How to: Utterly nutterly rolled sugar cookies

I was a busy baking bee last weekend. During a stressful period in 2012, I got a bit obsessed with the idea of rolled and iced sugar cookies even though I’d never tried to make them. My obsession was such that I spent a rather obscene amount on all the equipment- squeeze bottles, piping bag couplers, nozzles, cookie slats… the works. And I made cookies exactly once that year. These, to be preciseImage

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to make royal icing if you aren’t lucky enough to possess a stand mixer. I made this with an hand blender and while it looks okay, the icing really only stays shiny and brightly coloured for a day. After this, the cookies still look nice, but they lose their sheen and the colours mellow. I wouldn’t allow this to put me off using royal icing, I’ll just keep dreaming of the day that I become the proud owner of a stand mixer.

Anyway, enough yacking from me. This technique is adapted from Cookie Craft, which is an excellent book for anyone who wants to get into iced sugar cookies.

Makes approx. 40 small cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup nuts. I used pecans, but walnuts and almonds are reported to be lovely too.
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • If you use unsalted butter, 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2tsps vanilla

For the royal icing:

  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon powdered egg white (OR 4tsps meringue powder)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (or other) extract
  • A little warm water
  • Food colouring. Paste colour is best, but liquid works fine too. Just add slightly less water.

Special equipment

You can get by without any of this guff, but it’ll make life an awful lot easier if you plan to make cookies more than once.

  • Cookie slats- 1/4 inch thickness. I bought mine on-line, they can also be used to roll marzipan to a uniform thickness.
  • Baking parchment
  • Rolling pin.
  • Piping bag, preferably disposable with No. 2 piping tip and a piping bag coupler.
  • Squeeze bottles (optional)

Method

  1. Put the nuts on a baking tray and bake in an oven at 180C until fragrant and light brown, about 10 mins. Watch them- they burn very quickly. Allow to cool.                                                    IMAG0708
  2. Mix together flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the cooled nuts with 2-3 tablespoons of the flour and salt mixture until the nuts are finely ground. The texture should be similar to wet sand with no large pieces that could disrupt the smooth surface of your rolled cookie.Pulsed nuts
  4. Add the ground nuts to the flour and mix together well.
  5. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.Creamed butter and sugar
  6. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until well blended.
  7. Gradually add the flour and nut mixture until the two are thoroughly mixed.
  8. Divide into two or three portions and form each into a rough disc. I froze half of my mixture at this stage (well, maybe a third as I ate so much of the raw dough. It’s delicious).
  9. Place a piece of baking parchment the same size as your cookie sheet onto your surface. This means that you can cut the cookies out and then transfer the whole sheet onto a baking tray and bake. Place your cookie slats either side, rolling pin width apart.
  10. Put your cookie dough on the parchment.                 Lump of dough about to be rolled
  11. Put another sheet of parchment, the same size, on top of the dough. Gently flatten the dough with your palm so that it is evenly distributed across the paper. Roll with your rolling pin on top of both cookie slats until perfectly flat. You’ll feel when this happens because the pin will glide across the dough with very little effort. If the top sheet of paper wrinkles, lift and smooth it.Rolled dough under parchment
  12. Slide the dough and paper onto a cookie sheet and chill until firm, around half an hour. If necessary, repeat the rolling process with any remaining dough.
  13. Once the dough is firm and stiff, return it to your worktop. Peel back the top sheet of parchment and cut out your shapes. Make sure you leave around 1cm between each shape as they will rise slightly in the oven.Star cutters on dough
  14. Remove any excess dough with a small offset spatula.Cut out unbaked letters
  15. When you’ve got as many cookies as you can out of the dough, squidge up and re-roll using the same method. The beauty of rolling using this method rather than flouring your surface is that the dough never becomes dry and unworkable.
  16. Bake on the middle rack of an oven at 180C (160C fan) for 10-16 minutes, until the cookies are just turning golden at the edges. It’s better to bake one sheet of cookies at a time.
  17. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.                Baked letter cookies
  18. Now it’s time to make the icing. And yes, this is hassle. To ice sugar cookies, you need the icing at two consistencies- pipe and flood. The first is stiffer so that it holds all the lovely shiny flood icing in. Now, I just make up the piping icing, colour it and pop it into the bag and then add water to make it flood consistency. It’s entirely possible that this is part of the reason why my royal icing doesn’t stay nice for very long. But I’m going to keep doing it this way until someone tells me otherwise.
  19. Combine the sugar, powder, extract and 3 tablespoons of warm water in a small bowl. The bowl should be small, or your hand mixer won’t be able to mix it very effectively. If you have a stand mixer, use that.Flood icing uncoloured
  20. Beat for 10 minutes. It should be glossy, with a consistency similar to toothpaste. You can test this by pushing a small amount of the icing into a No.2 pastry tip with your little finger and practice some loopsSwirls showing piping consistency
  21. This rather blurry picture is supposed to show that the loops should stay distinct and not run together once your icing reaches piping consistency.
  22. Transfer about a quarter of the icing to a small bowl and immediately cover with clingfilm. Royal icing should always be kept either covered or in an airtight container.
  23. Return to the bulk of the icing.
  24. Add about a tablespoon more of warm water. Mix until blended, with the consistency of double cream.
  25. Pour into your squeeze bottles and colour. Get those tops on straight away! If you don’t have squeeze bottles, use small airtight containers.Pouring flood icing into squeeze bottle
  26. Return to your piping icing. Colour it and then transfer to a piping bag, ideally fitted with a No.2 tip and coupler. Use a twist tie to secure the top, and then put another one about 2 inches further up the bag for safety. I used black paste colouring and had to add loads- over a teaspoon- to get even close to black.Black piping icing
  27. Here are all my colours ready to go. I think that 3 colours with black piping looks very effective.All colours of icing ready
  28. Begin icing! For the piping, hold the bag at a 45 degree angle to the cookie and apply firm pressure. Hold the tip a few millimetres above the cookie. I tend to hold it slightly higher for straight lines, then closer to the cookie for intricate bits.Piping outline onto A
  29. It’s quickest if you work in an assembly line method- do all the piping first, then all the icing. A fun idea for a party might be to pipe all your cookies beforehand, then let your guests squeeze in the flood icing themselves. Royal icing is fine if left to stand in the airtight squeeze bottles for a few hours.All outlines completed
  30. Now for the flood. Get all Noah on those suckers.Piping pink flood into star
  31. Leave to dry (if you can wait) before eating. These transport really easily with parchment between each layer of cookies. I added a little extra bling to a few of mine while the flood icing was still wet.Iced coloured cookies

How to: Outrageously Oaty Honey Bread

This bread is bloomin’ lovely, packed with lovely oats and with a gorgeous honey flavour. So far, it’s stayed really nice for three days, with a moist and smooth texture. I’ve been having it just with butter for lunch and it’s making me very happy indeed.

This recipe makes 2 9×5″ loaves.

Sliced loaf

Ingredients

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1.5 cups oats (think I’ll increase to 2 cups next time I make this)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1(7g) sachet of dry active yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 4-6 cups strong flour (I used white but will experiment with wholemeal next time)
  • 1 cup mixed seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Mix the water, oats, honey, butter and salt and leave to soak for an hour.
  2. Put the yeast in the warm water and let stand for 10 minutesOat mix and yeast
  3. Pour the yeast mixture into the oat mixture. Add 2 cups of flour and mix well. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.                                                         Mixture
  4. Once the dough comes together and isn’t too sticky, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 20 minutes, until smooth and elastic. If the dough is still too sticky after about 6-7 cups of flour, just knead for the full amount of time while the dough is still in the bowl and it’ll still come out fine. Use a dough hook or bread machine if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  5. Near the end of the kneading process, add the seeds if desired.
  6. Put into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn so the dough is coated with oil and cover with a damp cloth. Leave in a warm place to prove for about 1.5 hours…                                                                               Before first prove
  7. …until doubled in size.                                                   After first prove
  8. If you haven’t already, add your seeds (I forgot) and work the dough lightly so they are fairly evenly distributed. Shape into loaves (or whatever shape you like), ensuring that your tins are buttered. I froze half of my dough at this stage, putting it in an oiled freezer bag inside a plastic container. I’ll update you soon on whether this works!Before second prove
  9. Cover and leave to prove again, until doubled in size. Around an hour. Preheat oven to 180C (fan 160)After second prove
  10. Bake for 25-35mins, until the top has browned and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If desired, brush the top with a little warm honey and add a sprinkling of oats. I didn’t bother.Baked loaf

UPDATE: The dough freezes very well. Leave it in the fridge overnight to defrost, then shape into a loaf and leave for the second prove. Leave it for about double the time you normally would, i.e. about two hours and then bake as above. I remembered the seeds this time and they add to the texture really nicely. I’ve been eating this for lunch with just butter. It stays lovely for about three days, then is better toasted after that.Loaf with seeds

 

How to: Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

Have you ever had a Cinnabon? If not, you haven’t lived. It’s the perfect combination of fluffy bread, cinnamon sugar and gooey, nutty sauce. A heart-attack on a plate and totally worth it. My version is no healthier, but at least you know what’s in them. These would make an incredibly decadent breakfast with a tall glass of milk and MUST be eaten warm.

Served

Yum. This recipe serves 6-10 people, and you can leave the unbaked rolls in the fridge overnight so that they can be popped in the oven in the morning.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Half a sachet (3.5g) active dry yeast
  • 2 and 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the filling

  • 4-6 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar (brown is better)
  • 1-2tbsp cinnamon

For the ooey gooey pecan sauce

  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Scald (i.e. heat to just below boiling point) milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan.Butter and milk warming
  2. Leave to cool until lukewarm/blood temperature. Sprinkle over your yeast and leave to stand for a minute.Yeast
  3. Add 2 cups of flour and stir until just combined. Cover with a damp tea-towel or clingfilm and leave somewhere warm for an hour to prove…                                                                               Dough before proofing
  4. …until roughly doubled in size.
  5. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Butter a 23cm round (or square) baking tin.
  6. In a saucepan, heat the butter, sugar and golden syrup until the sugar has dissolved. Topping cooking
  7. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle over the chopped pecans.Topping with pecans on top
  8. Back to the dough.                                                          Proofed with flour on top
  9. Add the remaining flour, salt, baking powder and soda. You’ll probably need to knead it in by hand as the dough becomes pretty firm.Proofed and with additional flour
  10. At this stage, you can leave to prove again in the fridge, punching down before rolling. Or you can just flour your surface and roll straight away. Into a large rectangle, about 40-50cm long.  Rolled out and pouring butter
  11. Pour or spread over your melted or softened butter. Sprinkle on the sugar, then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon.Rolled out and sprinkled
  12. Roll tightly from the long edge. Tuck the start of the roll as tight as possible and ensure that the roll stays tight all the way across.Half-rolled
  13. Seal the edge.                                                                   Log
  14. Cut into rounds about an inch long. The best way is to use a length of cotton or dental floss. Lay the end of the roll on top of the thread and then pull the two ends towards each other. It will cut perfect rounds like this.Log cross-section
  15. Lay your discs on top of the pecan goodness. Pack them in tightly. At this stage, you can cover with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. Otherwise, bake now. Either way, let them stand while your oven preheats to 180C (160C fan).Ready to bake
  16. Bake until the buns are golden, for about 30-40 mins.Baked
  17. Flip immediately (but very carefully, that sauce is hot!) onto a plate and serve warm.

How to: Salted caramel and chocolate tartlets

Salted caramel and chocolate tart is basically my favourite dessert. Like, ever. And I bloody love desserts. I’m totes a connoisseur. Anyway, this is my first attempt at this delicious treat. I decided to go for tartlets as I’m trying to avoid death by butter. These are pretty amazing, but I’m still searching for my perfect recipe. This will make one 20cm tart or ten 8cm tartlets.Image

Ingredients

For the sweet hazelnut pastry

  • 50g blanched hazelnuts
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 140g cold butter, diced
  • 1tbsp icing sugar

For the salted caramel

  • 75g caster sugar
  • 25g butter
  • 100ml double cream
  • large pinch sea salt flakes
  • 50g toasted blanched hazelnuts

For the chocolate filling

  • 100g 70% cocoa chocolate
  • 75g butter
  • 2 large eggs, plus one yolk
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder

Method

  1. For the pastry, whizz the hazels up in a food processor (or with hand blender) until finely ground.
  2. Add the flour, icing sugar and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you don’t have a processor, rub in by hand.Pastry breadcrumbs
  3. Add your egg yolk and 1-2tbsps cold water and mix until the dough comes together. Pastry ball
  4. Flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  5. Butter your tin or tins.
  6. Heat oven to 180C (fan 160C/gas 4). Flour your work surface and roll the chilled pastry out. Roll it thin, this helps it to be lovely and crispy. Pastry rolled
  7. Line your tin or tins, pressing any cracks in the pastry together. Trim the edges and prick the bases to help prevent the pastry from rising. You can also pop them in the freezer for a few minutes to help further.Pastry case before baking
  8. Line with (crumpled) baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 15-20mins, until the edges of the pastry are pale golden. Remove the baking beans and parchment and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the bottom of the pastry is dry and beginning to colour.Three baked cases
  9. While the cases are baking (or afterwards if you don’t want to take a risk with multitasking), make your caramel. Put the sugar in a small pan over a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of water. Use this amount even if you halve the recipe. Don’t stir very much.Sugar water in pan
  10. Once the sugar has dissolved, crank up the heat until the sugar becomes an amber coloured caramel. Don’t worry if the sugar re-hardens into white lumps before this happens- leave it on the heat and the caramel will form. Again, avoid stirring and DO NOT be tempted to touch the mixture, it will be unholily hot.                  Caramel sugar only
  11. Reduce the heat and add the butter, cream and golden syrup, and stir until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and add the salt. You can drop a little caramel onto a cold spoon so that you can taste for your desired level of saltiness. I added 2 large pinches.Caramel finished
  12. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then spread onto the pastry. Scatter with chopped hazelnuts.Three with nuts
  13. Now for the chocolate filling. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave, checking after 30 seconds. Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  14. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, egg yolk and sugar for about 6 minutes until thick and pale.Pale and fluffy eggs
  15. Fold in the chocolate and cocoa powder, then pour into your pastry case.Three with chocolate
  16. I popped a couple of these babies into the freezer at this stage as I’d made too many. I’ll let you know if they turn out to be a disaster.
  17. Bake for 15-25 minutes until the chocolate mixture has risen and set, forming a crust.Three baked
  18. Allow to cool before serving. With some double cream. Yum.

How to: Lemon Ricotta Cake

At this festive time, a little lemon can help cut through all the rich food of the season. I added ricotta to ensure that it wasn’t too virtuous. It is the season, after all. This cake is dense, with a texture quite similar to ricotta. It keeps well.Slice

Ingredients:

  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 lemons (ideally unwaxed)
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 250g ricotta
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 180C (fan 160C)
  2. Butter and flour a 20cm spring-form cake tin.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.       Creamed butter and sugar
  4. Beat in the lemon zest, yolks and ricotta. Add the juice of 2-3 lemons, to taste.
  5. Fold in the flour and baking powder.
  6. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold into the ricotta mixture.Batter
  7. Spoon into the tin. Bake for 20-50 minutes until risen, firm and golden. Cool for an hour in the tin.Baked

 

How to: Fabulous Chocolate Cake with Rich Chocolate Frosting

Last week was a three-cake week. Sunday was the birthday of my oldest friend who doesn’t like fruit or nuts in cake, which basically only leaves one option: chocolate. I’ve done a few chocolate cakes this year and am still searching for my perfect recipe and this might well be it. I’m no master at piping so don’t judge my slightly dodgy writing. I will improve in the year!Finished

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, plus a little extra for greasing
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

For the frosting:

  • 200g good dark chocolate
  • 250g salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • 50g white chocolate, to decorate

Method

  1. Grease and line two 20cm springform tins. I would only bother lining the bottom. Heat over to 180degrees.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Stir to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla.
  4. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. If using a mixer, leave it on slow. If using a spoon, add in about three installments, stirring between each addition. You’ll be left with a thick batter.Batter before coffee
  5. Add the coffee and stir just to combine.                     Finished batter
  6. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-45mins. You can see here that I lined the edges of the pans as well. I don’t recommend this. As you  may be able to see, the paper drifted into the batter. I didn’t notice until they were nearly baked, which nearly caused problems.In tins
  7. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
  8. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Break up the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
  9. With a hand blender, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  10. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for a further 3 minutes.
  11. Slowly add the icing sugar, then beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy.Frosting before choc
  12. Dissolve the coffee in 1-2teaspoons of hot water. Add the coffee and chocolate to the frosting. Blend until mixed, but don’t whip.Completed frosting
  13. Turn the first cake upside-down onto your serving dish and spread generously with frosting.Frosted first tier
  14. Pop the other cake on top, also, upside-down. Frost the top and sides.Chocolate frosting finished
  15. If desired, melt a small amount of white chocolate in a small sandwich bag (much cheaper and easier than a piping bag). I popped it in the microwave for a minute. Snip the tiniest corner off and pipe your message.Mini piping bag

How to: Christmas Pudding Cake Pops

I’ve been meaning to do cake pops for a while since becoming obsessed with Bakerella. I thought this would be a nice idea for the office Christmas party as well as a good way of using up the cake I had left in the freezer from these. This is how they turned out.Image

I think they look a little bit like they were made by a child, but I don’t think they’re bad for a first attempt and they were pretty straightforward to make, if time consuming.

Ingredients

  • Cooked cake. I used about ten brown sugar cupcakes.
  • Frosting. I used about 5tbsp of dulce de leche frosting.
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g white chocolate
  • Sprinkles.

This makes around 12 walnut sized cake pops. I wouldn’t go any bigger since they’re very sweet and rich. You’ll also need:

  • Paper lollipop sticks (available online)
  • Baking parchment

Method

  1. Start off by making your cake into fine crumbs. Since cupcakes have a lot of edges, I whizzed them up with my hand blender.Crumbs and frosting
  2. Start mixing tablespoons of frosting into the crumbs until it begins to form a thick paste. You want it to be quite dry so that it just holds together when rolled. If too wet, your cake pops will just slide off their sticks. Mine looked like thisMixture and first rolled ball
  3. Roll your mixture into balls, around the size of a walnut. Put onto a tray lined with baking parchment and freeze for 5-10 minutes to firm them up. Remove to the fridge after this time.         Cake balls
  4. Once the cake pops are in the fridge, melt your chocolate in a longish, narrow cylindrical container. I used a glass. The chocolate should be deep enough for you to dip the cake balls (hee hee) into the chocolate in one smooth motion. Melt in the microwave for around a minute, watching carefully.
  5. Remove a few balls at a time from the fridge. Dip the top centimetre of a lollipop stick into the chocolate, then insert no more than half way into the cake pop. Put back in the fridge straight away.About to insert stick
  6. Once you’ve got sticks into all of your cake balls and they’ve been in the fridge for a few minutes, you’re ready to dip. Check the consistency of the chocolate. If it’s getting a bit thick, add some butter or flavourless oil to thin it out slightly.
  7. Take your pop and dip it into the chocolate in one smooth motion. Do not twist. Remove immediately and tap on the edge of the container to remove some of the excess chocolate.                    Dipped
  8. Leave the pop to dry upright. Styrofoam is great for this but I didn’t have any, so I just poked some holes in some cardboard packaging and stuck them in that.
  9. Once your chocolate layer is dry (at least 10 minutes), you can start on the white chocolate dripping icing. Why are Christmas puddings often pictured with icing dripping off them? I’ve never eaten one like that. Anyway, break up the white chocolate into a different container and melt that as well.
  10. Take a scant teaspoon of white chocolate and drop it on top of the cake pop. Use a lollipop stick to guide the white chocolate as it drips down the cake pop so that it looks nice. If the dark chocolate starts to melt into it, don’t worry. You can always do another layer of white chocolate on top and it’ll look grand.                          Pud with just white icing
  11. Decorate with a few sprinkles and leave the chocolate to set completely.One pud

Once your chocolate is completely set, you can transport the pops easily in plastic containers, with sheets of baking parchment in between them for safety.                                                                                       Bitten

Merry Christmas!

How to: Marvellous Maple and Pecan Cake

I’ve had a bottle of proper maple syrup hanging around my cupboard for a while, and wanted to do it justice by making something impressive with it. My good crafty friend sent me a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery and I was inspired to make their maple and pecan layer cake.Image

It was absolutely delicious, even if I do say so myself! Do you like the golden pecans?

Ingredients

These ingredients will make a triple layer cake. I cut them by a third as I only made two layers. I also halved the frosting ingredients as recipes often make WAY too much. Half was a good amount for this cake.

  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 360g plain flour
  • 1.5 tbsp (this is NOT a typo) baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 360ml milk
  • 40ml maple syrup (be generous!)
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g pecans, chopped

For the frosting

  • 240g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 750g icing sugar
  • 60ml milk
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • pecan halves to decorate (12 is an easy number to space evenly)

Method

  1. Butter your 8″ (springform) cake tins. Preheat oven to 170degrees.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. You can use an electric mixer but I used a wooden spoon.
  3. In a separate container, mix the milk, maple syrup and eggs.
  4. Gradually pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
  5. Stir in the pecans
  6. Pour into your tin
  7. Batter in tin
  8. Bake for 15-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.Baked
  9. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. While the cakes are baking and cooling, get to work on that frosting.
  10. Ensure the butter is very soft- pop in the microwave for a few seconds if necessary
  11. Sift (or just put) the icing sugar into a bowl, add the butter and mix with an electric mixer until of sandy consistency
  12. Mix the milk and maple syrup and add to the icing sugar mixture gradually, mixing slowly all the while.
  13. Once incorporated, mix on high until soft and fluffy.
  14. Once the cakes are completely cold, start frosting! First sandwich the layers together with a couple of generous tablespoons of buttercream. Then get to work on the top and sides. It’s really hard to get this icing smooth (I also need to get a palette knife!) a good tip is to have a glass of boiling water and a clean tea towel on hand. Dip the blade to heat it up, then wipe it dry and this really helps with the smoothing.Spreading icing
  15. Once your cake looks better than this, decorate with the pecans. I sprayed mine gold first.Golden pecans

I love sparkly things. Soon, this…

Sliced

…will be this

Slice

Yum.

How to: Gorgeous egg white-only brownies

These brownies are really lovely, smooth with an almost crispy crust. Best of all, they are a great way to use up egg whites hanging around the freezer. Who likes meringue that much? If you’re going to use whole eggs, I think the yolks would add richness and you don’t need to alter the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2tsps butter and 1tbsp plain flour to coat the baking tray
  • 3/4cup unsalted butter (or use salted and halve the additional salt)
  • 175g 70% cocoa chocolate
  • 2tsps vanilla extract
  • 1tsp espresso powder/instant coffee
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 1 1/2cups caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 4 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 cup plain flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees C
  2. Lightly butter a 20x20cm (8x8inch) baking tray, ideally loose-bottomed. Sprinkle with the flour and shake to coat evenly.
  3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat
  4. Remove from heat, stir in chopped chocolate until melted, then add vanilla, coffee and salt
  5. Cool until lukewarm
  6. Meanwhile, mix the sugar and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add the egg whites and mix with a hand blender for around 4-5 minutes until the mixture is somewhat thickened. I found this quite hard to judge, but think the time was about right.
  7. Add the lukewarm buttery, chocolatey goo and incorporate.Image
  8. Add the flour and mix for another minute, until incorporated. Because there isn’t much flour in this batter, it’s important to beat the flour for this amount of time to activate the gluten and give the cake its structure.
  9. Don’t worry if the mixture seems incredibly thick, it’ll turn out okay.
  10. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.Image
  11. Turn the oven down to 170 and bake for 25-40 minutes (the low end only if your oven is nuclear powered like mine. Mine were in for 30mins and were a little overdone).
  12. Your brownies are done if….

…the top is shiny and cracked (it will rise up, but sink down again as it cools)

…the edges will be cracking and may begin to pull away from the edges of the pan

…there will be no jiggle in the centre if you shake the pan (but this should take place about 10mins before the brownies are fully cooked

…a skewer shows moist crumbs

13. Cool to room temperature, then cut into 16 delicious squares.

How to: Delectable dulce de leche cupcakes

I was introduced to the wonder of dulce de leche…. when was it? A few years ago, while travelling in South America. The specifics of time and location pale in comparison to my memory of my first experience of this sweet, creamy, melting caramel. Man, it’s delicious.

For the past year, I’ve been baking whenever someone on my training course celebrates their birthday. One of the ladies is a Columbiana, and so the question of what to make became blindingly obvious. Unfortunately, the recipe I based these on wildly underestimated the amount of icing sugar required to get piping consistency, so the presentation isn’t quite there. Fortunately, I have a second batch biding its time in my freezer, so hopefully I’ll have some more beautiful pictures to post in a few weeks.

You will need:

Cupcakes:

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup dulce de leche, plus more for drizzling (if making dulce de leche, you will need a tin of condensed -NOT evaporated- milk)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 6 cups icing sugar
  • A little rock salt, for sprinkling

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180deg C
  2. Line 2 12-hole muffin pans with paper liners
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy and pale brown (about 3 minutes).
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each addition.
  6. Beat in vanilla extract.
  7. Add half of the flour mixture to the egg and butter mixture.
  8. Slowly add the buttermilk. Beat until just incorporated.
  9. Add the rest of the dry ingredients. Beat until just incorporated.  Try not to over mix. The mixture will be very thick.
  10. Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake pans, filling each liner about two thirds full.
  11. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean.
  12. Let rest in the cupcake pans before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cupcakes must be completely cooled before frosting.

If you want to make your own dulce de leche, the easiest way is to boil unopened tins of condensed milk. Apparently there is a risk of the tins exploding, so you must ensure that they are completely submerged throughout. I boiled two tins for about three hours and ended up with this

Half an hour less would have been fine, but this was still more than usable and delicious. In some supermarkets, you can buy pre-boiled tins, which I would recommend. Saves time, gas and stress.

For the frosting:

  1. Beat cream cheese with a hand mixer for about 30 seconds, until very soft and pliable
  2. Add the butter and dulce de leche.  Beat until well incorporated.
  3. Add the salt and icing sugar. Beat for about 3 minutes, until fluffy and lighter in color. I would start with 3 cups and keep adding half a cup at a time until frosting is piping consistency.
  4. Generously spoon frosting on top of cupcakes, or use a large frosting tip to pipe on frosting. I think it would be a good idea to marble some dulce de leche into the piping bag with the frosting like so. Mine didn’t quite work as I ran out of icing sugar before my frosting was ready.
  5. Alternarively, heat a few spoonfuls of dulce de leche of a low flame until just pourable. Drizzled over the cupcakes.
  6. Add a few sprinkles of fine sea salt