Halloween Bat Biscuits

Happy Halloween!

These biscuits were a tasty excuse to try out my new bat biscuit cutter, that came as part of My Cake Decorating magazine‘s Halloween special.

The recipe was my basic chocolate butter biscuit (which you can find here), topped with chocolate royal icing and plenty of chocolate sprinkles!

I added eyes made out of fondant (stuck on with a little more chocolate icing), and dotted with some black food colouring.

Simple, sweet, smooth… and spooky!

 

We didn’t have any trick-or-treat-ers in our little cul-de-sac, but needless to say they will be devilishly devoured pretty soon 🙂

 

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Chocolate Orange Cobweb Cupcakes

Another week, another cake club! This one was held by Cake Eaters Anonymous (you can also find them on facebook), which I am very proud to say started in Nottingham. There are now a few more clubs springing up around the country but this is surely the original and best 😉
The idea behind this cake club is slightly different to last weeks in that it is run in aid of charity. The charity itself varies from month to month, but all bakers pay about £3 per ticket, which gets them 3 (massively generous) pieces of cake, with the rest sold off, and other items raffled, all for the good cause.

The theme for this month was, of course, Halloween. A lot of bakers had similar ideas along the chocolate and orange lines, but it’s surely not possible to have too much of such a good thing!

I found these fantastic halloween cupcake cases in Wilkinsons that were so bang on trend I couldn’t possibly resist.

For the cakes themselves I made a very basic chocolate sponge recipe (makes about 15 cupcakes)

150g butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g self raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

– cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
– beat in the eggs one at a time with a little flour (to stop them curdling)
– sieve in the rest of the flour, cocoa, and baking powder, and fold in with a metal spoon
– spoon into the cupcake cases and bake at 180 for about 12 minutes, until firm but spongy to touch and/or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and dry

Whilst they were cooling I whipped up some orange buttercream. Orange in both colour and taste – when else can you get away with making near-luminous foods if not halloween!

75g butter
150g icing sugar
1/2 – 1 teaspoon orange essence (to taste)
few drops of orange food colouring / paste (to however dark you want)

– beat all the ingredients until you have a smooth, creamy icing

Once cool, I cored out the centre of the cupcakes with a sharp knife:

…spooned in a generous amount of the orange buttercream…

…replaced the (now trimmed) top…

…added a small blob more buttercream on top…

…cut circles out of fondant…

…and finally lay the fondant across the top of the cupcake, pressing lightly so the buttercream helps it stick.

Onto the decoration – I mixed up some royal icing sugar, cocoa powder, and a few drops of black food colouring, to make a thick dark chocolate piping icing.

The cobwebs were incredibly easy to pipe – simply making a star out of 3 or 4 lines across the cake (intersecting in the centre), before slowly going round and making the webbing between each spoke.

A pinch of edible glitter and a few spiders later…

Inside the cakes were very generously filled, and the ultimate compliment came from Rob who said they tasted like Mr Kipling’s! The boy can definitely have more cake 🙂

To take to the cake club I popped the cupcakes into some halloween cupcake wrappers. Not quite as intricate as the cupcake wrappers I reviewed a few months back, but these ones (along with the spiders) had come free with the halloween special of My Cake Decorating magazine – you can see the whole amazing stash of halloween goodies over on my twitter.

Finally it was time for cake club! The cupcakes looked fab on a stand (and surrounded by eyeballs):

But not nearly as amazing as the great array of cake all put together!

Needless to say a fabulous time was had by all and I’ll definitely be heading back here again – all for a good cause of course 😉

Spiced Pumpkin and Treacle Tart

Who’d have guessed you could have a whole evenings’ fun with a pumpkin, and one that cost only £1 from tesco!

With Rob carving and me baking we had great (and tasty) fun; I can’t share an exact recipe as such as it was a bit of a make-it-up-as-you-go-along, but I hope it gives you some halloween inspiration.

The pumpkin was only little, about 1.5 kilograms in total, but perfect for us to have a little play.

I set Rob to work scooping (with the promise he could carve whatever he wanted to afterwards) – and am certain he had no idea what he was in for! About an hour later I ended up with about 600g of pumpkin flesh for my tart. In the meantime I’d made some wholemeal pastry, rested it for 1/2 hour, and blind baked my tart case (so it wouldn’t get soggy from the filling).

Because it was already in small bits from being scooped, I spread the pumpkin on a baking tray, sprinkled with brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a little ginger,  and roasted for 20 minutes.

Then I mixed in just a couple more ingredients – 2 eggs, a teaspoon of treacle and a sprinkle more sugar. The spices were already smelling great and after testing a little of the roasted pumpkin I decided not to add any more.

All mixed together, I poured the pumpkin mixture into the tart case and topped with a pastry pumpkin (art was never my strongest subject), before baking for about 20 minutes until just set.

A delicious smell of sugary spices wafting through the kitchen and the tart was cooked – perfect with some custard, ice cream, or even a splash of fresh cream.

Very little goes to waste in my kitchen – so I also spread the pumpkin seeds out on a tray (removing the yucky goopy stringy bits that hold it together), brushed them very lightly with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and roasted for about 15 minutes. Tasty, healthy, and a great bonus to making pumpkin pie!

Oh and the pumpkin? Well, the boy done good! He had a whale of a time carving out the face, and sat proudly watching the candle flicker inside. And despite his despise for carving it out in the first place, apparently he is buying another at the weekend, bigger, more elaborate – and more pumpkin pies on the way!

Sachertorte (and my first Cake Club!)

Today my diary finally came together and I was able to attend my first ever cake club. I’m signed up to a fair few mailing lists and this one came from the lovely Clandestine Cake Club. They have branches around the country, most meeting about once a month, the idea being nothing more simple than to bake, eat, and enjoy cake with new and local friends.

This one was held by the Derby group, and as it was their first birthday they decided on a Round the World Extravaganza, asking attendees to bake cakes from around the globe.

Although sachertorte was recently popularised by its appearance on the Great British Bakeoff, I actually chose this cake for its Austrian heritage (and excessive use of chocolate!). My recipe is adapted from Delia’s, which you can find here. As I’m not a fan of using cream in cooking, I adapted together a variety of recipes for a cream-free, shiny glaze icing.

Ingredients

175g dark chocolate (the best quality you can manage – it makes a difference)
110g butter
110g caster sugar
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
110g plain flour

Icing

3 tablespoons apricot jam
125g dark chocolate
100g icing sugar
100ml hot water
1/2 teaspoon glycerine
extra chocolate, to decorate

Method

– melt the chocolate and set to one side to cool

– beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
– keep beating and add in the chocolate and vanilla essence, then the egg yolks, one at a time, until well mixed
– sieve in the flour and baking powder; fold in with a wooden spoon
– set the chocolate mixture to one side, and in a clean bowl, with clean beaters, whip up the egg whites. You want them to be good and stiff – so they will hold their shape well and not move when the bowl is upturned

– add the egg whites, about 1/3 at a time, to the chocolate mixture, again folding in with a metal spoon

– once the mixture is smooth and mousse-y, spoon gently into an 8 inch springform pan (lightly greased), flattening the top

– bake at 150 degrees C for about an hour until firm, check it’s cooked by inserting a toothpick into the centre (it should come out clean if it’s done)
– leave to cool – I took mine out of the pan and put it on my turntable ready for icing


– once cool, use a sharp bread knife to carefully the top so it’s completely flat

– warm the jam until it’s liquid and spoon generously all over the cake, using a pastry brush to cover the sides

– set the cake to one side and make the icing:
– melt the chocolate and set aside
– in a large saucepan, add the hot water and icing sugar, and heat until just boiling
– remove from the heat, have your whisk ready, add the chocolate and quickly whisk before the chocolate has time to seize
– beat with the whisk for a minute until the mixture is fully combined and smooth
– add the glycerine, stir to mix and then leave for 5 or so minutes to cool slightly

– cover the cake in icing! The easiest way I found was to pour a large amount onto the top, then use a spatula to spread around the sides, ensuring it goes all the way to the bottom. Do this on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet so it’s easy to clean up the drips.

– leave in a cool place until the drips have stopped, then place in the fridge for at least 2 hours
– finally melt the extra chocolate and use to pipe decorations. Traditionally this Sacher name (after the creator of the cake, Franz Sacher) and I added a few ribbons as well

Finally it was time for cake club! Held at the newly opened Grandpa Lew’s in Derby (thanks to Lewis for being a lovely host) there was no shortage of round the world inspiration. This picture only shows about half the cakes and I came away rather rounded (and with a plateful of cake to take home!) having spent a great couple of hours enjoying sweet treats and meeting some lovely new people.

This certainly won’t be my last Clandestine Cake Club – and I would heartily encourage you to check it out. It’s a great excuse to try out some new ideas in the kitchen, meet new people, and of course eat cake!

Chocolate Burlesque Biscuits

A friend’s birthday last weekend – and one of my favourite occasions to bake for, a theme party. The theme was burlesque / Moulin Rouge, so I went to town with dark, sexy colours, intricate details, and a little bit of sparkle for added razzmatazz.

The biscuits were my chocolate sable recipe which you can find here, cut into fluted rounds, hearts, and a corset dress shape (which I adapted from an online print off like this one).

I topped them with thick royal icing, piping a stiff outline round the edge to get the shape, before flooding with more watered down icing.

Then it was onto the detail – I piped tiny spots, swirls, and stripes, all in a deep black, to give the look of seductive lace and fine details.

From tassels:

…to corsets..

… to feathers…

and intricate patterns everywhere:

As you may have guessed, I also got a bit trigger happy with the silver shimmer spray. By laying some mesh over the biscuits before spraying I created a fishnet style pattern across the edges (I used our (clean!) chip mesh basket to get the large net size).

I also used pieces of paper to section off some of the areas from the shimmer spray – like this belted corset dress:

Gift boxed, and ready to go:

Needless to say it was a fantastic party and there were some amazing costumes. Not really for me to share on here – but here’s a quick snippet of mine – I opted for a slightly more demure outfit of leopard print dress with matching fascinator – what you can’t see from this is my fishnet tights and heels!

Mini Blueberry Jam Tarts

An afternoons cleaning and I was quickly bored… having had some toast for lunch I discovered this jam was just too good to waste in Rob’s sandwiches! So, inspired by A simple pot of jam – here are my deliciously simple tiny tarts.

To make just a mini batch of tarts, I used the following pastry recipe:

Ingredients

50g plain flour (I used wholemeal for a slightly healthier edge!)
10g white vegetable fat (Trex)
15g butter
1-2 tsp water

Method

– use light finger touches to gently crumb the fat into the flour, until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs
– add the water a little a time, stopping as soon as the mix balls into a dough
– form the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes
– roll out thinly and cut into round, gently placing into a mini muffin or tart tin
– place approx. 1/2 a teaspoon of jam in each case – do not add any more at this stage or the jam will bubble over the edges during baking
– bake for 7-9 minutes until the pastry case is crisp

As mentioned, you can’t add too much jam before baking as it will just spill everywhere. However – it’s really easy to fill them up so the tarts are literally jam-packed!

Put a couple more spoonfuls jam in a mug or bowl, and microwave for 20-30 seconds, until it is bubbling and very liquid. Very carefully (it will be boiling hot!) use a tea-spoon to fill the pastry cases right to the top with jam.

A perfect little afternoon treat – the only problem with being so mini and bite-size – it makes it just too easy to keep eating them!

Home-Made Ferrero Rocher & Low-Fat Chocolate Truffles

Show me a woman and I’ll bet you she can give you an excuse to eat chocolate. I had a bad day at work. It’s Friday. I had a good day at work. Because I want to.

Well – I am happy to give you another one – and be warned, you’ve probably got some catching up to do – it’s National Chocolate Week! After you’ve finished dancing around I’m afraid I must tell you there are only 2 days left (it runs in the UK until 14 October) so best start pronto.

I wanted to make something quite simple mid-week just as a treat for Rob and I. But I was also conscious that we’re on a bit of a health kick (at the gym by 6.30am, twice already this week, yes I was), so didn’t want to make something that was just going to pile the pounds straight back on.

Inspired by this recipe from health-foodie, I set about making some truffles. They’re not something I’ve made before but require no baking and give you a lot of free rein to experiment with flavour, so seemed perfect.

I must apologise that there are no work-in-progress or step by step photos to show you with this post. But you must understand, it’s a very sticky job.

Likewise, after a while I had to stop weighing my ingredients because everything was sticking to my hands rather than staying on the scales. So – take the recipe with a pinch of salt (not literally) and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Basic low fat chocolate truffle recipe (makes about 6 bite-sized truffles)

40g dates
40g prunes
20g dark chocolate, melted
10-15g cocoa

Assorted sprinkles and coatings

You’ll also need: a Food processor

The basic idea for this recipe is to put everything in the food processor and combine it to a smooth, chocolatey paste. I started with the fruit, making sure this was very finely chopped, before adding the melted chocolate then the cocoa.
As you want quite a stiff mixture, your processor might start to complain after adding the cocoa and not really move very fast at all. If this is the case, don’t force the food processor to carry, just take out a spoon and finish mixing.

You want the final texture to be soft and sticky enough to roll into balls. Don’t be afraid to taste, test, and adapt. Add more cocoa if it’s not chocolatey enough, a tiny splash of water or milk it’s too dry, or some icing sugar if it’s a bit wet.

Then simply roll in your coatings, refrigerate for at least an hour and enjoy!

Clockwise from top I used: cocoa powder, crushed hazelnuts, chocolate sprinkles and pink glitter (glimmer) sugar.

For the 2 chocolate coatings I just used the chocolate mixture plain:

With the pink glitter sugar I decided to flavour the inside, using a splash of amaretto and some dried dark cherries (plus a little more cocoa to balance out the extra liquid). These were probably my favourite, a crunchy sugar shell, moist, almondy inside with chewy cherries. Yum!

Onto the pièce de résistance – hazelnut truffles or homemade Ferrero Rocher (I didn’t even realise this until after I’d made them!) While rolling up the balls of chocolate mixture I placed a whole hazelnut in the middle, then coated the outside in crushed hazelnuts (I would have used the food processor to chop them more finely but it was rather full of chocolate goop…)

I can definitely understand now why people often say they make truffles as gifts at Christmas etc. They are so simple to make, inexpensive, easy to store, but have a great wow factor and just need a pretty little box to perfectly show them off.
Anyone on my Christmas list… clear some space in the fridge!

Sticky Date, Treacle and Ginger Cake

This is probably my ultimate autumn cake – everything that reminds me of being wrapped up warmly, crisp cool air, crunchy leaves and bright blue skies.

I had my heart set on using dates, treacle and ginger (let’s not mention the crystallised ginger I forgot to put in…), but actually couldn’t find a recipe then encompassed all 3 how I wanted. So – loosely based on Caledonian Cakery’s Date and Treacle cake – here is my own created recipe. Best of all, because dates make the majority of the mix – it’s low fat too!

Ingredients (makes 25 generous squares)

250g dates
250ml boiling water
100g butter
100g light brown sugar
2 generous tablespoons of treacle
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
3 eggs
225g plain flour (I used 1/2 wholemeal for an added health kick)

Topping

3 tablespoons ginger jam

Method

– put the dates and water in a good-sized saucepan, and heat until the mixture bubbles up, and the dates turn into an unattractive brown much (sorry but it’s true!)

– take off the heat, then add in the butter, sugar, treacle, and ginger

– mix well and TASTE! A very important step – ginger and dates can be very different in flavour and sweetness, so you need to make sure the mixture is sweet enough, and you can taste the ginger coming through. Don’t forget the jam glaze will add a bit of extra ginger flavour

– transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl (the biggest one you’ve got – things are about to get fizzy!) Add the bicarbonate of soda and mix really well. This will cause the mixture to fizz up but don’t worry – keep stirring and it will soon stop.

– add the flour and the eggs, mixing quickly so the warm mixture doesn’t cause the eggs to start cooking

– pour into a greased, lined, 8 inch square (or similar) baking tray. The mixture will be very liquid so don’t worry about trying to level it out too much, it will do this itself

– bake at 180 degrees C for 25 – 30 minutes. Test to see if it’s done by inserting a skewer / cocktail stick or similar, diagonally into the middle. If it comes out completely clean the cake is done. If not, give it another 5 minutes, and re-test, repeating until your tester is free of cake mix. The cake should also be firm and springy i.e. bounce straight back into shape when pressed, your finger shouldn’t leave an indent in the cake.

– when the cake is done, take it out of the oven, but leave in the tin

– prepare your glaze by blending or sieving the jam to remove any lumps – if you are sieving pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds first, it will pass through the sieve much easier

– once your glaze is smooth, microwave for another 15 – 20 seconds until completely liquid, then quickly take a pastry brush and spread all over the cake, before it has a chance to set

– leave the cake in the tin until completely cool / for as long as possible before serving. I’d recommend making the day before if possible so the glaze has time to soak down a bit and set to a shiny, sticky finish

– remove from the tin and paper, cut into generous slices and serves. If it lasts long enough it will keep well in airtight container for up to a week (the glaze helps keep it moist)

Inside the cake should be light, fluffy, and moist…

… and on the top a sweet, sticky, tangy ginger glaze:

And while amazing eaten on its own – or, on a cold autumn evening, also brilliant with hot, creamy custard.

Just because they haven’t featured for a while – here are the cats (no longer kittens, sob!) Chilli and Pepper, enjoying the leftover custard.

Triple Chocolate Racing Car Biscuits

Last week we were invited by some friends to the race weekend at Donington Park. Despite the fact it’s only a few miles from our house, and I drive past every morning on my way to work, I’ve never actually been to see a proper race there.

It was brilliantly exciting – lots of different races, all with very noisy cars, and we even got to go on the grid before the start of the GT3 race!

I took the biscuits along as a thank-you present for the tickets and hospitality, and what better theme than race cars themselves.

Using the same butter biscuit recipe as my Hello Kitty biscuits, I adapted it slightly to make them smoothly chocolatey. This is quickly becoming my go-to biscuit recipe; they cut out and hold their shape wonderfully.

Ingredients (makes 15-20 small biscuits)

100g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
100g butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk

Method

– mix together the flour, cocoa and icing sugar, before rubbing in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
– add the egg yolk and mix into a ball of dough
– wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, until you’re ready to cut out the biscuits
– roll out to desired thickness and bake at 180 degrees C until crisp and even (should take around 7 – 10 minutes depending on the thickness of your biscuits)

I searched online for quite a while to find a good shaped car cutter, before stumbling across the great Denny and Sons website. Quite how they made money on selling me this cutter for 80p including postage I’ve no idea, but it was exactly what I wanted.

Once baked and cooled, I cut matching car shapes from chocolate fondant (I get mine from Hobbycraft).

To ensure the fondant stuck, I painted the biscuits with a thin layer of golden syrup:

Third on the chocolate list was some buttons! I laid them out and sprayed generously with my current favourite glitter product – Dr Oetker shimmer spray. It built up brilliantly to give a solid silver colour – you couldn’t tell they used to be chocolate buttons!

And to finish the biscuits – I gave them a quick brush with some water (to remove any icing sugar left from rolling out the fondant), which not only gave a shiny finish but made the icing just sticky enough to gently press on the chocolate buttons in place of wheels.

 

Not only do they look fab but the biscuits also taste great (crispy biscuit, soft fudgy icing, creamy chocolate buttons…) but they also travel and keep really well (in an airtight container).