Nanny’s 80th Birthday Cake

Yesterday was my maternal grandma’s 80th birthday. Known to her 7 grandchildren as Nanny, this was a celebration that deserved a very special cake!

I bought a new tin to make the numbers – but it will come in useful for years to come. An alphabet tin, it is divided into 28 equal segments, and comes with 12 square blocks which fit in to make any letter or number you need. It comes with instructions for each, and you can either make large figures, the whole height of the tin, or slightly smaller, using 2/3 of the tin, as I have here. You can buy this amazing alphabet and number tin over on Amazon.

The blocks simply slot into the pre-cut groves so they won’t move around when you add your cake mix.

Because the blocks fit together so tightly, there’s not really a need to line the cake tin. There was almost no seepage (perhaps a drip or two) in any of the 4 cakes I made. I did, of course, use a very generous spray of cake release, being sure to get into all the corners so none of the shape would stick.

For the cake itself, my grandma had requested sponge cake, and I chose to use a madeira cake recipe. It uses exactly the same ingredients and method as victoria sponge, but in different ratios, resulting in a firmer, more robust cake, better for shaping and covering in fondant. The recipe I used was this one from the BBC – it worked so perfectly that I have re-listed it here. I omitted the lemon as my flavouring was to come later!

I really wasn’t sure how much cake the tin would take – but this recipe was perfect for 2 cakes of each number – about an 1.5 inches high each – which were then to be sandwiched together.

Madeira Cake

Ingredients

– 175g butter
– 175g caster sugar
– 3 medium eggs
– 250g self raising flour
– 2-3 tbsp milk

Method

– beat together the butter and sugar until lightly and fluffy
– add the eggs, milk, and 2 tablespoons of flour, beating again
– sieve in the rest of the flour and fold until well-mixed
– transfer to the tin and bake at 170 degrees centigrade until the top is golden, and a skewer comes out clean when inserted. The timing will depend on what size and shape of cake tin you use. Mine took around 18 minutes per cake. If you’re making one large cake it would be around 30 minutes.

NB – in order to have flat cakes after baking, I used a spatula to push the mixture up the sides of the pan, and create a gully in the middle all around the shape. As the cake rises most in the middle, this means the end result is an even flat cake all the way around.

I had wanted to sandwich the cakes together with jam and buttercream, but a quick test and it was quickly apparent that the jam would be too liquid in the centre and the two halves would be sliding all over the place when I came to ice them. S0 – I created myself a new recipe!

Strawberry Jam Buttercream

Ingredients

– 50g butter
– 100g strawberry jam
– 200g icing sugar

Method

– beat together all the ingredients until smooth
– try and resist sampling a bite!

This recipe was a sufficient quantity to fill and crumb coat both cakes.

The kitchen was what I’d called cake-a-geddon at this point – having made 4 cakes (two 8’s and two 0’s), there was cake and buttercream on pretty much every surface!

Then it was onto the fondant – I have to admit I called in Rob’s help here, as I couldn’t be having any cracks! I’d bought some pre-coloured fondant in hobbycraft the week before – as the cake would need to much, and there was already so much going on in the kitchen, I decided buying ready-coloured would make life much easier at this point.

We did use all 5 packs, but after trimming ended up with about a pack spare which I wrapped carefully to use another time. Because I wanted the cake to be perfect, it was easier to use thicker fondant to cover the large shapes, as it was much less likely to crack.

We started off by covering the sides of the holes – the easiest way was to cut a strip of fondant, roll it up, then gently push into the corners of the shape.

Then, when the whole sheet of fondant was laid over the top and trimmed, it left only a little join…

…which was easily smoothed down with a little trex (white vegetable fat).

Quite some time later, both cakes were (relatively) smoothly covered in fondant, and ready to decorate.

To decorate, I made 3 more colours of fondant – yellow, purple, and red – cutting flowers in 3 different sizes. I imprinted circles in the centre of each flower, added a dab of icing, then filled with pastel coloured sugar sprinkles.

Finally, I added some gold soft pearls (readily available in the supermarket and won’t break your teeth like silver dragees do!), creating lines of the little dots across the 2 cakes.

A quick spritz of gold shimmer spray, and the cake was complete. I meant to pop it onto the scales but didn’t have time before we left for the birthday lunch – safe to say it was rather hefty!

The birthday lady absolutely loved her cake – even if it did take a little while to blow out the 20 candles!

Inside the strawberry buttercream looked great, and yes the icing was quite thick, but surely this was the best bit 🙂
One cake easily fed all the family, leaving plenty for Nanny to share with her friends and neighbours and finish celebrating this great birthday.

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My First Macarons!

On my trip to London last week I was lucky enough to be given a beautiful box of bright coloured macarons, which were very quickly devoured in the office. Loving their sweet, crunchy shell, chewy inner and moist, rich filling, I set out to find more about making them for myself.

For meringue-style macarons such as these (not to be confused with coconut macaroons (spelt with 2 ‘o’s which are more of a drop-biscuit made with whole eggs) – there are 2 methods, Italian and French. The difference is in the making of the meringue – the Italian method uses a heated sugar syrup, whereas the French uses a standard meringue base, whipping the egg whites and sugar cold.

I chose to go for the French macaron method, largely out of simplicity (and a little laziness!) As these biscuits (is that what they are?) are such a delicacy and can be tricky to make, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible on my first attempt.

My recipe came from youcandoitathome – they also have an equally good page on the Italian method.

Ingredients (makes approx. 15 macarons)

2 medium egg whites
*Approx. 70g ground almonds
*Approx. 105g icing sugar
*Approx. 40g caster sugar
Handful of blueberries
30g butter
100g icing sugar
*The exact science behind meringues lies in having your ingredients in proportion to the weight of your egg whites. My 2 medium egg whites weighed 65g and I used the following proportions to calculate the rest of the ingredients. There are many different ideas online about what proportions should be used, but I found these worked perfectly so will be sticking with them again:

egg whites: 1.00 part
ground almonds: 1.10 part
icing sugar: 1.65 part
caster sugar: 0.60 part


Method

– put the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor and blitz for 1-2 minutes. This starts to aerate the mixture and helps grind down any coarser bits of almond
– whisk the egg whites until they are thick and foamy (shaving foam like texture), then add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, whisking on high speed until the mixture is at soft peak stage – i.e. holds its shape when you make peaks in it. If you want to add a colour then now is the time – being my first batch I kept it simple and left them uncoloured.

(at this stage I was very glad for my electric mixer and food processor. With a history going back hundreds of years, I’m glad the labourious task of making macaroons is that bit easier with all our gadgets and gizmos!)

– sieve in the icing sugar and ground almond blend. The almonds are still quite dense so you may need to push on the mixture with a spoon to get it through the sieve. Don’t try to get through the coarse bits of almond left at the end – they will not be kind to your smooth macaron mixture!

– carefully fold the dry ingredients into the meringue mixture. You want it to be combined but not over-mixed, and it will have quite a thick, sticky, bubbly texture. Mix too much and your meringue mixture will start to break down and go watery.

– fill your piping bag with the mixture, using a wide, round nozzle on the end

– ready your tray with non-stick paper (these bad boys do have a tendency to stick after cooking!). I found some brilliant re-usable, no-need-to-grease sheets in Aldi, they worked a treat. Be careful if you’re using any kind of fat to grease your sheets that it doesn’t have a chance to get into your mixture.

– pipe your mixture into even circles, with a couple of centimetres between to give them room to spread. Make the circles by keeping the nozzle close to the sheet and pressing on the piping bag. Once you have enough mixture twist the bag away so it leaves a clean circle on the sheet.

– if you end up with a little peak on the top of the macaron then fear not – simply wet your finger and gently smooth the bump down (the same works for little bumps at the side)

– once all your macarons are piped, give the tray a couple of good hard bangs on the work top. This will remove any air pockets and flatten out the shells slightly.

– leave the trays to sit, uncovered, for a minimum of 30 minutes. What you are aiming for is a skin to form on top of the shells; you can’t see it, but if you gently touch with your finger, the mixture will not stick to it, your finger will stay clean. When this happens, your macarons are ready to be baked.

– pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees C. Put the macrons in and then immediately turn down to 140 degrees C. The time will depend on how thickly you’ve piped your circles, but it should take them around 10 – 14 minutes to bake. Take them out when they are crispy but before they go brown.

– leave the shells to cool for a minute before very gently lifting off and placing onto a cooling rack. They’re very delicate so be careful, if they don’t immediately come off then carefully slide a palette knife or spatula underneath.

– some of my shells came out the oven with air bubbles having risen to the top. I’m not sure if this is because I didn’t bang the tray hard enough, but it certainly didn’t affect the taste. They did however have a perfectly risen ‘foot’ – the unsexy name for the straight side bubble part that rises up under the domed top while cooking

– once completely cool, pair up the shells into equal shapes and sizes (if you’re a piping pro then they should all be identical!)

– beat together the ingredients for the buttercream and sandwich the shells. I placed a big dollop in the centre of one shell, before carefully and evenly pressing down slightly with the second one on top.

– Et voila! Perfect bite size macaroons, with a crispy shell, chewy inner, and buttercream centre. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before eating so the buttercream can set slightly. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

Dare I say it – don’t hate me! – but they weren’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought! Yes you have to be quite precise with the recipe and rather delicate when handling the mixture and piping, but, follow a simple set of instructions… and who knows what you can achieve!

Autumnal Golden Ginger and Chocolate Cupcakes

My second bake for National Cupcake Week – well, it does only come round once  year! You can view my first batch of cupcakes here.

Inspired by a big piece of root ginger that’s been in the kitchen for sometime, I wanted to make something tasty but beautiful!

The cupcakes were a basic sponge mix with a few additions for flavour and texture. I wanted the ginger to really a have a kick and contrast against the sweetness of the icing, so it was added in three ways – root ginger, ground ginger, and the jam filling.

Ingredients (makes 8-10 cupcakes)

Cupcakes:
60g butter or margarine
20g light brown sugar
40g golden caster sugar
1 egg
75g self raising flour (sieved)
1 tablespoon natural yoghurt
Approx. 1 cm of root ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon of ground ginger

To fill:
ginger jam

Icing: (this makes quite a stiff  piping consistency, add a teaspoon of milk or water if you’d prefer it more spreadable)
50g butter or margarine
90g sieved icing sugar
20g cocoa powder

To decorate:
Sugar sprinkles, fondant shapes and shimmer spray

Method:

Cupcakes:
– beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy
– add the egg, yoghurt, gingers and approx. 1/3 of the flour, beating together
– fold in the rest of the flour
– spoon or pipe into cupcake cases
– bake at 180 degrees for approx 12 minutes, until lightly golden on the top

To make way for the jam centre, I simply cored the top of the cupcakes with a sharp knife:

The jam I already had in the fridge from my continual quest to find the perfect rhubarb jam (I’m certain I will end up making some before too long). This wasn’t what I was looking for in the rhubarb sense – the taste of ginger is so overpowering that it really is just ginger jam. Still, perfect for these cakes!

It was simply spooned into the centre of the cakes, and smoothed down slightly to give a flat base for the buttercream to sit on.

To make the buttercream, simply beat all the ingredients until smooth. Try and keep it as cold as possible if you’re going to pipe swirls, or they will melt into a chocolate-y mess!

I chose to pipe a thick, ridged swirl, using a wide star nozzle.

For the toppings, I coloured a small piece of fondant and cut out tiny hearts using my new plunger cutters (another great ebay purchase!)

Before the buttercream set I quickly added the hearts and sugar sprinkles – the orange colours giving a clue to the firey ginger kick contained in the cupcake.

Finally, I finished the cupcakes with a generous spray of golden shimmer spray (mine is Dr Oetker, you can buy it easily in the supermarkets).

Quite simply they were yummy – and very seasonal with the ginger flavour and autumn colours on the topping.  They went down a treat at home and at work – another good deed in the Cupcake Week one-a-day!

Happy as a Hummingbird

National Cupcake Week. London. Time to spare before my train. It could only mean one thing… a visit to the cupcake mecca that is Hummingbird Bakery! I went to the branch in Spitalfields as it was closest to the exhibition I’d spent the day at. A short walk from Liverpool Street station, it’s also incredibly close to the City and Tower Hill – you could walk up in about 10 minutes.

As you leave the City and walk North you can very quickly tell when you’re getting close – the sleek glass and steel structures of the financial district are quickly left behind, and bright, funky wall art springs at you from round corners:

Looking like something out of Harry Potter, the Spitalfields bakery is located in the brilliantly named Frying Pan Alley – so called because of the ironmongers who used to hang pans outside their shops by way of advertisement .

Hummingbird has a prominent position down the pedestrian arcade, with some great outdoor seating. Needless to say, in the middle of a September Wednesday afternoon, it was rather quiet!

For some reason I was surprised at what I found in side – not as many varieties of cupcake as I’d expected, and, shock horror, other cakes too!

The sliced layer cakes certainly looked very tempting – I gladly accepted a sample of the pink-iced vanilla – and the icing sugar stenciled chocolate brownies were a simple but effective idea.

Nevertheless – I found what I was looking for in an array of sumptuous cases of cupcakes.

I was quickly drawn to Hummingbird’s signature cake – the Red Velvet – loved and re-created by many bakers up and down the country, HBB (an American company) are credited as being the first to bring this type of cake to the UK. You can check out my previous attempts at making my own red velvet here.

I was also impressed to find a gluten-free version – great that they are embracing people with tricky diets. Now all they need is a fat- and calorie-free cupcake…

Of the other cupcakes there was a delicious banana smell coming from their daily special – banana milkshake topped with a candy straw…

…and some bright coloured cakes with fondant decorations – the signature bird, stars, and even delicate footprints!

But how could I sample anything else other than a red velvet? I chose one to make my own, managing to keep my (rather-oversized!) fork away long enough to snap up some of that beautiful red colour:

Inside it was just as delicious – the bright red colour was the sweet taste of vanilla with a hint of chocolate, and the cream cheese icing was whipped to perfection. The whole cake was so deliciously light that I could have happily eaten several more!

Before leaving I took a quick peek into their Cakes by Consultation room. Hummingbird wedding cake you say….?! I’m still unsure what I loved best – the eye-catching bird print artwork, or the stunning cake models on display.

Perhaps the most tempting of everything in the shop…? If only I lived in London!

I also picked up a couple more cupcakes to bring home – you can have them boxed in batches of 1, 2, or 6, and I happily swung my little bag all the way out the door!

One tube, two trains, and a mile’s walk later, my cupcakes finally made it home. The box held them perfectly and they still looked exactly as they had in the shops (even after my mad dash through St Pancras to get the train!). I chose a black-bottom cupcake and banana milkshake so as to try some of the other flavours the bakery offers.

The black bottom was a rich, moist, rich chocolate cake, with a dollop of cheesecake mix containing big thick chocolate chips, finished with a smooth cream cheese frosting. Looking at the black bottom cupcake on their website, the cheesecake is apparently supposed to be centred – nice to know even the pros can get their cupcake layers wrong. Don’t get me wrong though, it was still very tasty!

Onto the banana special – The straw was made of a yummy soft candy stick, and following the cupcake down it only got tastier! A brilliant combination of a creamy, thick frosting that tasted exactly like banana milkshake, perfectly complemented by a moist banana sponge. The banana milkshake is a limited edition flavour, only available on Wednesday’s until the end of September – so you have one more week to go!

Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Hummingbird Bakery. Maybe my next mission will be to try out all their other branches!

The only downside I’d say is the price – these are truly special occasion cupcakes; I paid £8.60 for one eat-in and two takeaway (you have to pay VAT if you eat in) – which at nearly £3 a cupcake is a little much even though they are so scrummy.

And in a great twist – I discovered as I ambled up to the train (with blatant disregard for nearly missing the train) – I dressed today in Hummingbird colours, a brown dress and pink cardigan! Coincidence…?

Nearly-Neapolitan Mini Cupcakes

Back from a lovely weeks holiday, relaxed, tanned, and itching to get back into the kitchen!

We’d been home all of about an hour before I dreamt up a good unpacking-avoidance technique of making some mini cupcakes, and they’d be the perfect thank-you gift for our lovely cat-sitters. It was the first day of National Cupcake Week,  and, inspired by a post over on playingwithflour I decided to try some pretty neapolitans.

The mixture was a simple vanilla sponge, I only made a small amount with 50g each of butter, SR flour and sugar, with one egg. Splitting into 3 I added a tablespoon of cocoa powder to one third, a good splosh of pink colouring to the second (fresh back from holiday our cupboard was clean out of anything raspberry flavoured!) and in the final a good amount of vanilla essence.

Using a mini-muffin tin, coated well in cake release, I carefully applied each layer of colour: chocolate, pink, then vanilla. To get the layers as even as possible, I put a dollop of batter in the centre, then used a cocktail stick to carefully spread out to the edges.

Because they were only teeny, they didn’t need long in the oven –  I gave them 7 minutes then quickly turned them out onto a cooling rack. The sight that met me was not exactly what I’d expected…

It seemed that the chocolate mixture had not been happy on the bottom and tried to force its way to the top, pushing up the pink in the process. Stopping just short of stomping my feet and throwing a tantrum, I took a knife and cut into one of them:

Inside was actually better than the top – the layers miraculously seemed to have gone sideways, leaving the cupcakes with a chocolate outer ‘cup’, with a pink lining and white vanilla centre. Not the end of the world!

I wanted to play on the way the chocolate outside had worked so well – so used chocolate buttercream, a white fondant star, and a pink chocolate bean, to allude to what was inside, but still look like a chocolate cupcake through and through.

Once cut open they had a lovely chocolate coating and the colours looked great inside.

And sliced again sideways – a perfect neopolitan stripe!

So, not quite the neapolitans I’d intended, but they made a good gift and were well-recieved by our cat-sitters! Will I try and make horizontal stripes again? Watch this space… it is National Cupcake Week for 5 more days!

Dulce de Leche Millionaire’s Shortbread

After making my banana and caramel cupcakes, I still had about half a tin of yummy dulce de leche caramel left. Whilst I was happily sneaking a tiny taste every time I went to the fridge, I decided it was probably time to use it for something more substantial.

You know those tubs of mini cake bites you get from the bakery section of the supermarket? Millionaire’s shortbread is my absolute favourite of these, I could happily eat a whole tub in one go!

And with the caramel layer ready-made – the rest is incredibly simple. I adapted Delia’s shortbread recipe, using cornflour instead of semolina, and scaling down as I was only making a small batch.
I used 50g plain flour, 30g cornflour, 50g butter and 30g golden caster sugar, which was the perfect amount for my little tiny tin.

You’ll also see I made it in a disposable foil tin – this was a cheap and easy way to bake and make the whole thing in one place, without having to worry too much about it sticking, or cleaning up afterwards!

Once the shortbread was cool, I simply spread the caramel on top, chilled, and topped with a layer of melted dark chocolate, before returning to the fridge.

I must confess that the minimal amount of photos is simply because I kept eating parts! The little foil tin made 12 cute little squares – well, only 5 even made it in front of the camera!

If you’ve never had them, I’d highly recommend giving these a try, they are simple and easy to make, but, as the name suggests, taste a million dollars! Buttery, crumbly shortbread, sticky, gooey caramel, topped with rich, dark chocolate. With all this sugar there’s a reason they only come in small bites – but I dare you to just stop at one 🙂

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A Trip to Tiffin Teahouse

On a fresh, late summers morning, in a leafy suburb of Nottingham, chaos descended as I met some friends for brunch aka cake-for-breakfast, at the delightful Tiffin Teahouse.

Tiffin is located on Abbey Road, amidst only a handful of shops, but a mere minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of Central Avenue. There’s ample on-street parking nearby, so it’s a great place to meet for groups like us, coming from all corners of the city.

It’s often easy to drive past (the tables and chairs aren’t often outside, it is  British summer after all!) but on this particular morning, no expense was spared, with a charismatically-chic bicycle signage board, and even a (fake!) green-grass carpet.

We ummed and aahed over the slightly-better-for-you breakfast menu, but on approaching the counter all thoughts of anything savoury had completely gone out the window; the simply divine-looking homemade cakes, on their shiny glass stands, were just too much to resist. Is it ever possible to be too early for cake? Pre-10am didn’t seem to affect us much!

I opted for a slice of the coffee and walnut cake, on the reasoning that coffee is a very morning thing to have, and walnuts are a superfood, so must be good for me. One rather generous slice later and I definitely felt healthier 😉

Like any good tea room, Tiffin have a great range of vintage china crockery to serve all food and drink. An added bonus at this teahouse is a fantastic range of fresh blended teas, hand labelled and perfect from a crisp china cup.

After being offered a good sniff (to check it was what I wanted), I went for a pot of gunpowder green mint tea – a slightly healthier start to the day. How delightful is this chinese-floral print teapot? (And the tea was equally as tasty!)

Although it’s only a relatively little shop, Tiffin have managed to pack a lot of little quirks into their tearoom. It’s kitsch and cute without being over the top, and I love noticing different things every time you look around.

Needless to say we had a lovely morning, and will definitely be going back The staff were friendly and chatty during our trip, and completely at ease with me snapping away, as long as they weren’t in any photos, and I added them to their Facebook! So, without further ado, I’m off to post over there…

Hello Kitty Butter Biscuits

About a month ago I stumbled across this amazing Hello Kitty dessert display, and immediately wanted to make something Hello-Kitty-esque of my own!

A quick search on eBay soon found me some super-cute cookie cutters. The down-side? They were coming from Hong Kong and took about a month to arrive. The up-side? They cost the bargainous total of £1.11, for both cutters, including postage! Search for ‘Hello Kitty Cookie Cutters’ and you’ll soon find them. There are some more expensive sugarcraft ones but I swear these are identical – you just need to be patient with the postman.

I’d searched for recipes to use up the yolks left from last week’s giant pavlova – and these french butter biscuits worked perfectly. I added the juice and rind of a lemon but it totally wasn’t necessary; the rich, buttery flavour was great on its own.

To keep the kitties so perfectly in shape, I pressed the cutter into the dough, then used a spatula to lift it onto the baking tray.

With the outside cutter still in place, I put in the imprint plunger and firmly pressed down (but not too firmly that the dough comes out the bottom of the cutter!):

To get the biscuit free of the cutter, still perfectly shaped and with imprinted-face intact, I carefully lifted up the outside cutter, and used the plunger to gently push the biscuit out onto the tray:

Repeated several times over, and I soon had a tray fully of kitties to bake!

They went into the oven for 12 minutes altogether; as we have a fan oven I rotated them in the last few minutes, so they’d get browned on all sides.


Then it was onto the decorating! First I did all the eyes and whiskers with some black royal icing.

For the rest of the details – well, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Hello Kitty very much likes to co-ordinate her outfits! So I picked pairs of complimentary colours to adorn the bows, nose and clothes ;o)

Now seems a good time to mention that I use normal food bags for a lot of my fine piping details (I have a bigger set with nozzles for cupcake frosting, etc). But for tasks like this, when you are using a lot of different colours, and piping fine lines, these are perfect!
I use these ones from Tesco as they don’t have any seam down the side – you can see they have a perfectly uninterrupted corner – so you can snip off as much as you want to get the right thickness, and pipe steadily onto your biscuits.
They’re only about £1.50 for a pack of 60 – much cheaper than normal piping bags – so I can simply thrown them away when I’m finished.

Back to the biscuits – I decorate the kitties in pink and purple, orange and yellow, and blue and green (all in royal icing, so it would set nice and hard, and not smudge during storage or transportation):

Each was adorned with a different sugar sprinkle (from my rather vast collection!) From hundreds and thousands on the bows…

…and collars…

… to sugar stars…

… and even personalised with Hello Kitty initials!:

I still can’t decide my favourite!

These were SO much fun to make, and went down a storm at home, work, and with friends. Reactions ranged from Rob: “you do know I work on a building site” to a friends little girl who proclaimed it was like her birthday being given one of the biscuits! Not only are they super cute but they were also super easy – minimal piping skills and plenty of sugar sprinkles required 🙂

Banana and Caramel Cupcakes

I have a confession to make. These photos have been on my computer for nearly a month, and I very nearly forgot what was in the cupcakes! They were made for the same housewarming as my New Home Biscuits so in all fairness I had such a busy time of baking and decorating that it’s no surprise things got a little forgotten.

So I don’t have the recipe to share I’m afraid – it would have been a pretty basic sponge recipe, with a mashed banana added, and they were beautifully light and spongy.

What I most want to share with you is this hallowed beauty:

Tinned caramel. Dulce de leche. This was my first time of using it and my gosh! I could have eaten the whole tin by the spoonful! It’s basically just condensed milk and sugar, but it tastes like a whole lot more than this.

I would have liked to have made my own – in fact I also brought a tin of sweetened condensed milk in the supermarket at the same time – but honestly did not have a three hour period in which to boil it myself. Thankfully Carnation have cottoned well onto the fact that we’re a lazy bunch, so you can but this pre-made caramel which is useable straight out the can.
I hollowed out the centre of the cupcakes with a knife, filled with gooey caramel, then topped with whipped buttercream, a generous drizzle more caramel, and some gold star sugar sprinkles.

And that’s all I really have to tell you about these cupcakes – but enjoy the photos! And think of that gooey, caramel-y, dulce de leche…. yum 🙂

NB – I packed them into cupcake boxes (I get mine from Hobbycraft in packs of 3 – can’t find them online though). They just about survived the journey without getting too melted or smushed. The good thing about the caramel drizzles is that you can’t really tell if they smudge – and even if they do they mix beautifully into the buttercream!

Easy-Peasy Pavlova – Red Berry with Dark Chocolate Ganache

Last Friday my parents and grandma came over for dinner. I needed a dessert that could mostly be prepared ahead, didn’t require much cooking on the night (as I’d be working all day), and was quite light – to follow a big course of fish and chips!

Still having a lot of eggs left and after a big success a few weeks ago – meringue seemed like the perfect solution.

So the pavlova idea came about – and I didn’t know it originated in New Zealand. As complicated it as it may seem, it really only takes 4 very simple steps.

1. Giant meringue

To make this size of meringue, i used 4 egg whites and 200g of caster sugar. You can see method I used, as before, here.

To bake, I drew around a large dinner plate on a sheet of greaseproof to give me a rough idea of the shape to make into, and gave it a quick spray with cake-release (I’d really recommend this, the paper will literally fall off the meringue after baking, otherwise it can be a bit tricky and your meringue may end up breaking).

I spooned the meringue mixture into shape, using a spatula to create a rim near the edge in which the rest of the ingredients would sit.

It baked in the oven at 140 degrees celsius for an hour, after which I switched the oven off and left the meringue in to completely cool overnight. Again I’d recommend this – because of the moist toppings, you really want a crunchy, crispy meringue base.

When you take it out of the oven, don’t be tempted to put it in the fridge. This will make it go soft. Instead leave it in the oven if you’re not using it, keep it in an airtight container, or, failing all else, carefully out it onto a plate and cover with a clean, dry tea towel, storing somewhere cool.

2. Whipped cream

I found a 300ml pot of double cream was the perfect amount for this size of pavlova. It took about 3-4 minutes to whip, using my stand mixer on a high speed.

If you wanted to make a lower fat version, an alternative such as creme fraiche or even yoghurt would still work well.

3. Fresh fruit

Take your pick! Whatever is in season, or anything else you fancy! Bananas, kiwis, cherries… Anything would work really. I used a big pile of fresh (hulled) strawberries and raspberries.

4. Dark chocolate ganache (optional)

A big thank you to Moo’s Pantry for teaching me that ganache doesn’t have to be made with cream.

For this I melted 75g dark chocolate with 20g butter, then in a separate pan boiled 75ml semi-skimmed milk with 50g caster sugar. Once the milk and sugar mix was boiling, I poured over the chocolate and butter mix, stirred well, and boiled for another 1-2 minutes.

By making this before I served the main course, it had time to cool and thicken slightly before I assembled the dessert.

Assembly is just as simple, everything in the order above, no need for neatness, patterns etc, just pile it all up! Add the ganache just before you serve so guests can see it running down the fruit and meringue as it’s cut.

I gave Rob the slightly daunting task of cutting it up without the meringue breaking – and he did a pretty great job (using a cake slice to take the pieces out helped a lot).

It was met with a Round of approval yums and wows… And between the 5 f us, was quickly demolished!