Friday, 29 January 2010

Share and share alike

I love other people's recipes. Of all the possible hand-me-downs I think they are my favourite. Books are nice, clothes for the kids a real boon, and if I ever have any inherited wealth (which is extremely unlikely) I'm sure it would be lovely; but for reliable honest-to-goodness happiness it's hard to beat a tried and trusted recipe from a friend.

I've blogged Riet's wonderful apple cake before. I've passed on Danielle's Chinese Chews recipe so often that I store it on the desktop, ready to print. FP Bean Stew from my online pal Millie is one of our standard dinners now.

The greatest of them all has to be Grandma Curl's Potato Salad recipe, which Dar and Kir's grandma Pearl Curry taught my mum to make back in the 70s. She taught me and I taught Mark. I can't imagine a summer without it. If you ask very nicely (and you remind me) I will post it at some point.

The next best thing to family recipes are recipes from cookbooks that other people swear by. My lovely and baketastic friend Rachel told me to buy Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes and it's been one of my best ever buys. I use it all the time.

My pal Lynne was asking about a chocolate cake that even non-bakers would find easy. My tutor Lesley was after a reliable, delicious chocolate cake that both children and adults love, and the answer to both of them has got to be the Annie Bell traybake. It's dead easy and utterly delicious. It's also very moist and last a fair while. You wouldn't think it had to because it is scrumptious and surely will be gobbled up, but in fact it does matter because the cake is huge.

So, here you go - my favourite chocolate cake recipe for when you have loads to feed:

75g cocoa powder
200ml boiling water
1 tsp bicarb
and set aside for a few minutes.
Whisk together
4 medium (or 3 large) free range eggs
370g light muscovado sugar
180ml vegetable oil
then stir in
200g self raising flour
Add the cocoa mixture, mix thoroughly and pour into a baking tin about 23 x 30 cm (9 x 12 ish inches). Bake in a medium hot oven (180 degrees ish) for about 30 minutes. If your tin is smaller and deeper it might take 40 minutes. Let it cool before icing.

In a bowl over a pan of boiling water, melt together
150g dark chocolate
3 tbs milk
and keep stirring until smooth. Pour it over the cake and scatter M&Ms or other sweets, glitter, 100s and 1000s, silver dragees... just cover it with bright and shiny stuff. It looks lovely and partyish.

I didn't use it today for Z's 8th birthday party because he wanted a Number 8 cake, and 2 round cakes was the smart way to go, but I did bake one anyway this morning for a customer with a family party this weekend. I hope you enjoy it as much as they will.

Now wish me luck, my lovelies, because the over excited birthday boy woke us all up at 5:30 this morning and his party and sleepover is starting in an hour. It's going to be a loooooooooong night.
J x

PS - Lesley also asked which Red Velvet cake recipe I use. I have a bunch, but I think I like the Magnolia one on the Guardian's website best. The quantities make 24 large cupcakes or 2 layer cakes, so most of the time I halve it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Birthday boy

It's Z's birthday on Friday.

You probably already know this if you live within 150 miles of us, because Z has told EVERYONE. His entire school. The postman. The staff in Tesco. The woman from Freecycle who came to collect a car seat. Absolutely everyone.

Anyway, he's having a birthday party at home, with a sleepover for some of the kids afterwards. He wants to watch a movie with popcorn and eat a party tea of macaroni and cheese, pizza and scotch eggs and possibly melon. Bizarre, but there you go. He also wants a chocolate cake, traffic light jelly, whoopie pies, cookies, cupcakes and "just whatever else you want to make, Mummy."

Aw, thanks, chick.

Oh, and could I please bake cookies for his class of 31, possibly M&M ones and maybe little ones saying Zach Is 8 or something?


I think we'll just go with M&M cookies, myself. I'm all for simplicity, it's my new plan.

Last year I let myself get talked into tiny cupcakes with the initial of each child in the class piped on. That was a nightmare; it took us a good hour to remember the names of everyone in the class and I was all uptight that we'd have forgotten someone who would then be all upset. (We didn't) Anyway, I don't need that kind of palaver and with a college course, work cakes to do and a large number of party cakes requested all to be done Thurs/Fri, I think 31 M&M cookies is more than enough work.

My preferred recipe is from the lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Family Cookbook. It's a super book, so do go and buy it if you haven't got it already. It explains the history and science of food as well as how to cook stuff. It's ace.

So, M&M cookies mostly like Hugh's recipe except he used chunks of chocolate -

125g melted butter
100g sugar (granulated or caster, whatever you've got to hand)
75g soft brown sugar
mix the butter and sugars together until well combined.
1 free range egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
and beat until smooth.
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
into the batter and then stir in
100g of M&Ms (or chocolate chunks or smarties or whatever you like)

This is a very sloppy liquid mixture. Splodge tablespoons of it on lined baking trays and bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a medium hot oven (around 190 degrees - nearly everything is cooked at that sort of temp) Do leave plenty of space between the cookies because they will spread.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes or so before you move them to cooling racks.
Makes about gooey 18 cookies.

By the way, as there is no creaming of butter and sugar needed and the batter is very liquid, it is a great recipe for kids to do. It's dead easy and really good.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Cake Tourism

This weekend was my escape to London for the marvel that is Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. It was sublime, as always, and I laughed heaps and wept buckets as is only right and proper at such an event.

While I was in London, I thought I ought to take the opportunity to do some research. I visited Jane Asher's shop for a few bits and pieces, I spent a wonderful hour in Pages catering supply shop indulging in dreams of expansion and equipment. But mostly, I went to bakeries and cupcake shops, took photos and ate cake. Lots of cake. So much cake that I threw most of it out after I'd tried a bite.

My good friend Rebecca asked her good friend Beth, who lives in London, to recommend cake places to visit. Her recommendations were super, for which I am very grateful. Thanks, Beth!

Lola's is a cupcake concession in Selfridges and Harrods. They are very pretty, do loads of flavours and have LOVELY packaging. I am envious. The sponge itself is very white, which puts me off a bit because in my experience butter and free range eggs mean a yellower cake. I am a firm believer in butter and free range eggs.
Lola's cupcakes have icing very nearly as deep as the cake, and they are covered in all sorts of nice things. Luke tried one and was very keen.
They also do big cakes. I liked this one, with mini cupcakes on top of an iced layer cake - cake studded cakes amuse me.
Selfridges food hall also sells loads of other nice cakes. I loved the tiny celebration cakes, edged in ribbon rather than dratted piped shell borders.
Hummingbird cakes remain very, very sweet, with loads of icing but looking really cute. They do Chocolate malt cupcakes now - clearly inspired by my success with chocolate malteser cakes. As if. Still, I get to feel smug about being there first.

I also went to the Primrose bakery - gorgeous 50s diner styling, a nice cup of coffee and pretty cakes, although the one I bought was rather stale. The loaf cakes were rather strangely sunken in the middle - the sort of thing that would have made me think my cake had gone wrong, if I'd done it. However, the pretty curling ribbon used to tie up the boxes, the blowsy, old fashioned roses in a pitcher on the table and the pale yellow colour scheme were all lovely and made it a nice place to spend half an hour.

I had a look at the stuff from Patisserie Valerie, a new cupcake place called Ella's (nice enough, uses loads of edible glitter) and a good browse around the cake stalls of Borough Market too.

Things I learnt - red velvet is still a very popular cake and I was right to try and push it. The mini cupcakes I do are also very big down south. Lots of celebration cakes I saw were finished with a border of ribbon rather than the piped icing, and cakes on a black and white motif were popular.
Flavours I saw this time that I hadn't seen before are chocolate beetroot, rocky road cupcakes and earl grey cake. I got a lot of ideas for cake decorations too.

All in all it was a pretty constructive trip.

Friday, 8 January 2010

say cheese!

The lappy and the cameras are communicating - for now, at least - so I have some photos of cakes I've done in the last couple of weeks. For reasons about which I am not totally clear, they have appeared in reverse order and I can't shift them about, so they start with today's cake and move back.

Here are the two cakes i did for our friends Tom and Abigail, who are twins. Tom wanted Dinosaurs, and i obliged as best I could. Abigail wanted a fairy. I bought a little figurine, which my eldest regarded as cheating. Ah well - I am very pleased with the result anyway. Most importantly, the kids were delighted.

The Divine Miss B had her 4th birthday party on Friday. She had a chocolate malteser cake, iced in a pale yellow buttercream with sugar paste butterflies (made by my own fair hand and dried for a few days to get the wings to stick up) and a letter B cookie. She was very, very chuffed.Below is a view of some of the stuff I baked for her party. The bright, low winter sunshine made getting photos a little tricky, and the pictures of some of the other stuff didn't come out as I'd like. However, I love the Happy Birthday banner made of iced sugar cookies so I've posted this one anyway.
At the back on the left is a cake stand that was my grandmother's, I think. The top layer contains mini cupcakes in the same lilac, pink and lemon colours as the cookies. The bottom layer has star sugar cookies in lemon. Then there's The Cake (all hail the cake!) followed by cupcakes iced in pale pink buttercream with silver glitter and Dora the Explorer wafers on. They are in Dora paper cases, too, but you can't see that from here. The jelly has B's name written across it (I ordered the personalised mould from Letterbox, and it's very cool.)

I also did lemon Viennese cookies, banana loaf and a chocolate cake with pinks smarties, silver hearts and silver glitter as well. Despite 10 party goers, 8 adults, two families visiting later and my own band of cake scavengers, we are still totally inundated with baked goods. Perhaps I overdid it a bit...

The photo below: This was the Christmas cake I did for college. Aren't the trees cute? It is really, really delicious. Pop over and I might share a bit with you.

Remember how worried I was about the anniversary party cake? Looks pretty good, doesn't it.

That's all for now. Enjoy the snow,