Monday, 31 October 2011

Trick or Treat? I Choose Treat!

It's that time of year again when the ghosts and ghouls come out to play... and fans of baking can get creative with their creations!

Add your own personal touch to parties this fiendishly festive season.  Grab some food colours; pumpkin orange, midnight black, gooey green, putrid purple, blood red and just go for it!  Look out for any sprinkles or candy to enhance your magical, scary baked goods.  I found some Haribo gummy ghosts and a "monster mix", but there are so many variations out there now.

I was at a party on Saturday (in my finest Dorothy Gale costume) and brought along some cupcakes and a haunted house cupcake stand I found in Lakeland.  The cupcakes were just plain vanilla, but I used my Americolor gels to colour the cake.  I divided it into 3 separate bowls and coloured one third orange, one third purple and the last third green.  After they were baked I topped them with contrasting coloured vanilla frosting (orange cupackes with green frosting, purple with orange and green with purple).  The frosting was coloured with my Americolor Electric gels which added to the eery Halloween look.  Topped with some gummy ghosts and bats.

Then yesterday my mother asked me to bake a cake for the family Halloween get together.  She had a Jack-O-Lantern cake tin, so I went to it and decorated it for her too.  I used my Americolor gels again to colour the vanilla buttercream (best investment I ever made).  To finish it off I melted some dark chocolate and used the cake tin to trace the eyes, nose, mouth and stalk of the pumpkin then used my leaf nozzle to pipe on some green frosting at the top.  I also used my red and gold lustre dusts to colour the chocolate eyes, nose and mouth to give a candle effect.

Hope these ideas help you to create some ghoulishly delicious treats.  Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Cakes By James: Cupcake Masterclass

I have been hearing a lot about this place in Belfast, Cakes By James.  I follow the twitter feed and last week I saw that they did masterclasses in cupcakes and that there was one taking place in the next few days, so of course I immediately bought a place for the class.  The classes take place on Saturdays before they open and have limited places available.  All of the masterclass details (dates, times etc) are available on the Cakes By James website.

So I set my alarm for that Saturday morning to get up and hop on the bus into Belfast.  Now, when I say I set my alarm what I actually did was change the time, but forgot to actually turn it on...  Luckily I did wake up in time to find an outfit to throw on and make my bus.  The universe was definitely conspiring against me that day, the bus hit every red light and stopped at every single stop on the way into town.  When I finally arrived on Royal Avenue I realised I still wasn't 100% sure of where this place actually was.  Fast forward to me wandering aimlessly up and down Queen Street (which was the only part about the address I could actually remember).  By 10:15am I managed to find it (making me a good 15 minutes late, meaning I had apparently missed tea and coffee, boo!!!)

James and the others were very obliging to my tardiness and carried on after I had joined them at the kitchen table where James had just begun to go through the Italian Buttercream tutorial.  This was the first lesson of the day.  Next up was writing with chocolate.  Now, for me writing with frosting is an issue, I am never happy with how the writing looks on my cakes so this presented a good chance to be shown new techniques, practise the skill and ask some questions.

As you can see, I still have a lot of practising to do.  My writing is still a little shaky, but I do like writing with chocolate instead of frosting (if only because I was very messy and HAD TO lick all the chocolate off my hand, gosh darnit!)

Afterwards we were ushered to the large wooden table in the studio for a quick lesson in piping frosting onto cupcakes.  We each got to take 12 cupcakes (I went for an even split of 6 vanilla, 6 chocolate) and then piping nozzles (Wilton 1M) and piping bags were passed out.

James showed us two different ways to pipe the buttercream onto the cupcakes and then provided us with 3 different flavours of Italian Buttercream to play about with (vanilla, chocolate and raspberry).

Once we had all frosted our 12 cupcakes we were then presented with a vast array of sprinkles, glitters, lustre dusts, dragees, fondants, fondant cutters and flower paste.  After quick demonstrations on how to roll out fondant and flower paste, how to apply glitter and the best way to apply lustre dust we were once again given free reign on exactly how we wanted to finish off our cupcakes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the masterclass and am seriously considering the cake masterclass in which you decorate an 8 inch cake, with more on how to apply fondant to a cake and creating sugar flowers to decorate them.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Chocolate Truffles

One more chocolaty recipe before the end of Chocolate Week!  These truffles are very versatile, you can add different elements to suit your own tastes, or tailor them for somebody else if you make them as a present.

300ml double cream
A knob of unsalted butter
Zest from 1 clementine orange
300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or above)
A pinch of sea salt
A few drops of brandy (optional)

Put the double cream in a saucepan over a medium heat and heat until bubbles start to appear.  At this stage add your butter and clementine zest, when the butter has melted slowly pour the mixture over the chocolate, whisking as you go so that the chocolate melts slowly.  If the mixture splits you can add a dash of boiling water to bring it back together.  Add the pinch of sea salt and brandy (if you're using it) then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the chocolate mixture sets. 

Once the truffle mixture is ready take it out of the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop out small amounts and roll them into balls.  You can then roll the truffles in whatever ind of coating you can think of; chopped nuts, cocoa powder, coconut, or if you're feeling really ambitious you could coat them in melted chocolate!

I have made this recipe with milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate before and those truffles turned out really tasty too.  If you don't want to use brandy why not try a flavoured liqueur, or substitute the orange zest for lemon?  The only limitation is your imagination!!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Chocolate Meringues

In honour of UK Chocolate Week 2011 I wanted to post this recipe. 

1 cup egg whites
2 cups caster sugar
5 tbsp cocoa powder
4 oz (125g) dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4.
Line some baking sheets with greaseproof paper.  In a heatproof bowl whisk together the egg whites and sugar over a simmering pot (ensure the bowl is not touching the water).  Whisk continually until the sugar has completely dissolved then remove the bowl from the heat.  Beat the eggs and sugar on high speed until the mixture is stiff and glossy.  Sift the cocoa powder over the meringue and sprinkle the chopped chocolate.  Using a spatula fold into the meringue until all ingredients are well combined.  Use a scoop to drop mounds of meringue onto the prepared baking trays leaving two inches between each to allow them to spread.  Bake for 8-9 minutes and then rotate the baking trays 180 degrees and bake for a further 8-9 minutes or until the meringues are fluffy and the surfaces have cracks in them.  Transfer the meringues to wire cooling trays, leaving them on the greaseproof paper.  Recipe makes 20-24 meringues.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Carrot Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy World Vegetarian Day!  I thought I would celebrate by baking with vegetables, so I went with a classic choice - carrot cupcakes.  I do love my carrot cake (or cupcakes) and this is the first time I've made it myself.

225g peeled carrots
130g raisins
2 eggs
130g golden caster sugar
120ml corn oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
120g plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4.
Line a cupcake tin with cases.
Finely grate the carrots and drain off any liquid.  In a large bowl combine together the grated carrot and raisins and set aside.  In a separate bowl, cream together the eggs and sugar, then add in the oil, vanilla and orange zest.  Into a third bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, beating well between each addition.  Pour the batter mixture into the bowl containing the carrot and raisins using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to fold all the ingredients together.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared cases and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester or tooth pick comes out clean when inserted.  Allow to cool completely on a wire cooling rack.
The cupcakes can be eaten plain or you could make some orange cream cheese frosting to top them with.

175g cream cheese
450g icing sugar, sifted
125g unsalted butter (room temperature)
Zest of 1 orange
Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well until all ingredients are combined and the frosting becomes pale - this can take a few minutes.  Top with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, sugar paste carrots, or in my case sprinkles shaped like carrots.  Yum!!!