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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Year in Review

It’s like Hogmanay creeps up on me every year. I’m all happy and content after a filling and fulfilling Christmas and then it is like ‘oh! I need to plan how to see in the New Year! Er, glass of prosecco anyone?’

It’s true that my friends and I are pretty useless when it comes to firming up NYE plans and as I type this, I am simultaneously trying to think of ways to see in 2014. Dinner? Drinks? Pub? Outlandishly expensive dinner dance? Not quite.

While I am completely unable to plan where I will be when the clock strikes midnight, I can ensure that I start my Hogmanay with a bang with my most popular posts from the past year. I have to say, some entries were a surprise and others were a given (everyone loves chocolate cake it seems) but I have only included recipes that were posted this year. And thankfully, although healthy, my Spinach and Cucumber Smoothie has *finally* been overtaken as my most popular post. I do love it, but quite frankly this is a baking blog and your favourite recipe has to include butter and sugar in there somewhere right?

So without further ado, I bring you Victoria Sponge Pease Pudding’s Top Ten Recipes in 2013.

10. Pink Peppercorn, White Chocolate and Rose Shortbread

Pink Peppercorn, White Chocolate and Rose Shortbread

One of the first recipes to be posted in 2013, this perfect pile of shortbread came in at number ten on the most popular list. Probably for its unusual kick of pink pepper, the flavour combination and crumbly texture also made it a nice alternative to the tartan tin variety.

9. Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake

Vanilla Berry Triple Layer Cake Side View

The first of many cakes to make the list, this pillow soft sponge filled with vanilla frosting and bursting blue and purple berries was the boy’s birthday cake this year. He may have been miffed that it wasn’t the Ultimate Chocolate Cake from the previous year, but there was plenty of the sweet stuff still to come in 2013.

8. Death by Chocolate Cake

Death by Chocolate Cake

What did I tell you? Perhaps the most indulgent chocolate cake ever created, the fudgy, almost torte-like texture and bitter chocolate ganache may have been a little heavy going for some, but my colleagues managed to demolish it in record time. This cake was also the test recipe for the next cake on the list.

7. Love and Death by Chocolate: The Two Tier Challenge

Two Tier Chocolate Cake

A true labour of love, Love and Death by Chocolate was made for my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and consisted of two types of chocolate sponge, one of vanilla, two types of ganache and a lot of silver sprayed chocolate shards. My first foray into just about everything technical about tiered cakes and chocolate work, it was a real challenge to overcome but also incredibly rewarding.

6. Apricot and Lemon Frangipane Tart

Apricot and Lemon Fragipane Tart

This recipe kickstarted my love of having a backup sandwich bag of frangipane in the freezer in case of a cake emergency and I am very grateful for it. Full of fresh summer flavour and bursting with fruit, this is a delicious dessert that can be whipped together fairly simply for a BBQ or picnic.

5. Blueberry Lime Polenta Cake

bluberry and lime polenta cake

I have to admit I was nervous to step into the world of gluten free baking and rightly so – the first time I tested this recipe it broke into a million pieces as I removed it from the tin *sob*. Luckily, I learned that gluten free recipes are less hardier than those containing flour, so this polenta cake also taught me to be patient when trying new things. No bad thing.

4. Cherry Blueberry Frangipane Tart with Almond Buttercream

side view of cherry blueberry frangipane tart with almond buttercream

Oh my goodness I really did love this recipe. It makes me long for the cherry season just so I can bake this beauty again. Using the leftover frangipane from the Apricot and Lemon Tart, it was also studded with almond buttercream, curling stalks of cherries and full of bursting blueberries. A real winner of 2013.

3. Cherry Tomato, Rocket and Pesto Pizza

Cherry Tomato Rocket and Pesto Pizza

This recipe was a real game changer for me and after I made it I don’t think I ordered or bought a pre-prepared pizza for months. The no-knead dough is super simple even for a bread baking phobe like me (planning to tackle this in 2014) and with homemade pesto spread on top, you know exactly what is in every bite.

2. Courgette, Lemon and Poppyseed Cake

Courgette, Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake

This recipe is actually viewed almost every day and was one that was in my repertoire long before I ever got around to blogging it. If you are a bit wary of baking with vegetables, I promise this cake will change your mind – the inside might scream Incredible Hulk but really, it’s just Incredible.

1. Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies

Raspberry and White Chocolate Cookies

I’ve been blown away by the response for this recipe and to be honest, I hadn’t realised there wasn’t many variations on the internet when I whipped up a batch of this cookie dough to recreate my memories of teenage shopping trips with my Mam and sister. It’s also the most popular recipe *ever* on my blog and I am so grateful to everyone who reads the words and tries their hand at making the next best thing to a bag of warm cookies from Millies.

 

…And Three of My Personal Favourites from 2013

 

Peach, Pistachio and Ricotta Torte

Peach Pistachio and Ricotta Cheesecake

Recreated from my memories of a beautiful torte I consumed in Berlin in 2011, this post rekindled my love for travel writing and conjured up some wonderful memories of an unforgettable trip.  A cross between a cheesecake and a tart, this dessert looks stunning and would be perfect served up during Easter.

Brown Sugar Chai Spiced Marshmallows

Chai Spiced Marshmallows

A real lightbulb moment when it came to candy making, I’ve made countless batches of marshmallows ever since this inaugural recipe and I’ve been adapting and trying new techniques since it was first posted back in November. I’ve had such lovely compliments and one of my favourite memories of the year is toasting a batch over an open fire this Christmas. Magical.

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake

Oh my word. This was quite a challenge in that everything that could have gone wrong did and yet I managed to turn out one of my favourite projects of the year for my sister’s 21st birthday. It was so ridiculously indulgent yet surprisingly, very little was left the next day for consumption. I wonder why…

So what new culinary delights will 2014 bring? I’ve already started brainstorming ideas and hope to bring some healthy and delicious recipes at the start of the New Year to offset all those mince pies. I’ve also started a 23 before 24 list of challenges, goals and activities to do before my birthday in July, many of which unsurprisingly feature some foodie treats. So Happy Hogmanay and I will see you in the New Year!

Bourbon and Apple Spiked Mince Pies

Tradition is a beautiful thing, especially at Christmas time. We swap bouquets of flowers for bursting bundles of festive red poinsettias, potted and perfect for thrusting into the arms of our loved ones when we arrive home in time for December 25. We drink fizzy wine before noon, because everyone is jolly and a good drink bursting with bubbles just adds to the specialness of this time of year. We all eat like gannets, cheering plates of turkey to the table with applause, dousing puddings and dumplings in brandy and setting it all aflame like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Finding money in your dessert is considered good luck, as is scratching the initials of your beloved on a sprig of holly and placing it under your pillow on Christmas Eve. You make the effort to take yourself off to church even if it is only a once-yearly tradition and well up at the true meaning of Christmas during the final few minutes of every festive film on television. Ah, that most wonderful time of year, in all its tinselled, sweet smelling, snow laden glory.

As much as I do love all the elements of a traditional Christmas, or at least my family’s version of it, I do like to switch it all up now and again. Putting up a Christmas tree isn’t a family occasion anymore now that me and my sister have moved, but getting my own tree with my flatmate felt like a wonderful compromise. Without decades of collected baubles, tinsel and decorations, it’s a sparse little thing but it makes me smile so much when I come in from the cold. Plus it’s the real deal, which you don’t get from my parent’s tree which gets fluffed up each year from colour coded bin bags.

christmas tree

And similarly, my little home isn’t perfumed with treacle and sugar the way it is when my mam makes clootie dumpling, or that sticky crumbly smell from tray upon tray of mince pies. Recreating Christmas from scratch feels daunting but it’s also an opportunity for creativity, which is why I wanted to share my mince pie recipe – with a twist of course.

My tipple of choice at the moment is bourbon; like whisky’s sweeter younger sister, its beautiful poured over ice with a squeeze of lemon, stirred into a comforting hot toddy or – as the barmen at The Tippling House will attest – in an Old Fashioned. I wanted to bring that sweetness to the classic mince pie, but with a busy job and Christmas shopping to complete, a full-blown homemade mincemeat was too much to tackle. But spiking a pre-made jar with apple, lemon and a good shot of bourbon? That’s my kind of baking.

unbaked mince pies

Putting your own stamp on mincemeat is a great way to save yourself time but more importantly, it gives you that all important chance to get creative and start your own traditions. The coarsely grated apple gives these mince pies extra bite while the lemon just lifts the flavour slightly. But that beautiful bourbon makes each bite sticky and unctuous – the filling seeping out the sides almost like caramel makes these crumbly mince pies hard to resist. For extra time saving, whizz up the pastry in a food processor but it’s not a necessary step. What is necessary is that you make merry this time of year in the traditional way – your way.

 

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Perfect Mince Pie Recipe

 

You Will Need

150g cold unsalted butter, cubed

300g plain flour

1 egg yolk (save the white for marshmallows!)

2-3 tbsp water

1 jar mincemeat

1 small apple, coarsely grated – I used braeburn

2-3 tbsp bourbon

Zest of 1 lemon

Icing sugar to finish

perfect mince pie pastry

If using a food processor, place the butter and flour in the bowl and then pulse to a breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg yolk and pulse again before adding two tablespoons of the water and mixing again. If it looks too dry then add another until you have a smooth dough.

If making by hand, rub the butter and flour between your fingers to the breadcrumb stage then whisk in the egg yolk and water and bring together to a smooth dough with your hands.

processor made pastry

Turn the pastry out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together then cut in half and reserve one half for the tops of the mince pies. Preheat the oven at this point – 200oc or 180oc for a fan oven. Also look out your tin – I used a fairy cake tin which is fairly shallow, but for deep filled pies use a muffin tin – although you will make a smaller amount of pies if you do this.

mince pie pastry

Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out one half as thin as possible – I went for around the thickness of a 50p. This dough is quite mallable so you can get away with it easier. Cut 12 circles using a cutter slightly bigger than your tartlet holes, re-using the scraps as you go. Press each circle into the tartlet holes, prick with a fork then place the tray in the fridge to avoid the pastry shrinking while you prepare the filling.

spiked mincemeat

Scoop the jar of mincemeat into a large bowl and stir in the grated apple, bourbon and lemon. Remove the tray from the fridge and place teaspoons of the mincemeat in each pastry case. Roll out the second half of the pastry and cut stars for the tops, pressing firmly on top of each pie.

filling mince pies

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes then remove and wait for the mincemeat to stop bubbling before scooping each pie out using a teaspoon and leaving to cool on a wire rack. You will have pastry and mincemeat left over at this point, so repeat the steps until it is all used up – I managed a further seven mince pies. Dust the mince pies liberally with icing sugar and serve warm.

mince pies

baked Brandy Soaked Cranberry, Golden Pecan and Dark Chocolate Christmas Cookies

There really is nothing like giving – and receiving – something homemade. Forget trawling around the shops with a list as long as your arm, online shopping into the wee hours and quietly panicking that someone unexpected will give you a gift – just keep a batch of cookie dough in the freezer. You never know when it might come in handy.

It’s certainly going to be my plan anyway. After once again signing up for the food blogger equivalent of Secret Santa, I whipped up a batch of these very Christmassy cookies and thankfully they seem to have been a hit. So much so that the surplus dough magically found its way into my mother’s freezer. I think I might need to make more.

This is the second year that I have taken part in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and it never fails to amaze me how creative we can all be with a brief of just a dozen cookies. In two years I have never received anything remotely similar, with my 2013 boxes from Come Con Ella, Pat’s Kitchen and Quips and Dip no different. I am not a big fan of Bailey’s, but Emma’s Choconut Cookies were far too delicious for their own good, Patrice’s Crunchy Frostbite Cookies were gladly received by the other half’s work mates and I have to admit, I ate all of Mehrunnisa’s Roll Out Brownie Cookies in the space of 24 hours. Too dang good.

cookie2

This year I wanted my own contribution to stick with the festive theme following my Snowflake Lebkuchen from last year, and so I looked to everyone’s favourite Christmas tipple Brandy as my inspiration. I love soaking dried cranberries in liquid; it transforms these little fruits into bursting jewels of both colour and flavour and gives the whole cookie a real festive theme. To add a little outrageousness, I stirred through some completely unnecessary but totally beautiful toasted pecans that I sprayed with edible gold for a little opulence. And finally, because every good cookie needs a little chocolate, I added dark and seductive 71% chunks to the dough.

There may seem a few steps to undertake with this recipe, but I love that it can completed in stages, which is perfect for festive gift giving when you only have an hour or so here and there. I stacked my cookies in clear treat bags and sealed with plastic ties before wrapping around gold ribbon and finishing with a tartan gift tag. These would make perfect gifts for colleagues either wrapped or as a free-for-all in the tea room. Either way, people will really appreciate the effort you have gone to in order to make these festive treats – certainly better than a pair of socks anyway.

cookie 5

There are a few notes to be made with this recipe; it yields around four or five dozen cookies (I lost count to be honest) but it can be halved easily if you are looking to make less. The low temperature is purposeful – I’ve tried baking this recipe at higher temperature and it sort of boils from the inside so take care. And obviously if you aren’t much of a drinker, you may want to substitute the brandy for fresh clementine juice which will still give these cookies that festive flourish. Either way, I do hope you give them a try. Tis the season to spread love with a dozen cookies and all that.

 

You Will Need

150g dried cranberries

75ml brandy (or fresh Clementine juice if making for little ones)

160g pecans

Gold lustre spray

220g unsalted butter, softened

200g caster sugar

200g soft light brown sugar

2 eggs

A dot of vanilla paste (around ½ tsp)

390g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Good pinch of salt

200g good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used 71%)

 

To get ahead, place the dried cranberries in a bowl and cover with the brandy or Clementine juice if using. Set aside to macerate for as long as possible so the berries can soak up the liquid – I did this for two hours but overnight is best.

How to make golden pecans

To prepare the golden toasted pecans, preheat the oven to 150oc/130oc fan and line a baking sheet with parchment. Scatter the pecans in one layer and bake in the oven until nutty and fragrant, which will take around five minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once cool, shake the lustre spray and spray evenly across each pecan to give it a golden sheen. Leave to dry then turn each pecan and spray the other side. Once both sides are dry, chop half the pecans and leave the rest whole – these will be pressed into the tops of some of the cookies for a pretty finish.

Cookie dough ingredients

To make the dough, place the softened butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for around 5 minutes until creamy. At first it will all come together like a biscuit dough but persevere, it will smooth out. Lightly beat the eggs and pour into the sugar mixture a bit at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down before mixing again briefly with the vanilla paste.

Cookie Dough

Whisk the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together then tip into the sugar mix all at once and mix on low until just combined. Add the chopped pecans, soaked cranberries and chocolate to the bowl then slowly combine. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least two hours, but again, overnight is always preferable with cookie dough.

Unbaked cookie dough

To bake, preheat the oven to 150oc/130oc fan and line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Remove the cookie dough from the fridge and scoop tablespoons of dough onto the prepared sheets spaced well apart. Press a golden pecan on the tops of some of the cookies then bake for around 15-18 minutes until golden but not too crisp.

Brandy Soaked Cranberry, Golden Pecan and Dark Chocolate Christmas Cookies

 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few moments before placing on a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough until it is all used up.

cookie10

 

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake

I am a glutton for punishment. After swearing off cake rods, foil covered boards and palette knives after making my parents’ silver wedding anniversary cake in June, my little sister began creeping towards her 21st and another cake challenge appeared on the baking horizon. My Mam was sneaky about it – there was some flattery involved during a mid September phone call – and I dutifully send in my request for another day’s baking holiday, rolled up my sleeves and order a hell of a lot of sugar from Tesco. Two tier cake part two: this time, it’s personal.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t requested to make a two tier cake but I do so love to push myself and so I sat one evening with a chilled glass of wine searching through my cook book library to find something to spark a fire within my cake baking soul. I don’t think it took me long before I had an idea sketched out on my ruled pad – an affair of salted caramel, dark chocolate and toasted pecans. A pure autumnal heaven.

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake side view

I must say I only came across two or three major challenges whilst making this cake; I had learned my lesson in preparedness which I will share as part of this recipe, so for the most part my haphazardness wasn’t the issue. I had also learned that two different cake batters will take up valuable time, so I set about my calculator to do some bizarre maths to concoct one huge recipe that challenged my Kmix on more than one occassion. Don’t ask me how I did it – I’ve already forgotten – but my usual tactic is to use the amount of eggs as a starting point and divide and multiply from there. But my main issue was the Italian meringue frosting, and although so beautiful and fluffy, this concoction caused many a tear during construction. Luckily I worked out a few solutions should you come across the same problem.

preparing to bake a two tier cake

Should you wish to tackle this cake, I’ve structured this post slightly differently than I usually do to show you parts that can be made ahead of time, where you should leave plenty time and to illustrate the lessons I learned along the way. I hope you enjoy it.

All  recipes are inspired by Edd Kimber’s incredible debut book The Boy Who Bakes, but with a heavy amount of quantity adaptation and my stupidly ambitious imagination.

 

Two days before

For the toasted pecans

100-150g pecan halves (I did this by sight so it isn’t an exact science)

A can of gold lustre spray (I love the Dr Oetker ones)

 

Preheat an oven to 150oc/130oc fan and line a baking tray with parchment. Spread the nuts evenly in one layer on the tray and bake for around 5 minutes, keeping a close eye on them as they will burn easily. When the nuts smell fragrant and toasty, remove from the oven and leave to cool. Shake the lustre dust can and spray evenly from around 15cm away – if you can do this outside all the better as it can make the worktop sparkly. Leave to dry then turn each nut over and spray again. Once dry, store in an airtight container – these will last pretty well, I’d say around a week.

 

For the salted caramel

300g granulated sugar

250ml double cream

20g butter

2 generous pinches of flaked sea salt

Pour the sugar into a pan and place over a medium heat. Slowly melt the sugar until it is liquid but don’t stir – swirl the pan if you need to. Keep an eye on the caramel once melted, as it beings to boil it will change colour and become golden, at which point remove from the heat and pour in half the cream – be careful it will bubble up. Stir then add the butter and remaining cream and place back on the heat to melt down any lumps. Add the salt then pour into a heatproof container – a jug is best for pouring. Cool to room temperature then cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge. Salted caramel will last for about a week in the fridge.

I used three 20cm sandwich tins and two 15cm tall tins with removable bases for this cake, so if you want to be even more prepared, cut out your linings beforehand – this will save you time the next day.

cocoa powder

One day before

Your next step is to get all those cakes baked, so grease and line each tin using your prepared paper from the night before. I would also suggest individually weighing out everything before you begin baking – it may seem an arduous task but I’ve adopted it since I started my blog and find it helps me gather my thoughts and ensure I have everything ready to go. Plus once you’ve done all your weighing you can play this tune as you bake. It’s what I did.

 

This is my favourite chocolate cake recipe – it is fudgy but not too dense and carries a variety of flavours with ease. At some point I’d love to swap the boiled water for freshly brewed coffee – I think it would make for an excellent combination.

 

For the 3 x 20cm and 2 x 15cm chocolate fudge cakes

165g good quality dark chocolate (I used 71%)

165g unsalted butter, softened

420ml boiling water

420g plain flour

210ml buttermilk

4 ½ tbsp cocoa powder (I used Green and Blacks)

3 tsp bicarbonate of soda

510g soft brown sugar

1-2 tsp vanilla paste

4 ½ beaten eggs

Tip: I know the above sounds weird but it’s what my mathematical mind could come up with. To measure half an egg, weigh a beaten egg and divide by two – mine was 50g so I used 25g. Use one half in this recipe and use the other for scrambled eggs or a wash for scones.

how to half an egg

The recipe is the same as my Ultimate Chocolate Cake so follow the link for the method, making sure to divide the batter between the three sandwich tins and adding a little more to each of the smaller tins to give the top tier a little height. The 20cm cakes should be baked first for 20 to 25 minutes then bake the 15cm cakes – they will only need about 15 to 20 minutes so keep an eye on them but don’t open the oven door until halfway through baking.

Once the cakes have cooled the final task is to make the salted caramel frosting.

 

For the salted caramel italian meringue buttercream

400g granulated sugar

255ml water

8 egg whites

720g unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces

3-4 scoops of salted caramel

Place the sugar and water in a sauce pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Place the egg whites in the bowl of stand mixer fixed with the whisk attachment and begin to whip on medium. Place a sugar or digital thermometer in the sugar syrup and once the mixture reaches 115oc turn up the speed on the meringue to high. Once the syrup has reached 121oc, carefully pour down the side of the bowl with the whisk still running. Once the meringue has cooled to room temperature, add in the butter piece by piece until marshmallowy and smooth. Add the caramel and whisk again, tasting and adding more if required.

To assemble the cakes, dab a 20cm cake board with a little buttercream then place one of the larger cakes on the bottom. Spread over a good dollop of buttercream and drizzle with a little salted caramel (you may need to reheat slightly to get an even drizzle) and top with another cake. Repeat the steps with the final cake then give it a good crumb coating with a palette knife. Leave somewhere coolish to firm up slightly then repeat with the smaller cakes, assembling on a slice of parchment as it will need to be lifted off and placed on the bigger cake the next day. I sliced both 15cm cakes into two for a four layer effect.

Now, I would highly recommend finishing the frosting after an hour of letting the cakes rest as this will allow them to firm up and be much easier to handle during assembly on the day. The reason being Italian meringue butter cream will harden in the fridge and become a pain to work with. However it is salvageable but again, owing to experience I would advise you not to go down this route.

Confections of a Foodie Bride has a great guide on fixing Swiss meringue buttercream which is in essence a similar idea and mine unfortunately went down the cottage cheese route. The melt-and-mix method did work but it was too thick for spreading on my cakes and wouldn’t stick. I discovered that placing small amounts in the microwave to melt for 10 seconds with a vigorous stir did the trick and became marshmallowy once again.

Salted Caramel, Golden Pecan and Chocolate Celebration Cake low angle

On the day

To assemble your cake, place the bottom tier on a cake stand and stick three cake rods in the centre measured to sit about an inch flush of the top. Carefully place the top tier on top of the rods in the middle of the cake the best you can and push down gently. If it’s a bit wonky, no matter – make the side with the biggest space the front. Touch up as necessary with some more buttercream then heat the remaining salted caramel until a good pouring consistency. Using a jug or even better a chef’s squeezy bottle, run the caramel around the circumference of the top and bottom tiers, allowing it to drip down the sides. Chop half your golden pecans and scatter on top of the caramel, nestling the whole pecans in amongst the smaller pieces.

cutting the cake

I know this is a scarily large post, but I felt it important to address each issue as I faced it and to give a realistic timeline for creating this cake. But it is so worth the effort and made the birthday girl really smile. I’d advise picking up some tall spindly candles to really finish it off and give the cake extra height – and that final extravagant birthday flourish. Happy baking! *collapses*

blowing out the candles