Baked Cherry and Amaretto Cheesecake

Did you know that yesterday was National Cheesecake day?

What better way to celebrate than with this fruity, boozy, sticky number – and it’s low fat too!

I’d promised a while ago to share my recipe for this, so, no time like the present. Personally I don’t normally get the scales out for my cheesecakes, because the recipe always follows pretty much the same format, and you don’t really need to weigh much out, but I’ve detailed as best I can.

This will make a mini cheesecake as per the pictures, about a 4-5 inch diameter round, but you can easily double or triple the quantities for a bigger one.

Ingredients

– 5 low fat digestive biscuits
– 1 teaspoon low day spread (e.g. I can’t believe it’s not butter)
– 150g extra light cream cheese (1/2 pack of philadelphia)
– 130g low fat yoghurt (1/2 a muller light or similar)
– 1 teaspoon sweetener or 1 tablespoon sugar (to taste)
– 1 egg
– flavouring – go wild! Think chocolate, fruits, liquor… If you add anything wet you may need to increase the baking time slightly.

You will also need a springform (loose bottom) baking tin – this is essential! I cannot imagine how you’d ever get the cheesecake out of a normal tin…

Instructions

– crush the biscuits finely, and mix with the melted butter. Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of your tin. Put the tin into the fridge for a few minutes while you make the cheese part.
– beat together the cream cheese, yoghurt, sugar/sweetener, and, depending what you’re using, the flavouring, until there are no lumps and it’s completely smooth
– taste! The sweetness very much depends on what type of yoghurt you use, whether it’s sugar or sweetener, and your flavouring. Make sure you are happy that there’s a good balance of creamy cheese, flavour, and sweetness
– add the egg and just mix in – i.e., if you can still see a few bits of unmixed egg, this is fine. Don’t over mix here!
– carefully pour the cheese mixture over the biscuit base. If it doesn’t all fit in the tin, don’t fill it right to the brim, leave a good few millimetres gap, as it will rise a little and bubble during cooking.
– put in oven, middle shelf, at 180 degrees C for 15 minutes. (If you’re doing a large cheesecake, say, double the mixture, it will need much more time – 25-30 mins at least to start off with)
– after 15 minutes, check your cheesecake. Do not touch it or insert a skewer! You want it to be ‘just set’ – if you wobble the tin slightly, is it still quite liquidy in the middle? If so, give it another 5 minutes
– the ‘just set’ texture is similar to blancmange – it’s ok for it to wobble a bit, if you’re not sure give it a little more time, it is a very moist cheesecake anyway so you’d struggle to make it dry and overcooked.
– when you’re happy that it’s set, take the tin out of the oven and place somewhere to cool. Take a knife and very carefully run it all the way around the edge, between the tin and the cake. The cheesecake will shrink slightly as it cools, so this allows it to form nice neat edges.
– depending how it impatient you are, let it cool slightly / completely (either is fine tbh), then carefully open the springform pan, and pull the top off. Use a knife / fish slice or similar to carefully lift the base of the tin away from the cheesecake. Do this over a plate, push the knife in and down onto the tin slowly and carefully, so you don’t break up the biscuit base.
– et voila! Depending on your chosen flavour you may want to add a topping, as I have done with this one. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. Generally it will keep for a good 4-5 days in the fridge, keeping it covered. If you use fresh fruit perhaps a little less.
This variation was made with

– my new heart shaped springform tin!
– a good slug of amaretto in the batter
– chopped black cherries in the bottom half of the batter
(to get the layered effect, bake the bottom half for 5 minutes before adding the top section)
– brown sugar to complement the amaretto (I use Tate and Lyle’s Light at Heart a lot of them time when cooking for Rob and I – it is expensive but you can’t put a price on our waistlines :-))
– some very alcoholic cherry topping! Melted butter and brown sugar, boiled up with amaretto and more cherries, until it was thick and sticky

The layers didn’t stay very well defined, because the cherry colour was strong, but I love the way the fruit sank to give a graduated colour. Totally unplanned!

And inside – lots of yummy stickiness 🙂

Needless to say, it didn’t last long! Maybe I could claim it’s cheesecake week and make some more…?!

Olympic Ring Biscuits

Ring out the bells for the start of London 2012! A 3 hour opening ceremony definitely needs some snacks…

I whipped up a quick vanilla cookie mix and used my biscuit gun (cookie press) and the circle template, to punch out a whole set of matching circle biscuits.

The icing colours were already decided for me – although I did have to look them up rather more times than I’d care to admit! Simple icing sugar, food colouring and water mix, to a thick but spreadable consistency, made them easy to decorate the and bright colours really pop.

Hope you enjoyed the ceremony wherever you are in the world – but of course – go Team GB!

Super Strawberry Cake Pops

Did you guess what I made such a mess of last week? Sticky summer strawberries!

I had some red sponge cake left in the freezer from my union jack battenburg, saved especially for making cake pops.

The recipe – if you could call it that – for cake pops is just cake and buttercream. Super simple. Mix up enough to get a firm texture that can be rolled into balls. Simple!

I decided to add some strawberry jam to give them a real strawberry mixture, passing it through a sieve first so there weren’t any pips etc., as cake pops need a nice smooth mixture. But – I wouldn’t recommend adding jam. The flavour is so subtle that you can’t taste it in the end, and it makes the texture extra sticky and harder to work with.

A great tip if you are using frozen cake for your pops – as soon as you’ve taken it out the freezer, use a grater to crumble it up finely. Works perfectly every time! You have to work quickly though, the more it thaws, the less well it grates.

 

The buttercream, cake, and (not recommended) jam mixed up easily into a beautiful light pink colour. Into the fridge it went to chill for a little while, so it would firm up a bit to roll into balls.

 

Next step – and I was super excited to finally be using these – candy melts! I’d bought these from hobbycraft quite a while back, and honestly not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to use them! Basically they are big coloured chocolate buttons – but are engineered (for want of a better word) to melt quickly in a microwave, stay liquid for quite some time, and then set quick and hard once you use them on the pops, without melting again if it gets warm.
Hopefully that makes sense – basically they are perfect for bakers – although this probably means a lot of e numbers as well! If you over-heat them or need to reheat after they’ve set, they are easily liquified again by popping in the microwave with a little vegetable fat (I used trex).

 

The cake mixture came out of the freezer, and I rolled it into balls, pinching a little at the edges for strawberry shapes, before dipping the sticks in the candy melts and securing them in the ends. Then, as the mixture was still a little sticky (and wouldn’t hold a warm candy melt mixture), they went into the freezer to firm up.

 

Next step was candy melt dipping / coating. This is still a work in progress for me – I don’t know how those videos online manage to dip in and out and end up with a perfect even covering!

And on to the fun part – decorating! I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do at the outset, so kind of made this bit up as I went along 🙂

First – I wrapped some of the pops in red fondant, before pressing gently into shape, trimming the excess, and smoothing down the joins.

 

Some of the other pops I just edged in fondant – rolling it out before cutting strips and pressing them into place around the edge, and a third batch I put a very fine coating of golden syrup (corn syrup) around the edge, before dipping into bright pink sugar sprinkles.

At this point I felt they were missing something – strawberry seeds! A great opportunity to use more sugar sprinkles, which I carefully ‘glued’ into place, by putting small dots of golden syrup (corn syrup) onto the cake pop, and using a cocktail stick (or my fingers!) to put each one on place:

 

And the icing on the cake – green fondant leaves and stalks, shaped, carefully glued on with a little dab more syrup, and then imprinted with leaf lines simply using a serrated edge modelling tool.

 

And – several hours later (I’m still learning) – I was done!

 

Yes I have some way to come in terms of consistency of shape and size, but I was so impressed! After a little while in the fridge, to completely set, they came out tasting brilliant as well – a crisp crunchy shell, with smooth creamy (not strawberry flavoured at all, silly jam!) inside.

 

Perfect treats for a warm summer evening. With a glass of Pimm’s, you say? Well, why not!

 

Book Review – Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits

Things at work have quietened down a bit for the summer, and I must admit to spending a little of my day (every now and then!) browsing other blogs and cake-related offerings out there on the big worldwide web.

A lovely little blog called Victoria’s Vintage led me astray in the form of baking book reviews. A quick click later and I was over at The Book People

I’ve heard people talk about it before (am I right in thinking they do fairs at schools?), but this was the first time I’ve ever looked at their offerings. What a lot they have – and so cheap! Of course my favourite is the Baking and Desserts section. A few of the titles already grace my bookshelf (aka kitchen windowsill), but if there’d been an “add all to basket” button, I’d have been very tempted!

The one I chose to stick with was Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits (this is their own website and WELL worth a look. Gift baskets of iced biscuits, amazing decorated cakes by post, icing kits? Yes please!)
For one – Rob’s favourite food is biscuits. Second, I love playing with icing, different colours and decorations, and third, biscuits are easy to make but also easy to vary and have a different style/flavour/decoration every time – not like some cake books where each recipe calls for a pinch of rose petals, eye of a newt etc…

Last word of love for The Book People – lower postage for buying just one item? What a brilliant idea! At £3.99 + £1.95 delivery I was already happy with my purchase, and it hadn’t even arrived yet…

The only downside is that they use Yodel for their deliveries – I detest them so much that I won’t even link to them, other, far better delivery companies, are available 🙂 I ordered the book on a Friday and it arrived Wednesday the week after, 10 working days is not too bad, but going back to the online tracking found that aforementioned delivery company had had it since the Monday, just been inept at finding our office. Where they’ve been to be before. Sigh.

Anyway, back to the book! It arrived safely, and I was excited to open the parcel and find a lovely shiny hardback with lots of bright pictures, glossy pages, simple-but-yummy recipes and easy-to-understand instructions.

Their dough making page had some particularly good tips – instead of faffing around with flower, roll the dough between some greaseproof paper, refrigerate, and cut! Slightly less fun than getting your fingers involved, but bonus points for a whole lot less cleaning up 🙂

And how cute is this page! These ones will definitely be featuring on a blog near you soon…

As well as inspiration the book actually gives you the tools to make the biscuits – 6 clear pages of photocopiable templates so you don’t have to buy lots of different biscuit cutters:

Not content with just reading about biscuits, of course I had to make some! I’d fallen in love with polka dot one on the cover, and thought these would be quite simple to recreate on a summers evening.

There is also a page of tips on icing, all very helpful but make things sound a lot easier than they really are! A really good one that I used was to use royal icing on the biscuits, then pop them back in the oven on a low heat (50-75 degrees c) for about half an hour, to really set the icing. No more sticking together in the biscuit tin!

So, using the vanilla biscuit recipe (simple, check; tasty, check), I made half a batch and used a simple fluted circle cutter. Mixing up some pretty pastels (it is finally summer after all) I set about creating the polka dots.

The technique sounds simple: outline the biscuit in your base colour. Leave to dry for about 5 minutes, before flooding with runnier icing in the same base colour. Then, pipe small dots on in a contrasting, also runny, colour. Simples.

Except… well, there’s no explanation about how difficult it is to evenly size and space the polka dots. Of course I understand that practice makes perfect, but mine didn’t look much like the book at all!

I tried small dots:

…and big ones:

I’d conclude that the big ones were probably slightly more successful, and a good tip of my own, is to start in the edge, not the middle, tempting as it may seem! From the edge it’s easy to do more dots down in a line, then another line next to this, etc.

Overall I was medium-well on the happy scale. They tasted good, the icing was well set and they looked relatively pretty, but I was slightly grumpy that they weren’t as perfect as I’d set out for them to be!

Nevertheless, when I first opened this book, I thought my review was going to be “very nice, but not for beginners”; they even suggest that children can ice some of the biscuits, which I found hard to believe.

However, with some great photos, good guidance and mostly detailed instructions, my review is instead “great inspiration, beautifully presented”, and I’d certainly recommend anyone wanting to do more with novelty biscuits go out (or click some of the links above!) and buy it.

You might have noticed, the grass rather needs cutting. That was my next job, after biscuits, honest. Except… Pepper wanted to play 🙂 I can’t deny the kitty her first sniff of proper summer weather, now can I…?

Photo Friday

Tales from a messy kitchen…

Anyone that has ever had the pleasure of living under the same roof as me will know that I’m not the tidiest. Nowhere more so than in the kitchen.

One of my earliest memories as a child is of my dad coming home from work, then immediately coming in to ask if I’d been baking that afternoon. “Great!” I thought, “He’s tried some of my biscuits/cakes” (I can’t actually remember what it was I made). But no. He had gone to get something out of the pantry, and immediately found sticky hand prints on the jar. Messy? Moi? 🙂

I have had a great couple of evenings in the kitchen this week making… well, you’ll have to wait and see! I will post the results next week, in the meantime can you guess what I’ve been making?

2pm edit:
I love how Friday is becoming treat day in our office!

Check out this yummy cupcake – bought by my boss from Kandy Cupcakes in Leicestershire. She’s having a children’s party tonight and showed me a box full of amazing candy colours, fondant lego bricks, wow! I’m assured it is a lovely spot for tea and cake as well – might have to have a drive over one lunchtime soon…

Little House on the Cake Board

The weekend before last, a couple of friends of mine upped sticks and moved house – granted only about half a mile down the road, but moving was still a lot of work!
They were taking some old furniture off my hands, so I was backwards and forwards to their new house a fair bit. One quiet evening, knowing I was going back the next day, I decided to get my bake on…

I wanted to keep it relatively simple, no complete covering in fondant, lots of fiddly bits etc. The whole idea was based around a loaf tin – I made up a double quantity of victoria sponge, and split it 2/3 to 1/3. The larger portion went straight into the loaf tin, and quickly baked up as the bottom section of the house.

My ingenious idea for the roof was to tilt the loaf tin during cooking: by using the same tin it would be exactly the right size to fit the base, and by tilting it I would get a sloped triangle shape. After a quick root around in the cupboard, I found this foil container (I think it once contained a takeaway), which was a perfect size and shape to support the loaf tin on its side.
I added a spoonful of milk and some cocoa powder to the remaining 1/3 of the mix, a brown brick roof is just crying out for chocolate.

The tilted tin worked perfectly! The cake had risen ever so slightly in the middle – you can see it is a bit bumpy at the bottom here, but this quickly trimmed off with a bread knife.

The 2 pieces fitted together perfectly!

Next it was onto some buttercream to sandwich the two parts together, and also to top off the roof. I mixed up some straightforward chocolate buttercream, generously sandwiched the two cakes together, and used the rest on the roof. I’d planned to let the roof set a bit before adding tile patterns, but found that making lines with the serrated side of an ordinary kitchen knife smoothed it and made a great effect at the same time.

Some finishing touches came in the form of windows and doors. I coloured up some fondant, then painted details on using a fine paintbrush and some black food colouring, before leaving them out overnight to dry and harden.

In the morning they were very quickly stuck on with a little normal white icing, and the cake was ready all set – super simple!

The front door was of course personalised with the right number – I love the way the black has smudged slightly on this window so it looks like it’s old and cracking – hope this is not a sign of things to come for them!

Photo Friday

This week courtesy of Nottingham Food and Drink Festival, held last weekend in the city’s Old Market Square.

Although it’s the 4th year the event has run, it was the first time I’ve been able to attend, and popped across on Sunday afternoon (I found myself with a good amount of free time after failing to go to the WI Summer Fete…)

The Festival was a great mix of local businesses, selling, cooking or generally promoting their edible wares. My kind of an event!

Brilliant sounds and smells coming from the stall hosted by Memsaab restaurant – yummy fresh kebabs that looked and smelt absolutely delicious.

Look what I found! Tucked away on the Lakeland were these beautifully decorated floral cakes. A chat with the staff later and I found out their own store manager had made them using their piping set. Tempted as I was to take their 15% off voucher and hot foot it over to the Nottingham store, I retained some self-control and will instead add them to my baking wishlist.

Another cake find – and I kick myself for not asking them for more information. If anyone has any more information on where I can find this in the Nottingham area please do get in touch! From my fuzzy memory it looked like something local restaurants were teaming up to offer, but even with my very well honed Google skills, I cannot find any further details 😦

And finally – no festival is complete without music, and a great Ale House to go with it!

As far as I’m concerned a good afternoon was had by all – taste, sight, smell, sound and yes even touch! Will definitely be making a date in my diary for next year.

Lemon and Ginger Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I have a confession to make. I’m not a real blonde. Worse still, I really should be.

These cupcakes were made for the Nottingham City WI‘s Summer Fete this weekend. I was extra excited because finally, after months of blogging and talking on blogs, I was going to meet some girls who live locally, and love cake etc. as much as I do.

So, off I trotted, cakes in hand, feeling a little bit like a child on the first day of school. When I reach the venue and tried the door, a woman outside having a coffee told me they were closed.
“But” I said, “isn’t there a function upstairs today, I thought it started at 11?” (It was about 11.30am at this time).
“Erm – who is the function for?” the lady replied.
“The WI…”
“Oh, that was yesterday.”

ARGH!! Having learnt how to read before I even went to school (my mum is a teacher), you’d have thought that with 20+ years practice I’d be able to do it faultlessly now. Apparently not; even a day and date on an invite is too much for me. I was so cross with myself, and have spent most of the rest of the day in a grump.

Nevertheless – some beautiful cupcakes came out of it, and I have plenty of family and friends willing to gobble them up.

When I was deciding what to bake, I wanted something fresh and simple, that would hopefully stand up to this sticky weather we’re having.

What could be more fresh and cake friendly than some lovely juicy lemons!

The recipe was a simple victoria sponge, with the rind and juice of one lemon thrown in. At the last minute I decided to add a little kick, and put in a teaspoon full of ground ginger. Fresh and zingy!

The icing was whipped low fat cream cheese, juice and rind of another lemon, and thickened up with icing sugar.

I also mixed up some icing sugar separately with some yellow food colouring, which I used to pipe the swirls and zigzags on top. Although the heat melted them out some what (they did start as nice crisp lines, honest!), I quite like the melted-in look.
I also love the way that the yellow icing looks like lemon curd, when it’s actually the only bit that doesn’t have any lemon in!

To top them off, I added a few curls of lemon peel, and finally had an excuse to use the gold glittery sugar stars which I bought in Bath a few months back.

So. No lovely pictures of the summer fete and my cakes being enjoyed by an adoring public. But luckily I’d snapped a fair few in the kitchen before leaving, so, enjoy…

And here they are, all boxed up and ready to go – you can see a couple of them had already started to fall out of shape, it was warm this morning (still no sunshine but that’s a different grumble altogether),

And to finish – WP kindly uploaded this photo when I didn’t really mean it too (it was in the same folder as the others), but it’s so cute that I can’t help but share it.
In remedy from my grumpiness we went for Starbucks on the way home. Pepper was very disappointed that I didn’t save her any 😉

Photo Friday

With the exception of my patriotic battenburg, this week has been pretty quiet baking-wise. I’m not quite sure what else has made it so busy – but my suitcase from Hong Kong still lies half unpacked in the middle of the bedroom floor…

Sticking to my promise of weekly photo updates – this week I am sharing my baking wishlist. Of course this means I don’t have my own photos to use – so hope you will forgive me, and take some inspiration as well!

1) The MAT by Sweetwise – sold in the UK by The Cake Decorating Company. Basically just one large square of clear plastic, that you pop your fondant icing etc. between, and roll out quickly, evenly, and smoothly. From the reviews I’ve seen it makes covering large cakes a doddle – and anyone that’s worked with fondant knows how tricky this can get!

2) Adjustable square cake tin by Silverwood. I am almost certain that this is the same time my mum has already. I borrowed it last year but she took it back – threatening not to make Christmas cake if I didn’t! She honestly doesn’t use it much so I’m hoping to give it a permanent home in my cupboard – with the addition of an extra set of dividers so I really can make any size of cake.

3) Cake Pop Easy Roller from Heavenly Cake Pops. A video for this appeared on my Facebook earlier in the week, courtesy of the same The Cake Decorating Company in Nottingham, who are one of the UK sellers. Watch the video in amazement as I did – how to make perfect round little cake pops every time. But it got me thinking – isn’t half the fun getting your hands sticky making them yourself? Then I looked at the price as I was writing this post. Whoa! Staying firmly put on the wishlist.

Happy shopping for the weekend! Any other must-haves you’ve stumbled across, or you think would be a welcome addition to a baker’s kitchen?

11am Edit: and the supplier said “Let there be sweets….!”

Look what we just had to delivered to our office! I absolutely had to share it with you. It’s a thank you for our recent business (Hong Kong being a part of this), and is so gratefully received on this grey, rainy Friday.

From A Quarter of…‘s retro sweetshop, it came beautifully packaged in a wooden hamper, and I love how all the sweets are pink 🙂
A note to my dentist… for what I am about to eat, please forgive me!!

Patriotic Red, White & Blue Battenburg

There are a number of reasons to be patriotic on both sides of the pond this week, as far as I’m concerned. Firstly and most obviously – quick look at the date – Happy 4th July to all my American friends and readers!
Secondly – the olympic torch proudly came through the tiny little Leicestershire village where I work on Tuesday. Our office is about a mile outside of the village of Hoton, in the North of Leicestershire, not far from the Nottinghamshire border. We were amazed that it even came through such a tiny place, let alone the amazing turnout and village spirit!

The whole village (of which there isn’t much – it doesn’t even have a shop, afternoon chocolate cravings are quickly stifled by the thought of an 8 mile drive to the nearest one!) was decked out in bunting, the school children were out in force, and it was a great experience to be part of.

So, this in mind, I wanted to make a red, white and blue cake – apparently even all the jubilee cakes and biscuits hadn’t got it out of my system!

I looked up a few different recipes and sites on battenburg, but decided quite early on that, because I’d be using white fondant instead of marzipan, I’d give the whole almond thing a miss altogether. Does this make it not an official battenburg? I’m not sure!

So the mix was a basic sponge – 175g each of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour, plus 3 eggs. Also a note here on the Daring Bakers June battenburg challenge, which didn’t leave me short of inspiration or tips on the rest of my cake. Expect to see more from this site coming soon, I’m always up for something to test and expand my baking skills, so have signed right up 🙂

Back to the battenburg… I didn’t have a specialist battenburg pan (and can’t really see it’s worth it unless you’re making them frequently), but used and ordinary square cake tin, divided in half with normal baking paper and a few careful folds – all that origami  has finally paid off!

The mix I also split into two and coloured. I can’t emphasise enough how brilliant paste colours are here. They give brilliant, vibrant colours with only a couple of drops (or, as it’s quite a thick paste, a good cocktail stick dab or two). The benefits are endless – no affecting your flavour, texture, or using up half a pot in one go… how many red velvet cakes have you seen that call for 10-20 ml or half a bottle of normal liquid food colouring? Surely that can’t be good for you!
The red one I think actually came from Asda, and the blue I picked up in Hobbycraft specially for this cake.

The mixture looked great all coloured up, and into the oven it went, 15 minutes later it reappeared, with the red having encroached on the blue slightly!

While they were cooling, I mixed up some white buttercream. This was achieved with some regular unsalted butter, whipped for several minutes with an electric mixer. The icing sugar was then beaten in, I used quite a lot for a thick consistency, and then a small splash of milk to thin it to a spreadable texture. By whipping it so much, you get a lot of air into the mixture which makes it very light and fluffy, and whitens up the colour

The two cakes were sandwiched together…

….then trimmed into an even, squarer shape.

A bit more trimming later, I had a shape I was happy with, and cut my square down the centre, ready to flip one side to get the checkerboard effect. There was rather a lot of cake cut off to make my square – did somebody say cake pops? – so I separated the colours back up, popped them in food bags and into the freezer – watch this space!

Another sandwiching with buttercream later, my cake was assembled and covered in rolled fondant, and trimmed again. I was done. Nearly…

Not one to shy away from decoration, I wanted to try my hand at a quilting effect on the fondant. It was easy and effective to do – just marking straight lines across using the straight edge of my cake scraper tool. Finally I finished the cake off with some tiny red & blue sugar balls, glued in place with a small dab of white icing – as I did on my union jack cake.

So – what do you think? Does it make you want Murray to win Wimbledon? The team to scoop lots of medals at the Olympics? Or shall we just be terribly British… and mull it over a cup of tea and slice of cake!

PS – a note. Nobody seems to know of battenburg or battenberg is correct. The spelling on safari doesn’t like either! So I’ve picked what comes naturally to me and stuck with that throughout. If you greatly object, well, buy me a dictionary for Christmas.

The last word in battenburg surely has to come in the form of this picture. How cute!