Monday, 18 September 2017

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

This is another weding cake post, only this time a bit more stealthy. No process photos here, as I was also makeing quiche and a loaf of bread, so everything was rather busy!

The plan is to have a tower of cupcakes of various flavours, and one I'd like to do is carrot cake. Everyone likes it (well, nearly everyone), and it's a bit unusual to be served as a cupcake.

The base recipe was this one, which is a slight variety of a Delia Smith recipe. I did a couple of minor tweaks (reduced cooking temperature to 160'C, and cooking time to 20 minutes). I put ~75g of mixture into each case, and I think this was too much, as the cake rose too high...ideally I want the edge of the cake to sit just below the case rim, as this makes icing easier. Adding the syrup to the cakes when they came out was not great, as it tended to soak into the case. The end result was there was not quite enough citrus flavour to the cakes, so next time I will add extra zest to the cake mixture, and maybe soak the sultanas in orange juice (rather than risk making the mixture too wet).

So, changes for next time;
1) ~60g per cupcake case
2) Double amount of zest from 1 orange to 2 oranges
3) Briefly soak the sultanas in the juice of an orange

Which brings me to cream-cheese icing. I did a fair bit of research into this, as I wanted something pipeable. Whenever I've made it previously it's come out quite runny, and while nice and tasty, the texture was not right. Apparently the problem is a combination of many things;
1) Sugar in cream cheese breaks it down
2) Any liquid makes it runny
3) Overmixing the cream cheese breaks it down.

I found lots of potential fixes...only use Philapelphia full-fat (as it's thicker, and less watery). Use some butter to add thickness. A few people had the interesting, and quite sensible theory of beating butter and icing sugar together, then folding in the cream cheese, and it's this that I went with, and it worked really, really well!

Recipe was;
100g soft butter (room temperature)
200g icing sugar
300g full-fat cream cheese (Philadelphia)

1) Put the butter and icing sugar in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment

2) Beat hard for several minutes, until very soft and light. You may need to scrape the sides down a couple of times. You are aiming for a mixture that is about the same consistency as the cream cheese. DO NOT ADD ANY LIQUID TO SOFTEN IT

3) Add the cream cheese to the bowl and fold/mix very slowly until evently combined. My stand mixer has a fold setting, and this worked perfectly.

4) Trasnfer to a piping bag with a semi-closed star nozzle

I then sprinkled a little cinnamon powder over each cake to finish.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Wedding Cake V1

Ok, I don't want to go into too much detail on the recipe here, as I think this is far more about logistics!

I have chellenged myself to do a wedding cake for 100-120 people, next October. I've been scouring the internet for inspiration, as well as looking at my own catalogue. My current plan is to do a cupcake stack/tower with 3-4 different flavours, and then top it off with an 8 inch/20cm cake which is done in a half-and-half style. I'll then do a (very) small tier on it to act as a cake topper. The entire thing will be decorated in chocolate-dipped strawberries.

The main body of the cake will be composed of thin cake layers, as I used in my jaffa torte and dobos torte. I made 8 layers, using;
  • 6 eggs
  • 240g caster sugar
This was then split in half, and half had 120g self-raising flour folded in, and half had 95g of flour and 25g of cocoa powder folded in. This made 4 layers at 20-21cm, each with ~100g of mixture spooned on. Each layer was baked for 6 minutes, then turned out to cool. Each layer was trimmed to 20cm using a large cutter, and then cut in half to give me 8 semi-circles of each flavour.

The primary filling is meringue buttercream. Again, 2 flavours, using a common base.I used 5 egg whites (I used liquid egg whites in a carton, so save a lot of egg yolk wastage...175g equates to 5 egg whites), with 250g of icing sugar and a rather terrifying 550g of room temperature butter! This was then split, and one half had some vanilla extract added, while the other had 120g of melted 50% chocolate folded in.

Finally, I also had some strawberry jam (shop bought, but I'll be making my own) , and some chocolate ganache (100g of 50% cocoa chocolate, and 120g of double cream)

Assembly was...interesting. Building up a half-and-half cake involved a lot of mess. The basic principle was to place semi-circles down on the cake drum, then add a couple of teaspoons of the relevant flavoured icing, before carefully spreading, and adding the next layer. Alternate layers also had jam/ganache added.

Keeping it straight was challenging, and keeping the join in the middle clean was also tricky. Careful use of a palette knife is required. I rushed a bit, and didn't chill everythig down enough. Ideally I would chill afer assembly but before adding the crumb-block layer on the outside, and it should then be chilled again before final decoration.

Final decoration will involve covering with rolled fondant on the vanilla/strawberry side, and smoothing the chocolate buttercream meringue down, and then dripping chocolate ganache over it.In this case that didn't happen, as I had instead some not-very-good chocolate rolled fondant which needed hiding, so it got fully ganached!

For the vanilla side I want to do some additional piped docoration, though not entirely sure what just yet. I've seen a sort of dimpled/upholstered look I like, or some (neat) piping...something I'm not quite there on yet. I'll then pile on chocolate-dipped strawberries (white and dark chocolate, to keep the split theme).

I was fairly happy with the first attempt...while it's a fairly complex build, I can chop some corners by making a single batter and icing base, and then splitting it. The fondant I can make ahead of time (or buy), and drippy style just looks decadent. The taste-testing went well too, with a pretty even split of preference. I suspect my colleagues are just happy to be guinea pigs!

Fondant / Supgarpaste Icing

Been fairly quiet for a while...a combination of summer busyness, and a slight accident involving a broken wrist, which puts a damper on baking. I've been of cast for a week now, and looking to sort myself out.

One thing that has come up is that I'll be baking my own wedding cake next year, so there will need to be a focus on getting some presentation-skills. I have an outline plan (basically a cupcake tower, with an 8-10" topper cake), and first goal will be getting some basic presentation style stuff going.

One of the classic items is rolled fondant/sugarpaste. It's an ingredient that allows you to create very clean looking cakes. most people buy it (and in all lightlihood I will too), however to make it there are basically 2 methods;
1) Properly, using ingredients such as liquid glucose, gelatin and glycerine
2) Using melted marshmellows as a base

I decided to try both, and I also wanted to see how they coped with chocolate, as I plan to do a half-and-half cake, with one side "traditional" white, and the other half chocolate. I started with the marshmallow recipe, as that was supposed to be easier. It;s certainly less ingredients!

Marshmallow Fondant Icing (aka MMF)


Chocolate Version

  • 150g mini white marshmallows
  • 175g sieved icing ugar
  • 25g sieved cocoa
1) Place the marshmallows in a large heatproof bowl

2) Place in the microwave for 10 seconds, then stir. Note, this will become the stickiest stuff you've ever seen, so have a second spoon ready for scraping!

3) Repeat this until the marshmallows melt (it took 3-4 bursts for me).

4) Start adding and mixing in the icing sugar (and cocoa, if doing chocolate)
OK, that sounds easy, but this stuff is incredibly adhesive. It will stick to the bowl, the spoon, your hands...everything. It's also incredibly elastic and spongy, and it's actually quite hard to incorporate the sugar. I ended up hand kneeding it after a certain's a bit like kneading cool napalm, as it really does stick to everything.

The end result was...OK...I suppose. I found it quite hard to work with, as the spongy and elastic nature meant that rolling it was hard, and it tended to re-gather into a thicker substrate. The mouthfeel was not quite right's chewy. On the plus cide the chocolate version came out well, very similar in texture to the plain version.

"Proper" Sugarpaste (aka Rolled Fondant)


Chocolate Version

  • Substitute 40g of icing sugar for cocoa
  • 20g "Trex" solid vegetable fat (if you've ever seen an American recipe call for "Shortening", thats what this is)
1) Put the water and gelatin in a small heatproof bowl, and allow the gelatin to soak for 5 minutes, until it is spongy

2) Place the bowl over a simmering water bath (I used a sausepan, with a small tray over it),and stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved/melted

3) Add in the liquid glucose, glycerin and vanilla essence

3a) If doing the chocolate version, also add the Trex and allow to melt

4) Continue to heat and stir until smooth and runny

5) Sieve the sugar (and cocoa if using) intoa large heatproof bowl

6) Form a well in the middle of the sugar

7) Pour the liquid into the well and start to stir/incorporate the sugar into the liquid

8) Knead on a silicone matt until smooth

So while this is more complex, I found it a lot easier than the MMF version, as it had a much better consistency, without the elasticity of MMF. That said, the chocolate version didn't work well (I used more cocoa first time) came out stiff, brittle and non-compliant.

All of these can be stored wrapped in clingfilm.

So, based on these initial exporations, I think I'll be making my own fondnt using the traditional method, but only for the vanilla/white stuff. You can buy ready-made chocolate icing, and logisitcally that will save me a lot of time, and possibly even money.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Hydroponics - A New Project

I'm currently in the preparation and exploration phase of a new project. This one's been in the back of my mind for a while now, however a trip to Ikea last week finally got me off the ground.

The principle is simple...home-grown strawberries. In theory this should be simple...I have a garden, and a degree (of sorts) in Biology. The downside is that I'm terrible at gardening (especially the dull, weeding and maintainence stuff), our garden is not great for growing stuff, and I haven't used my degree for a couple of decades! Most strawberries you buy are not actually grown in the ground, instead using the funky sounding, but really rather simple concept of hydroponics.

Hydroponics - growing stuff without soil. The plant instead grows in an inorganic medium, and is supplied with a nutriet mixture (i.e fertiliser and water). The sterile growing medium stops issues with disease and slugs, and in theory it's all rather low maintainence. Ikea seem to think it's for everyone, and have started marketing a simple, indoor hydroponics kit for general use.

I've bought a couple of these sets, and while the final goal is a rotating crop of strawberry plants, I'm starting with something a little simpler to check the gear, and also see how good I am at killing stuff. At one week in, it's looking OK.

The kit I have is composed of;
1) A nursery - this is where seeds are initially placed, onto stone wool plugs which are then suspended in a reservoir of tap water. No fertiliser is needed initially, as seeds contain everything the plant initially needs

2) Cultivation units - I have 2 of these, with 8 spaces in each. once the seedlings are ~6 days old, with a couple of leaves showing, they are transferred here, still in the stone wool plug, and embedded in ground pumice, which is the long term growing medium. The pumice is again suspended in a water reservoir, however now fertiliser is added to support the plants as they grow.

3) Grow Lights - these are LED full spectrum lights that replace the sun for the plants. This means that they can be grown anywhere indoors, and can also be provided with light 24 hours a day, speeding up growth. These lights are bright...very bright. I have them in my office, and I've constructed some light baffles around them on a shelf, giving them plenty of space, but not lighting up the house at night.

Ikea provide good notes and documents, as well as all the extras you need (fertiliser, growing mediums, suitable seeds), and for the initial run-through I'm following their notes closely. I currently have 8 White cabbage plants and 8 Pak Choi sitting in the cultivators, about 1 week into their life. It's all been reasonably painless, and apart from pumice going everywhere it's been a clean process. I have no doubt strawberries will provide different challenges, however I have some time before that second phase kicks off, as plants will not normally be available for sale until autumn or winter.

Chocolate Cupcakes

Sometimes you just want something simple. I think pretty much everyone starts with cupcakes, and if all else fails you probably have everything you need to make some right now!

What I'm pretty bad at is decorating the blighters...I prefer contrast colour, and for these I didn't have anything light to hand. I ended up using horrible, horrible silver balls, and then I had a brainwave, and remembered some fudge sweets we had, sliced them up and used them...much better!

My key suggestions for good cupcakes;
1) Bake 'em at a low'ish temperature, it stops them "peaking"
2) Use a muffin tin and muffin cases. The shallower bun tins are too miserly
3) Weigh the cake mixture into the's a bit of a faff, but you end up with everything perfectly sized
4) Really, really let the cakes cool before icing them
5) Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature...if nothing else it makes mixing a lot easier

Chocolate Cupcakes - Recipe

  • Pre-heat oven to 150'C
  • Check you have a 12-hole muffin tin, and 12 muffin cases

Sponge Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 175g butter (room temperature)
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder

1) Place the butter, eggs and sugar in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment

2) Mix hard until as smooth as possible

3) Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix until smooth and combined

4) Spoon 45g of the mixture into each muffin case. You may have some left, however  Ifind this amount is just right for a good sized cupcake in a muffin wrapper

5) Bake for 20 minutes. This should be just right to bake the cake, have a decent dome without "peaking", and to fill the muffin case fully

6) Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. While they are cooling, make the buttercream

Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients

  • 150g butter (room temperature)
  • 270g icing sugar
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • Milk
1) Place the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment

2) Sieve in the icing sugar and cocoa powder into the bowl

3) Mix (starting slowly, unless you like cleaning) until smooth

4) Add a splash or two of milk, to soften and smooth the mixture more. You can keep mixing it to make it lighter and lighter.

5) Transfer the icing to a piping bag with a large, semi-closed star nozzle attached

6) Pipe a generous swirl onto each cupcake (you can practice onto a plate, an then scrape it back into the bag). You know you have the texture right when it finishes into a smooth point, rather than tearing.

7) Decorate with something in a constrast colour

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Hazelnut Paris-Brest

I've tried this before, but as a single large item. This had all sorts of issue, and it sort of collasped under it's own weight. This time I did individual ones, using a slightly more tested choux recipe. For the filling I decided to ressurect the hazelnut butercream I made a while ago for some slightly lacklustre macarons.

This was all a little rushed, so the choux was not the prettiest, though I did enough notes and photos to do a "Choux Basics" post. I made 17 buns, though in retrospect I should have made 12 or 15 slightly larger ones, as that was all the filling I had. I personally think that they needed an additional filling to add some more creaminess (I'm thinking creme patisserie, or perhaps mix the hazelnut butter into a creme pat...), though taste feedback said they were good as they were.

Paris-Brest - Recipe

Choux Pastry

I made a batch of Choux Pastry, piping it into 7-8cm rings on silicone mats.

These were then carefully brushed with egg yolk, and a scattering of flaked almonds added on top before being baked in the oven. They were baked for 25 minutes, then left to cool in the oven to dry them out, before completing cooling on a wire rack.

Hazelnut Buttercream Ingredients

  • 200g hazelnuts
  • 140g butter (room temperature)
  • 140g icing sugar
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • Milk
1) Place the hazelnuts in a food processor with the blade attachment

2) Blend the hazelnuts until they form a smooth, butter-like mixture. This will tkae a while, and you'll need to scrape the sides down a few times

3) Transfer the hazelnut butter to a stand mizer with the paddle attachment

4) Add in the butter, and sieve in the icing sugar and cocoa powder

5) Mix until a smooth, light texture is achieved. You may need to add a small amount of milk to get a good piping texture.

6) Transfer the icing to a piping bag with a semi-closed star nozzle attached


1) Slice the choux buns in half

2) Pipe the icing onto half of the bun

3) Place the other half of the bun back on top

4) (optional) sprinkle with a little icing sugar