Monthly Archives: June 2013

Strawberries and Cream Pancake Stack

In hindsight, I should have made pancakes.

At 11pm on Tuesday I was ready to give up the baking game. On a wire rack in the kitchen sat two cakes; one not dissimilar to a rock bun, the other the look and texture of a pink rubber glove. I flipped out, poured a fishbowl of chardonnay and announced I was taking up sewing. I just can’t do this.

What I should have said was I can’t do everything. This week has probably been the most jam packed of my career so far. Each day after work I had something on – Monday I took a sewing class. Tuesday I threw myself off a cliff in the name of charity. Wednesday I had Bake Club and Thursday I finally got my hair chopped and went on a flat cleaning spree. By Friday I was utterly exhausted.

But it was Tuesday that had me denouncing flour and sugar and looking up bright jewel-like sewing machines on the John Lewis website. After my extremely nerve-wracking but rather enjoyable abseil, I rushed off home to whip up two genoise sponges that were set to form the base of my strawberries and cream themed bake for Pinnies and Petticoats this month. Alas my tired brain and half-arsed attempt at folding in flour at 10pm meant the kitchen became a cake disaster zone. Something had to give – and it was the cakes.


Luckily everyone at bake club was lovely about my cake disaster, and I soon decided that perhaps I wasn’t ready to give up the flour and sugar just yet. I began to plan my sweet strawberries and cream revenge – except this time around it would be to reward myself for my busy week with a lazy Saturday brunch.

Stacks of pancakes and buckets of black coffee are usually traditions reserved for Sunday morning. But after a long week of doing things, a lazy Saturday seemed the perfect opportunity to whip out some strawberries and cream cheese to make a delicious dessert-style brunch. Sweetened with a quick strawberry puree, these pancakes are light and fluffy with a sweet tang from the red fruit and a hint of warmth from vanilla. Stacked high with more fresh berries and a sweet cream cheese frosting, this is pancake-making that simply oozes class. And with Wimbledon just around the corner, gearing up to get the country tennis mad once more, there is no better way to celebrate than with a strawberries and cream inspired brunch. Game, Set and Match to pancakes – who wants cake for breakfast anyway?


Serves two (or one greedy person!)

You Will Need

100g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ tbsp caster sugar

1 large egg

100ml milk

¼ tsp vanilla paste

1 strawberry

A knob of butter for frying.


To serve

6-7 strawberries, sliced

3 tbsp cream cheese

1 tbsp icing sugar

¼ tsp vanilla paste

Pancake ingredients

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and caster sugar. Crack the egg into the bowl and whisk together. Add the milk a splash at a time, whisking to a smooth batter. Whisk in the vanilla paste.

Making Pancakes

On a chopping board, cut the stalk off the strawberry then mash to a paste with the back of a fork. Scrape into the batter then whisk to combine.

Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add the butter. Once melted, add tablespoons of the batter to the pan. Once the pancakes begin to bubble, flip over and cook for a further minute. Remove from the pan and keep warm under a clean tea towel. Repeat until the batter is all used up.

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla. To serve, spread the frosting on each pancake and stack, adding two sliced strawberries between each layer. Eat quickly before it topples over!

Pancake Stack Cut Into

Death by Chocolate Cake

I was in two minds whether to write this post. In my overly critical mind, I had sorely messed up. A fudgey but not too rich cake was on my mind when I began to measure out the grapeseed oil and sift gram after gram of cocoa powder. I dreamt of slicing through a thick ganache like softened butter, easing out a slice to wonder at three perfect layers of cake, a slick chocolate coating and a sliver of crisp chocolate shard. Oh how wrong I was.

A couple of weeks ago I nervously took to the kitchen in the first of three sessions to perfect what will now been known as Operation Two Tier Cake. Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that I like to follow the Beautiful Mess challenge of Four Simple Goals. A relatively simple challenge whereby one puts pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – to draft goals to achieve over a couple of months.  One of my goals for spring was to make my first two tier cake, tackling the frankly intimidating world of dowelling rods, cake boards and tins that aren’t your average 20cm. I mean really, half the time I serve up my cakes on a chopping board or my Poundland cake carrier. How on earth was I going to achieve this?

Simple – by making things as hard for myself as possible and offering to make a two tier cake for my parents 25th Wedding Anniversary. You know, the one where EVERYTHING is silver, intimating and refined. Erm, eek…

To conquer my cake-y fear, I accidentally ended up with a three day week in the days before the event, so took the opportunity to recipe test the chocolate cake I was planning to make. Lucky I did, as this cake would have been nowhere near suitable. However, if you are in the market for a beautiful celebration cake that is only one tier and won’t have you crying in the back garden minutes before the guests arrive – yes I did that – then this cake is for you.

At first this cake seems harmless – it is butter-free and uses a delicate grapeseed oil to keep the mixture light. But appearances are deceptive and the practically liquid batter bakes up into a thick richness not dissimilar to a torte. The ganache is thick and bitter, the high percentage of cocoa in the ganache mirroring the toothsome sweetness of the cake. It chills perfectly, and almost 4 days later was still delicious sliced up from the fridge. It will feed a great deal of people, so portion delicately as so to savour the richness of this cake. The chocolate shards were my first attempt for the real thing and although I preferred to smooth over baking parchment in the end, the dimpled effect from the clingfilm was quite endearing.

This is the first in a series of posts where I detail how I came to complete this challenge. Once I have permission to use the professional photos (after a few calming champagne flutes my SLR attempts were wobbly to say the least) I will continue the story. I promise it will be worth it and it may will probably make you laugh at me. I am willing to take the hit in the name of chocolate cake art.

Chocolate cake recipe adapted slightly from Poires Au Chocolat’s ‘That Chocolate Cake’ , ganache and chocolate shards adapted from Sweet Tooth by Lily Vanilli


You Will Need

450g granulated sugar

200g plain flour, sifted

85g cocoa powder, sifted (I like Green and Blacks)

1 ½ tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp table salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

275ml milk

135ml grapeseed oil

275ml boiling water


For the chocolate shards

100g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

¼ tsp unsalted butter

Edible silver spray to decorate


For the ganache

250ml double cream

130g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 85% but if you really don’t think you can handle the bitterness, take it down to 70%)

25g unsalted butter

A pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/gas mark 6. Grease and line three 20cm sandwich tins with  baking parchment and set aside. Note that you cannot use loose bottomed tins for this recipe, even if you test with water. Learned that one the hard way…

Death by Chocolate Ingredients

Place the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Whisk until all the ingredients are equally incorporated, then add the beaten eggs, milk and grapeseed oil. Boil a kettle then add the boiling water to the mix. Turn the speed to low as the batter will become very liquid at this point.

Liquid Chocolate Cake Batter

Divide equally between the three cake tins then place in the oven. Bake for around 30-40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle of each comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, removing the paper and leaving the cakes to cool completely.

Marbled Cake Batter

Next begin the chocolate shards. Lay one piece of clingfilm on a baking sheet, ensuring it isn’t wrinkled too much and have another the same size close by (you can use baking parchment for a smoother finish if you prefer).  Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and add the chocolate and butter. Melt two thirds of the way then take off the heat and stir until the chocolate is smooth. To check if the chocolate is ready, dip a (clean!) finger in the bowl and place to your lips; if the chocolate feels cool it’s ready to use. Smooth the chocolate over the clingfilm evenly and place the second sheet on top, smoothing out any air bubbles. Refrigerate for one hour.

Once the cakes have cooled, make up the ganache. Place the chocolate, butter and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, heat the cream gently until bubbling at the sides then pour over the chocolate. Leave to sit for a minute, the stir through until thick and creamy. Leave to one side for around 10-15 minutes. The ganache should thicken to a dropping consistency.

Plain Chocolate Cake

Place the bottom cake on a serving plate or board and place four strips of baking parchment underneath to keep the plate clean. Dollop a tablespoon of ganache over the cake and smooth over neatly. Add another cake on top and repeat. Add the final cake then do a quick crumb layer across the top and sides of the cake to keep it neat. Use the ganache to fill in any gaps or tears in the cake. Leave to set for 10 minutes.

Smooth over the remaining ganache and neaten with the palate knife. Remove the chocolate shards from the fridge and peel back the clingfilm. Evenly spray the edible paint over the chocolate and leave to dry for a few minutes. Carefully break into shards and decorate the top of the cake.

Death by Chocolate Cake

side view of cherry blueberry frangipane tart with almond buttercream

“Victoria, nobody just ‘throws together’ a frangipane tart!”

As soon as I said it, I realised how utterly ridiculous it sounded. Like “I’m just going to whip up a croquembouche dear” or “I’m off for a marathon, cheerio!” People just don’t whip up desserts as quick as a flash unless it’s faux mango ice cream – frozen fruit and yoghurt don’t ya know –or some sort of puff pastry cheat pie with a bundle of fruit on top. No Victoria, people do not just throw a dessert  together in a kitchen smash bang as they are attempting to make their first two-tier cake (more on that little heartbreaker soon!)

Except I did. It may look utterly delicious and time consuming, but I genuinely had every single ingredient lingering in either my store cupboards, fridge or freezer. I had been stocking up on butter blocks all week in preparation for my parents Silver Wedding Anniversary cake so I had more than enough for sweet pastry. The remaing half of my frangipane from my Apricot and Lemon Frangipane Tart was neatly packaged in the freezer. I had cherries and blueberries spilling out my ears and the almond buttercream? Just chilling in a pastry bag at the back of my freezer next to some petit pois.

I offered up my services to provide pud  for the Pease Central contingent who descended on Fife late last week for the Silver Wedding party To cut down on stress (I made eight cakes the next day) I put together my favourite sweet pastry the night before and blind baked so that one job was done. I took the frangipane and buttercream out the freezer and prepared the fruit for the filling. Then in the morning I simply cranked up the oven at 8am, smoothed sweet frangipane in the case and studded it with summer fruits and flaked almonds. A quick flash in the oven, six swirls of buttercream and some artful decoration later and this baby was packaged up and ready for munching.

close up of cherry

This is probably my favourite kind of baking – quick and efficient, but with beautiful results. I have repeated the recipe below, but by and large this is a slight modification on my last blog post. I just couldn’t resist though, I just love looking at the pictures of the cherry stalks curling from the top of the tart. Happy frugal baking friends!


P.S A quick question readers – as I was in a little bit of a rush, I only really took time to take pictures post-baking of this tart. Do you prefer finished product posts or a step by step with pictures? Let me know in the comments!


Adapted and Inspired by  Rachel’s Favourite Food by Rachel Allan and Sweet Tooth by Lily Vanilli


You Will Need


For the pastry

250g plain flour

25g icing sugar, sieved

125g cold unsalted butter, cubed

1 large egg, beaten


For the filling

½ batch frangipane (recipe here)

A small handful blueberries (reserve six to decorate)

A handful of cherries, stoned and halved (reserve six to decorate)

A small handful of flaked almonds, plus extra to decorate


For the almond buttercream

27g unsalted butter, softened

125g icing sugar, sieved

2 tbsp ground almonds

1 tsp vanilla paste

2-3 tablespoons milk

Tip: You won’t need all the buttercream so simply place straight in the freezer after using and defrost when required again. Do not refreeze.

cherry blueberry frangipane tart

To make the pastry, whisk together the flour and icing sugar then rub in the butter carefully. Make sure you have cold hands to avoid melting the butter. Once the mix resembles breadcrumbs, add ½ to ¾ of the beaten egg and mix to form a pastry ball. The shortcrust needs to hold together but not be too wet. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and press down to form a flat disc then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Do not throw the remaining egg away.

Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the pastry in a round bigger than the bottom of the tin – I used this 23cm fluted flan tin. Roll to a 5mm thickness then loosen from the surface with a palate knife. Carefully lift the pastry over your rolling pin and drape over the tin. Gently press into the fluted edges then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a further 30 minutes – this will eliminate shrinking.

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/Gas Mark 6. Cut the top off the pastry by rolling the pin over the top or by pressing with your thumb to form a neat edge. Place a sheet of baking parchment over the pastry and fill with baking beans or lentils. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry feels dry. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further minute to dry out. Brush the pastry with the remaining egg to seal and return to the oven for a final bake for 2 minutes. Cool the pastry case completely. If filling the next day, cover with clingfilm and leave in a place where it is unlikely to be knocked or broken.

decorating frangipane tart

If using frozen frangipane from a previous recipe, defrost overnight in a mixing bowl covered with clingfilm. Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/ gas mark 6 and smooth the frangipane across the pastry case evenly with a spatula. Scatter or arrange the fruit on top, lightly pressing into the batter. Scatter with flaked almonds and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Remember to keep an eye on the frangipane as it can catch easily. Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter in a stand or handheld mixer until smooth. Beat in the icing sugar, almonds, and vanilla, adding the milk slowly until you have a smooth icing that will hold its shape when piped. Spoon into a plastic piping bag and pipe six neat blobs around the outside of the tart. Top each blob with a cherry (keep the stalks on for a pretty effect) and a blueberry, pressing in flakes of almonds in a fan shape. Scatter the rest of the tart with almonds then serve up with pouring cream or vanilla ice cream.

top view frangipane tart