Sunday, 25 March 2012

Chocolate fudge cake

Just browsing though my photos and i realised I haven't posted about our foray into the world of chocolate fudge cake baking.

Boyf and I made this ages ago, and it was delightful. I'm not going to say much else, except that this is the recipe for it, and that it tasted luscious. Nom nom nom.

That is all

Hayley xxx

Little Louise Cupcakes


Yesterday it was my friend's birthday gathering at her lovely new house. Usually, when there is a house party, particularly if birthday related, I like to bring some cake along. This time i needed to make something quite quickly because i was at work in the morning, and only had a couple of hours turnaround before my lift to the party, including time to go shopping for ingredients.

I did a bit of research at work. Initially i thought of making a chocolate fudge cake, but then i realised this would take too much time to bake the cake, and wait for the topping. Cupcakes are much quicker, so i started having a look at cupcake recipes. When I came across some Little Louise cupcakes, I just new I had to give them a go- my friend whose birthday it was is called Louise :)

Basically, Little Louise cupcakes are plain vanilla sponge cupcakes with a jam filling. The cupcakes turned out pretty good:

Then a meringue topping is applied to the cakes, and they are popped in the oven for 35 minutes or so to bake. If I'd have had more time, I would have put a bit more care and attention into tidying up the topping, but then i suppose they do have a sort of rustic charm about them.

They don't make for the prettiest cakes, but they did taste really quite good, and were happily received by my friends. I sprinkled them with edible gold powder and put them on a nice new pink cake stand to pretty them up a bit. The recipe i used was from the good old BBC Good Food website. I halved the amount of milk in the recipe based on the comments that the jam fell to the bottom of the cakes. The resulting mixture was sturdy but easy enough to transfer into the cupcake cases and spread over the jam. I also left out the dessicated coconut because i wasn't sure if everyone would like it.

These little cakes are definitely worth a try. I would probably recommend eating them with less wine than i did, as I've ended up with an utterly horrendous hangover today.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Gin & Tonic Cake Mark 2

You may recall that my offering for my very first Clandestine Cake Club visit was a gin and tonic cake, and its safe to say there was scope for a lot of improvement in the recipe.

Well, when I heard that the theme for this month's Newcastle Clandestine Cake Club was Baking With Beverages, I knew that this was the perfect opportunity to give it another shot (haha, see what I did there?).

Last time, I thought the sponge was a very dense odd texture, the topping was too runny, and it just didn't taste of enough gin for my liking.

So i did a bit more research, and i found this blog by BakerGal. As you can see from the link, she tried a lime based sponge recipe, with the gin and tonic syrup, and a cream cheese cream topping, with gin in it of course. However, she also had a few improvements to make, so I used her recipe as a basis, did the suggested tweaks, and made the odd change here and there as i saw fit.

The result? Well, the cakes turned out fine. I put a smallish (probably actually quite large) dash of gin into the cake mixture to go along with the zesty lime sponge. It smelt rather nice and seemed to have a good texture when it came out of the oven.

As BakerGal suggested, I omitted the water from the gin syrup, and added about 50mls extra.

I fed the cake, then fed the cake again, then, when it was clearly at saturation point thought to myself "You can never have too much gin, even if you are a cake" so I sloshed another load on, only to have a huge crisis of panic that the cake was going to turn into a gin-flavoured mush. I spread a layer of lime marmalade, then went on to deal with the topping.

Again, I went along with the suggestion of BakerGal and substituted the whipping cream for sour cream. I also used half mascapone and half cream cheese. But the topping ended up being a total disaster, to be honest. Admittedly, it was a nice tasting disaster, but it ended up looking awful.  In a deja vu moment, the topping ended up far too runny, so it dripped, squidged, and flopped all over, producing a not-so-attractive totally miserable effect. If I were to make this again, I think I'd just omit the cream from the topping. I put less in than the recipe asked for anyway so goodness only knows what it would have turned out like had i put the full amount it. Without, it was a stiff, cream cheese butter frosting with a dash of G&T syrup, which probably would have been totally fine on it's own.

drip, drip, drip :(
But, never fear, for I had to hand a) some edible glitter b) some writing icing c) a variety of cocktail based tat.

NB: The cocktail picks around the outside are cleverly disguised as decorative, but are actually there in a desperate bid to keep the cake from completely disintegrating.
And so, with only a moderate amount of shame, and quite a lot of concern about the fact that it may entirely disintegrate on the way, I took along my cake to this month's Clandestine Cake Club, where it was promptly adorned with even more glitter and cocktail tat.

Cocktail umbrellas make everything better.
It made it in one, rather sloppy piece, but on cutting was actually surprisingly resilient, with quite a good texture. It had a very pleasing gin and tonic taste- you could tell that there was gin in it, which was what i wanted. None of this subtle flavouring malarkey for me, I want to know that there is GIN in my CAKE, dammit!

The reception at Cake Club was mixed. People were either "OMG GIN IN A CAKE" or responded with a slightly queasy "ummmm, I don't drink gin", evidently in most part due to memories of epic hangovers of days past. The general gist from those that tried it was that it was nice, it most definitely did taste of gin, and that the texture of the sponge was MUCH improved compared to the previous attempt at gin cake. However, it wasn't a show-stopper, or a life-changer, and there is still definite room for improvement where the topping is involved.

There is really only one explanation for this high failure rate in gin and tonic cake technology. And I think that is physics. allow me to explain:

gin + tonic+ cake= pleasing treat
gin + tonic+cake+prettiness= something so amazing a wormhole will open and the universe will eat itself in a blaze of sulphurous fury.

Allow me to apologise right now by the way, but I have NO pics at all from this month's cake club. I forgot my camera, and my little Blackberry is severely lacking in the camera states. The Venue was the amazing dining room at Blackfriars. It was a really brilliant room, with two long banqueting tables just perfect for displaying such a huge range of cakes. But alas, the lighting in there was quite dim, and my little flashless Blackberry just couldn't cope. I shall let you know when some other cake clubbers add some posts to their blogs, so you can peruse their beautiful pictures of this cakey heaven. It was great to see and meet some new faces, and to catch up with some familiar faces.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The New Exercise Sweeping The Nation: Pastacise!

This weekend, we decided to make some pasta.

If you've no idea what this is about, you seriously need to look here

But, instead of taking the easy open packet and boil route, we thought we would make some from scratch.

Now I don't have a pasta machine. Nor, indeed, do I have enormously strong Italian Grandma type arms (although they are getting much, much stronger thanks to Nancy and Tony at Newcastle Strength and Performance) So if I'm honest, I didn't hold out too much hope for a brilliant result.

However, any excuse for a trip to Mmm Newcastle, so we purchased our tipo 00 flour, bunged it in a bowl, and cracked a load of eggs into it.

And that's it. only those 2 ingredients. I had assumed that pasta would be made with all sorts of complicated ingredients, and I really couldn't believe that it's actually only 2, really simple ingredients. However, we started to mix them and realised that the result was THE most sticky substance known to the human race. I mean, this stuff even trumps the inside of Tunnocks Tea-Cakes and Marshmallow fluff in the sticking stakes.

We soldiered on with kneading the dough, and after a long time of a lot of hard work and effort, we ended up with a nice, smooth pasta dough, which we cut into tagliatelle. I swear, making pasta really does give your arms a brilliant toning workout. I can feel an exercise DVD coming on!

It cooked really nicely, and whilst it was quite thick, when paired with this delicious Nigella Lawson recipe ragu (and a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese), it made for a really satisfying meal.

Good Ol' Potatoes

Many moons ago, (11 years to be exact- urgh) I packed up my little knapsack (several loads of stuff in my Dad's car),  and away i trudged to learn my trade (pharmacy) in the big wide world (Sunderland).

Before they waved me off (jumped for joy), my parents (mum mainly, dad was just pleased to get rid, bless him) wanted to reassure themselves that I would be able to fend for myself in urban jungle of Sunderland. And that would involve feeding myself. They invested in a number of student cookbooks for me (I still remember one which basically said for everything "If you can get it tinned, why bother cooking it?"), along with Delia's How To Cook Book One. Yes, that is the one that tells you how to make toast properly. 

So one of the things it was decided i would do was to Cook A Meal. I agonised over what to make for a long time, then decided on a chicken, bacon and cheese wrap thing, and Delia's Potatoes Boulangere. Because that sounded proper posh. I also made an apple cake

There was a LOT of panicking, particularly to do with timing, and a lot of whining for interventions from my mum, but in the end, I managed to pull together something edible. And imagine my joy, oh joy of joys, when my diners even asked for SECONDS! 

Since then, potatoes boulangere has become a firm favourite of mine which never really fails to disappoint it's eaters. It's really, very simple, and i'm not sure quite what it is about this dish, but it does always seem to win people over. It's rather easy to make, but can take a long time to cook, so may take a little bit of organisation to fit in with whatever else you're making with it. I think it's very deliciously comforting, because it is so simple. 

Because there's no use in reinventing the wheel, especially where Delia is involved, here is the recipe. I do have a few small adjustments to make to it though. I tend to sprinkle a bit of garlic over the top layer, and will apply a small (rather large, actually) sprinkling of cheese onto the top a few minutes before it's due to come out of the oven. Because what recipe is not improved by liberal amounts of cheese?

Why am I telling you all about this? Well, because I sort of recreated this historical meal at the weekend, except for the apple cake. And the potatoes were appreciated as much as they usually are.

So far, this dish has a 100% success rate!

Firewalk With Me.

Hi folks,

So as you may know, on March 8th, I did a firewalk. Well, in actual fact, I did three firewalks. I thought I would tell you all about how fantastic it was.

Firstly, why did i decide to sign up for such an event? Well, I have developed an obsession with the TV programme Coach Trip, and on one of the episodes I saw, the coach trippers went firewalking. It looked very easy, but rather fun, and without thinking about it too much, I thought "oh, it's obviously just a trick and not that hot, but it looks fun and i'd like to try it sometime"

Fast forward a few months and a spam fax arrives at work: it's an advert for a firewalking event in aid of The Stroke Association, and it's being held just 20 mins or so away. Well, before I knew it i had signed myself up and paid the entry fee.

Of course everyone at work thought I was crazy. And then they looked firewalking up on the internet. It's only then that I realised that actually it's NOT a trick, and the coals really are rather warm ridiculously hot at between 400 and 500 degrees celsius.

I raised loads of money from all of my wonderful friends, colleagues, and family. In total to date I've raised about £296, which is really, really brilliant. I think people were so stunned by my stupidity at signing up that they just threw money at me hoping that i would actually use it to get my head seen to. Or for a nice shiny wheelchair after my feet were burned to stumps. If you would like to, you can still donate to my cause here. It would be REALLY awesome, in an OCD sort of way, to hit £300.

In  the days leading up to the firewalk, I started having weird dreams, many of which involved fire of some description. One notable dream included a rather horrific fiery death for a colleague at work, involving some fireworks :-S So I think it's safe to say that i was actually rather worried about the whole affair.

On the day, I finished work early and headed to my parents house. They wanted to come along and see me perform this wonderful feat. Actually, my Dad did seem generally rather worried about the whole thing. In order to distract myself, I straightened my hair. Whilst doing this, I almost burnt myself on my hot hair, then thought "oh Christ, this is only 220 degrees." So then the next most logical thing for me to do was to paint my toenails.

It was only after i had a set of beautifully, carefully painted lilac sparkly toenails that my Dad decided to remind me about how flammable nail polish is. Eek.

Then off we went to the venue. And lo, in the corner of the car park, we saw this sight:

Ummmm.... reassuring... ahem.

Too late to back out now though, so off I went to register, leaving a trail of panicking parents in my wake. The man who registered me seemed really very impressed and touched about the amount I had raised, and even gave me a hug to say thank you.

Then it was time for a firewalking seminar by UK Firewalk. All during the seminar I tried to be calm but felt more and more panicked. I thought it would all be about technique, and meditation, but it was actually very relaxed. We learned about a few key points which are absolute musts for successful firewalking:

1. Fire connection- you have to know that it is a real-life fire, not a trick, and that it is going to be really, very hot. We were encouraged to go and hold our hands above the coals so that we knew that it was hot before walking. Apparently, if you tell yourself it's not hot, it just doesn't work.

2. A belief in a theory. You need to have some faith that it works, and that you're not going to end up with charred stumps. The instructor went though a number of reasons why, from physics to auras, we are able to walk on fire. It doesn't matter which you believe, as long as you believe in one. I went for good old physics, where the conductivity of the coal is less than your feet, so there is a delay in transfer of heat to your feet.

3. Intention to walk. You need to stand at the start of the walk, and know and want to walk across the fire.

by this time i was rather terrified. We all went outside and the temperature of the coals was read... 540 degrees. But, as the first few people did their walk, I got more and more excited. So off I went...

The pictures make it look much less hot than it actually is!
Now I'll admit it... I did rather loudly swear half way through the first walk. I actually wasn't intending to walk again but there was a bit of a queue in my way to get back to my shoes, and the longer i waited the more i thought "Again, Again, Again!"

So off I went again...

And.... again....

The best way I can describe the feeling is, that it feels exactly like you would imagine walking over a barbecue would feel like- there is a background rather warm feeling, with little pinpricks of extreme heat. But, by the time you've registered this, you've already carried on walking, so the really hot bits are constantly shifting, so you don't really burn your feet in the end.

When I got home, I washed my feet and they really stung as i was washing them. Then i had a tingly, stinging sensation for a few hours, as if i had sunburnt feet. But, no blisters at all, and no burns.

The verdict? I want to do it AGAIN!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Tarting it up

The theme for the last Private Pie Club meeting was Great British Pies, as it was being held on the Tuesday of British Pie Week. I decided to do something North-Eastern, as I'm a Geordie girl who very much loves the North East.

I had a look through my local cookery books and found a recipe for a North Country Tart, which I thought sounded perfect. And if we ever do a "pie that describes you theme", this recipe would do for that also :)

The tart is basically a sweetcrust pastry base, with a layer of raspberry jam topped with a golden syrup, egg, sugar and coconut concoction. Why it is north country, I have no idea- The streets of Newcastle don't appear to be lined with native palm trees sprouting coconuts or raspberry jam, but never mind. 

I wanted to use some local ingredients, so I got myself down to Mmm Newcastle, and got a few other bits and pieces in the Grainger market also. I remember when the Grainger Market was a place that your grandma went to, and it was possibly the uncoolest place to be. Nowadays it's getting really quite vibrant, and i love being in there. It's so much cheaper for fruit and vegetables than supermarkets too. I just wish that it was open a bit later so i could nip in after work. Anyway, I got a jar of J.R. jams raspberry jam from there. I do love a jar of jam with a hat on!

 The recipe only asked for 2 tablespoons of jam, but to be honest the jam was so good that I went ahead and put pretty much the whole jar in. 

jammy goodness
Then after that, the gooey golden syrupy coconutty goodness went in....

The tart was starting to look good, but i felt it needed a bit of extra panache. All that expanse of topping with nothing to break it up... And I felt that some special British Pie Week decoration was in order. 

There was only a small sliver left at the end of the Pie Club meeting, and that was quickly snapped up by the bar staff, so I think it went down quite well. I did have a little bit of it, but then swiftly managed to get distracted by spilling my pint all over myself. 

And, if you want to get all North Country yourself, here is the recipe for a 12 inch tart dish:
  • 250g sweetcrust pastry
  • 1 jar of JR Jams Raspberry jam
  • 75g butter
  • 37.5g caster sugar
  • 1&1/2 tablespoons of golden syrup
  • 150g dessicated coconut
  • 1&1/2 eggs, beaten.
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC (fan oven)
  2. Line a tart tin with the sweetcrust pastry. Spread the jam onto the bottom of the tart.
  3. In a saucepan, melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together until it has all gone lovely and gloopy. Take off the heat.
  4. Stir the coconut and beaten egg into the syrup mixture.
  5. Turn the mixture into the tart tin. Decorate with pastry offcuts and glaze with egg yolk, then put into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the filling has set and the pastry is golden and crisp.

One ha'penny, Two ha'penny...

The weather seems to be getting a wee bit better, giving me some hope that spring is around the corner.

So, it was time to do some spring baking last weekend. I've never made hot cross buns before so boyf and I decided to give it a shot. 

Baking attempts were somewhat hampered by the fact that his car broke, so what with all the proving and everything, hot cross bun making turned into quite a lengthy adventure. I must admit to finding myself wondering if all the effort was worth it, when you can just buy ready made hot cross buns and they're even on buy one get one free.

The end result was rather tasty, and although they didn't look perfect, they did have some rustic charm. We used this BBC Good Food recipe. And i have to say that toasted, with melty butter, they did justify all the hoohah to make them.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Experiments in Fox's Glacier Mints technology

Hi all,

So I won't say too much about why I've been doing experiments with Fox's Glacier Mints, as i think it would ruin an element of surprise. But I am a firm believer in science, and I believe that Very Important Experiments should be written up and in the public domain. And what could be more important than the melting properties of Fox's Glacier Mints?

Primary Aim: to determine the optimum oven-based heating device (O-BHD) temperature for melting Fox's Glacier Mints
Secondary Aim: to determine the optimum length of time to leave a Fox's Glacier Mint in the OBHD for to achieve the greatest optical clarity in the finished product.

Equipment required:

  • Fox's Glacier Mints
  • Oven-based heating device
  • Baking Tray
  • Greaseproof paper


  1. Initiate the O-BHD equipment to the desired heat level.
  2. Accurately measure ("tear") the greaesproof paper and affix to the baking tray.
  3. Position a Fox's Glacier Mint onto the baking tray
  4. Place in the oven and observe
  5. Record the results.

-240 degrees celsius for 4 minutes produced a yellow colouration with a large degree of bubbling effect. (Figure 1)
Figure 1
-200 degrees for the same time produced a more transparent, less highly coloured end product (figures 2a and 2b). A small degree of non-uniform bubbling remained.

Figure 2a

Figure 2b
-180 degrees celsius with variable timing based on close observation yielded a clear, fairly transparent product. (figure 3)

Discussion: The first experiment showed what happens when a Fox's Glacier Mint is presented to a temperature which is too hot. A dual process of both overheating and bubbling led to a disappointing result. Improved results occurred at 200 degrees, although a degree of inconsistent bubbling led to a lack of visual clarity. A temperature of 180 degrees celsius,with timing based on close observation of the melting process, led to the best results for the mysterious purpose which prompted these investigations in the first place.

Conclusion: 180 degrees celsius should be used henceforth for the purpose of melting Fox's Glacier Mints. The mint will need close visual monitoring to ensure than bubbling does not interfere with the clarity of the final product.