Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas cake 2010

Well...I think my imagination exceeds my actual skills, but I'm really quite pleased with how it turned out

(I bought the Santa, snowman and robin figures)

I was slightly disappointed that my roll of ready-rolled icing didn't actually cover the bottom of the sides of the cake, and when I tried to tease it out it just tore! Thank goodness for the blue stars!!!!

I used vodka to stick the letters and stars to the cake - I had seen Kirstie and Phil using vodka to stick sugar paste bows together on their Perfect Christmas programme and thought that might be a good idea. Worked pretty well, although I only have large pastry brushes so ended up using a bit too much liquid and the colour in the icing started to run...fortunately not too much. By the time I got to the stars I was using my finger to dab vodka in the points and centre and that worked much better. Also I used playdough cutters for the letters and stars...not too bad but as they're made of plastic they didn't give a very sharp edge and I had to do a little neatening up with a knife afterwards. That said it doesn't look too bad, Zachary enjoyed helping me, particularly the glitter!!! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Something to try when I'm feeling brave...

A tiny gingerbread house that perches on the edge of your mug! How cool.

Tomorrow sees the icing extravaganza which will be our Christmas cake this year...I am also planning to use some edible glitter - very exciting. Mince pies made today - Rachel Allen, we bow to you for your sweet shortcrust pastry!!

We are hosting Christmas dinner this year for ourselves, Leigh's parents and his brother so once again Leigh will be cooking up a storm in the kitchen! Ham being baked tonight, along with the red cabbage side dish for Christmas dinner. We'll be chopping vegetables and laying the table tomorrow night hoping to minimise the amount of stuff needing to be done on Christmas day itself. Christingle and nativity at church this morning, I now have a glass of champagne in my hand and am starting to feel very festive indeed. I'm hoping to get a picture of the cake up tomorrow, but if not, I wish a very happy and joyful Christmas to anyone reading this.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Storecupboard-friendly Florentines

Except the only item I actually had in my storecupboard was the flaked almonds... These taste great with the chocolate on them, although still chewy rather than crisp. Also the recipe says makes 25, and I only got 16 out of them so clearly mine are too big!!!

85g cornflakes, bashed with a rolling pin to crush them a bit
85g toasted flaked almonds
50g dried cranberries
50g glace cherries sliced thinly into rounds
397g can condensed milk
140g milk chocolate, broken into chunks
140g white chocolate, broken into chunks

1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment. Tip the crushed cornflakes, almonds, cranberries and cherries into a large bowl, then stir in the condensed milk until all the ingredients are sticky. Spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto the sheets, and leave lots of room for spreading. Flatten each spoonful slightly with the back of a wet spoon and bake for 8-12 mins (I did about 10) until golden brown - if you take the Florentines out too soon and they are still pale, they won't firm up when they cool. Cool on the sheets for about 5 mins until almost firm, then carefully turn each one upside down and transfer to another sheet of parchment to cool completely.

2. Melt the chocolate over simmering water or in the microwave. When the Florentines are cool, spoon or brush the chocolate over the bases of the biscuits with a pastry brush. Leave until the chocolate has set, and serve.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weekend woes

Last weekend was great and not great. We went to Norwich to see my sister and her family to celebrate her daughter Eleanor's first birthday. Had birthday tea with my Mum and her husband on the Saturday and then lunch with my Dad, his wife and my aunt on Sunday. Lovely. Except...

As we were preparing to leave on Saturday, Leigh got the key stuck in the roof box and when he pulled it out, the entire lock barrel came with it! Fortunately the lid was locked (allbeit with the double buggy stuck inside!) but unopenable. So item number 1 this week on our return was a trip to Halfords where after an hour of messing about they told me it was fixed, demonstrated how easily the key turns in the lock now and promptly pulled out the lock barrel again! A new roof box has now been fitted at no charge to us. Nice.

Item number 2 - Leo got scalded by a very hot cup of tea at lunch on Saturday. Horrible, horrible, feel physically sick horrible. Held his arm under running water (for not long enough) but then realised it was blistering and given the size of the blisters, raced to Norwich A&E to get it checked out. Fortunately it appears to be mainly superficial and the doctor did not think it will scar, but Leo now has a heavily bandaged arm while the open areas heal. Zachary was great staying with my sister and actually, not including the initial burn and resulting pain, Leo has been absolutely amazing about the whole thing. He managed to calm down while we were waiting to see the doctor and since then it doesn't appear to have bothered him greatly. We administered a bit of Calpol on the first couple of days, but I'm now not and waiting to see if he is in pain (don't want to mask anything which might be going on now). He has been fab and everything seems to be healing well.

Item number 3 - Zachary seems to have picked up a strange infection (?) which means he is fine most of the day then gets feverish and lethargic and tired at around 3/4 in the afternoon. He stays hot and bothered for a few hours and then everything seems to clear in the middle of the night. Very odd and this has gone on all week since Saturday. I'm taking him to the docs to get it checked out tomorrow but it has meant some pretty disturbed evenings and nighttimes for us.

So that was our three things this weekend - gladly this week has gone much better and there's the prospect of seeing our friends and the panto at the weekend which I am much looking forward to.

I also had a go at a "Storecupboard Friendly Florentines" recipe today - hmmmm. The basis was cornflakes with dried fruit and flaked almonds, bound together with condensed milk. Now I am a big fan of condensed milk and this meant there was no spoon licking left for Zachary! However they have come out from the oven chewy rather than crunchy and the cornflakes seem to have gone a bit soggy! I'm not sure if this is me not cooking them for long enough, or whether this is the consistency they're supposed to be! I'm blaming the condensed milk...not to worry though, they taste great and I'm now off to attempt to put some melted chocolate on them. Should be wrapping Leigh's presents really as he's out at Toy'R'Us on a mercy mission for Zachary's last present (Amazon have let us down)...but chocolate seems more appealing!!!! (must diet in the new year...)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Getting my vamp on

This is my next Rachel Allen cake - her Red Velvet cake. Initially I had planned to bake it with the boys as I thought it wold be fun for them to bake a red cake (2 tablespoons of red food colouring - yes, 2!), but on re-reading the recipe (at the end of the blog) I realised it was far too bitty and fiddly to manage with them. Cakes with the boys generally have to be weigh out, mix everything together in one bowl and then bake.

The mixing went quite well, although I didn't have the right size tins and I think the cakes were slightly undercooked - certainly the bottom layer ended up pretty stodgy, although that may have been my terrible folding in of the egg whites! One thing I would comment on is that the recipe seems to indicate you should just mix each part in until just combined, but I found that the resulting cake had a kind of swirly pattern in it - like a marbling of the red colour, and the cocoa colour. I think it may have needed more mixing than I gave it. And my frosting was well wrong. It didn't set to a crunchy outside and I think it's partly because I didn't whisk for long enough over the heat (and the sugar didn't dissolve properly), and partly because I used golden caster sugar which doesn't seem to dissolve as quickly and well as white caster sugar.

I think of this frosting as a bit of a challenge now - I'm going to have to make it again to see if I can do it right this time!!

Here's a piccie of the finished cake

and cut open

It is a wonderful red colour - very dramatic. But taste-wise it wasn't as amazing as I was expecting - I'm sure due in part to my sightly dodgy baking! It was okay, but I've made nicer cakes and to be honest I think that it would only be something I'd make if I needed something visually dramatic. But well worth having a go at, and I'm tempted to make it again just to see if it's better if I get it right this time!

150g butter, softened
300g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, separated
250g plain flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
250ml buttermilk
red food colouring (2 tbsp liquid, or 1/2 tsp thick red paste)
pinch of salt
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Frosting :
2 large egg whites
250g caster sugar
50g golden syrup
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F, gas 4. Butter and flour the sides of 2 9" cake tins and line the bases with parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition.

3. Place the flour, cornflour, baking powder and cocoa powder in a sieve resting on a plate. Measure the buttermilk with the food colouring and mix together. It should be very red, so add more if needed.

4. Sift one-third of the dry ingredients into the butter and eggs mixture until just combined, then pour in one-third of the buttermilk mixture and mix until just combined. Continue, combining a third at a time, until both are incorporated.

5. Whisk the egg whites and salt in a large, spotlessly clean bowl until stiffish peaks form. Add one-quarter to the batter and mix. Add the remaining egg whites in three stages, folding them in gently with a large metal spoon until just incorporated, leaving as much air in the egg whites as possible.

6. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda until it bubbles up, then gently fold this into the batter. Quickly pour the batter into the 2 prepared tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 25-30 minutes (I took mine out after 30 mins, although I think they still weren't quite done then) or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean and the cakes feel slightly springy on top.

7. Leave in the tins for 15 minutes then carefully remove the cakes, running a table knife or palette knife slowly around them to loosen them, and invert over a wire rack to cool.

8. To make the white frosting, place the egg whites, sugar, golden syrup, salt, cream of tartar and water in a stainless steel or heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (the base of the bowl should not touch the water). Bring the water to a steady simmer. With a hand-held electric whisk or balloon whisk, whisk the mixture until you have shiny, satiny soft peaks. Remove the bowl from the simmering water and continue to whisk for a further 2 minutes - it will get a bit stiffer. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

9. Immediately ice the middle, top and sides of the cake with a palette knife, fluffing up the frosting to form little peaks all over the cake. You need to work fast to ice the cake, as the icing sets very quickly (but not if you do it wrong like me!). Leave for at least 30 minutes to allow a thin crust to form outside a creamy interior.