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Strawberry Doughnut // VSPP

When I was on study leave during high school, I would have a little lunchtime tradition for spurring me on/consoling my efforts/congratulating me on a good exam (delete as appropriate). I’d walk up to our local shop in the village to purchase a packet of chicken supernoodles (classy) and a pink doughnut from the bakery display right at the front of the store. Filled with all sorts of creations, throughout my childhood i would choose between the fat, thickly-iced cupcakes half dipped in sprinkles with a solitary smartie on the other side, empire biscuits with sparkling jelly sweets and my sister’s favourite, the mallow cone. But when it came to my teenage years, I would always go for a pink dough-ring to accompany my super healthy lunch, normally consumed ignoring my history notes and watching awful wedding shows on the obscure sky channels.

I have to admit there is always the temptation to purchase one when I go back home, stuffed into a paper bag, the icing sticking to the paper. Eaten on the sofa accompanied by a coffee, luckily without any school notes to ignore. The only doughnuts available around these parts are those mass produced versions in neat rounds with perfect sprinkles, stuffed with sickly sweet jam or the tiny ones sold in plastic boxes in volumes of 15. Sometimes you just want a bite of nostalgia. So naturally, I turned to the kitchen.

Iced Strawberry Doughnuts // VSPP

I’ve been desperate to try homemade doughnuts for months, but have been rather put off by a lot of sources. One of my baking books (intended for the home baker) announces one shouldn’t bother if they don’t own a temperature regulated deep fat fryer. Others stick to baked doughnuts which are more cake-like their slightly-crisp fried counterparts. But despite the off-putting posts and books, I was keen to give it a go and thus my interpretation of my study leave doughnut was born.

I won’t lie, fried doughnuts aren’t the most therapeutic of baking projects – if you need to whack the heck out of a dough then choose a bread rather than this enriched one, as it is very delicate and sticky. But after all the proving, frying and dipping in glaze, they are picture perfect even if they are a bit knobbly, squint and lopsided. But I think that’s what I love about them – you couldn’t just pick up one of these doughnuts in a supermarket. They may not be uniform, but they are born from my nostalgic memories of those study leave lunches and to me, that’s what makes them perfect.

Strawberry Icing Blob // VSPP

 

Adapted slightly from Joy the Baker

 

You Will Need

1 sachet fast action dried yeast, plus two tablespoons warm (not tepid) water

240g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

3 egg yolks

60g unsalted butter, room temperature

250ml whole milk, room temperature

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla paste (optional)

Vegetable oil for frying and kitchen towel to drain excess oil

 

For the strawberry glaze

150g icing sugar

2 – 3 tbsp boiling water

4 drops strawberry flavouring

2-3 drops red gel food colouring

Enriched Doughnut Dough Ingredients

In a bowl, whisk together the yeast and the water and leave for five minutes until the mixture is foamy and bubbling.

Doughnut Dough before Proving

In the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, yolks, butter, milk, sugar, salt and vanilla if using, and mix on low speed until combined, then up the speed to medium high for three minutes. Stop the machine and scrap down to ensure it’s all combined, then sprinkle with flour to prevent a crust from forming then cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm environment to prove for 1 ½ to 2 hours – I placed mine next to the boiler.

Doughnut Dough after first Prove

Once proved and doubled in size, carefully empty the dough onto a clean, well floured work surface and roll to ½ inch thickness with a floured rolling pin. Using round cutters around 2-3 inches wide, cut around nine circles from the dough and using a small 1 inch cutter or bottle top, cut out holes from the middle of the doughnuts. Don’t re-roll scraps. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and spread with an even layer of flour then carefully place the doughnuts on the sheet, adding the doughnut holes to be used as testers. Cover with the tea towel and leave to prove for a further 30 minutes.

Doughnut Dough after first prove

Once the doughnuts have puffed up slightly, fill a heavy bottomed pan with vegetable oil and heat to 180oc on a sugar or digital thermometer. Carefully remove a doughnut hole from the sheet and place in the oil, cooking for one minute on either side. Remove from the pan once cooked and drain on a plate covered with paper towels. It should be golden and cooked inside. Repeat with the remaining doughnut holes, keeping an eye on the temperature before cooking the doughnuts.

Start with one doughnut to gauge the speed they cook and aim to fry for two minutes on either side, using a timer to guide you. If the doughnuts are cooking too quickly, take the pan off the heat and continue frying – the oil should come down in temperature slightly but keep using your thermometer to check. Once golden either side, remove each doughnut using a fish slice and drain on paper towels before transferring to a paper towel lined wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the doughnuts have been fried.

To make the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar and the boiling water to a paste, adding a little more water if necessary to make it smooth but not too runny. Add the flavouring and the colouring – I went for baby pink which was around three drops, but if you want a deeper colour add a few more. Chose the best side of each doughnut and dip in the icing, carefully twisting and letting the excess drip off before leaving to dry on the wire rack. Once the iced doughnuts have dried, serve with coffee. They are best eaten the day they are made.

Strawberry Doughnut // VSPP

 

Double Chocolate and Raspberry Vanilla CupcakesWhere do you stand in the great Valentine’s Day war? Are you an advocate, bursting with excitement for a meal at a fancy restaurant or  thrilled at the thought of your loved one opening the card you lovingly pick out for them in Paperchase? Perhaps you are a hater, preparing for an epic night of horror movies and popcorn, hibernating from the pink hearts and overpriced chocolates or maybe you’re hitting the town with your mates – it is a Friday after all. Wherever your heart lies on February 14, I think we can all agree on one thing – we love cake.

I have a funny little relationship with cupcakes. Everyone seems to adore them, all pretty and precise with perfectly piped buttercream. But they are kind of awkward to eat – I normally end up with frosting on my nose. If it were my choice I would happily accept a slice of cake any day, but as I made these cupcakes for one of my many Valentine’s (lol) for her flatwarming, I thought I would indulge her love for all things pretty in pink. Don’t say I’m not good to you Nicola.

Double Chocolate and Raspberry Vanilla Cupcakes

You might be surprised to know this post falls under my Frugal February project, in which I use up baking odds and ends in a bid to reduce waste in my household. In this recipe, it’s the double chocolate ganache that has been given a second coming after I froze the leftovers from frosting a ‘Sorry You’re Leaving’ cake a few weeks ago. Rather than throw the surplus away, I scooped it up and placed in a freezer bag, smoothing out all the air and freezing. So simple and yet so convienient for frosting a batch of fragrant vanilla cupcakes – simply defrost overnight in a bowl. See, cupcake making isn’t all perfect piping – it can be really easy.

These cupcakes are so utterly romantic that they would make the perfect gift for your sweet toothed sweetheart this Valentine’s. The milk chocolate just takes the edge off the bitterness of the dark ganache and the sweet nubs of raspberry give little bursts of colour and flavour – like little edible rose petals. And of course, with a great hunk of vanilla sponge underneath, these cupcakes are enough to slay even the most hardcore Valentine’s hater. And even if you don’t have a Valentine, make them anyway and enjoy them with the friends you hold dearest before you paint the town loveheart red. Make cake and don’t declare war on Valentine’s just yet.

Cupcake close up

 

Cupcake recipe from Red Magazine

 

You Will Need

For the cupcakes

175g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

175g caster sugar

175g self raising flour

3 eggs

½ tsp vanilla paste

½ tsp baking powder

 

To finish

300g leftover ganache from this recipe, having used ½ 70% dark chocolate and ½ good quality milk chocolate

2 tbsp freeze dried raspberry pieces

Tip: If using frozen ganache, unwrap and place in a bowl covered with clingfilm and leave to defrost overnight.


Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan and line a muffin tin with 12 cases. Place all of the cupcake ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (or if using a hand held mixer, a large bowl) then beat together until smooth – about five minutes. Divide equally between the 12 cases and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly in the tin then remove each cupcake and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Double Chocolate Ganache

Place the now defrosted but cold ganache in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. This will help to bring back the shine of the ganache as it will have gone matte in the cold. Warm through until the bottom begins to melt then remove from the heat and whisk vigorously until you have a smooth and shiny ganache. Leave to cool for around 10 minutes.

How to frost cupcakes with ganache

To frost your cupcakes, take a spoonful of ganache and blob it onto the top of a cupcake. Using the back of the spoon, smooth the ganache right to the edges of the case. To finish, use the back of the spoon to firmly swoop around the cupcake, twisting as you go to create a rustic swirl. Sprinkle with the frozen raspberry pieces and then serve to the one you love.

Valentine's Cupcakes

Date and Pecan Buttermilk Scones

I get a quiet satisfaction out of using up every last scrap of an ingredient. There is nothing worse as a baker than throwing eggs in the compost bin or pouring cottage cheese milk down the drain. Ambient foodstuffs like flour and sugar can last a lifetime (or until my next baking project) but there are so many odds and ends that can turn quicker than it takes to make a batch of scones. It’s a frustrating fact of life.

I mused over this for a while, and came up with the idea of Frugal February. Dedicated to making the most of surplus ingredients and showing you how to store all those odds and ends, it’s the perfect way to keep your bank balance intact, your fridge clear of opened and unused cartons and more egg yolks than you can deal with. But equally, it’s about using these things to the best of your ability; lest you end up with a tetris of food parcels in your freezer that you have no idea how to use. I hope that for the next month, I can help you get rid of those little bits and pieces to turn them into delicious treats without throwing anything away.

I thought I would first turn my attention to buttermilk. Although you can make your own by souring regular milk with lemon, I buy almond milk for my morning breakfast so never have it in the fridge. But by buying a carton, you inevitably end up with around 100ml that will have you scouring the internet for a use-it-up recipe. I’ll save you the bother – it’s rather difficult.

cutting scones without a cutter

After baking my favourite chocolate fudge cake for my friend Andy who parted for London a few weeks ago, I had around half a carton of buttermilk to use and some dates from my no-bake brownies. Thus, the first Frugal February recipe was born – Date and Pecan Buttermilk Scones.

This is back to basics baking. The kind you can do in your pyjamas, without your contact lenses in and sporting a top knot on a lazy Sunday morning. Butter is fed through fingertips to resemble breadcrumbs, then sugar and spice and all things nice (namely dates and pecans) are added to the mix. Stir with your hands – it’s a Sunday after all. With half a carton of buttermilk, these sweet scones come together in a flash to create a lightly brown dough speckled with sticky dates and pecans. I patted into a square and cut into nine scones because it’s easiest. If you are a rolling pin and cutter kinda person go for it, but the nature of these scones are more rustic than perfect. A quick brush of buttermilk and a smattering of chopped nuts send these scones off to the oven in style. In just 15 minutes you will have a warm plate of scones to take back to bed, coffee in hand and the February rain dripping down the window. It’s February, be frugal.

 

You Will Need

200g self-raising flour

55g cold unsalted butter, cubed

2 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar

50g pecans, chopped

50g dates, pitted

A grating of nutmeg

140ml buttermilk, retaining the carton to use to brush the scones

 

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc and line or grease a baking sheet. Place the flour and the butter in a large bowl and rub together, feeding the butter through your fingertips until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.

butter and flour

 

Stir through the sugar – you can do this with your hands – and add the pecans, reserving around a tablespoon’s worth to top the scones. Using kitchen scissors, snip the dates into chunky pieces and add to the bowl along with the nutmeg, giving the contents a good mix. Add the buttermilk and stir with a spoon then bring together to a shaggy dough with your hands.

pecan topped sconesTip the contents of the bowl onto a clean, floured surface and bring together gently with your hands. Pat into a square shape around 1.5cm thick and cut into nine squares using a sharp knife. Place the scones on the prepared tray and brush with the buttermilk from the container. Sprinkle over the reserved pecans and bake for around 13-15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool slightly then transfer to a wire rack, eating slightly warm with coffee.

Date and Pecan Scones with Brown Muscovado Sugar

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf

This is the first time I have ever made banana bread. I know, I know – saying so is like admitting you’ve never melted Scotbloc to make rice krispie cakes, licked cake batter off your elbows or baked Tom and Jerry strawberry cakes from a packet. It’s one of these fundamental starter recipes, like scones or pancakes, walking hand in hand with blackened bananas to create something new from something old. It’s like wasteless baking. Good for the soul.

But it’s no surprise that I don’t have surplus bananas lingering on the windowsill, slowly speckling from muddy brown to black in the sunlight. I’m not a massive fan of the fruit as it is – I’ll rather blend it frozen into a mango smoothie or bake it on hot coals for a smoky, apple sauce texture. But I somehow had a hankering for a loaf cake last week, so I dutifully smacked around a couple of bananas and left them to age for two weeks. I’ve heard this makes the flavour of the cake more intense and judging from the result, I would say that method has its merits.

over ripe bananas for banana bread

I researched a few recipes before I came across this one on the BBC Good Food site, but I wanted to cram in as much flavour as possible – anything sunshiny that will distract from this miserable month of January.  I decided it needed some extra texture, and so added my favourite lemon and poppy seed combination for a little crunch and a citrusy zing. At the last minute, I threw in a handful of blueberries in impulse and I am glad I did – they burst into pools of colour and give the cake a lovely spring-like flavour.

I love the way this loaf slices; each thick, doorstop slice is speckled with poppy seeds and you can see little golden flecks of lemon here and there, spread throughout the loaf. A jammy burst of blueberry punctuates the slice, adding a sweet stickiness with each bite. I had planned to add a lemon glaze, but I greedily hacked into it with a bread knife and immediately decided there was nothing else required. It might seem simplistic, but some of the best bakes are. I still have fond memories of those strawberry fairy cakes after all.

Slice of Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf

 

Adapted slightly from BBC Good Food

 

You Will Need

140g unsalted butter, softened

140g caster sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

140g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Zest of 1 lemon, plus ½ to ¾ juice to taste

80g blueberries

 

A couple of things to point out – I followed the original recipe’s specifications for a 2 lb loaf tin and was returned with slightly flatter banana bread although it did take a shorter time to bake. If you prefer the look of a taller cake, go for a 1 lb and bake for a little longer – you might want to add a tin foil hat to the top to stop it browning too much.

banana bread ingredients

Preheat an oven to 180oc/160oc fan and grease and line a 2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and a third of the flour and beat again. Add the remaining flour and baking powder and beat again to a thick batter. Add the mashed banana, poppy seeds and lemon zest and juice and beat together. Fold in the blueberries then pour the mix into the tin, levelling with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the tin from the oven and cool for 10 minutes then lift out of the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into slices and serve with coffee.

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf and Black Coffee

Coffee and Walnut Healthy No Bake Brownies

I would consider myself a fairly traditional baker. I suppose I had to be really, because I started this blog in my student days when my kitchen kit comprised of a cheap mixer, a scratched plastic bowl and an old fashioned set of spring scales. It was a kitchen of bare essentials, the real tool being my hands. Butter would be rubbed through my fingers for crumbles and pastries; I employed the two-fold whisking technique to ensure my arms didn’t stiffen. Everything was sight and sound and making do and I quite like that about baking. Just how you yourself make the recipe without the need for gadgets to help you along the way. Honest baking.

It therefore seems sacrilege that I have become ever so slightly obsessed with my food processor. I had entertained the idea of buying one for a while, but things like ASOS dresses and H&M jumpers always seemed to take precedent. And besides, I liked making pastry by hand and bashing digestives with a rolling pin. But I was gifted a second hand one and I approached it with trepidation. I was like a caveman when I finally managed to switch it on, jumping about three feet in the air when it whirred into action, chopped and cutting and pulsing so precisely in seconds I wondered how I would ever live without one.

Coffee and Walnut Healthy No Bake Brownies

And so, it seems like a betrayal of my hands that I bring you a wholly food processor recipe today. But I have to admit, it’s too damn good to ignore. After all the excesses of the festive period, it finally feels good to be eating well again and these healthy brownies are no exception. They are gluten, dairy and sugar free, the only sweetness coming from a healthy portion of finely chopped Mejool dates and a smidge of cocoa powder. Essentially a traybake, two types of nuts are pulsed in a machine, mixed with a teaspoon of fresh coffee and cocoa then whirred with dates to create a fudgy, sweet brownie without an egg, block of butter or pound of brown sugar in sight. I’d probably call them an alternative to cereal bars, like a health food that shouldn’t be healthy and so far I have resisted two birthday cakes in the office in favour of two of these sweet brownie thins. This is like baking magic.

A couple of things to point out – for aesthetic purposes I pressed my brownie mix into a 7 by 7 tray but it does yield rather thin brownies. Personally I like the size, but if you would prefer them thicker, you can double the recipe or press into a smaller tin such as an 18cm sandwich tin. The original recipe also extols the virtues of raw products, but I couldn’t find any cacao powder or almonds that hadn’t been blanched. I doubt it makes much of a difference but if this falls in line with your diet then go for it, I’d love to hear the results.

I do feel like I have betrayed my natural instincts to get my hands dirty with this recipe, but I am quietly excited as to how this new gadget will change my baking routine. But I can’t see myself giving up making pastry by hand. I like interspersing the traditional with the contemporary.

 Recipe slightly adapted from The Minimalist Baker

You Will Need

90g whole almonds (not blanched if possible)

80g walnuts

20g cocoa powder (or cacao if you can find it), plus extra for dusting

1 tsp freshly ground coffee or espresso powder

200g Medjool dates, pitted

No Bake Ingredients

Tip the almonds and 40g of the walnuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cocoa powder and coffee and pulse again until crumb-like. Pour the nut mixture into a bowl and set aside.

Finely Ground Coffee

Place the pitted dates into the bowl of the food processor and whizz until paste-like. Remove and place in a separate bowl then re-add the nut mixture to the food processor. With the processor running, add clumps of the dates through the chute until you have a soft dough. Squeeze the mixture in your hand – if it clumps together its ready. If not, add a couple more dates or a splash of water and process again.

Raw Brownie Mix

Prepare the tray you wish to use by lining with baking parchment – I used a 7 x 7 square tin but for thicker brownies use a loaf or sandwich tin. Tip the brownie mix into the tin and add the remaining walnuts. Stir with your hands to combine then press down the mixture evenly with your knuckles. Place the tin in the fridge to allow the brownies to harden for at least two hours then remove and cut into squares or wedges. Dust with cocoa powder and serve. These brownies will last for about a week and a half in an airtight container in the fridge.

Coffee and Walnut Healthy No Bake Brownies

 

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

Brown Sugar Chai Spiced Marshmallows

When I was in primary four, my sister and I made homemade gifts for each of our teachers for the end of term. Forget the cliché of a shining red apple come summertime, we rolled up our sleeves and made what I suppose you could call a kid-friendly rocky road. A very simple blend of crushed digestive biscuits, tooth-suckingly sweet condensed milk and shining glace cherries, the recipe just calls for it to be stirred in one big bowl together with those baby white and pink marshmallows. It’s a recipe that my mam used to make when she was a teenager and it was adopted for many a bake sale when we were younger. On this occasion, we rolled the mixture into logs and refrigerated then covered in chocolate before dotting mini marshmallow spikes along the top. Marshmallow hedgehog presents – they were a hit let me tell you.

As a little one, we were always encouraged to make things by hand to make gift giving more personal, a belief I still hold today. Of course, there are only so many toilet roll tubes made into Celtic football player pencil holders my uncles could take, but the feeling that you have created something so personal just for that person really is unbeatable. It’s why I took to making cakes for my friends in high school on their birthdays; always a simple Victoria Sponge affair sandwiched with jam, topped with water icing and blobby melted chocolate piping to spell out Happy Birthday. Handing out slices in the playground seems to have morphed into my weekly Tupperware box filled with weekend baking goodies for my work colleagues on a Monday morning. Making people smile with a little gesture makes it worth any effort involved.

Which is why making these marshmallows as gifts make the perfect feel good return as they are so simple to make. For relatively little effort, this pillow soft mixture turns into a mountain of fresh marshmallows that will evoke a smile from any adult who ate Flumps as a kid. Of course these marshmallows aren’t as sickly sweet as those helter skelter twists, but light as a feather covered in a light dusting of cornflour and icing sugar. To make these marshmallows more winter appropriate, I added brown sugar for a deep caramel flavour that works so well with gently spiced notes from chai tea. Sliced up and served with a cup of coffee, they make for the perfect mid morning treat but melting into pools on top of a mug of hot chocolate would be my strictest advice. And if you know of any teachers that deserve a homemade gift, you really cannot go wrong with marshmallows – even if they are made to look like hedgehogs.

Chai Spiced Marshmallows

 

Adapted slightly from Eat Like A Girl

 

You Will Need

150g corn flour

150g icing sugar

3 egg whites

30g powdered gelatine (mine was just over two packages)

150ml water

4 tbsp golden syrup

100g soft light brown sugar

100g caster sugar

100ml water

1 chai tea bag

Tip: I’ve made these marshmallows twice now, but the third attempt with vegetarian gelatine was a bit of a fail. As it is such a different consistency to regular gelatine, I would advise you to seek out a vegetarian recipe rather than adapt this one.

Prepare three 20cm sandwich tins by lightly greasing with oil (I used grapeseed) then lining with baking parchment. Prepare your marshmallow dusting by sifting together the icing sugar and corn flour then add a little to each tin, shaking it around until the tins are nice and dusted. Set aside this mixture as the rest will be used later to coat the marshmallows.

Add the balloon whisk attachment to a stand mixer and place the three egg whites in the bowl but don’t whisk yet. Pour the gelatine into the water and set aside – it will go spongy.

Slicing marshmallows evenly

In a saucepan, combine the syrup, sugars and remaining water and place over a medium heat. Start whisking the egg whites on a medium speed until you have soft peaks. Keep a sugar or digital thermometer handy to check the temperature – you are looking for hard ball on a sugar thermometer or 121oc on a digital one.

Once the desired temperature has been reached, carefully pour the syrup down the sides of the whipped whites on a low speed. Once the sugar syrup has been used up, scoop the gelatine into the saucepan and melt down using the residual heat. Stir the contents of the chai teabag into the gelatine then pour into the mixer still on a low speed. Increase to high and whisk for 4-5 minutes. The marshmallow should almost reach the top of the bowl and will become fluffy. Scoop into the prepared tins and shake to level out. Leave to set for a few hours.

To cut, lightly oil a knife and cut into wedges or squares. Dust with the icing sugar mix then store in an airtight box with the residual powder for up to a week.