Friday, 24 March 2017

Dissecting a Bake Sale

We don't do them that often, as they are a huge logistical undertaking, however yesterday we did a Bake Sale at work for Red Nose Day. When we do bake sales, I go a bit overboard, and do a lot. This time, I did just shy of 160 portions, and was just on sweets, while the rest of the Bake Club covered savouries and other items.

My full list of items was;
Strawberry Cupcakes - I've never posted the recipe up for these, because cupcakes. A basic 3-egg sponge, buttercream icing, jam inside, and a shortbread tweel to decorate

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes - always popular. I did these gluten-free
Banoffee Cupcakes
Cherry and Chocolate Flapjack - not quite this recipe...I simplified it by doing just butter (no eggs or banana), no almond (so an extra 100g of oats), and no fructose sugar.
Chocolate Fudge - a new addition to the bake sale selection, with no caffeine, and rather than cocoa powder I stir in 150g of dark chocolate
Apple and Sultana Danish Pastries - Actually really happy with how these came out, best batch I've done!
Raspberry Tartlets - it's been ages since I've done these, and wanted to do something a bit different to normal bake-sale fare...
Coffee and Walnut Tart - I did a super-big version of this in a 30cm tart tin, with correspondingly super-sized batches (375g of flour for the pastry, and 200g of walnut in the frangipane). I then poshed it up with a bit of marbling effect in the chocolate
Millionaires Shortbread - I also marbe-effected the top with white chocolate
Apple and Cinnamon Loaf Cake - another gluten-free option, and I did it in a 2lb loaf tin so it could be sliced into generous chunks
Orange and Carrot Cake - the final gluten-free option, this was again done in a 2lb loaf tin, and sliced into chunks.
Chocolate and Caramel Drippy Cake - the showstopper! I've learnt a lot from the first attempt, and doing the miniature ones as well. The sponge was pretty basic (two 23cm cakes in simple vanilla), but I got the buttercream on a lot better, with good clean sides. The ganache went on well, and then I decorated the top with strawberries, cream and shortbread. Very happy with it.

So, that's the baking all went down very well! What I thought would be an interesting project would be costing up the ingredients for everything (and this is all based on Waitrose pricing, everything could be bought cheaper elsewhere, however I'm very lazy, and Waitrose is closest), breaking it down to "per unit" pricing, and then working out how much each batch made in profit. I then added a fairly subjective rating on complexity and popularity. The reason I don't do time is that various things were batched up (for example ganaches were done together, meringues were done together, some items were in the oven together. My big limiter on time is the availability of the oven, and also how long I spend washing up bowls!)

So, in terms of profit per bake, the show-stopper cake just wins, followed by the Coffee and Walnut Tart (notably, these had the biggest portion sizes, and were sold for £2 each). The gluten-free loaf cakes were the least popular (I think the GF moniker puts anyone NOT gluten-free of coeliac off).

If you were looking for profit vs time, then Millionaires Shortbread and Fudge are the way to go (the shortbread sold out incredibly quickly). Also, while it's not on this list, we had 3 different batches of Lemon Drizzle, and it all went...people were actively looking for it. Chocolate brownies also went quickly (even when we discovered we had missed a batch at 3pm, they quickly re-sold out).The classics are incredibly popular! Another thing that went quickly were the savouries...sausage rolls first (stilton and walnut), then quiche (Lorraine, and Mushroom), and "Pizza" Pinwheels.

Things we thought would sell faster than they did were the danish pastries...I've done these previously and they vanished. This time they were slow...maybe pain au chocolat would be better?

All in all a good experience, and we've raised over £350 for Comic Relief (which will be paid in today, and then we'll get Gift Aid added on top of that).
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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cheese-free Quiche

No real reason for the lack of cheese (or cream) other than the fact that I was using up stuff in the house, and cheese and cream were not in the fridge.

This really was a bit of a "throw it in" recipe... I'm doing a big baking session next week for a bake sale, so wanted to clear out anything old and make some space. Tomatoes, bacon, a handful of mushrooms? Yeah, slap them in! That's the beauty of quiche...most things will work. I could probably call this a "low fat" quiche, however I don't want to try and convince anyone it's healthy!

It's good to know that  you can do the quiche filling without's slightly lighter, and I noticed it didn't brown quite as quickly (I'm always slightly nervous about a runny quiche!)

Cheese-Free Quiche - Recipe

Shortcrust Pastry

I did a batch of my basic shortcrust pastry, and then used it to line a 23cm deep flan tin. This was blind-baked for 12 minutes, then another 7-8 minutes to dry out the base. While you are blind-baking the case, you can prepare the fillings

Filling Ingredients

  • 100g smoked back bacon
  • 3-4 large button mushrooms
  • Half an onion
  • 1tbsp sunflower oil
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 large eggs
  • 300ml full fat milk
1)  Cut the bacon into thin strips

2) Put the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat

3) Put the bacon in the frying pan, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly

4) Slice the onion, and add to the pan. Cook for another 3-4 minutes

5) Slice the mushrooms, and add to the pan. Cook for another 3-4 minutes

 6) Leave the pan to cool

7) Slice the tomatoes into slices about 5-7mm thick

8) Put the milk and eggs into a large jug, and whisk together


1) Turn the oven to 160'C

2) Put a layer of tomato slices over the bottom of the blind-baked pastry case

3) Empty the cooled contents of the frying pan over the tomato layer, and spread out evenly

4) Place the remaining tomato slices  decoratively over the top of the filling

5) Carefully pour the egg mixture into the pastry case until it has almost reached the top

6) Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the edges of the egg mixture has turned slightly golden, and the centre is set

7) Remove to a wire rack to cool completely

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Monday, 13 March 2017

Chicken and Bacon Plate Pies

I was digging around for something to eat in the freezer, and I found some chicken thighs, and a pack of bacon I'd forgotten about (probably where it was a Buy-One-Get-One-Free thing, and I thought "I'll freeze the spare"). I thought that I had all the makings of a decent pie right there, so got them out to defrost.

I had to decide between a hot-water crust pie, or a puff pastry one. The puff pastry won, as I think my default pie is hot-water crust. I duely made up a batch of rough-puff (which I then realised I could do as a "Basics" post), and cooked off the chicken and bacon while whipping up a basic white sauce to go with it. I was able to do 2 pies on pie plates (possibly the simplest and yet best ways of making a pie), and start to finish was under 2 hours, even with a bit of faffing doing decoration. I even turned the leftover trimmings of the pastry into some simple palmier biscuits (though after being re-rolled a few times, they were more shortcrust that laminated).

The rough-puff I do is remarkably forgiving, and can be ready to use in under 20 minutes. The only real prep (assuming you keep lard and butter in the fridge) is to have some water in the fridge, and have a lot of flour ready to cover your surface.

This recipe makes 2 plate pies...which is handy, as it's delicious hot or cold, so you can demolish one immediately, and save the other for lunch the next day.

Chicken and Ham Plate Pies - Recipe

Rough Puff Pastry

Make 1 batch of fast rough-puff pastry. While it's chilling, you can make the filling

 Filling - Ingredients

  • 4 boned chicken thigh fillets
  • 150g smoked back bacon
  • 1tbsp sunflower oil
  • 35g butter
  • 35g plain flour
  • ~1 pint of milk
  • 1tbsp dried parsley
1) Place the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat

2) Chop the bacon into strips, and place in the saucepan.

3) Chop the chicken thighs into chunks, and once the bacon has browned off add to the pan, stirring to coat in the oil and bacon fat.

4) Place a lid on the pan and reduce to a medium heat

5) In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat.

6) Once the butter has melted, stir in the flour to form a dry-ish paste. Allow this to cook for a minute or two.

7) Slowly add the milk, and whisk hard. Making a white sauce is an exercise in patience and elbow want to add milk, then whisk until the consistency of the sauce is smooth...any lumps need to be removed, or they will stay as you add more milk. You also don't want to let it boil, so keep whisking!

8) Once you have the sauce at a thick, smooth consistency and texture, add the parsley and continue to whisk.

9) Once you're happy with the consistency, remove it from the heat.

10) Check the meats are cooked, and remove them from the heat.

11) Stir the white sauce into the meat. You may not need all of it (but be generous! No one likes a dry pie!)

12) Transfer the filling to a bowl and leave to cool. If you want it cooled quicker, spread it out on a baking sheet.

Assembly - Ingredients

  • Small bit of lard
  • 1 egg (beaten)

1) Lightly grease 2 pie plates with the lard

2) Chop the block of pastry in half, and roll out into a rectangle large enough to cover both plates

3) Chop the rolled rectangle in half, and line each plate with the pastry.

4) Put half the filling into each pie, filling the depression in each plate. Be generous!

5) Take the other half of the pastry and roll out to a rectangle the same size as the first half.

6) Brush the rim of each lined plate with a bit of beaten egg

7) Place the second layer of pastry on top of the first, sealing in the filling.

8) Using a sharp knife, trim all the excess pastry off the plates

9) Crimp the edges using your fingers and thumb to form a series of peaks around the edge.

10) Reroll the trimmings, and cut some decorations (I always do leaves...very traditional)

11) Brush the top of the pies with the beaten egg.

12) Stick your decorations on to, then brush them with beaten egg as well.

13) Place in the oven for 30 minutes. You should be able to fit both pies on a single level.

14) Remove from the oven, and either eat immediately, or leave to cool (or there are 2, do both!)
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Fast Rough Puff Pastry

This is my bullet-proof rough puff pastry. I can't even remember where I originally found the recipe, but it's my go-to whenever I need to do laminations. So long as you're a bit canny, you can get away without the repeated chillings you normally need, and from start to finish be ready to go in 20 minutes.

One down side is that it is're working with a soft, buttery half-formed dough to start with, and you need copious amounts of flour on your surface and rolling pin, until the dough forms. I tend to work on a silicone mat, and then all the mess is in one place, making it a bit simpler to tidy up afterwards. I've used this recipe for all sorts of things;
Apple Tart
In fact, I'd always recommend making too much, and you're bound to find something else to use it for. It doesn't take any longer to make, and if you can get 2 or 3 items out of one batch all the better. This recipe makes enough for 2 x 21cm plate pies (top and bottom), to give you an idea...

Rough-Puff Pastry - Recipe


  • 200g plain flour (plus a copious supply for sprinkling)
  • 200g strong white flour
  • ½tsp salt
  • 100g chilled butter
  • 100g chilled lard
  • 50-100ml chilled water
 1) Place the flours and salt in a large, cold bowl

2) Chop the butter and lard into 1cm cubes

3) Add the fats to the flour, and ensure each of the chunks are separated and coated in flour in the bowl

4) Start to add the water while carefully mixing the flour with your finger're looking to form a rough dough around the lumps of fat. It is a bit of a messy process, however try and add as little water as possible, just enough to incorporate the flour into the dough

5) Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface. Sprinkle some additional flour on top. for the next few steps you want to make sure the dough has no opportunity to stick to the work surface.

6) Roll the dough into a rectangle about 35cm wide and 20cm should be about 1½cm thick

7) Brush any excess flour off the top, then fold it into thirds, leaving you a brick-shaped block of dough about 10-15cm x 20cm

8) Rotate the block 90', and repeat the rolling/folding 5-6 more times. Remember to keep the rolling pin and surface floured, and just brush the top off before you fold. As you do the folds and rolls, it should begin to form a more recognisable dough and become smoother. You should also be able to see the large, flattened discs of fat within the dough

9) Wrap the dough in clingfilm, and place it in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes (or 10 minutes in the freezer). If you roll it slightly thinner before wrapping it, it should chill faster.

10) To use, roll to about 3mm thickness, and bake at 190'C for about 30 minutes. 

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Monday, 6 March 2017

Mini Drippy Cakes

After doing the large attempt at a drippy cake earlier in the week, I thought doing a batch of small ones would give me good practice with the decorating technique... In retrospect this was a good, and a bad idea. I did indeed get loads of practice doing the decorating, but it took AGES, and was really fiddly. I do now feel more confident doing the decorating methods, however I won't be doing small ones again.

So, what did I learn? Well, chilling cakes is vital, and double-layering the icing is also good (a thin first layer to "seal" the cake, then a thicker one after it's chilled). You also need a good tool to get a sharp edge, I used a freezer ice-scraper, though I should probably get something a bit more official. I did caramel icing again, but this time used bought caramel sauce/dulce de leche. I should probably make this (it's simmered condensed milk, sometimes made by boiling the tin, though I think with ring-pull tins they will probably explode!)

I made the ganache a bit thinner this time, and also a bit warmer when I put it on, so it ran a little easier. It could still have been more fluid, as it sets very quickly on a chilled cake. Finally, I did a decoration...fundamentally made of what I had in the house (strawberries and spare cream).

Mini-Drippy Cakes - Recipe

  • Pre-heat oven to 150'C

Sponge Ingredients

  • 170g self-raising flour
  • 170g butter
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½tsp vanilla essence
1) Place all the ingredients in a stand mixer and mix until smooth

2) Place 45-50g of the mixture into each hole of a 12-hole mini-sandwich tin

3) Bake in the oven for 20 minutes

4) Remove to a wire rack to cool

5) Once cooled, place the cakes back in the tin and using the top of the tin as a guide, use a sharp knife to level the tops

6) Find an object about half the height of the cakes, and use this as a template to cut all the cakes in half horizontally.

7) Chill in the fridge

Caramel Buttercream Ingredients 

  • 220g softened butter
  • 70g egg whites (approx 2 large egg whites)
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 3-4tsp dulce de leche
1) Place the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat until very soft (you'll need to scrape the sides down a couple of times)

2) Place the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl

3) Place over a bain-marie, and whisk until firm peaks are formed (7-8 minutes)

4) Leave to cool

5) Beat the cooled meringue into the softened butter

6) Add the dulce de leche, and beat until combined


You'll want some small (3 inch diameter) cake boards. I bought a job lot from eBay.  non-slip decorating turntable is also very useful.

1) Stick the lower half of the cake onto the cake board with a small amount of icing

2) Put a dollop on top, then press the top down until it's level.

3) Using a small palette knife, add some buttercream round the sides

4) Using a scraper, evenly cover the sides, removing any excess.

5) Repeat for the top of the cake. Do all 12 cakes

6) Chill in the fridge until the icing is firm.

7) Repeat the icing for all the cakes, but leave more icing on the sides. It should settle easier this time, as you're applying to a smooth  surface.

8) Place back in the fridge to chill

Ganache Ingredients

  •  90g dark (50%) chocolate
  • 120g double cream
1) Finely chop the chocolate, and place in a heatproof bowl with the cream

2) Microwave for 20 seconds, then stir thoroughly

3) Microwave for 10 seconds at a time, then stir thoroughly until you have a smooth, fluid ganache.

4) Take a chilled cake, and carefully add ganache so that it drips down the side (I found using the edge of a teaspoon to encourage it worked well). Move round the cake forming drips at regular intervals

5) Using a small palette knife, cover and smooth the top.

6) Repeat for all cakes...I re-heated the ganache every now and then with 5 seconds in the microwave, to keep it runny.


  • 6 large strawberries
  • 100ml double cream
1) Whisk the double-cream until it forms peaks. Place in a piping bag with a small star nozzle

2) Shop the strawberries into wedges

3) place a couple of wedges on each cake, then pipe a cream rosette. Balance a third wedge against the cream to add height.
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Friday, 3 March 2017

Vanilla, Chocolate and Caramel Drippy Cake - Attempt 1

A bit of a change of tact for me. I normally focus on the technical part of baking, and sort of leave the decorating side for those more artistic...however, we are planning a bake sale for Comic Relief in March, and I thought that a big posh cake might be in order, so I thought I'd have a go at the "on tred" drippy cake style.

I did a bit of reading up on it while I was waiting for my motorbike to be MOT'ed (it failed...for a £30 part that the garage didn't have in stock), and tried it that night. The elements were;
  1. Chocolate and Vanilla sponge (to produce alternate layers)
  2. Caramel meringue buttercream
  3. Dark chocolate ganache
I think I made a few mistakes, that resulted in a rather wobbly looking cake. I'll do this again, and try to correct it.
  1. The caramel for the icing was too thick, and formed some lumps when mixing in. More cream is required.
  2. I put too much icing in-between the cake layers (I was attempting to use it to straighten it, so probably better cutting skills are needed), which allowed it to move too much.
  3. As the cake was moving and swaying, and the icing had lumps, I didn't get a smooth finish, vertical finish. I think I could use a square tool to get a cleaner finish.
  4. I went for tall and narrow (12cm cake tin, and 4 layers). Probably over-confident for a first attempt, a wider/lower cake would be more stable and suitable.
  5. The ganache was a little too thick when I added it...slightly warmer, or slightly more cream to loosen it up. 

On the last point, I was surprised at how quickly the ganache set onto the chilled cake. Whenever I've tried a "drippy" look before, it has ended up as a pool around the bottom.To get the smooth look, it will need to go on warmer, which seems a slight contradiction to normal cake decorating. One other thing that is missing is the "height" decoration on top of the cake...I'll work on this for next time.

One huge success here was the fast method of making the ganache...I just used a microwave, and it came out fine.

Vanilla, Chocolate and Caramel Drippy Cake - Recipe

  • Pre-heat oven to 150'C
  • Lightly grease 2 12cm cake tins

Sponge Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 240g butter
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
1) Place the eggs, butter, sugar and 200g of the flour in a stand mixer bowl with the paddle attachment

2) Beat to a smooth mixture

3) Remove half of the mixture to a separate bowl (done by always helps to know the weight of your mixing bowls!)

4) Add the remaining 20g of flour to the half remaining in the stand mixer bowl, along with the vanilla essence, and mix in.

5) Add the cocoa powder to the mixture in the other bowl, and again mix in.

6) Place the mixtures in the 2 prepared tins (so you have one chocolate, and one vanilla)

7) Bake in the oven for ~30-35 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

8) Remove to a wire rack to cool.

9) While the cakes are baking, you can prepare the icing

Caramel Meringue Buttercream Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites (approx 100g)
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 160g caster sugar
  • ~60ml water
  • 80ml double cream (note, I think more is needed)
  • 330g very soft butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
1) Place the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat until very soft (you'll need to scrape it down a few times)

2) Place the caster sugar and water in a clean saucepan

3) Put over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat until it starts boiling. DO NOT STIR! (Rule 1 of caramel making)

4) Continue to boil until the mixture starts to turn a deep brown. This will happen pretty quickly, so keep your eye on it, or it will burn.

5) Once it has turned brown, remove from the heat and add the cream and vanilla essence, while stirring vigorously.

6) Once fully mixed (it will bubble and seize a bit, but keep going), transfer to a clean bowl and leave to cool

7) Place the egg whites and icing sugar in a large heatproof bowl over a bain-marie

8) Whisk for 7-8 minutes over a low heat until you get stiff white peaks.

9) Leave to cool

10) To make the buttercream, beat the meringue into the softened butter

11) Once combined, beat the cooled caramel sauce into the mixture


1) Slice the cooled cakes in half horizontally, and trim the tops, so that you have 4 evenly sized slices  (2 chocolate, 2 vanilla)

2) Assemble the cake on a cake board using alternate chocolate and vanilla slices, with a dollop of buttercream in between.

3) Cover the outside with the remaining buttercream, and smooth off using a palette knife. A turntable is handy for this part.

4) Chill the cake in the fridge

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

  • 100g dark (50%) chocolate
  • 100g double cream (note, I think more is needed)
1) Chop the chocolate up finely, and place in a small heatproof bowl

2) Pour the cream over the chocolate

3) Heat the mixture in a microwave for 20-30 seconds, then stir thoroughly.

4) Continue to heat and stir, doing 10-second bursts, until all the chocolate has melted. It's important to do it in small steps, as you want to keep the temperature even in the mixture to stop it splitting.

5) To decorate, spoon a small amount of ganache onto the chilled cake, and encourage a drip down the side using a teaspoon. Repeat this around the edge. Finally fill in the gaps on top and spread.
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