Friday, 12 April 2013

Postage Stamp Birthday Cake

My dad turns 70 next week, and I'd been thinking for a while about what sort of birthday cake I could make him. Two of his interests are stamp-collecting and chess. I considered making a chess board cake - complete with 3D pieces - but quickly decided that not only would it be insanely tricky and time-consuming to do, but the chances of it remaining intact after a 3.5 hour car journey would be pretty slim. So I settled for a postage stamp cake.

I had planned to make a square cake, and then a postage stamp from fondant icing, featuring my dad's profile. Unfortunately, just as I was about to put the square cake in the oven, I realised that I had misjudged the size of the tin, and didn't have enough batter for it. So I hastily scooped it into a round tin which was the right size.

Shape issues aside, I'm pretty pleased with the way the cake turned out. Hopefully my dad will like it too!

Monday, 8 April 2013

3rd Birthday Cake

It was my daughter's 3rd birthday last month. Three years old (*sob*) - how on earth did that happen? Of course, she just had to have a pink cake, and she wanted a certain character to feature on it too. So here's how it ended up.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Say it...with cupcakes

Phew - what a crazy day. Just time to post a picture of the cupcakes I made this afternoon (carrot cakes with white chocolate, orange and cream cheese frosting), while I prepare dinner and then crack open the champagne. Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Dinosaur Cookies

I've discovered lately that four year-old boys love all things dinosaur. Well, mine does at least - and I suspect he's not alone. And so it was that we found ourselves at the Natural History Museum a couple of days ago, for the second time in less than a week.

During the first visit, I had somehow managed to usher both children past the museum shop quickly, thus avoiding being pressured into buying whatever dinosaur-related item they clapped eyes on first. This time, I failed - but just as Max rushed up to me clutching a dinosaur lunch box, I spotted a set of cookie cutters and my own eyes lit up. When I asked him whether he'd like to make some dinosaur biscuits, the previously coveted lunch box was back on the shelf before you could say 'Brontosaurus', and he was squealing with excitement and running to the till to pay for the cutters. Now that's what I call a result.

The following morning we put our aprons on and got creating, using the basic biscuit recipe I used for last year's Valentine's cookies, and coloured fondant icing to decorate. Naturally, Maya's dinosaurs just had to be pink. And why not? For all we know, pink dinosaurs did indeed roam the earth!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Summery Ginger Cupcakes

If you like the taste of gingerbread, you'll love these. But forget heavy, stodgy ginger cake or Christmassy gingerbread biscuits - let's leave those for cold, dark, winter days. These are as light as a feather, and perfect for a summer's day. Admittedly, the sun has been a bit shy so far this year; don't worry - these will brighten your day in an instant!

I created this recipe myself, after I wanted to bake the other day, and realised I didn't have any butter. I searched online and found a chocolate cake recipe which used oil instead of butter. When I made it, I wasn't too impressed by the flavour. What I did like was the light, airy texture of the sponge. So I made a few substitutions: cocoa powder for spices, caster sugar for dark brown soft sugar, and golden syrup for black treacle. The icing was another experiment, but I think it complements the cakes perfectly.

These are perfect for baking with children, as they are so simple to make.

Summery Ginger Cupcakes

For the cakes:

175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1 generous teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs, beaten
150g dark brown soft sugar
150ml semi-skimmed milk
150ml sunflower oil
1½ tablespoons golden syrup
1 tablespoon black treacle

For the frosting:

400g icing sugar
100g butter, soft
80g full fat cream cheese (eg Philadelphia)
1 tablespoon syrup from a jar of stem ginger (or add more to taste)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 12 hole muffin tin with cake cases.

2. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl. Add the sugar and mix. 

3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the oil, milk, syrup, treacle and eggs. Beat until you have a smooth, liquid batter.

4. Pour the batter into a jug and fill the cupcake cases two-thirds full.

5. Bake for around 15 minutes, or until done. When ready, the top of the cakes should spring back when pressed lightly. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

6. While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting by beating together the soft butter and cream cheese. Add the icing sugar (ideally sifted, to get rid of any lumps) and the ginger syrup. I added a tablespoon to give a subtle flavour, but you can add more to taste if you prefer a stronger taste. Beat on low speed until light and fluffy.

7. When the cakes are cool, top with the frosting, and any decorations you might want to add - perhaps a sliver of crystallised ginger or a very light dusting of cinammon. I kept mine simple and left them as they were.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Iced Butterfly Cookies

 Is there a better way to cheer yourself up on a grey, rainy day than to make pretty, pastel-coloured polka dot butterfly cookies?


I couldn't think of one, and neither could my kids, so we got our aprons on and made some cookie dough (using the same recipe as for the Valentine's heart cookies I made in February). We rolled it out, cut out some butterflies and baked until they were just turning golden at the edges.

A couple of months ago, I had a request for some instructions on how to ice cookies. So here's how.

First you need to prepare some royal icing. You can buy royal icing sugar in most supermarkets, and make it up using cold water, according to the instructions on the box. Once it's ready, decide which colour(s) you'd like to use. Mix each colour up in a separate bowl. The consistency needs to be soft, but not runny. You need to be able to pipe a line with it, without the icing curling up (too firm) or dripping everywhere (too watery).

For each colour you make up, put about a third of your icing in a piping bag. I've used disposable bags which I made from baking parchment. You can find loads of tutorials for making piping bags on the internet, so I won't bother trying to explain here - watching a video on YouTube will probably make far more sense to you.   

 Thin the other two-thirds of the coloured royal icing a little, using   tiny amounts of cold water, until it's just about runny enough to drip off a spoon. Now put this icing into another piping bag, or into a squeezy plastic bottle with a nozzle.
Using one colour of the firmer icing, pipe the outline of your cookie, and leave to dry for a few minutes.

Not my best effort...I blame the children!
Then, using the same colour, flood the middle with the runny icing. While it is still wet you can use runny icing in a different colour to pipe dots on top.

Allow to dry.

And this is the result - a plate of extremely edible butterflies. The fact that these biscuits have the sweetness and crunch of Party Rings (remember those?), thereby evoking a real sense of nostalgia, only adds to their appeal!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Pistachio and chocolate chip cupcakes

I love pistachio flavoured anything, so I couldn't wait to make these. 

It was only after I had started mixing the ingredients and opened the cupboard to get the milk chocolate, ready to chop up, that - oops - I realised I only had bars of dark chocolate. Luckily I'd been super organised for Easter eggs this year, and had a milk chocolate one stored away which I had planned to give my husband. Perfect! (Sorry darling. But I'm sure you'll agree that your chocolate egg was sacrificed for the greater good.)

The frosting for these cakes is a rich, sweet chocolate mousse, consisting of double cream, butter, milk chocolate and sugar. Between that and the ground pistachios and chocolate chips in the cake, these are very, very filling. I made the mistake of eating one just before lunchtime. Lunch was subsequently cancelled.

Pistachio and chocolate chip cupcakes
(Recipe adapted from 'Making Cupcakes with Lola')

For the cakes:
115g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g softened, unsalted butter
A pinch of salt
170g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla paste/extract
2 eggs
40ml full cream milk
100g shelled, unsalted pistachios, ground
75g milk chocolate, chopped

For the chocolate mousse frosting:
125ml double cream
125g milk chocolate
125g softened, unsalted butter
400g icing sugar
1 tbsp cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric whisk or paddle attachment of a stand mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well after each.

Sift the flour, baking powder and sugar together. Add a third of this dry mixture to the bowl, mixing on low speed until just combined, then add a tablespoon of the milk and mix again. Continue in this way until all the dry ingredients and milk have been mixed in.

Fold in the ground pistachios and chopped chocolate, and divide the mixture between your muffin cases.

Bake for around 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of one of the cakes comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the frosting:

Heat the double cream in a pan until it starts to bubble around the edges, and then stir in the chocolate until it has all melted and combined with the cream. Allow to cool.

When the chocolate and cream mixture is at room temperature, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate mixture, the icing sugar and the cocoa powder. Mix gently at first and then increase the speed and beat for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.

You may be able to pipe the frosting on as it is, or if it's too runny, put the bowl in the fridge until it's firm enough.

Top the frosted cupcakes with chopped pistachios, if you have any left (I didn't).