Wednesday 31 October 2007

Spooky Halloween Gingerbread

Woooooooo! It’s Halloween.

Despite not ever really celebrating Halloween I do enjoy the chance it gives me to get creative and make some spooky themed treats. Last year I decorated some gingerbread men to look like skeletons for my family and I had such fun drawing on their bones with royal icing that I decided to do the same this year for the Monday Munchers at work.

After cutting out a few gingerbread men I began wondering what else I could do to fit in with the Halloween theme. They only other cutters I had were round but I cut out some circles and decided I could always draw/pipe spooky characters on top of them once baked. This worked well and I ended up with:


Pumpkins, ghosts and spiders

The biscuits have a lovely autumnal warming smell and taste, as not only do they contain ginger but also cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne pepper to add a lingering warmth. They are crisp and a little brittle once baked but after a few hours they soften to a give a firm and slightly chewy biscuit. They were a huge success at work. At first people thought they were ordinary gingerbread men but they got very excited when they realised they were skeletons and pumpkins.

This poor zombie looks rather startled to have lost his leg.

Another treat I had intended to make but never got round to was dead mans finger cookies. These involve making the same vanilla dough hat is used to make vanilla crescent cookies, only this time you shape them into individual finger shapes and insert a slivered almond into the tip to look like a fingernail. You can also add knuckle detail using a fine skewer or cocktail and once baked you have pale, soft finger cookies. Imagine being offered one of those with your coffee, creepy.

However you choose to celebrate Halloween I hope you have a good time.

Spooky Halloween Gingerbread

400g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2½ tsp ground ginger
1tsp cinnamon
Pinch cayenne pepper
160g butter
130g caster sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Chop the butter into cubes and add to the flour along with the caster sugar.
Rub everything together using the tips of your fingers, as if you were making crumbles, until no large clumps of butter are left and everything is well mixed.
Mix in the egg and the golden syrup with a butter knife and then work it into a ball using your hands.
Warp in cling film and place ion the fridge to firm up for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180C and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Cut the dough in half (just because it’s easier to work with) and roll out until around 5mm thick.
Cut out your shapes of choice, place on the baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a wire wrack to cool and continue cutting and baking more biscuits with the rest of the dough.
Once cool, decorate in your style of choice using either royal icing or melted chocolate. Allow the icing to set before storing in an airtight container.
I made 24 spooky biscuits.

Just for fun I played around with one of my photos and managed to make the background go black. This made the icing on the biscuits really stand out and made the skeletons look REALLY spooky.

P.S. I emailed my pics to work and came in early - thankfully they uploaded - Yay!

Oh No!

I'm really fustrated. I have a spooky Halloween post all ready to go and blogger is refusing to load any of my photos to go with it. Grrrr. I will try to upload it again tonight after work but I'm so annoyed. I even tried resizing all my photos in case they had got corrupt but its still not working.
I may have a late Halloween post now :(

Monday 29 October 2007

Daring Bakers October Challenge – Bostini Cream Pies

It’s that special time of the month again, time to post about this months Daring Bakers Challenge. This month’s recipe was chosen by Mary from Alpineberry and when I first saw the recipe that was exactly what I though – challenge!

Bostini Cream Pies were Mary’s recipe of choice and these are miniature versions of a traditional Boston Cream Pie with a few subtle differences. I Boston Pie is a Chiffon Cake split in half and filled with a thick fresh custard and topped with a chocolate glaze. A Bostini Cream Pie is miniature Chiffon Cakes on top of set fresh custard and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
I have never tasted or even seen a real Boston Cream Pie and so I was instantly feeling a little nervous about how it should look and taste – challenge no.1. As I read through the recipe I discovered that it involved making a Chiffon Cake (a cake made with mainly whisked egg whites) and although I have made one of these before, it didn’t turn out well – challenge no.2. Then I read that a rich fresh egg custard was also required – challenge no.3 as the last time I attempted one it spilt into a horrible mess. By the time I had read through the recipe a few times I was feeling quite nervous about attempting to make this creation. I did a bit of internet browsing and found out what the pie was supposed to look and taste like and I gradually started to feel more at ease and decided to go ahead and give the little pies by best shot.

The recipe calls to bake the cakes in ‘custard cups’ which I took to mean ramekins. However I don’t own enough of these for the recipe but I did have a silicone muffin tin that was shaped into individual hearts and so I used this instead.

Preparing the cake itself was not as daunting as I had thought. Separating the eggs and whisking the egg whites was the thing which took the most time but it was quite enjoyable. After making the batter I poured it into my little heart moulds and baked them until puffy and lightly golden. Thanks to the joys of silicone they came out of the moulds easily.

Next I prepared the custard. I weighed all the ingredients, mixed them together and put them on the heat before realizing that the recipe suggested heating the milk and cream first before adding the egg yolks – opps! There was no way I was going to throw away my custard mixture containing 9 egg yolks and over half a pint of cream and so I decided to go with it, heat it gently and just hope for the best. I stirred it constantly for about 5 minutes and when I dipped my finger into the liquid it was barely warm and so I (stupidly) thought “I’ll just fill the sink with water to soak the utensils in, the custard will be fine for a moment.” When I returned to my custard barely a minute later, the surface looked like it had developed a slight skin and I picked up my spoon it give it a stir only to find the beginnings of a thick stodge, resembling instant potatoes. ARRGGG how did that happen so fast?! I whipped it off the heat and stirred like a maniac and thankfully it hadn’t split and was still smooth. A small word of advice, never leave your custard. I spooned some of the custard into the same heat shaped moulds I had used to bake the cakes and left it to cool down on the side before covering and placing in the fridge overnight.

The next day I prepared the chocolate glaze which was very quick and easy to do. I then nervously un-moulded by set custards from the heart moulds and amazingly 5 out of 6 of them came out perfectly. I topped each custard base with a little cake and drizzled over the shiny chocolate glaze. They looked so cute and elegant that I almost didn’t want to eat it but my curiosity got the better of me. The verdict? Rich, smooth, creamy, satisfying, sweet, chocolaty, indulgent and utterly moorish. The cake is slightly dense in texture and yet springy and light to taste and works perfectly with the very rich and creamy custard. The dark chocolate glaze adds a bitter sweet note that brings everything together perfectly.

A work of warning though these are very very rich from all the eggs and cream. They may look small but I don’t think I would want them any bigger. I had lots of cake batter and custard left over the first day and so I baked a deep 6inch cake, cut it in half and then froze it along with a container of custard ready for when I next need a cake or dessert at short notice.

I was very happy with how the Bostini Cream Pies turned out and now thanks to Mary I have got over my fear of Chiffon Cakes, although maybe my custard making skills still need a little practice.

I converted the recipe below into grams, but if you would prefer it in cups then head over to Mary at Alpineberry for the original.

Bostini Cream Pies
For the custard
135ml whole milk
2¾ tbsp cornflour
1 whole egg
9 egg yolks
550ml whipping cream
Seeds from ½ vanilla bean
95g caster sugar

For the Chiffon Cake
210g plain flour
115g caster sugar
11/3 baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
55ml sunflower oil
3 egg yolks
140ml fresh orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 egg whites
1 tsp cream if tartar

For the chocolate glaze
225g dark chocolate
225g unsalted butter

To prepare the custard:
Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:
Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.
To prepare the glaze:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:
Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

(I made 6 mini Bostini Cream Pies and 1 deep 6inch cake)

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Spiced Pumpkin Cake

It’s that time of year again, when the leaves start turning a red golden brown and falling off the trees and squashes and pumpkins appear in the shops. I adore the warm, smooth and comforting taste and texture of squashes and love to eat them simply roasted, in risottos, with pasta, on pizza or in soups. However, I had never eaten or tired a pumpkin pie or cake before. After reading many posts from fellow bloggers about these sweet delights I decided it was high time I too sampled these autumnal treats.

I chose to make a pumpkin cake from an old copy of Good Housekeeping Magazine. The recipe called for roasting and then pureeing your own pumpkin rather than using a can, which was just what I was looking for as I have never seen tinned pumpkin puree here in the UK. When preparing the cake batter it reminded me strongly of carrot cake, as it used oil instead of butter and soft brown sugar instead of caster.

Roasting and then pureeing the pumpkin turned it a wonderful shade of orange and added a great colour to the batter once combined. A lovely array of warming spices were stirred in and I could tell the cake would be good from tasting the batter even before it was cooked.

I chose to decorate the cake with a simple chocolate icing as I wanted something to offset the sweetness of the cake whilst still allowing the pumpkin flavour to shine through. (I turned up cake upside down to ice it, as this always gives you a flat surface to work with).

The cake was incredibly moist and all the pumpkin flavour was really enhanced by the spices and added a silky richness to the cake. I took it into work for the Monday Munchers where it was greatly enjoyed. I was pleased to find that not many people had tasted pumpkin cake before either so it was the subject of much discussion.

If I made the cake again I would like to try adding some raisins, or maybe cranberries into the batter along with some chopped pecans as I think these would be a great addition. Either way I’m glad I’ve finally tried a pumpkin cake and more importantly, that I liked it!

Spiced Pumpkin Cake
For the cake
550g raw pumpkin
250ml sunflower oil
200g light soft brown sugar
3 eggs
225g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1tsp cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

For the chocolate icing
100g dark chocolate
45g butter
2 tbsp milk or cream
75g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Chop the pumpkin into small chunks, place on a baking tray and bake for 30-35 minutes until softened and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C.
Grease an 8inch loose bottomed tin and set to one side.
Put the oil and sugar into a large bowl and whisk together until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Then add the egg one at a time, beating well between each one.
Add the flour, bicarb and spices and fold in using a spatula.
Puree the roasted pumpkin using a hand blender or processor until smooth. Fold into the batter.
Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean.
Allow to stand until warm before un-moulding.

To make the icing, break the chocolate into pieces and add to a pan along with the butter and milk/cream.
Heat gently until all melted, stirring occasionally.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before sifting in the icing sugar and beating with a spatula until smooth and thickened.
If of a good spreadable consistency then ice the cake, if not then allow to cool for a little longer until firmer.

Makes 1 8inch/20cm cake.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Tomato & Broccoli Quiche

Do you ever have days where you wake up and instantly know exactly what you want to eat that day? I had one of those cravings last weekend and my craving was for quiche. I attempted to ignore it but it wouldn’t be pushed away and after a quick rummage in the fridge I found I had all the ingredients I needed, it must have been fate.

I decided to make a broccoli and tomato quiche. One, because I had lots of broccoli to use up (it was on offer and I brought rather a lot) and two, I had some lovely tomatoes growing outside my door that were just begging to be used. I decided to sue one tomato that was still green as well as I think the vibrant green colour is wonderful; it also adds a different flavour.

The quiche was very easy to prepare and after a short mornings work I was able to satisfy my craving and enjoy a slice for lunch. I had some cold the following day (I’m quite partial to cold quiche) and found the flavours had developed more. The recipe for the filling is a big vague as I just used what I had to hand, but that it one of the beauties of a quiche, you can fill them with a whole assortment of things.

Tomato & Broccoli Quiche
For the pastry

200g plain flour
120g butter
1-2 tbsp cold water

For the filling
½ tbsp olive oil
1 head of broccoli
1 medium onion
3 tomatoes
2 tsp fresh thyme
3 eggs
250ml milk or double cream
Salt and pepper

To start, make the pastry. Sift the flour into a large bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour using your fingertips until the butter is well dispersed in the flour and little clumps are forming.
Sprinkle over half of the water and bring together using a round bladed butter knife, adding more water when needed.
When larger clumps are forming use your hands to form the dough into a smooth ball.
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until 5mm thick. Use the pastry to line a 9inch tart tin, being sure not to stretch the pastry or else it will shrink on baking.
Cut the excess pastry away and place the lined tin in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Finely dice the onion and lightly fry with most of the fresh thyme in the olive oil until softened, then set to one side.
After chilling, prink the pastry with a fork and blind bake for 12-15 minutes until just firm and lightly golden. While it’s baking prepare the filling.
Cut the broccoli into small pieces and slice the tomatoes. Beat the eggs, milk/cream, salt, pepper and any leftover thyme together in a bowl or jug.
Remove the pastry from the oven and spread the softened onion over the base.
Arrange the broccoli and tomato slices over the top and carefully pour over the egg mixture.
Return to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until set and golden brown on top.
Allow to cool slightly before un-moulding and serving.
Make 1 9inch quiche.

P.S. I had quite a bit of left over pastry and so I did what I used to love doing as a child, and made some jam tarts. I used some unusual flavoured jams to make them a bit more interesting – lemon & ginger, and blueberry & lavender. I took the tarts into work the following day, and although jam tarts are best eaten the day they are made, I received no complaints.

Sunday 14 October 2007

Mums ‘Foolproof’ Shortbread Biscuits

Apologies for not having posted for a while. This week I was hit by that nasty flu/cold virus that appears around this time of year. I’ve had lot of soup and hot drinks and am now feeling almost ‘normal’ again.

A few days ago I received an email from Luisa who asked me if I had any recipes for shortbread that could be made into mince pies. I think it’s a little early to start making mince pies but by a freaky coincidence I had chosen to make shortbread biscuits for works Monday Munchers.

The recipe is from my Mum and one that she got off the back of a packet of Stork margarine when at university. They are so quick to make and I have memories of her baking them when she was expecting friends round for morning coffee. They are called foolproof as they always produce nice crispy biscuits even if you over handle the dough a bit. However, I’m sure you could use butter instead for a more authentic shortbread.

The dough comes together in your hands in under 10minutes and is easy to roll out and stamp biscuits from. The dough resembles pastry in its qualities and I’m certain it would lend itself very well to little pies or tarts. It produces a crisp, crunchy biscuit with a slightly crumbly texture. It also takes well to the addition of choc chips, currants or vanilla.

So Luisa, give this recipe a try and let me know what you think. If you were wanting more of a soft, crumbly shortbread for your mince pies I have found some other recipes that look promising and have attached the links at the bottom of the page.

Mums ‘Foolproof’ Shortbread Biscuits
4oz (105g) Stork margarine
6oz (175g) plain flour
2 oz (55g) caster sugar
Add choc chips or currants if desired.

Preheat the oven to 150C.
Place all the ingredients into a bowl and rub them together using your fingers.
When mostly combined and clumps start to form, work/kneed the dough into a ball.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to around 5mm thick, and cut out rounds, re-rolling any excess dough.
Place on baking sheet and scatter over a little extra caster sugar.
Bake for 30 - 40 minutes until ever so lightly golden at the edges.
Transfer to a wire wrack to cool.
Makes 12-14 biscuits.

Monday 8 October 2007

Back to School

I’m not back to school in the sense that I have gone back to uni, but I have joined an evening class. I was getting a bit bored with how my weekday evenings always turned out the same and so I have recently signed up for a cake decorating and sugar flower course at a local school. I have never made sugar flowers before and I though it would be interesting and fun to learn a new skill. So far I have been to three classes.

On week one we learnt how to make proper royal icing from scratch and how to make piping bags out of greaseproof paper. I was pleased to learn how to do this properly as my attempts in the past have often ended up with a big blob of icing oozing out the wrong end and me getting covered in sticky icing. Hopefully, now I should be more successful. The trick is to start with a triangle and then fold the two corner points into the centre, and form a tight cone shape. Then, fold one edge down to secure it and cut off the tip to give you a fine hole from which to pipe from. You can also add piping nozzles to give a more accurate sized hole.

After practicing some writing and decorative swirls with different nozzles we turned our attention to sugar flowers. There are two ways of forming the petal part of a sugar flower, depending on what sort of flower you wish to make.
The method we were shown first is called the Mexican Hat method. This involves creating a tiny ball of special sugar flower paste (about the size of a pea) and rolling it out in all directions from the very centre, leaving a small hump of paste in the middle, not just rolling it out flat. You then cut out your flower or leave shape with the hump of icing in the centre. You then take a length of florists wire, dip in it edible glue and thread it down from the top and through the hump of icing. You use this excess bit of icing to secure the flower to the wire. A few option stamens can then we added into the centre of some flowers. You can then add detail or colour to the flower top. I found this method quite difficult as I couldn’t attach my flowers to the wire very easily (I don’t think my paste hump was big enough) and the edges of my flowers ended up a little scruffy. But it was only a first attempt.

Another method is to first use the Mexican Hat method to attach a green sugar paste calyx to a wire (the green under part of a flower) before rolling another small ball of paste completely flat and stamping out a flower of leave shape. You then dab a bit of glue onto he base of the flat flower and attach it to the top of calyx already attached to a wire. You can add many stamped out petals to the top to create a ruffled effect; it also helps if you use a cocktail stick to maneuver the petals into other positions. We were shown this method just before leaving and our homework was to make five of them before the next class. I really enjoyed making these at home but its quite time consuming work. Just making 5 flowers took my an hour and a half of work. You have to place the wires into a sponge so that the flowers can dry without getting squashed.

In our second week we learnt how to dust our flowers with edible powdered colours. This is done by tapping a little of the powder out onto a work surface and working it into a dry paintbrush, ensuring any small lumps have been removed. It is then carefully brushed onto the flowers. For the ruffled flowers we made at home, we only coloured the edges by holding the flower upside down and drawing the brush down over the ruffles. We tinted the edges pink and then used a yellow to taint the very centre of the flower. Once finished, the flowers are then held for 3 seconds in the steam from a boiling kettle. This melds all the colours into the paste and gives the flowers a glossy look. Be careful not to hold them in the steam for very long or else they’ll melt! They must then be left to dry/set again. By the end of the class we were able to group all our flowers together in a bunch and secure the ends using florists tape. I was quite pleased with my little bunch of flowers. It’s amazing how adding a bit of colour can enhance an otherwise dull and rather scruffy looking flower. For our homework that week we had to make a Madeira cake which we would then decorate with our flowers next week.

Last week we had to cut and fill our Madeira cakes. I wanted mine to be a bit different and so I flavoured the cake with lime zest and filled it with passion fruit curd and buttercream. The whole cake is then lightly covered in buttercream before being encased in fondant. I was fortunate enough to have enough fondant to cover the base of my board too, but this is not necessary. We then crimped the edges of the cake to add a bit of interest and attached our posy of flowers. One of my ruffled pinks broke off and I decided to add it to one corner of the cake. I think this worked well and help prevent the rest fo the cake form looking bare. I was so chuffed with my cake by the end. I have never produced any kind of delicate decoration before and it really made the cake look special. I still need a lot more practice to get to any sort of professional standard (some people in the class had done them before and theirs looked amazing) but for a first attempt I was very happy.

Apologies for some of the photos. Its always been dark when I’ve got home and taken them.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Flourless Chocolate Espresso Mud Cake

This cake is not much to look at but its taste and texture is sublime. I have adapted it from another recipe so that it is completely flourless apart from 3 tsp of cornflour, which I don’t count the same as standard wheat based flours. This also means that this cake is gluten free which means it is suitable for people on a wheat and gluten free diet – ideal for a colleague in my office who has just been advised to cut wheat from his diet. I felt sorry him and didn’t want him to miss out on the Monday Munchies and was the reason for developing this cake.

It has a thick chewy outer crust which hides an airy mousse like and incredibly rich cakey layer inside. You know the very centre of a good squishy brownie, well the whole inside of this cake is just like that – mmmm! It involves 200g of good dark chocolate along with a hit of strong coffee which produces an intensely chocolaty deeply rich flavoured and moist cake with an unbelievable aroma. Small slices are enough for an instant mood enhancing boost.

I replaced the flour with ground almonds and added a little cornflour and gluten free baking powder to help stabilize the cake. It puffs up when baking and then sinks ever so slightly on cooling. It’s best to let it cool completely in the tin as it’s quite fragile when warm.

It was devoured at work (I only got a little taste) and it would also make a wonderful dessert for a dinner party, dressed up with some drizzles of white chocolate, lightly whipped cream and plump raspberries.

I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the inside, I thought it would be rude to cut into it before delivering it to work.

Flourless Chocolate Espresso Mud Cake
200g butter
200g dark chocolate 65% plus
30g cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant coffee powder
60ml water
1 tsp vanilla essence
180g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
3 tsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder

Grease an 8inch/20cm loose bottomed cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 160C.
Place the butter, chocolate, cocoa, coffee powder, water and vanilla essence in a medium saucepan.
Place over a low heat and melt gently until smooth, whisking every so often to make sure it all combines together smoothly.
Then set to one side to cool slightly.
Beat the sugar and eggs together using an electric mixer until thick, creamy and pale in colour.
Keep whisking and slowly add the melted chocolate mix until all incorporated.
Scatter the ground almonds, baking powder and cornflour over the surface of the batter and beat again to combine.
Pour the mix into the cake tin (it will be very liquid) and bake for 50-55 minutes until it looks puffed up and slightly cracked on top and s skewer inserted into the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it, but no wet batter.
Leave to cool in the tin before un-moulding and devouring.It can be left at room temperature, but if you keep it in the fridge it will become denser and be more like a giant truffle.