Wednesday 28 May 2008

Daring Bakers May Challenge – A Cake to Sing About: Light & White Opera Cake

When I saw this months challenge I was thrilled as it’s a cake I have heard lots about but never attempted to make myself. As I read through the recipe and its many stages and components – sponge, syrup, buttercream, ganache, glaze – I began thinking “Ekk this looks complicated.” However, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. If you can make a whisked sponge and a buttercream then you can make this cake. You do need a free afternoon to create it, but it’s a very pleasant way to spend a few hours, especially when it’s blowing a gale outside and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful cake that will get ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ from your friends and family.

Traditionally an Opera Cake is dark and flavoured with rich chocolate and coffee but in honour of the approach of summer and with a nod to the LiveSTRONG day in America (fighting Cancer) our Opera Cakes were to be light in colour and flavour. I was initially a little disappointed at not making a traditional Opera cake, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I became – there are SO MANY flavour variations you can make when not tied down to coffee or chocolate. In the end I decided to make an almond joconde sponge, a zingy lemon syrup and a floral lavender buttercream.

I halved the recipe and made a rectangle cake rather than a square, but I still had the three layers. I also bypassed the optional ganache stage and replaced this with a layer of marzipan to tie in with the almond joconde. I also tinted the buttercream a pale lilac colour to resemble the lavender. I kept the white chocolate glaze and wrote ‘Opera’ on top with a little glaze that I tinted purple. That thistle looking thing at the end was meant to be a stalk of lavender, just squint a bit.
I was delighted with how the cake turned out. The sponge was so soft and floatingly light, very reminiscing of an angle cake, look at all those little air bubbles! It had a wonderful almond flavour, that really worked well with the zesty lemon syrup. I have just realised that I forgot to add the melted butter to the batter, but it doesn’t miss it. The lavender buttercream was really good and added a wonderful subtle floral bloom in the mouth. I have never used lavender in baking before, but I’ll definitely be using it again.

Thanks girls (Lis, Ivonne, Shea & Fran) for choosing such a wonderful cake – I would never have attempted it without the push. Be sure to check out the other Daring Bakers creations.

Lemon Lavender & Almond Opera Cake
For the joconde
6 egg whites
30g caster sugar
225g ground almonds
150g icing sugar
6 whole eggs
70g plain flour
45g butter
1½tsp almond extract (my addition)

Preheat the oven to 220C and position the oven racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven. Line two 12½ x 15½ inch Swiss roll tins and grease with the butter.
In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until they are doubles in size and foamy. Add the caster sugar, a tablespoon at a time, while whisking until the egg whites have become thick and glossy. Set to one side.
In another bowl, beat the eggs, icing sugar and ground almonds until thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. (I also added almond extract at this point)
Sift over the flour and mix in gently. Do not overwork.
Take a third of the egg white mix and fold into the almond mix to slacken it. Then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites, being careful not to knock out too much of the air.
Melt the butter and fold into the batter.
Divide the mix evenly between the two tins and spread out into an even layer.
Bake for 5-9 minutes until lightly golden brown and springy to the touch.
After removing from the oven, run a knife around the edge of the pans, cover the tops with a sheet of greaseproof paper and turn out onto a wire wrack.
Peel away the base of greaseproof paper, but then leave it covering the cake and allow to cool.

For the syrup
125g water
65g caster sugar
2 tbsp of your choice (I used zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ lemon)

Add all the ingredients together in a pan, stir and bring to the boil.
Allow to bubble for 1 minute until the sugar is all dissolved and then remove form the heat and set aside to cool

For the buttercream
100g caster sugar
60g water
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
200g butter, softened
1 vanilla bean or flavouring of your choice (I used 3 dried lavender stalks)

Combine the sugar, water and flavouring of choice in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Allow to cook, without stirring, until the syrup has thickened and reached around 105-110C.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg and egg yolk in a clean bowl until they become thick, pale and doubled in volume.
Slowly drizzle the hot syrup down the side of the bowl, containing the eggs, beating continuously. Do not pour the syrup over the beaters, or you’ll end up with spun sugar.
Continue to beat the mix until it become glossy, thick and cool to the touch, around 5 minutes.
Gradually beat in the softened butter in small chunks until all combined.
Add any other flavouring e.g. vanilla extract, and beat again. (I tinted mine a lavender purple colour)
Place the buttercream in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up to a spread-able consistency, stirring every 5 minutes so as to set evenly.

For the white chocolate ganache top (Optional)
(I replaced this layer with a layer of marzipan)
200g white chocolate
240ml double cream
1 tbsp flavouring of your choice

Melt the chocolate and 3tbsp of the cream in a small saucepan until smooth. Stir in your flavouring of choice.
Beat the rest of the cream until softly whipped. Fold into the melted chocolate and allow to sit and firm up before using.

For the glaze – only make this when you are ready to use it immediately
110g white chocolate
120ml double cream

Melt the chocolate cream together until smooth.
Whisk gently and allow to cool for 10 minutes until started to thicken and use immediately while still warm and shiny.

To assemble the cake
Trim the sides away from the joconde sponges. Cut each sponge into one square and one rectangle (one 10inch square and one 10x5 inch rectangle). You will end up with two large squares and two rectangles that when joined together will make a third 10inch square.
Place one of the cake square on a serving plate and drizzle over a third of the syrup.
Spread on a third of the buttercream and top with the two rectangles, to form another square.
Add another third of the syrup and butter cream and top with the final cake square.
Spoon on the rest of the syrup and spread over the rest of the buttercream.
Chill in the fridge until firm.
Then spread the top layer with the ganache (I used a thin layer of marzipan instead)
Make your glaze and pour over the top of the cake, smoothing it to the edges of the cake and leaving to set in a shiny layer.
Do not touch the glaze once it starts to set or else it will loose its shine.
Store in the fridge until required.
Serves 20

Sunday 25 May 2008

Vanilla Cut Out Cookies

Every once in a while the need for a simple plain cookie is called for and these cookies fit the bill perfectly. They are very crisp with just the right amount of sweetness and a subtle flavour of vanilla.

The dough was great to work with. I thought at first there was too much flour, but a little kneading and it soon became a smooth soft dough. It needs to firm up in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling but I left mine in the fridge overnight and baked them the next morning for extra freshness.

The cookies keep there shape well when baking, meaning they are ideal for cutting into shapes for decorating. I posted these cookies off to my little cousin for his birthday along with a few tubes of coloured icing as I thought he would have fun decorating the cookies himself, so I only have pictures of the undecorated cookies.

Vanilla Cut Out Cookies
Recipe from Food Beam blog
185g butter
225g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
350g plain flour
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Make sure the butter is soft and cream it together with the sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat again.
Sift over the flour and then work the mixture into a dough using a wooden spoon and finally your hands to form a slightly sticky ball of dough.
Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until required.
Lightly flour a work surface and roll out the dough until around 5mm thick.
Cut out a variety of shapes and place on the baking tray, leaving a 1-2cm gap between each one.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until just turning lightly golden brown.
Allow to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool.
Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Decorate as you wish.
I got 40 cookies of various shapes and sizes.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Liquorice Cupcakes

I like the flavour of liquorice but I find I have to be in the right mood for it. I had some liquorice Pontefract cakes sitting in my kitchen that I had bought when I fancied some but had never finished them all. It got me wondering if there was anything I could bake with them and my mind immediately turned to cupcakes. After a hunt through some cookery books and a browse on the internet I was amazed to find no reference to a cupcake containing liquorice anywhere, although plenty suggest it as decoration. By this point I had become determined to make cupcakes containing liquorice and so decided to see what I could create myself.

I decided to melt the liquorice in order to add it into the cake mix and as it’s quite a thick and sticky substance by nature, I melted it slowly in a pan with some butter. This worked, although the liquorice refused to dissolve into a smooth consistency, but it did turn extremely soft and mushy which meant it still distributed evenly when beaten into the rest of the cake batter.

I was expecting the colour to be an inky black, but it actually turned more of a milk chocolate colour. The batter was also quite….elastic, is the best word for it, and I was worried that it would bake flat and hard but it actually baked up wonderfully tall and light.

The flavour of the cupcakes is quite subtle at first bite, but it builds up a treacley/molasses flavour with a slight tongue tingling sensation I always get when eating liquorice. I wanted the flavour of the liquorice to be the most prominent and so simply drizzled them with a little plain icing to add a touch of sweetness. I was really pleased how the cupcakes turned out and would love to try baking it into a layer cake, maybe paired with raspberry or lemon buttercream for an interesting twist. These are a must try for any liquorice fan.

Liquorice Cupcakes

2 eggs
75g caster sugar
110g butter
110g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
120g soft liquorice
2 tbsp milk
Icing sugar for decoration

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a muffin tin with paper cases.
Chop the liquorice into small pieces and place in a small pan along with the butter.
Melt slowly, allowing the butter to completely melt and the liquorice to go very soft. It will not dissolve completely, but this is ok.
Beat the eggs and sugar together until doubled in volume and pale in colour.
Add the liquorice mixture and beat well until well incorporated.
Sift over the flour and baking powder and beat again.
Add the milk to thin down the mix and spoon into the muffin cases, filling three-quarters full.
Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.
Allow to cool before drizzling with a little icing made by dissolving icing sugar in a little water.
Makes 10

Thursday 8 May 2008

Cherry & White Chocolate Cookies

After a request from someone at work for a Monday Munchers treat involving cherries and white chocolate I came up with these cookies. Not very adventurous I’ll admit, but delicious none the same. They had a crisp outer edge with a bendy/chewy centre which was a nice change from the soft cakey cookies I made them last time.

I based the cookies on a recipe from the King Arthur Flour Company, only I halved the recipe and altered a few of the ingredients. I baked the cookies in two batches and the first batch spread far too much and they ended up joined together like some sort of crazy paving, I think it was because I tinkered with the recipe, but I added more flour and the second batch turned out much better. The recipe below includes the added flour.

I used dried Bing cherries which are un-dyed and quite tart, but this went well with the chunks of sweet white chocolate.

Cherry & White Chocolate Cookies
(Recipe adapted from the King Arthur Flour Company)
115g butter
100g light soft brown sugar
75g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ beaten egg
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g plain flour
75g white chocolate
75g dried cherries

Heat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Cream together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.
Beat in the vanilla and beaten egg.
Sift over the flour and bicarb and beat until well incorporated.
Chop the chocolate into small chunks and fold into the batter along with the dried cherries.
Place tablespoons of the cookie dough onto the baking tray, leaving a 2inch gap between each one. Slightly flatten the dough into a rough round.
Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden around the edges.
Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire wrack to cool completely.
Makes 18 cookies

Monday 5 May 2008

Wholemeal Goats Cheese Scones

I had some very pungent firm blue goats cheese in the fridge that was maturing at a rate of knots and needed using up. I contemplated melting it into sauce for pasta but feared this would be too overpowering and so decided to use it to make cheese scones instead.

I used self raising wholemeal flour as I think the wheat-ier flour coped better with the flavour/strength of the cheese than white flour would have done.

It is important not to overwork a scone mixture or else your scones will turn out sense and flat. They also don’t need much rolling out as the mixture must be left thick to give a taller scone. It is also important not to twist the cutter when cutting out the scones, or else they will bake twisted and unevenly, a sharp tap on top of the cutter will give you a much cleaner finish.

The scones were lovely eaten warm from the oven; the cheese was still soft and melty and they made the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of lunchtime soup. They also tasted good when spread with a little chutney and I bet onion marmalade would be great too – no extra cheese required!

I wouldn’t recommend making these with a soft mild goats cheese, as this would dissolve into the dough and the flavour would be lost, but any strong leftover firm cheese should do it.

Wholemeal Goats Cheese Scones
Recipe adapted from Delia’s Vegetarian Collection by Delia Smith
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
½ tbsp milk
70g firm goats cheese (strong)
175g wholemeal self raising flour
½ tsp mild chili powder
25g butter
1 egg

For the top
20g firm goats cheese
Milk for brushing

Preheat the oven to 220C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Sieve the flour and chili powder in a bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers. Lift the mixture up above the top of the bowl and let it fall back in to aerate it at the same time as working the butter in.
Stop when the butter is evenly distributed and the flour has formed small crumbs.
Beat the egg, yoghurt and milk together in a small bowl and then pour over the flour and crumble in the goats cheese.
Use a knife to start working the liquid into the flour and then switch to your hands to bring the mixture into a soft ball of dough. Do not knead the dough like you would bread.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and gently roll out the dough until it is 1inch/2.5cm thick.
Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter, pressing down sharply for a clean cut. Do not twist the cutter or else your scone will rise twisted when baked.
Place the scones onto the baking tray and brush the tops with a little milk and scatter over a little more cheese.
Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes until risen, golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.
Transfer the scones to a wire wrack to cool slightly.
Best served warm and eaten within 2 days.
Makes 6 scones.