm fluted tart tin ready on a baking tray.
Cut the pastry into two pieces, one piece larger than the other, around two-thirds and one-third. Wrap the smaller piece of the pastry in clingfilm and place in the fridge until required.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and roll out the larger piece of pasty to form a circle large enough to fit into the fluted tin. It should be about 4-5mm thick.
Line the tin with the pastry and press gently into the edges. Lay a large piece of clingfilm on top of the pastry and fill with baking beans or rice, to act as a weight. Gather up the clingfilm together to form a pouch.
Blind bake the pastry case for 15 minutes until beginning to go golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and gently take out the pouch of baking beans.
Crack the egg into a mug and lightly whisk to combine. Brush the partly cooked pasty case with the egg wash, all over the base and sides (save the egg wash for use again later). Return it to the oven for 8 minutes more to become golden. Then set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, gently wash the blackberries to remove any dust and place them into a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and cut then into 3-4mm thick slices and add to the blackberries.
Mix the sugar and mixed spice together before sprinkling over the fruit. Use your hands to toss them all together, to evenly coat the fruit in the spiced sugar. It’s ok if some of the blackberries get squashed and ‘bleed’ their juices into the apple, I think it actually makes it more attractive.
Scatter the ground almonds or breadcrumbs over the base of the pastry case (this helps prevent the pastry from going too soggy from the fruits juices).
Pile the sugared fruit into the pastry case, it should rise into a mound above the rim of the tart as it will soften and sink down during cooking.
Remove the remaining pastry from the fridge and roll out into a large circle. Drape it over the top of the fruit and press it down onto the rim of the pastry base to seal. Use any offcuts to form little pasty shapes or decorations for the top.
Poke three small holes in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape during cooking. Brush the whole thing with the leftover egg wash and scatter over an extra tablespoon of sugar.
Bake for 10 minutes at 200C before reducing the temperature to 180C and baking for 25-30 minutes more, until golden brown.
Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before attempting to remove it from the tin.
Serve hot or cold with cream, ice cream or custard (or all three!)
Serves 8-10

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Peanut Butter & Cranberry Rice Krispie Squares

I have a great fondness for rice krispie squares. When I was little they always appeared at my birthday parties, either chocolate or the sticky chewy caramel ones. Recently I had promised to make a slice of some sort for an afternoon tea gathering with friends. I had all sorts of ideas running through my head but none of them felt right. I then hit upon the idea of rice krispie treats and knew this idea was bound to be popular with my friends.

As much as I love the traditional krispie treats, I wanted to give them a bit of a twist. Recently I have been seeing a lot of granola bar recipes featuring peanut butter and decided that this would be the perfect flavour to introduce to the krispies squares. I also decided to add some dried cranberries as I thought the sweet and tangy flavour of the cranberries would go well with the creamy, slightly salty peanut butter. A sort of take on a peanut butter and jelly/jam combination. The peanut butter gave the bars a golden colour, while the glossy red cranberries also helped brighten the appearance.

The squares came together in a matter of minutes and the peanut butter behaved very well in the mix, melting in nicely with the other ingredients. You want to melt everything over a low heat, as the peanut butter would start to thicken if you let it boil. No doubt tasty, but not that practical for coating the rice krispies with.

Not only are the krispie squares very quick to make, but they are also no bake and gluten free! (Do check the ingredients list on your rice krispies though – although most are gluten free). The bars were a hit with my friends. The creamy nutty flavour was quite subtle at first but it developed as you chewed and the occasional cranberry added a nice contrasting tanginess.

Peanut Butter & Cranberry Rice Krispie Squares

60g butter
60g golden syrup
100g smooth peanut butter
50g dried cranberries
100g rice krispies

Line the base and sides of a 7inch/18cm square tin with clingfilm and set to one side.
Place the butter, golden syrup and peanut butter together in a pan. Stir the mixture over a low heat until the butter has melted and the peanut butter has become smooth and well combined. You do not want it to boil.
Stir in the cranberries and remove from the heat.
Pour in the rice krispies and quickly mix everything together with a folding motion, ensuring all the rice krispies get evenly coated.
Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer. Place another sheet of clingfilm on top and press down firmly to ensure the rice krispies are well compacted.
Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Remove the rice krispie square from the pan and slice into squares.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes 9 – 12 squares depending on how large you cut them.