Oreo Cheesecake Snowballs

      On a recent Pinterest spree I came across these no bake Oreo cheesecake truffles. With only three ingredients, these truffles, or snowballs as I'm going to call them, require very little effort. Perfect for a Christmas gift, stocking filler, or just to enjoy all to yourself!

   All you need to do is to put 200g Oreo cookies into a sandwich bag and crush with a rolling pin. (A nice little stress reliever after a long day!). Combine in a medium bowl with 100g cream cheese and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract until smooth. With a teaspoon, shape into 12 evenly sized balls and place on a baking tray. To chill the truffles, place in the fridge or freezer until firm and less sticky (approximately one hour in the freezer). Melt 200g of your choice of chocolate slowly over a pan of barely simmering water. Dunk each truffle in turn into the melted chocolate and remove any excess before placing back on the baking tray to set. Sprinkle with glitter, or drizzle another chocolate over the top to decorate and leave to set overnight. And that's it!

   You can experiment with the different variations of Oreos, surprise fillings and chocolate toppings. I'm now off to enjoy one (or two) with a cup of hot chocolate in my new reindeer mug!

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Gingerbread Marshmallows

   There's not much that can beat homemade marshmallows in a hot chocolate. I'm sure someone else could give it a much more technical reasoning...but, they just seem to melt loads more. These plump pillows of gingerbread goodness have a strong warming spice on their own that can completely transform any hot chocolate.

   After spending many an hour on Pinterest the other evening, I found my self suffering with a bad case of American marshmallow envy. They always seem to have much more choice of supermarket kinds. Even very cute gingerbread men shaped ones! I gathered it would be a little unreasonable to jet off to The States just to purchase some, so I hunted for some recipes to try my very own!

Spiced gingerbread marshmallows
(Recipe from Annie Rigg's 'Sweet Things')

Ensure that you fully prepare and measure all ingredients before starting. It's also helpful to have all pans, bowls and tools out ready. Marshmallows aren't too technical to make but do involve some good timing and a pan of molten hot syrup. For this molten hot syrup, use a sugar thermometer. So easy to use, and very essential for sweet treats such as these.

     1tbsp icing sugar
     1tbsp cornflour
     6 leaves gelatine
     2 large egg whites
     185g golden caster sugar
     pinch of salt
     2tsp ground ginger
     1/2tsp ground cinnamon
     pinch of allspice
     pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
     100g soft light brown muscavado sugar
     2tbsp treacle
     2tbsp golden syrup

  • Lightly grease a 20cm square baking tray. Line with baking paper and lightly grease again.
  • In a small bowl, sift together the icing sugar and cornflour.
  • Use a few teaspoons of the mix to dust the inside of the greased tray.
  • Place the gelatine leaves into a bowl of cold water and set aside.
  • Place the egg whites in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, add 1tbsp of the caster sugar and the salt, but don't whisk.
  • In a separate small bowl, mix together the spices.
  • Heat the remaining caster sugar, light brown sugar, treacle and golden syrup in a medium saucepan with 150ml of water.
  • Bring to the boil then leave to simmer until the syrup reaches 115 degrees on the sugar thermometer.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and quickly turn the stand mixer on to whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak.
  • Drain the softened gelatine leaves and stir until melted in the syrup mixture.
  • Pour into the whipped egg whites, continuing to whisk on a low speed.
  • Increase to a medium speed, add the spices and continue to whisk for a further 3-4 minutes.
  • Pour into the prepared tin. Shake and give it a little wiggle to smooth out the top.
  • Leave to cool before covering with cling film and leave for a further 4 hours, or overnight, to set.
  • Once the marshmallows have set, turn out onto a work surface dusted with the remaining icing sugar and cornflour mix.
  • Using a sharp, lightly oiled knife, cut into squares. 
  • Toss all squares in the icing sugar to ensure all sides are coated.
Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

You can find my coconut marshmallow recipe here
And if you fancy following my boards on Pinterest, you may find them here.

As part of a blogger's Secret Santa, I sent some to the lovely Leona from Oh! Leona. Check out her blog to see her cute dog, Rex, who is fond of chocolate!
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Sunshine Bars

   In attempt to have healthier snacks this week, I thought I'd give one of Gwyneth Paltrow's recipes a go, these sunshine bars. I'm not sure exactly what the difference between a flapjack, granola bar or sunshine bar are. But I like the sound of some sunshine.

   Of course, in true Sophie style, there are sure to be some unhealthy snacks this week as I'm on annual leave for 10 days. Well, I did finish half a packet of chocolate chip cookies whilst making these bars. I also have a special bake planned for some festivities this weekend...so keep your eyes peeled.

   My take on Gwynnie's sunshine bars are probably not as 'clean' seeing as I'm reluctant to fork out on ingredients like a jar of coconut oil that will most likely be finished in one use. But, am willing to give it a go if anyone can persuade me otherwise?

   I'm always on the look out for new recipe books, but have made a pact to myself to try out a few recipes before I buy. There seems to be more and more books out with not much substance and a whole load of bumf. For this reason, Dan Lepard's 'Short & Sweet: The Best of Home Baking' is on my Christmas list. From reviews, and flicking through it every time I walk into Waterstone's, it seems to be one of those books with just about everything you could want to ever bake.

   I found this recipe online and with a few of my own tweaks am impressed. So if anyone else has some links for other recipes of hers then I'd love to give them a go.

Sunshine Bars
(Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow's 'It's All Good', makes 8 generous bars)
     145g rolled oats
     75g margarine, melted
     25g oatbran
     small pinch of salt
     70ml maple syrup
     40g flaked almonds
     50g sultanas
     handful of chopped hazelnuts
     handful of cacao drops (raw chocolate buttons)
     2tbsp ginger preserve (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Line a 20cm square tin with baking paper.
  • In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, ensuring that all oats, nuts and fruit are coated evenly.
  • Pour into the prepared tin and pack down the mixture.
  • Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.
  • Cut into bars whilst still warm and allow to cool fully before serving.
These bars are no where near as sweet as shop bought granola/flapjacks but I don't mind that.
Use any dried fruit or nuts depending on your preferences or on what you have lying about in the cupboard. I added in the ginger preserve, as since receiving a few jars from Mackays I've been putting it on practically everything for a little warmth and spice! 

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Whiskey Marmalade & Pecan Brownies

   Here's my recipe for Mackays #christmaswithmackays challenge. Super fudgey brownies with a whiskey marmalade kick and topped with pecans to give a little crunch.

   I used Smitten Kitchen's cocoa brownie recipe for two reasons; it's cold outside and I wasn't feeling brave enough to walk in the rain to the shops to get lots of chocolate bars and because Huffington Post deems it as 'the only brownie recipe you'll ever need'. With my addition of marmalade and some stray chocolate chunks I found in the cupboard, I can confirm that this is the ONLY brownie recipe you'll ever need.

Whiskey marmalade & pecan brownies
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, Makes 16)
     140g unsalted butter
     250g caster sugar
     65g unsweetened cocoa powder
     1/4 tsp salt
     1/2 tsp vanilla extract
     2 large eggs
     65g plain flour
     4tbsp Mackays Orange Marmalade with Whiskey
     100g milk chocolate chunks
     75g walnut pieces, lightly chopped
  • Heat the oven to 160 degrees and line an 8x8 inch square baking tin with baking paper.
  • Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Melt either in the microwave or over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot. Set the bowl aside to cool.
  • Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter is thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour and mix well. Smitten Kitchen then advises to beat vigorously again for 40 strokes.
  • Stir in the marmalade and chocolate chunks before filling the prepared tray with the batter. Smooth out the top with a knife and scatter over the chopped pecan pieces.
  • Bake for 30 - 35 minutes until the top is shiny. Leave to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting into 16 squares.

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Pumpkin & Pecan Praline Cake

I made this cake quickly after work for a family birthday, on Bonfire Night!

I decided to go for full on autumn flavours with a pumpkin sponge and pecan praline topping. All helped with a good smothering of dark chocolate ganache.

For this I used a combination of Marta Stewart recipes, including the pumpkin sponge I made into mini cakes here, and the pecan praline. The ganache was my first attempt and a bit of guestimating!

Pumpkin cake, with dark chocolate ganache & pecan praline
(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)
     2 cups plain flour
     1tsp bicarbonate of soda
     1tsp baking powder
     1tsp salt
     1tsp ground cinnamon
     1tsp ground ginger
     1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
     1/4 tsp ground allspice
     1 cup packed light brown sugar
     1 cup granulated sugar
     1 cup butter, melted and cooled
     4 eggs, lightly beaten
     1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree (I used Libby's)

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease 3 regular sandwich tins.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter and eggs. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the pumpkin puree,
  • Divide the batter evenly between the tins. Bake until golden and the tops spring back when touched, roughly 25-30 minutes. Cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Chocolate ganache
     200g dark chocolate
     300ml double cream
     2tbsp golden caster sugar
  • Chop the chocolate into small chunks and tip into a heatproof bowl.
  • Heat the double cream in a pan, add the sugar and heat until it is about to boil.
  • Take off the heat and pour over the chocolate chunks.
  • Continue to stir until all chunks have melted and the mixture is smooth.
Pecan praline
(Recipe from Martha Stewart)
     vegetable oil, for baking tray
     1 cup golden caster sugar
     1 cup whole pecans, lightly toasted
  • Lightly coat a baking tray with vegetable oil and set aside.
  • Mix together the sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Cover and cook, without stirring, until an amber coloured syrup has formed, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the pecans. Pour mixture onto prepared baking tray and leave to cool completely.
  • When the praline has cooled, coarsely chop. 

To finish, I sandwiched the three layers of pumpkin cake with lashings of chocolate ganache. Then, poured the rest over the top. Did a little tidying up and sprinkled over the chopped pecan praline.

There was enough praline left to cover one more cake...Martha advises to store in an airtight container at room temperature.
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Great British Food Magazine: Mulled Wine, Cranberry & Marmalade Tea Bread

Following on from my last post, you'll now know why I've been in such a festive mood recently. In September I started working on a Christmas recipe for Mackays to be published in this month's Christmas edition of Great British Food Magazine. The magazine is now out so I thought I'd share to recipe here too.
 My festive take on a classic tea bread uses Mackays Dundee orange marmalade paired with cranberries, spices and mulled wine. All my favourite festive flavours!

Mulled wine, cranberry & marmalade tea bread
     500ml mulled wine
     75g dried cranberries
     75g chopped mixed peel
     75g currants
     175g butter, softened,
     3 eggs
     160g Mackays Dundee Orange Marmalade
     250g self raising flour
     1tsp baking powder
     2tsp ground ginger

For the topping (optional)
     75g dried cranberries
     2tbsp icing sugar
     1 large orange, juiced, plus zest
  • Leave the fruit to soak in the mulled wine for 30 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees and lightly grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin and line with baking paper.
  • Beat together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and creamy. Gradually add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  • Stir through the marmalade before folding in the flour, baking powder and ginger. Drain the fruit and gently fold into the batter.
  • Transfer into the prepared tin and smooth the top.
  • Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Then removed and leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • For the topping, mix the icing sugar with enough orange juice to make a smooth, runny icing. Drizzle over the cake and top with the dried cranberries and a sprinkle of orange zest.
Boy Loves Food and I bought 4 copies of the magazine this morning for family. I think the lady who served us was a bit confused!

Find Great British Food Magazine here.
And, Mackay's marvellous marmalade here.

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buyagift: Christmas Carol Hamper

   I'm starting to feel a little festive. Tell a lie, I started to feel a little festive in September when my brother bought me a new Christmas jumper. And yes, I have worn it already. It's never too early. Unless you're scrooge.

   The lovely James from buyagift sent me this amazing box full of treats from their Christmas hamper range. Not only am I now thoroughly in the mood for festivities, I've started planning some Christmas gifts. Who wouldn't love to receive something like this. Perfect for those friends and family members who live a little further afield.

   This box includes a good mix of luxury treats like mince pies, fudge, Guylian chocolates and a Christmas pudding. One of my favourite items in this is the Ahmad Breakfast tea, which is my favourite breakfast time blend.

Find their full range of festive fancies here.

*buyagift kindly sent me this hamper, but all views are my own.

Spiced Pumpkin Mini Cakes

Spiced pumpkin mini cakes
(From Martha Stewart, makes 24)
     2 cups plain flour
     1tsp bicarbonate of soda
     1tsp baking powder
     1tsp salt
     1tsp ground cinnamon
     1tsp ground ginger
     1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
     1/4tsp ground allspice
     1 cup packed soft brown sugar
     1 cup caster sugar
     1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
     4 large eggs, lightly beaten
     1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease trays and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, caster sugar, butter and eggs. Add dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.
  • Divide batter evenly among the trays, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, or a cake tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
I had some chocolate custard left over from my Brooklyn Blackout cupcakes, which goes perfectly with the spicy pumpkin cake. Recipe here. Then topped with some blitzed cake crumbs and a pecan half.

Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes

   As it's Chocolate Week I made some super chocolatey Brooklyn Blackout cupcakes. These cupcakes were made popular by Ebinger's Bakery in Brooklyn, New York. A rich chocolate cake filled with rich chocolate custard and frosted with the same rich custard and covered in cake crumbs. 

   These cakes were named after the blackout drills in New York in World War II performed by the Civilian Defence Corps. All lights in the city were turned off and windows were covered with black material to practice so that ships sailing off to battle could not be spotted by enemy planes.
Brooklyn Blackout Cupcakes
(Adapted from Hummingbird Bakery, makes 12 cupcakes)
     100g unsalted butter, softened
     260g caster sugar
     2 eggs
     45g cocoa powder
     1/4 tsp vanilla extract
     3/4 tsp baking powder
     3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
     a pinch of salt
     170g plain flour
     160ml whole milk

For the chocolate custard:
     500g caster sugar
     1tbsp golden syrup
     125g cocoa powder
     200g corn flour
     85g unsalted butter
     1/2 tsp vanilla extract

  • Heat the oven to 170 degrees and line a muffin tray with cupcake cases.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  • Slowly beat in the vanilla extract, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt until well mixed.
  • Add half the flour, then all the milk, and finish with the remaining flour.
  • Mix well until everything is well combined.
  • Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Leave the cupcakes to cool on a wire rack.
  • For the chocolate custard, put the sugar, golden syrup, cocoa powder and 600ml of water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, whisking occasionally.
  • Mix the cornflour with 120ml of water, then whisk into the cocoa mixture in the saucepan. Bring back to the boil, whisking constantly. Cook until very thick, about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.
  • Pour the custard into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill until very firm.
  • When the cupcakes are cold and custard cooled, use a pairing knife to cut out a cone shape from each. Put all 12 into a food processor and blitz to make fine crumbs.
  • Fill each cupcake with a piping bag (I didn't use a nozzle for this) and then finish with a swirl on top. 
  • Sprinkle the cake crumbs over each cupcake to decorate.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Fudge Cake

Sometimes you just need to bake a cake. A really indulgent one!

Salted caramel chocolate fudge cake
(Adapted from Great British Chefs)
     125g caster sugar
     100g soft brown sugar
     4 large eggs
     1tsp vanilla extract
     240ml vegetable oil
     200g self raising flour
     75g cocoa powder
     1tsp baking powder
     1tsp bicarbonate of soda
     a pinch of sea salt
     2tbsp plain, natural yoghurt

For the salted caramel buttercream filling:
     250g unsalted butter, softened
     500g icing sugar
     3tbsp Bonne Maman Confiture de Caramel
     a pinch of sea salt

For the chocolate fudge topping:
     200g dark chocolate
     125ml double cream
     2tbsp Bonne Maman Confiture de Caramel
     chopped fudge pieces to decorate

  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter three sandwich cake tins and line the bottom of each with baking paper.
  • Using a mixer or electric whisk, beat the caster sugar, soft brown sugar, eggs and vanilla together for about four minutes until creamy. Slowly add the vegetable oil and mix again well.
  • Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and stir together well with a metal spoon or spatula. Add a pinch of salt and stir in the plain yoghurt, mix well.
  • Divide the mixture equally between the prepared baking tins and bake for 30 minutes. Once a skewer comes out clean, take the sponges out of the oven and leave to cool in the tins.
  • To make the filling, beat the butter until soft and a little fluffy. Carefully add the icing sugar a little at a time and keep mixing until the whole amount is added in. Add the caramel sauce and a punch of sea salt and mix well.
  • Once the sponges are completely cool, sandwich them together with equal amounts of buttercream.
  • To make the chocolate fudge topping, melt the chocolate and stir in the cream and caramel once slightly cooled. Leave to cool entirely, before spreading the fudge topping over the entire cake. (I found it easier to do a crumb coating, although the second layer was a lot cooler and a lot less spreadable). Decorate with chopped fudge pieces.

Mini Caramel Coffee Cakes

   I thought I'd share a quick recipe of one of my midnight bakes this week. These mini cakes were a little experiment with a jar of caramel that's been sitting patiently in the cupboard. Of course they were waiting for a little java buzz and some chocolate caramel buttercream.

Mini caramel coffee cakes
(Makes 6 mini cakes)
     85g unsalted butter, softened
     55g soft dark brown sugar
     1tbsp golden syrup
     1 large egg, lightly beaten
     100g self raising flour
     1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
     2tbsp espresso coffee

  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a bun tray with 6 cases.
  • Beat together the butter, sugar and golden syrup until light and fluffy. 
  • Gradually beat in the egg.
  • Sift in the flour and nutmeg and, with a spatula, gently fold in with the 2tbsp espresso coffee.
  • Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes. Until golden and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool before topping.
For the topping,
     150g unsalted butter, softened
     1tsp vanilla extract
     280g icing sugar
     2tbsp caramel sauce
     115g milk chocolate, melted
  • Place the butter and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat until the butter becomes pale.
  • Gradually sift in the icing sugar, beating well after each addition.
  • Add the melted chocolate and caramel and continue to beat until well combined, light and fluffy.
  • Pipe swirls onto the cooled cakes (I used a Wilton 2d...my favourite!)
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Pret-a-Portea, The Berkeley

   Whilst backing up my beloved iPhone to ios7 I found these cake-dreams from a few weeks ago. This was of course whilst I was desperately trying to free up the obligatory 3gb of memory.

   Like the Queen, I managed to celebrate my birthday this year over two months. So I thought I'd share a little of my Amazing Monday (where I became a real grown up...but I'll save that for another time).

   On Amazing Monday, Boy Loves Food and I toddled down Knightsbridge hidden from the showers under my teeny umbrella. Not a fan of rain, usually I'd be a little grouchy. But on this amazing Monday, I was wearing my Wednesday Addams dress and off to drink tea and eat cake at The Berkeley.

   Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley gives a fashionista twist to a traditional English afternoon tea inspired by fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Prada and Oscar de la Renta. Here, designs fresh off the catwalk are translated into a tea stand full of gorgeous cakes and fancies.

   Coming to the close of the Spring/Summer there are many a photo of these treats circulating round the Interweb by now, I'm sure. But my absolute favourite was the Alexander McQueen whimsical yellow honeycomb cream oversized dress topped with marzipan bee. Or the lovely Jason Wu coconut 'Carolyn' hatbox shaped cake bag sandwiched in retro leopard print chocolate. All washed down with the loose leaf pear caramel tea blend.

   I promise those cake descriptions are fresh from their menu, enough to make any cake eater sound like a fashionista!

Pret-a-Portea, The Berkeley London.

Pear and Cardamom Cake with Coffee and Amaretti

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   I had intended to attend my first Putney Bake Club event last week but couldn't attend due to work commitments. The theme was Harvest Festival so I decided to make this pear and cardamom cake with coffee and an amaretti topping. The kind of cake that's perfect slightly warmed and served with a dollop of custard. Warming and autumnal.

   Said cake was all ready to go, but instead it was left feeling sorry for itself in the kitchen so I thought I'd show it a little attention and post the recipe. Boy Loves Food had even helped me with its little photoshoot, he makes a good assistant.

   Fresh pears make this cake really moist, with a little nuttiness from ground almonds and freshly ground cardamom to lend a little floral hint.
Pear and cardamom cake with coffee and amaretti
(Recipe from Warm Snug Fat...the best baking blog name I have ever seen!)
     175g butter, softened
     175g light muscavado sugar
     3 medium eggs
     50g ground almonds
     1tsp freshly ground cardamom
     175g self raising flour
     2 tbsp espresso coffee
     3 ripe pears, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
     4 amaretti biscuits, roughly crushed
     75g dark chocolate

  • Heat the oven to 190 degrees and grease and line a 20 cm loose bottomed tin.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluff.y
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Fold in the ground almonds, cardamom, flour, coffee and two thirds of the chopped pears until well combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.
  • Scatter the remaining pears and two thirds of the amaretti biscuits over the top and bake for 1 hour until risen and cooked. If you insert a skewer into the centre it should come out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool completely.
  • Remove the cake from the tin and place onto a serving plate. Scatter over the remaining biscuits.
  • Melt the chocolate and drizzle over the top of the cake.

Rocky Road

Not a recipe post as such, but I thought I'd share the homemade treats I've been enjoying this week

   These have been the most successful rocky roads I've made to date, and the most simple. Just 1 packet of smashed biscuits and a scattering of mini marshmallows coated in 3 bars of melted milk chocolate and left to set in a 20cm square tin.

   I used chocolate digestives, but ginger biscuits or cookies work very well also. Smashed up crunchie bars can make these even more naughty.

Blackberry and Cinnamon Cake

   Autumn/Winter has set in. Finally! I can't be dealing with hot sticky trains. Arriving to work in my summer clothes only to freeze under the air conditioning through an eight hour shift. I'm that excited for the colder climates, I've already purchased some winter staples. Staples such as 1 kg of mini marshmallows for all those hot chocolates and a bear onesie. Completely necessary of course.
   And so, in order to welcome chilly mornings and chilly toes, I decided to bake something cosy and warming. Cinnamon being one of my favourite spices, makes me feel a little festive. Like wearing my favourite cashmere winter scarf. But as its not quite winter enough, yet, and I can't get away with wearing it just yet, I baked a cake with cinnamon in.
  This cake could have been a disaster...I forgot to add a raising agent. It did have a lovely streusel topping with all the blackberries peaking out the top before baking. So, in a desperate attempt to salvage my efforts, I gave the cake batter-filled tin a sprinkling of baking powder. A quick stir, ruining that precious streusel, and a prayer to the raising gods á la Christine of the Great British Bake Off!
   Any cakes that resemble a pancake don't get featured on here. There have been one or two. But, as this one turned out to be a success, a surprising one...here it is. Complete with streusel topping in case you decide to bake it the regular way. And home grown blackberries!

Blackberry and Cinnamon Streusel Cake
(Adapted from a Nigella's community recipe)
     5 oz unsalted butter, softened
     5 oz superfine sugar
     5 oz ground almonds
     5 oz self raising flour
     1 egg
     1 tsp ground cinnamon
     2 tsp vanilla extract
     8 oz blackberries
     35 g plain flour
     25 g sugar
     25 g butter
     Icing sugar and cinnamon for dusting

  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a 23 cm springform tin.
  • Combine all the ingredients except the blackberries and beat well. Spread the mixture into the tin with a rubber spatula and then scatter the blackberries over.
  • Make the streusel topping by rubbing together plain flour, sugar and butter and scatter over the blackberries.
  • Bake for about 1 hour until golden and springy.
  • Cool in the tin before adding a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon.

Pretzel M&M Brownies

  In order to give my team at work a little boost last week I decided to take in some baked goods. I've been a little slack on the baking recently, but after a physio session I felt up to some easy baking...especially as the secret of brownies is as little folding as possible.

   Speaking of secrets...I've done a little recipe comparison into what makes the ultimate brownie over the past week and found the best tips in Lily Vanilli's Sweet Tooth. This may be obvious to others, but brownies have not been my friend in the past.

   Using a little self raising flour helps to give a bit of leavening to the mixture. But as the batter is so dense it will sink down resulting in a fudgy texture. I like to use big chunks of chocolate as well as cocoa powder to make them even denser.

   In an attempt to start using my baking books more, my research lead me to a good brownie recipe in Jo Wheatley's A Passion for Baking...the only Bake Off related book I own. A good choice for proper home baking recipes, I can't think of anything in there I wouldn't give a go.

Pretzel M&M Brownies
(Makes ..., recipe adapted from A Passion for Baking)
     100g dark chocolate, chopped
     85g milk chocolate, chopped
     115g unsalted butter, diced
     300g caster sugar
     1tsp vanilla extract
     2 large eggs, beaten
     100g plain flour
     50g self raising flour
     30g cocoa powder
     80g M&Ms
     Salted pretzels to top
  • Heat the oven to 170 degrees and line and grease a 20 cm square tin.
  • Tip the dark chocolate and 25g of the milk chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Add the butter and melt together, either in the microwave on a low setting or in the bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and leave to cool slightly.
  • Add the sugar, vanilla and beaten eggs to the melted chocolate and butter, and mix to combine. Sift both of the flours and cocoa powder into the bowl and mix until smooth.
  • Fold in the M&Ms and remaining 60g of chopped milk chocolate. Spoon into the prepared tin, spread level and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  • Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares.
What do you think makes the ultimate brownie?
Any recommendations for GBBO related books?

Mini Lemon Meringue Cake for One

      I was so excited to find a recipe to make just one cupcake. Some days there's nothing better than a home made treat. I wouldn't quite trust myself with a whole batch to myself so making just the one is ideal. Filled with lemon curd and topped with a small cloud of meringue, this mini cake is zingy and sweet.

Mini Lemon Meringue Cake
(Makes 1, recipe adapted from Sweet Road)
     1 tablespoon margarine, or softened butter
     2 tablespoons golden caster sugar
     4 tablespoons & 1 1/2 teaspoons almond milk (I used soya milk), room temperature
     1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
     3 tablespoon & 1 1/2 teaspoons plain flour
     1/4 teaspoon baking powder
     a pinch of salt
     Mackay's lemon curd
     egg white from 1 egg
     couple of spoons of caster sugar
  • Heat the oven to 190 degrees celsius and grease a mini cake tray.
  • Combine the margarine and sugar together until well incorporated.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of the soya milk and mix.
  • Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and add to the butter mixture.
  • Add the remaining milk and vanilla and mix until incorporated.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
  • Once cool, hollow out the cake and fill with a spoon of lemon curd.
  • For the meringue, beat 1 egg white until stiff on a high speed. Melt a spoon or two of caster sugar in equal amounts of water. Once melted, add to the stiff egg white by pouring down the side of the bowl so as not to touch the whisk. Continue to beat into silky and the mixture has cooled, felt by the bowl. Pipe onto the cake and give it a quick blast with a chef's torch.

Dark Chocolate & Ginger Birthday Cake

   As most birthday's should go, mine this week has been full of cake. I turned 23 on Thursday so Boy Loves Food treated me to a gorgeous Victoria sponge from Bea's of Bloomsbury. Obviously every last crumb of said cake had already been devoured so I decided to get baking for a family BBQ this morning.

   Flicking through my books this morning I settled on a chocolate and marmalade cake from the Clandestine Cake Club cookbook, except I substituted the marmalade for some of my favourite Mackay's ginger preserve.

Dark Chocolate and Ginger Birthday Cake
(Recipe adapted from Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, serves 8-10)
     250g butter
     200g dark chocolate (I used Green and Blacks 70%), broken up into small chunks
     6tbsp Mackay's Ginger Preserve
     250g caster sugar
     4 large eggs
     250g self raising flour
     2tbsp cocoa powder
Chocolate buttercream:
     100g dark chocolate (60-70%), broken into small chunks
     200g butter, softened
     400g icing sugar
     2tbsp cocoa powder
  • Heat the oven to 175 degrees. Grease and line two 20cm round, springform cake tins.
  • Place the butter in a saucepan, and just before it has completely melted add 100g of the dark chocolate. Remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the butter and chocolate are fully melted and combined.
  • Stir in the ginger preserve and mix well to break down any big lumps. Ass the sugar and eggs and stir until thoroughly combined.
  • Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and gently fold in until just combined, then fold in the remaining chocolate. Pour the mixture, spreading evenly.
  • Bake for approximately 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Meanwhile, make the chocolate buttercream. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the base of the bowl. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  • Beat the butter for a few minutes to soften and loosen it, then sift in the icing sugar and cocoa. Keep beating until you have a light, fluffy buttercream. Beat in the cooled but still molten chocolate until combined. Once the cakes are cool, sandwich together with a layer of buttercream, then cover the top with a thin layer of the remainder. Decorate with glitter and a generous sprinkling of hundreds and thousands.


Chocolate & Ginger Cookies

Long time no bake!

   I've been a little quiet since my last post about three weeks ago. A little whiplash has meant that I decided to take some time out to rest and recover. And the fact that my arms just haven't been working! Pins and needles and other weird tingly sensations in both arms make it very difficult to bake.

   During this time I've missed baking. So on Thursday the work girls and I went to a macaron making class with Loretta Liu from On Cafe. Despite being super tired from work we enjoyed the class, and I was thrilled to come home with a box of 30 macarons filled with chocolate ganache and salted caramel. Of course I needed a little help from the girls with lifting trays and folding egg whites!

   I've decided to post a recipe from my drafts today. I made this cookie dough before my time out and put half of it in the freezer for a rainy day. Today may not be rainy but I'm definitely in the mood for a batch of home made cookies!

   Ginger and chocolate is one of my favourite flavour combinations. I'm not the most patient of home bakers, so love that Joy the Baker's recipe uses ginger preserve...saving me the need to fiddle with fresh ginger - something my tingly limbs would not be up to right now!

Chocolate and Ginger Cookies
(Makes a dozen, recipe adapted from Joy the Baker)
     2 cups plain flour
     1 teaspoon baking powder
     1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
     1/4 teaspoon salt
     8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
     2/3 cups golden caster sugar
     1 egg
     2 tablespoons milk
     1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
     1/4 cup Mackay's ginger preserve
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt.
  • With a paddle attachment on a stand mixer, beat the butter on a medium speed until light and creamy.
  • Add the egg and beat for 2 more minutes.
  • Mix in the milk and vanilla in until just combined. 
  • On a low speed, beat in the ginger preserve before finally adding all of the dry ingredients and mixing only until they are incorporated.
  • Fold in some chocolate chips and left the dough to chill on a lined baking tray in the fridge for a few hours.
  • I took a few scoops out of the dough and shaped into 5 medium sized cookies, and baked at 190 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes. I put the rest of the dough in a sandwich bag in the freezer to save for a rainy day cookie emergency.

Lavender & Lime Chiffon Cake

   The theme for this month's Epsom Clandestine Cake Club was 'Flower Power' and there's no way I could have guessed where the venue was, it was pretty special!

   But first things first, the cake! I chose to bake a lavender and lime chiffon cake as I had plenty of eggs left from my recent trip to Yorkshire (post here). As far as flower essences go, the only ones I've really come across are rose and lavender. As my last CCC bake used rose water (rose and pistachio bundt), I decided to give lavender a try.

   I've never had anything with lavender in before and worried it'd be too scented. But the lime curd filling and lime buttercream cuts through the floral flavour perfectly. I've been enjoying using the curds that Mackay's sent me, so zesty balanced with just the right amount of sweetness.

   A few other cake clubber's used lavender in their bakes too; lemon and lavender, chocolate and lavender, vodka and lavender.

   Other cakes used lemon and poppyseed or rose. But all were covered in varying flowering decorations.

   A strange coincidence that lavender was such a popular choice because this was our beautiful outdoor venue...
   Mayfield Lavender is a 25 acre lavender field on the North Surrey Downs and is very impressive! We were joined by many a busy bee and also other visitors to the fields offering to buy slices from us. People were impressed that there's such thing as a secret cake club where you get to eat an abundance of home baked treats. 

Lavender and Lime Chiffon Cake
(Recipe adapted from Technicolor Kitchen)
     6 eggs, separated
     60ml sunflower oil
     6 tablespoons water
     300g caster sugar
     2 teaspoons lavender extract
     187g plain flour, sifted
     1 teaspoon baking powder
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
     1/2 jar Mackay's lime curd
     140g unsalted butter, softened
     450g icing sugar
     1 tablespoon lime juice
     1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and line the bottoms of three 8 inch round cake tins with baking paper, do not grease.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, oil and water and set aside.
  • Place 200g of the sugar, the lavender, flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and gently combine. Add the yolk mixture and whisk to form a smooth batter.
  • Place the egg whites in a large bowl in a stand mixer and beat on a medium-high speed until frothy. slowly add the remaining 100g of sugar and the cream of tartar and continue to whip until soft, droopy peaks form. 
  • Fold 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the batter, taking care not to deflate the mixture. Gently fold in the remaining eggs whites.
  • Divide the batter between the three tins and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden and a cake tester comes out cleanly from the centre/
  • Allow the layers to cool completely in the pans. To remove, run a blunt knife around the edges, invert each pan and tap out the cake onto a wire rack. Carefully peel off the paper.
  • Leave the cakes wrapped in cling film overnight to firm before sandwiching with a generous helping of lime curd.
  • For the butter cream, beat the butter until smooth before adding the icing sugar, lime and vanilla. Continue beating until smooth and creamy.
  • Start with 1/3 of the buttercream and cover the cake with a palette knife to form a crumb coat. Refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes before covering the cake with the remains. Decorate with fresh flowers and glitter.

   If you fancied reading our Clandestine Cake Club write up by Andrew then you can find it here.
Or Becky's blog has a cheeky picture of Harriet and myself having a good old cakey chat, here.

A little trip to Yorkshire

   A little bit of a different post today. I haven't been away for a while so was very excited to spend a few days in Yorkshire and as there was lots of eating, I thought I'd share a few pictures.
   On arrival I was happy to find that our room had a comfy little window snug overlooking Bay Tree Farm. I got very used to afternoon tea in this spot. And rather than overseeing traffic for my day job, I enjoyed observing the horse movements clip clopping down the road. Much more civilised!
      The farm is located near the grounds of Fountains Abbey. When they say 'a great day out' on their website, they really mean it. It took a good 90 minutes to walk (the long way round) from the farm to one of the southern gates of the abbey's grounds. The overgrown grass and bugs eating my legs alive didn't help so much.
   On the next day we paid Betty a little visit in Harrogate...and in York of course! I even got myself a fat little rascal to takeaway as an evening snack. Definitely will have to try making some myself now.
   There were lots of views to be seen and pictures to be taken in Grassington. I attempted to get too close to a sheep for a close up photo, before realising a walker was laughing at me...said sheep was 'using the bathroom'.
   He looked convincingly innocent!
   No trip 'up North' is complete without pie. I chose Skipton Pie and Mash Shop's Homity pie. I also chose a selection of pork pies to bring back for my Grandad from J. Stanforth's.
   In attempts to walk off all the pie and mash we drove towards the dales to Bolton Abbey. Thankfully I managed to keep my snazzy new trainers dry on the stepping stones. The children's activity trail through the woods was quite exhausting so I made an executive decision to stop for an energy top up before making the return journey...
   Two scoops of honeycomb and caramel please!
   And now I'm home, rested and ready to do some baking and perhaps thinking about going back to work on Monday!

   I can't recommend Bay Tree Farm enough, Val was very welcoming and kindly sent me home with a dozen eggs from happy countryside eggs for baking. Thank you!