Monthly Archives: July 2013

Two Tier Chocolate Cake

A few weeks ago, I began the story of how I made my first two tier cake. Planning a decadent chocolate affair to celebrate my mum and dad’s 25th wedding anniversary, I plotted exactly how I was going to undertake this mammoth task. After testing a delicious but far too rich cake, I went back to the drawing board and pulled out some old favourites to help create Love and Death by Chocolate – The Anniversary Edition.

I rose early, whipping up this Cherry Blueberry Frangipane Tart for that night’s dessert well before 9am, sprinkling with almonds and pressing fat blueberries into the defrosted frangipane, coffee in hand. Although it was a relatively bright day, the weather was kind to this harassed baker, totting up in her head just how many cake tins she would have to line and the sheer amount of chocolate left to chop. A cooling breeze and a little cloud were most welcome.

After the recipe test of the Death by Chocolate Cake, I had decided to return to the drawing board and plump for Edd Kimber’s Ultimate Chocolate Birthday Cake as the base for my two tier construction. Although melted chocolate and cocoa powder combine into a rich and toothsome batter, the resulting cake is moist and possesses a lighter crumb that the density of the tested version.


The three cakes balanced precociously in the oven, the third on a makeshift shelf at the bottom – a grill pan wire rack serving as the ‘emergency chair’ for the oven. I switcherooed and turned the tins until each cake was perfectly cooked then began the task of organising enough wire racks to cool them on. Again, the grill pan rack saved the day.

What better way to sandwich this light cake together with than darkly seductive pools of dark dark chocolate and splashes of whisky? I whipped up a batch using the heated cream and pour over chocolate method and added around 3 to 4 tablespoons of Luke’s kindly donated Angel’s Share. A quick crumb coating and the bottom was ready to go. Time to tackle the top.

Finding a recipe for a loose-bottomed cake tin proved more difficult as my last-minute dash for 15cm tins rustled up the wobbly bottomed variety. Luckily Edd Kimber’s newer cake book Say It With Cake came to the rescue, offering a layered vanilla and chocolate genoise cake tower, which sat at the top of a ‘naked’ wedding cake.

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This was my first time making this precarious sponge and I do still have my reservations. A few weeks later and tired from completing an abseil off the coastline cliffs for charity (pause for applause) I rushed around my kitchen attempting to make this delicate sponge come together with all the grace of a bulldozer. Safe to say folding flour into a complex egg structure with the speed of a cement mixer was an utter fail.

Luckily my first occasion was in the daytime devoid of distractions, ropes and hard helmets. Genoise is cooked twice; first on the hob as you whisk egg whites and yolks with sugar until the crystals have dissolved and the mixture begins to warm, before it is baked in the oven. Whirred in my Kmix, the batter become thick and marshmallow like  – pillow soft with a tang of yellow from the burst yolks. Flour is carefully folded in before the foamy cake mix is scooped into the tin and baked for a short amount of time. The resulting sponge is super light and often used with air-whipped mousses to create beautiful patisserie, but I plumped for an Italian meringue buttercream speckled with vanilla to sandwich with the chocolate genoise I had baked earlier (simply substituting cocoa for a portion of the flour).

The two cakes were finished. The real headache was the assembly. Luckily I had my own executive chef on hand to offer some amazing advice when I was starting to panic. I made 3 batches of Lily Vanilli’s chocolate shards, sandwiched between greaseproof paper and refrigerated for at least an hour. Then I sprayed with edible silver spray in the garden and broke the pieces into shards. I had only managed to temper one batch and the satisfying snap was made duller by the cruel crumble of the other two. I would highly recommend the best quality chocolate that you can find for this process and stay away from white until you get dark chocolate absolutely perfect.

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After some humming and hawing, I decided to skewer the cakes with three cake rods rather than balancing on just-flush supports. I slathered the now two tier cake in another layer of ganache and quickly set about peeling the shards from the baking parchment and trepidly placing along the sides of the cake. Admittedly a few blasts of the chef’s blowtorch were required to get the shards to stick, but the cake was taking shape.

When I finished the outside of the cake, that was when I really lost it. Looking back, I totally understand why I did; I was tired and had been baking solidly since 9am the previous morning. I had also picked an unconventional method of decoration and although it was supposed to look that way I felt it looked messy and uncontrolled. I do still have my reservations about the overall look of the cake, but that has more to do with the shards not being snap-perfect and clean cut. A cry and a hug in the garden resumed my faith and I gathered the last shards, piled them on top and carried the cake into the living room on a slate to be photographed. Finally I could relax.

I want to say a big thank you to my family for really supporting me with this project. Initially worried I had asked too much of myself, mum and dad’s encouragement and last-minute runs to the speciality cake shop were a godsend. David’s advice came in so handy and I am so lucky he was there to help. Luke’s hugs and reassurance were great and everyone who commented and said it looked (and luckily tasted!) great meant so much. And thanks to you for reading this journey – I hope you are inspired to step out your baking comfort zone and tackle a new challenge. I am certainly glad I did.

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All images (excluding chocolate cakes on coffee table) by Fiona Ainslie of Memory Lane Photography.

bluberry and lime polenta cake

I’m not really sure I could handle a gluten free diet. Don’t get me wrong, I have massive respect for those who opt out of bacon sandwiches with thick, springy bread or a huge plate of macaroni cheese – either by choice or for health reasons. But I am a girl who eats two slices of toast for breakfast and eats a disgusting amount of aforementioned cheesy pasta dish for my tea. No flour? No thanks.

However this week, Kathryn from London Bakes served up this delicious balsamic strawberry polenta cake and I was in GF heaven. Those juicy plump strawberries, bursting with juice married with lemon had me at hello. In the post, Kathryn added that this cake was gluten free in an almost throw-away manner, like it didn’t really matter at all. And you know what? I totally agree.

I have never baked or even cooked with polenta before; it always conjures up images of fat packets lining the shelves in the supermarkets when we are on holiday. I haven’t really seen it in the depths of Aberdeen supermarkets until I went looking for it and even then it was nestled with the Indian foods rather than the Italian as I had expected. Still, this mustardy yellow cornmeal sure packs a punch in this delicious summertime cake.

bluberry and lime polenta cake

I decided to make two thirds of the original recipe for two reasons – one, I didn’t think I had enough ground almonds and two, I was worried the batter would be too much for my measly sandwich tin.  I was right on both accounts but if you are well endowed on the almond front and have a deep 20cm cake tin then go ahead for the full hog. But this scaled down version still feeds an army for the perfect pudding.

I also switched the strawberries and lemon for blueberries and lime, as I love the zingy combination. The blueberries were starting to turn anyway and burst beautifully into jammy pools of sticky dark purple. The lime brightens this cake up and with a cooling dollop of plain yogurt (I don’t see the point in buying crème fraiche for one spoonful) I would wholeheartedly jump ship to the gluten free side. But can I keep my macaroni?


Adapted from London Bakes


You Will Need

150g unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature

150g caster sugar

150g ground almonds

2 eggs

2 limes, zested with the juice of ½

1’/2 tsp vanilla paste

½ tsp baking powder

70g polenta

150g blueberries

blueberry and lime polenta cake

Preheat an oven to 170/150oc fan/gas mark 3. Grease and line a 20cm sandwich tin and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer  – or a large bowl if using a handheld whisk – beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the almonds until fully incorporated, scraping the bowl to ensure the batter is mixed through. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully combined.

bluberry and lime polenta cake

Add the lime zest and juice of ½ of one of the limes along with the vanilla paste, baking powder and polenta and stir to combine. Carefully fold in a small handful of the blueberries through the mix.

bluberry and lime polenta cake

Dollop the batter into the cake tin and smooth with a spatula. Dot the remaining blueberries across the top of the cake, pressing in some as you go then place in the oven for 45 minutes until golden.

bluberry and lime polenta cake

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then carefully place a wire rack over the top and invert. Remove the baking parchment and leave to cool completely. When ready to serve, place a plate on the bottom of the cake and upturn so the berries are on the top. Cut into wedges and serve with plain yoghurt or creme fraiche.

bluberry and lime polenta cake

Thank you very much to any readers who nominated me for the Cosmo Blog Awards 2013 – i didn’t make the cut this year, but the lovely Lottie’s Little Kitchen did! If you want to vote for your favourite foodie, click here!

Peach Pistachio and Ricotta Cheesecake

Berlin’s achingly cool area of Friedrichshain is never far from my mind. A regular haunt during my time in the city, my friends and I took in numerous bars, clubs and sightseeing hidden in crazy little corners. This area of the city opens up as a Mecca for downmarket restaurants – think greasy fruitti di mare lasagne made with rubbery frozen mixed fish – and uninspiring cocktail bars with bizarre concoctions dreamt up with just a whole can of peaches and tequila of dubious origin. But there is also the down low dirty club vibe, with the likes of RAW enticing locals to mingle with party tourists, brick walls dripping with sweat, dubstep pounding from the speakers and holes in the wall that hint at Berlin’s reputation amongst the debauched crowd.

Which is surprising, as just around the corner from RAW’s frayed edges and rubber stamp entrance tickets, a snippet of Parisian charm sits nestled between an independent book shop and a stationary store. Entrance marked by two curling metal chairs slicked in white paint and tiny tables adorned with simple flower arrangements, Olivia’s Schokoladen & Tartes Cafe opens up carefully like a tiny flower, beautiful and sweet – but when I first glanced upon this place, I genuinely wasn’t sure if it was a matter of style over substance.

The cafe itself isn’t much of a cafe; in fact barely two bodies could stand inside without constantly standing elbow to elbow. But perhaps that is part of the charm. As soon as I stepped inside, a cheerful German woman arrived at my side, speaking clear German with a smile. Although I probably could have responded happily, I remember choking on the words and instead, the usual phrase of Ich spreche keine Deutsch left my lips. No matter, she switched to my native tongue and asked what I would like.

My impressions of Olivia’s was spiked heartily as I gazed into this glass capsule bursting with creamy cakes, tartes and chocolate creations that I would have happily poured over for hours. I plumped for my growing favourite, a chai latte and a sliver of the Pfirsch, Pistazien und Ricotta Torte which the woman carried to a table out front. And there I sat, watching the world go by with what remains to this day the best confection I have ever sampled.

Olivia's in Berlin

It sounds melodramatic, but I have yet to come across anything quite so beautiful to satisfy my Kaffee und Kuchen cravings. A take on the German-styled Quark cheesecake, this baked affair was light and fluffy, like marshmallow cream. Slicked across the top were comforting slices of tinned peach, lurid and neon in colour but with just the right amount of sweetness. A slick of clear jelly topped the torte off with ease and a delicate sprinkling of pistachios set the slice off. Pure cake perfection.

I have come close many times to just attempting to recreate this torte, but the memory of Olivia’s version seemed too good to tarnish with my bumbling attempts. Still, a German themed entry into bake club a couple of months ago prompted me to scour the internet to research German desserts – with the cheesecake continuously creeping onto my screen as I searched. I threw caution to the wind, gathered up my ingredients and set to work.

I wouldn’t wholeheartedly call this torte a carbon copy – the base is the same, crumbly and soft with that added depth of almond. The cheesecake-style filling is milky sweet and not dissimilar to nursery rice pudding. I am a sucker for tinned peaches – the lurid the better – and decided to keep this sliver of nostalgia along with the beautiful pistachio crust. I may revisit with the clear jelly at a later date, but this torte is so flavoursome, I really don’t think it needs it. For now, this is the closest I’ll get to my Kaffee and Kuchen days in Berlin – but I would be more than happy to return one day to sample the Schokoladen.


Adapted slightly from BBC Good Food

You Will Need

For the base

100g cold unsalted butter, cubed

100g ground almonds

100g caster sugar

100g self-raising flour

1 large egg, beaten


For the filling

250g ricotta

2 large eggs

6 tbsp sour cream

50g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla paste

1 can peach halves in juice, sliced thinly

Small handful pistachios, finely chopped

German Cheesecake ingredients

Preheat an oven to 160oc/140oc fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 23cm fluted flan tin or loose bottom cake pan with butter and set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the almonds, caster sugar and flour. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix to form a smooth paste. Smooth into the bottom of your pan and bake for 25 minutes until just set.

making pastry

Tip: My tart tin isn’t particularly deep, and as the base rises due to the self-raising flour, it can encroach a little towards the top. To counteract this, I took out 2 tbsp of the paste and baked in an individual flan tin for a tester torte. If you have a springform tin, this won’t be an issue. If it is looking a little tall, simply squash down with the back of a spoon.

almond paste pastry

To make the filling, beat the ricotta in the bowl of a stand mixer to loosen a little, and then add the eggs, sour cream, caster sugar and vanilla until smooth. Pour on top of your torte base and return to the oven for a further 50 minutes until the mixture is just starting to set and the edges are golden brown.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely. To finish, arrange the peach slices in a circle 1cm from the edge, filling the gap with the smashed pistachios. Chill then slice up when ready to serve.

Peach Pistachio and Ricotta Cheesecake Close Up.