Schichttorte

schichttorte 20 plus layers finished cake with chocolate glaze

The semi-final of Great British Bake Off and indeed #greatbloggersbakeoff2014 – my kitchen will be distinctly less chaotic after the final this week.

This week I was caught up in the grilling frenzy that is the 20 layered Schichttorte. Developed from the traditional German Baumkuchen (tree cake), the cake is made by cooking thin layers of batter under the grill, to create the distinctive layered inside.

I followed the BBC recipe for my cake, although am a little dis-inclined to say that is Paul Hollywood’s as I’m certain he’s not a traditional German!

The recipe is certainly fitting for a technical challenge, starting with 10 eggs…

start of recipe for german schichttorte 10 eggs layered cake.

… and going through the stages of beating, sieving…

sieving flour into cake batter home baking

… whisking…

kitchenaid whisking egg whites soft peak stage black and silver

… and finally folding:

folding whisked egg white into cake batter schichttorte recipe greatbloggersbakeoff2014

With the batter finished it was time to start layering up. Placing the bowl on the scales I calculated each layer should have about 50 grams worth, and barely covered the surface!

schichttorte finished batter and first thin layer in tin to bake gbbo

After a couple of minutes under the grill, it came out, resembling, well, a pancake!

schichttorte first layer pancake like lightly baked

The next layer and a little darker…

grilled layers in german traditional schichttorte gbbo

.. and the cats soon got to wonder what was going on in there.

cat watching oven home baking grilling schichttorte

I must admit I lost count of the layers around the 6 mark, as I was trying to do a million other things at once. I kept going until all the batter was used up, and finally reached the top.

nearly full tin of schichttorte baked layers

A short while cooling and I was glad for it to come out in one piece, albeit looking slightly ombre…!

baked layers ombre effect of schichttorte schichttorte freshly baked layered cake gbbo

After all those layers the finishing and icing was surprisingly simple. A quick coat of apricot jam (to help the icing stick):

covering cake in warmed apricot jam for glaze to stick schichttorte recipe

And a generous coating of dark chocolate glaze:

pouring dark chocolate glaze onto jam covered cake dark chocolate glaze covered schichttorte

Finally, a finishing touch of piped white vanilla icing:

vanilla icing piped design on dark chocolate glaze schichttorte gbbo semifinal

And the cake was finished! The sides I wasn’t particularly pleased with as the chocolate and icing didn’t stick particularly smoothly.

finished iced schichttorte chocolate and vanilla layered cake

It was then rather a waiting game – I wanted the icing to set a little before slicing up, so put the cake in the fridge until it was ready to eat, and finally the moment of truth:

sliced into schichttorte 22 layers greatbloggersbakeoff

Hooray! I’m so pleased with the layers. And yes you can count them… there are in fact 22 ūüôā Big slices were enjoyed and I was pleasantly surprised by the taste – a delicate light cake with a slightly lemon tang, and wonderfully complimented by the chocolate and vanilla icing.

generous slice of gbbo schichttorte layers of grilled cake

So much excitement for the final this week! Who do you think will win? And more importantly, what on earth will they be challenged to bake this week?!

Read more about #greatbloggersbakeoff2014 over on Mummy Mishaps.

greatbloggersbakeoff2014

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Birthday Afternoon Tea Party

Ah yes, the week of my birthday, where, once again, friends and family gather to eat their own body weight in cake. There is a definite theme to all my birthday presents and the respective celebrations at which they are received – cake, cake, and more CAKE! Take for example this amazing 3d patisserie card – will definitely be finding a permanent home for this little lovely in my kitchen.

patisserie 3d birthday card cake lover

This year Rob and I hosted a birthday afternoon tea at home; we moved house in September and still love our new bolthole, as today proved it’s perfect for parties!

A windy Sunday afternoon in Derbyshire didn’t deter the party goers, and we made sure the house was well decked out for an afternoon tea party – balloons, banners, and of course bunting, zig-zagging across the hallway. I’m wondering how long I can get away with having this up for, the cats seem to have designs on pulling it down though…

pastel bunting and cats hosting traditional afternoon tea party at home

Starting with sandwiches, served with champagne, we tucked in to the veritable feast in front of us.

birthday afternoon tea champagne sandwiches and cake

afternoon tea party at home derbyshire happy birthday

Enjoyed freshly baked from the oven, delicious fruit scones made by Al…

afternoon tea party freshly baked scones

… and topped with home-made (by t’other Jen) blackcurrant jam, and whipped cream. Yum!

afternoon tea party fresh scones with homemade blackcurrant jam and whipped cream

Offerings from my kitchen included strawberry swirl meringues, and gluten-free brownie bites (both recipes now posted & linked up!) home afternoon tea birthday party chocolate brownie bites strawberry swirl meringues finger sandwiches

And and experiment with one of my brilliant birthday presents, a cake pop maker, little white kitty cat cake pops! They are not my finest work of art but not a bad testament to my battle with the evil that is candy melts.

kitty cat cake pops white chocolate candy melt birthday party ideas pink glitter sugar ears

cat cake pop white chocolate in place of a nose birthday party fun

And what else could you finish a birthday party with, other than a big sticky birthday cake?!

birthday girl blowing out candles afternoon tea party

Made by the lovely Jen this was one brilliant birthday cake:

chocolate swirl birthday cake with candles

– that just got better and better when I cut inside. Look at the chocolate checkerboard!

checkerboard chocolate happy birthday cake

Some more fun and games…

fun and games birthday afternoon tea party host at home derbyshire

… before waving guests off with full tummies and little party bags! Who doesn’t love a party bag, at any age?

mini afternoon tea party bags chocolate freddo cat toy

Thanks to all my lovely guests for a great afternoon, helping to make (and demolish) all the yummy food, and of course my fabulous presents! All that remains now is for me to get baking and start using some of them…

The Sound of Music Lemon Cake Pops – with Handy Hints!

sound of music do re mi fa so la ti treble clef note lemon cake pops chocolate

This weekend just gone was largely centred around (another!) rather amazing theme party. This time – Musicals and Theatre. I have another bake to share with you but as time is tight I had to get the shorter one up first!

I’d been itching to try out the new cake pop stand that Secret Santa bought me for Christmas, and this was my first real opportunity.

First up – a quick lemon sponge cake, using 100g butter, 100g sugar, 2 eggs, 110g SR flour, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.

lemon victoria sponge cake for making cake pops flavoured

It seemed a shame to break it up and put it into the blender but, as soon as the cake was cool, its fate was set!

cake pop instructions tips using a blender to make fine breadcrumbs

I picked up a surprisingly amount of tips during my quick cake pop session at the April Delights course back in December. It seems to me cake pops are a combination of luck, practice, patience and general confidence, but these tips certainly helped me get better results that previous attempts.

Tip 1 –¬†ensure your cake is a very fine breadcrumb. A blender definitely helps with this, you can do it by hand but just be very thorough.

Tip 2 – go easy on the buttercream. You can see below it only really took a spoonful, again the blender is useful here. You want the mixture to just be at the balling up stage (second picture below) – i.e. the buttercream only just sticks the cake, it’s not too sticky or mushy. Clearly I made far too much buttercream, you can see the remnants on the Chocolate & Lemon Hearts post from last week.

cake pop mixture tips blender fine breadcrumbs and buttercream lemon flavoured

lemon flavoured cake pop dough thick consistency using a blender not too much buttercream

Next up – dividing the mixture into equally sized balls, laid out ready for their sticks and coating.

Tip 3 – try to avoid refrigerating your cake mix. It will be too cold once it gets smothered in the candy melts/chocolate, and the combination of heat differences and contracting on cooling can cause your precious cake pops to crack. If your mixture has a good buttercream to cake ratio, it shouldn’t be sticky so shouldn’t really need to go in the fridge anyway.

balls of cake and buttercream dough for lemon cake pops

Next up, prepare your chocolate or candy melt coating. Although I’m still a little unsure about them (what exactly ARE they?!), I can’t deny that candy melts work wonders when it comes to cake pops.

Tip 4 – prepare your chocolate/candy coating in a thin, tall mug. This will give you a good depth for dipping without having to prepare a lot of excess coating. (I found this one online but cannot remember the site at all, apologies).

I find that candy melts need a good teaspoon or two of vegetable fat (I use trex) to get them to a good dipping consistency. It makes the cooling/setting process a little slower but definitely helps them coat the cake pops better.

cake pop tips wilton white candy melts using a mug to dip into

Have your sticks and cake balls all ready to go so you can attach them together quickly and easily.

Tip 5 – dip your stick¬†well into the candy melts, 2-3 inches at least. Let the excess drip off, and when you push into the cake ball this should create a good, firm base to hold the two together. Push the stick carefully but firmly in, to about 2/3 of the way into the cake ball (you don’t want it to reappear out the top!)

I love taking photos at this stage – they still look so uniform and perfectly cute!

cake pops tips attaching to sticks using candy melts instructions

Now, onto my least favourite part, dipping. Make sure the bases on the sticks are set firmly (you shouldn’t get chocolatey fingers if you touch them), and if not,¬†wait! They will only fall off… If you’ve added oil or vegetable fat to candy melts, or are using chocolate, you may find this takes a good few minutes.

I don’t really want to give tips on dipping as I’ve not quite perfected it yet. The cake obviously needs to be completely coated, followed by a combination of rolling and tapping lightly on the side of the mug to help the excess drip off.

cake pop dipping action shot in white wilton candy melts hints and tips

The one big Tip 6 is that it makes life SO much easier having a cake pop stand! Not having to fiddle around trying to balance your chocolatey sticks in polystyrene, mugs, or whatever else you may have to hand, means that you can keep the pop perfectly upright straight away, and has plenty of room to set whilst you make the others.

As I said – not as perfect as I’d like…

white chocolate and lemon cake pops in perspex cake pop stand present

With my basic cake pops finished I went onto decorations. To fit in with the party’s musical theme I was originally just going to do a combination of different notes, treble clefs, etc. But once the idea of the infamous “do, re, mi” song got into my head, I was decided!

Under close supervision from Chilli (cats do¬†like chocolate, don’t you know), I piped some letters and notes onto greaseproof paper. These were made out of normal milk chocolate, I’d have liked some black candy melts but wasn’t going to buy a whole pack just for these little details!

chocolate sound of music decorations piped onto greaseproof paper kitten cat overlooking

After letting the chocolate set in the fridge, I carefully ‘glued’ the decorations to the top of the cake pops using a little more white candy melt, applied with a cocktail stick.

sticking musical chocolate decorations onto cake pops sound of music themed

And to finish – a good spritz of gold shimmer spray, and black edible glitter carefully applied to the chocolate detail.

gold shimmer and black glitter decoration sound of music cake pops

Hey presto- fabulous musical cake pops! Not perfect but I’m quite pleased how they turned out, and they certainly went down a storm at the party!

do re mi fa so la ti the sound of music cake pops instructions hints recipe theme ideas

musical note and treble clef cake pops sound of music theme party

Christmas Gingerbread Houses

gingerbread houses for christmas star front door smartie roof

What could be more Christmassy than the warm spice of gingerbread, sugared with crunchy royal icing and adorned with yummy sweets?

I’d not made a gingerbread house before and decided that was my challenge for this festive season! Using the recipe from BBC good food and tips from Kirstie¬†Allsopp’s version over on C4.

For the construction itself I actually varied the BBC template slightly – their house was quite tall and church-like, I wanted mine to be more of a snow-covered family home. I printed off their templates and trimmed accordingly, making sure the sides that needed to match up and join were the same size as each other.

gingerbread house templates roof side wall front back

After refrigerating the dough for a good half an hour, I rolled it out directly onto the greaseproof baking sheet and cut around the templates. Doing it straight on the sheet means not picking up or moving the pieces, which can easily break them.

gingerbread house rolling out pin paper templates greaseproof baking sheet christmas

gingerbread house pieces dough ready to bake roof side walls end

It took the pieces about 15 minutes to bake in our fan oven, I wanted them quite firm as construction was going to be tricky enough as it was! The recipes recommended using the paper templates to re-trim the pieces into shape after cooking incase they’d spread slightly. Perhaps not so wisely I chose to skip this step as¬†I wanted a ‘rustic’ look to my house… it did make things a little tricky when it came to piecing them together!

I took a great tip from Kirstie¬†Allsopp¬†– to decorate the pieces and let them set over night before assembly. This means piping onto a flat surface and makes it much easier to get the shapes and patterns you want – without trying to do them on¬†sides when it is assembled. The icing is a simple mix of 2 egg whites and 500g of icing sugar, and sets really hard so perfect for the decorations and assembly. It keeps really well in an air-tight container in the fridge so you don’t have to do everything in one go.

For the roof pieces I used a cocktail stick to mark out the pattern for the smarties on a roof top, before gluing them on with generous blobs of royal icing.

marking holes on gingerbread house roof for icing with sweets smarties

gingerbread house roofs ideas decorated with chocolate beans smarties sweets royal icing

Next step – a great time freehand decorating the walls and windows, and plenty of snowy decor!

royal icing piping design close up detail gingerbread house window christmas

gingerbread house vines and plants piping front door christmas baking royal icing

I put the finished pieces aside and left them to dry overnight.

christmas gingerbread house pieces ready to assemble decorate with white royal icing

Next day, when it came to assembly, I’m not going to lie – it was tricky! Pieces sliding all over the place (perhaps something to do with¬†my impatience to get it together). The great thing is the icing doesn’t need to be neat – it all adds to the snowy effect – and nobody is going to know what the joins look like from the inside! I actually employed a spare pair of hands to keep the pieces together while it started to set:

gingerbread house assembly with white royal icing holding up with hands

Rather a lot more icing later and the house was together!

christmas gingerbread house with smarties roof and white royal icing piping

I used the spare royal icing to try to pretty up the joins a little, with snow mounds, and a little added sparkle from some edible glitter.

christmas gingerbread house royal icing piping detail edible glitter chocolate bean roof smarties

You might have noticed some extra pieces in a few of the photos – I had some spare dough after making the big house that I used to make a super-cute teeny tiny version as well.

christmas gingerbread houses back view windows roof beams trailing plants smarties white royal icing

Did you know cats like gingerbread too?And a lot!

grey tabby cat eating christmas gingerbread house festive baking

I was lucky enough to be over in Hamburg, Germany last week, and was determined to find a gingerbread house to see how mine compared. We went to the biggest Christmas market in the city РRathausmarkt, at the town hall.

hamburg weihnachtsmarkt christmas market rathaus markt2012 germany decorations

With a mulled wine or two to stave off the sub-zero temperatures, I was disappointed to find absolutely no gingerbread houses. What is Christmas coming too! The closest things came were these (very pretty but expensive) china decorations:

gingerbread house christmas decorations hamburg weihnachts markt

And some hand-decorated gingerbread hearts (reading ‘Happy Christmas’ for the non-German speakers reading!)

gingerbread iced hearts hanging decorations frohe weihnacht hamburg rathausmarkt christmas markets

Perfectly Petite Pumpkin Pie

(and it’s low-fat too!)

If last weeks pumpkin was a baby, this weeks is truly a monster.

(Last weeks carving had started to sag a little, I love how it looks like a gummy old man pumpkin ūüôā )

The monster in the background was home-grown by my dad, and even though he claims they didn’t grow very big this year it sure looked like a whopper to me. Bringing it home in the car it took up the whole passenger seat, and I was tempted to put a seatbelt on to keep it from rolling around!

As another measure of scale – it was nearly as big as our two (fully-grown but not that large) cats, Chilli and Pepper.

Are cats supposed to like pumpkin? They couldn’t quite figure it out in any case!

Because I’d made quite a big pumpkin tart this week, I kept only a little of this one for baking. The rest was used in some delicious pastas and risottos, and finished off last night in a creamy pumpkin soup. Yum!

I very loosely based my pie on this bbc recipe, although I’m rather disappointed they suggest a shop-bought pastry case when they’re so easy to make at home.

The following is for a teeny little tart of approximately 3-4 inches, but should easily scale up.

Pastry

40g butter can be substituted for low fat spread although end texture may differ a little)
80g plain flour
Water

Rub the butter into the flour using light touches. Add a little water at a time until the pastry mixes to a stiff dough. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Remember to save 1/3 of your pastry for the lid!

I made my pastry case in a mini, loose bottomed tart tin. I blind baked it for around 15 minutes at 180 degrees – producing a crisp, slightly golden case (the ceramic baking beads had just been decanted into a second tin so the case could cool down). Blind baking is recommended for this kind of pie, as it has such a moist filling you are in danger of the dreaded soggy bottom if the pastry is not pre-cooked.

As for the filling, well, this is where I improvised rather a lot on Mr. Worrall-Thompsons recipe. Steaming the pumpkin, boiling this that and the other. Far too complicated! I was a bit slap-dash with throwing things in the bowl so quantities are a little approximate.

Filling

300-400g raw pumpkin
2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
1/2 egg (keep the other half for egg washing the top)
100ml cream (I used this alpro alternative as a great low-fat and dairy-free substitute. It tastes exactly like cream!)

– microwave the pumpkin for 3-4 minutes in a large bowl until hot and mushy
– pour the pumpkin into a sieve and use a spoon to press out the excess water. You want the texture to be a bit like mashed potatoes

– put the pumpkin back in the bowl, mix in the sugar, spices, and cream, and microwave again for 2 minutes until hot and bubbling
– taste! it might look like baby food bit is delicious at this stage: creamy, spicy, sweet pumpkin mush ūüôā Add more sugar or spices if you feel it needs them

– add the egg and quickly stir before it starts to cook in the hot mixture
– spoon the mixture into the pie case

– brush a little egg round the top of the pastry case before placing on the lid.
– to add some extra spook I used the extra pastry to cut out a bat shape (using the same cutter as my bat biscuits), which I again brushed with egg before placing in the middle
– finally a last egg wash all over the top for a nice shiny finish, and a couple of small holes for steam vents

– baking time will depend on your size and oven. Mine took around 30 minutes at 180 degrees. The pie should be piping hot and a lovely golden brown colour

A little while later I carefully turned it out of the tin and immediately fell in love with its’ cuteness – such a perfect little pie!

Once cut open the pastry was crunchy and crumbly, and the filling a moist, creamy just-set texture.

Oh and that wasn’t all! I had a little pastry and a little filling left, so made some teeny tarts in my silicon petit four cases. I simply cut a circle of pastry and filled generously with the pumpkin mixing, before baking for about 10 minutes. Some of the cutest (and tastiest!) tarts I think I have made ūüôā

But how could I forget the piece de resistance – you are surely not still reading for the baking! Another masterpiece carving to finish with.

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

Рprepare your glaze by blending or sieving the jam to remove any lumps Рif 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.

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 ūüôā

The Final Strawberry: Low-fat Trifles

After birthday cake¬†and tarts, I had just enough strawberries left for one more dish. I’ve never made it myself before, but my dad makes¬†amazing ones, and everybody seems to love a good trifle!

As with a lot of my cooking for Rob and I, I wanted to make them as healthy as possible, so used low-fat & low sugar alternatives wherever possible.

Then, it was as easy as 1, 2, 3…

1: Layers of chopped strawberries and sponge cake, covered in no-added-sugar Hartley’s strawberry jelly (the ones that come in powdered sachets).
(I didn’t have any suitable sponge in the freezer (Guinness cake & strawberry trifle anyone?!), so whipped up a really quick microwave sponge in a mug¬†– almost any¬†plain cake will do – I remember my grandma experimenting with sultana sponge, coconut cake, whatever she had left… in my opinion, the simpler the better!)
Leave in the fridge to set then…

2: Layer of custard (I used Bird’s instant custard, made with low-cal sweetener & skimmed). Leave in the fridge to set then…

3: Layer of sugar-free strawberry Angel Delight, whipped up with skimmed milk, topped with sugar sprinkles.

And it’s that easy; look at those layers!

I decorated the glasses with a little patterned tape from dotcomgiftshop; the glasses and sundae spoons are both from Ikea.

A small aside – nothing’s ever simple in my kitchen! I have inherited¬†incredibly bad custard making skills from my mum. Not the proper, egg yolk kind, no, just simple, bird’s instant, mix with milk and sugar and heat. As a child I remember my mum’s attempts at desserts being either thick, yellow blancmange, or pale, yellow milk. My attempts are never¬†much better:

Add to this 2 cats wanting to try some of everything – they were particular fans of licking the angel delight jug & spatula:

And the empty glasses!:

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 ūüôā 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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā I can’t deny the kitty her first sniff of proper summer weather, now can I…?

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 ūüėČ