A very special birthday cake

This was for our wonderful friend and neighbour and was a joy to make. A vanilla layer cake with lemon mascarpone icing and topped with a wild flower meadow complete with birds and bees and butterflies!

 

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Layer cake with

fresh fruit and flowers

 

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I think this could be one of my very favourite bakes. There was something joyous about seeing all the fruit and flowers happily cushioned in amongst the waves of soft mascarpone icing. I enjoyed every minute in the making and can’t wait for the next one.

The sponge was my go to recipe from Jamie’s Great Britain and the icing between the layers was my favourite buttercream with added lemon zest. It was topped with a pillow of lemon mascarpone icing and finished with all sorts of fruit and flowers piled as high as they’d go.

 

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ALMOND PUDDING CAKE

This recipe comes from one of my very favourite books, River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He makes it with apples and it is totally delicious and easy and very impressive when served as a dessert with cream or just on its own with a cup of coffee.

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I have made it countless times and decided to try it out with some other seasonal toppings. The most recent was rhubarb and strawberries and it worked brilliantly and so I thought I should share.

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The recipe is for the Apple and Almond Pudding Cake from River Cottage Everyday

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 150g unsalted batter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 75g blanched almonds grounded
  • 4 firm dessert apples
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbls granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinammon

Grease a 20cm cake tin and line with baking paper.

Peel the apples, quarter them, remove the cores and cut each quarter into 3 wedges. Melt the 25g butter in a frying pan and let it sizzle gently. Add the granulated sugar and stir until mixture bubbles. Add apples, cinnamon and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until apples are tender and caramelised. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

Beat together butter and caster sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add one egg and beat well, then add the second egg, the almond extract and a spoonful of flour. Add the ground almonds, sift in the remaining flour and fold in gently.

Pour the mixture into the baking tin, smooth the surface and arrange apples on top. Scrape over any juices from the pan. Cook in a pre-heated oven of 170 degrees Celsius for 45-50 minutes. Check if it’s ready with a skewer.

Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve with custard, ice-cream or just plain.

Weekend bakes

The past week has been full of birthdays and that has meant lots and lots of CAKE.

From my favourite apple and almond pudding cake to Pinatas fit for the Queen. The mixer hasn’t stopped whirring and the kitchen floor is covered in sprinkles and it’s all been very delicious indeed.

 

Strawberry and custard tarts with almond pastry

Adapted from Hemsley Hemsley

These are DELICIOUS and very quick to make. I did them as an after school treat for the kids and didn’t make the custard. In stead I piled strawberries in to the almond case and drizzled them with agave syrup which is wonderfully sweet and sticky and much better than sugar.

I also replaced the maple syrup in this recipe with agave syrup purely because I prefer the taste.

 

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This recipe is taken from Hemsley Hemsley and I just tweaked bits here and there.

Ingredients

(use organic ingredients where possible)

makes 4-6 tarts

Pastry

200g ground almonds

1/4 teaspoon of sea salt

1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

3/4 tablespoon of maple syrup

15g butter, room temperature

1 medium egg

Filling

1 punnet of strawberries, approx 400g, wiped or washed and dried

3 eggs

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract – we like Nielsen Massey

25g butter (unsalted or very lightly salted)

1-1.5 tablespoons of raw honey/maple syrup

Instructions
 Pastry
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
  2. Mix the pastry ingredients together to form a dough. If you had to melt the butter to soften it then chill the dough for 10 minutes to make it easier to work with.
  3. Cut the dough into 4 equal sections.
  4. Lightly grease 4 mini tart pans (approx. 10cm diameter each).
  5. Gently push dough into each mini tart pan. Use your fingers to spread and smooth the dough around the pan to create the crust, make it as thin as you dare and use a knife to trim the tops. Don’t worry about making it perfect – everyone loves homemade baking more!
  6. Depending on the size and thickness of tart cases you might have some pastry left over, in which case you can line one or two more pans.
  7. You can chill the tart cases before baking for a crisper finish, but it’s not essential.
  8. Place on a tray and bake for approx. 10 mins – the edges should be golden.
  9. Gently ease the tart crusts from the pans, turn upside down on a wire rack and return for a few minutes more to cook the bottom. Remove from the oven and place to one side – they will crisp up as they cool.
Filling
  1. Make a double boiler (bain-marie) by placing a glass bowl over a saucepan of hot water.
  2. Add the butter to the bowl and, while it melts, in a separate bowl or jug whisk together two whole eggs with the vanilla extract.
  3. Bring the pan of water to a gentle simmer and slowly add the beaten eggs to the butter whilst continually whisking – use a balloon whisk. Continue to whisk the egg mixture for 5 minutes or so.
  4. When the mixture starts to thicken watch it carefully – you want a thick custard but not scrambled eggs! If you get a lump, quickly remove the bowl from the heat and beat furiously until it’s smooth!
  5. When the custard is thick enough to leave trail marks from the whisk remove the bowl from the heat and continue whisking well to cool it.
  6. Once it is cool enough to touch, whisk in the honey and leave to cool further.
  7. Assemble the tarts by spooning in 1-2 tablespoons of custard and arranging the freshly-sliced  strawberries on top as you fancy. If you think that your tart cases are too thick then balance the taste and texture by adding plenty of custard and piling the strawberries high.

Pizzette

 

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A pizzetta is not technically a pizza and therefore perfectly welcome on any day of the week and with none of the pizza topping guilt. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

I know it’s easy to say but the dough really is very easy to make. Just flour, water, yeast, salt, olive oil and 10 relaxing minutes of kneading.  I use the recipe from Polpo because it’s both a book and a restaurant I love but most recipes will follow the same simple steps.

This recipe makes 4 small pizzette and this one was dressed in garlic olive oil, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil and rocket to finish it off. Don’t put the leaves on until its out of the oven and you’re ready to eat.

Taken from Polpo recipes in The Observer

For the pizzetta base (makes 12 bases)

fresh yeast 15g (or 1 × 7g sachet fast-action yeast)
tepid water 300ml
strong white flour, Italian 00 is good 500g
fine salt 2 tsp
extra-virgin olive oil 2 tbsp

Whisk together the fresh yeast (if using) and the water. You can make cold water tepid by adding a splash from a boiled kettle. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and dried yeast (if using) with the olive oil and the yeasty (or plain) water and form the mixture into a ball. Now knead the dough on a floured work surface. To do this, push the dough backwards and forwards simultaneously with your two hands so that you are stretching it and then pushing it back down into a ball. Repeat this, giving the dough a good working over. You shouldn’t break into a sweat but it should feel like a little workout for your hands and forearms, and you should be feeling the dough getting more and more springy. After 10 minutes of kneading, push the dough back into a ball, flour the top, place in a bowl and cover with oiled clingfilm. Leave to rise in a warm place.

After at least 30 minutes, but ideally when doubled in size, your dough is ready. Divide the dough into 12 large golf-ball-sized pieces and then roll them into thin 20cm discs. Top with the rest of your ingredients (below) and cook. If you want to use the dough later, place the balls of dough on a tray, cover with a damp cloth and leave in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Just remember to take them out 30 minutes before you’re ready to use them.

Remember that your pizza will benefit from being placed directly on to a hot baking sheet or pizza stone within a preheated oven – our pizzas take no longer than 5 minutes. At 250C/gas mark 9, yours will take about 6-8 minutes.

Sprinkles

I don’t have a sweet tooth, I’m a savoury girl who will always favour a cheese board over a chocolate pot but I do love making and decorating cakes. It has become my guilty pleasure and something I’ve grown to love more than I imagined possible.

The good thing about having a savoury tooth is that you can enjoy the making without falling victim to the eating. I also cook a lot of breads and cakes and tarts that don’t use refined sugars and I try to limit the amount of fats I use too. However, when it’s a birthday cake there are no rules. The only rule is that it looks fantastic and makes everyone smile, particularly my children. The taste is pretty important too and I have favourite recipes I go back to time and time again which rarely fail me.

My most recent cake was for my 6 year old’s birthday party. He is the sweet tooth of the family and so I really went for it whilst trying to use the best ingredients I could find to balance the ridiculous amounts of sugar. The thing that I find with my kids is the excitement of seeing the cake, cutting it and that first lick of icing, is really all they need. After that it’s on to the next thing…..preferably something sugar free and quiet.

He asked for sprinkles and he got sprinkles. He didn’t ask for the avalanche of smarties when he cut in to it and that made it the best cake EVER.

It was remarkably easy and hugely satisfying to make. Your kitchen will be covered in sprinkles so best to do that bit when no one is around and you’re prepared for the clean up. They get everywhere, they bounce and they roll and cause a terrible mess but they’re worth it.

Here’s what you need. I used a vanilla sponge recipe from the brilliant Lily Vanilli and also her vanilla buttercream which is the greatest you’ll ever taste. I always use the freshest eggs from our chickens and good quality vanilla essence and creamy unsalted butter. You’ll need 2 cake tins (I used 23cm) and some greaseproof paper for lining. Mine had 4 layers sandwiched together with buttercream but jam would be nice too.

For the cakes

  • 330g plain flour, sifted
  • 320g caster sugar
  • 1½ tbsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 175g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 190ml whole milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract

For the buttercream (double the recipe if making a 4 layered cake)

  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 75ml double cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, caster sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat in the butter until it is incorporated and the mixture appears to be evenly coated and looks like a fine crumble mix, about 2–3 minutes using an electric mixer on medium speed.
  3. Add the eggs and beat, first on medium, then on high, just until incorporated. Add the milk and vanilla and beat, on medium and then on high, until the mixture is smooth and combined; it will appear a bit lighter in colour, about 2–3 minutes.
  4. Divide the mixture between the two prepared cake tins and level out to the edges. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. To make the vanilla buttercream, beat the butter alone for 4–5 minutes on high speed. Add the icing sugar, vanilla and cream and beat on a low speed to bring it together, then turn up and beat on high for another 2–3 minutes.  Note: You can substitute whole milk for some or all of the cream; just add it slowly, as you may need a bit less.

 

Once your cakes are made and cooled, wrap them in cling film and chill for an hour or so. This makes it much easier when it comes to applying the buttercream.

Take the first cake and decide where your circle of smarties is going to sit. I used a metal ring which was about 10 cm in diameter. Use this to mark out the circle and dig a bit of the sponge out but DON’T GO ALL THE WAY THROUGH! This layer will form the base of the cake and so needs to hold the smarties. Using a piping bag do an even ring of icing towards the edge of the cake and another near the middle circle but not too close. Get you next cake and before putting it on top, use your metal ring to cut out a hole in the middle, this time you need to go all the way through the sponge. Put the cake on top of the bottom layer with the icing and repeat to sandwich the next layer. So you now have 3 layers and it’s time to fill it before putting on the last complete cake which forms the lid.  Fill the hole with the smarties – or whatever you’re using – and once it’s full to the top and the icing is ready, put the final layer on top (see picture below). This top layer must stay whole and once in place, it will look like a very normal cake indeed.

 

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Now it’s time to ice it. Use the buttercream to cover the cake, apply it with a palette knife and turn the cake – or walk around it – as you go to get a nice smooth finish. It doesn’t need to be super smooth as you’ll be covering it with sprinkles.

 

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Once it’s completely covered it’s time to add the sprinkles and this is where it gets really messy. You basically just take handfuls of the things and pat them on to the cake gently with the palm of your hand turning the cake as you go. Finish by covering the top with sprinkles and there you go. Now it’s time to hoover the floor and stand back to admire your handiwork.

 

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sprinkle smartie cake

 

It wasn’t my best bake – oven too hot – but it looked great and the kids loved it so I’ll take that.

For more cakes check out the CONTACT page and please get in touch if you want to know more.