Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Fruit, Nut and Veg Cake

This cake is full of so many good things it could almost be called virtuous. Well I say almost, as it also contains its fair share of naughtiness too. Dried mixed vine fruit and peel, soaked in sherry until plump, toasty and biscuity walnuts and hazelnuts, sweet carrots, warm and earthy spices and caramelly muscovado sugar come together in a scrumptious symphony of flavours, aromas and textures. It's also dairy free, so a great one if you have an allergy or intolerance. Basically there's no reason not to make it, so what are you waiting for?

Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus soaking time)
Baking time: 60-65 Mins
200g Dried Mixed Vine Fruit and Peel
2.5tbsp Sherry
100g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
100g Ground Hazelnuts
100g Chopped Walnuts
1tsp Mixed Spice
1tsp Cinnamon
175ml Vegetable Oil
3 Large Eggs
1tsp Vanilla Extract
200g Grated Carrot

We begin with the fruit. Place the dried fruit into an airtight container and drizzle over the sherry. Seal and leave for several hours (ideally overnight) until the fruit has become plump and juicy.

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3, grease a 20cm deep loose bottomed baking tin and line with baking paper. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground hazelnuts, walnuts and spices, then mix together with a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl beat the eggs into the oil and vanilla with a fork or small whisk. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix to a batter. Tip in the fruit and soaking liquid, along with the grated carrot and fold through until evenly combined. Spoon the cake batter into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for around 60-65 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake. When you are happy the cake is cooked remove from the oven, leave in the tin for around 15 minutes, then carefully turn out and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. That's it, you're all done. Time to sample the fruits (and nuts and veg) of your labour.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Respected, revered and admired - Lily Jones

Regular readers will be all too aware of my of food philosophy. It is not only a wonderfully expressive and creative medium, but an achievable and affordable way of bringing a little magic into everyday life. One only needs to look at some of the brilliant, beautiful and even bizarre treats that are being created by the country’s culinary alchemists to see just what is possible with even humble ingredients. Such virtuoso’s are not content to just satisfy and sustain, they want to titillate, provoke and challenge. They want to give every single customer a moment to savour and an experience to remember. They are an inspiration to so many, myself included and none moreso than Lily Jones of Lily Vanilli.

Lily is uninterested in the tired and tedious. Her business is the delectable, the fantastical and the tantalising, from beautiful bespoke cakes to cheeky little tarts, pastries, cupcakes and confections. Her clientele is rightly celebrated, but the real star of the show is her baking, which is as enticing as it is inspired. I have been a massive fan for a long time, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to recently ask her a few quick questions…

Why baking?

It's a long term hobby, I find it relaxes and inspires me.

How did you become a baker?

Just by doing it! Reading & practice.

Lily Vanilli is well known for its outlandish and fantastical cakes. What has been the most unusual cake you have created?

I once made a cake replica of a lady's boyfriend's head - it was her Valentine's gift to him. They just asked me to make their engagement cake so I think it went down well!

What inspires you?

Old cook books, ingredients, the changing of the seasons, colours, flowers, buildings, jewellery. East London, Kerala.

What is the most popular type of cake you sell? Why do you think that is?

It changes all the time - I never make the same cake twice for an order and we make new things for the bakery each week that generally all sell out. Its hard to beat a chocolate brownie and a sausage roll though.

What is you favourite cake to make and to eat?

It changes all the time!

Have you had any baking disasters?

Yeah, but it's generally a structural issue.

What's next for you and your business?

I'm currently working on a bakery project in Kerala, South India.

What cake should everyone learn to bake?

Start basic and then make it your own - everyone should learn to bake their own, personal dream cake.

What single piece of advice would you give to aspiring bakers?

Learn in the style of Karate Kid - cover the basics over and over until you are a master - then you can develop your own style.

For more information please visit Lily Vanilli's beautiful baking book Sweet Tooth is published by Canongate books

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

No Bake Chocolate Cakes

As fanatical as I am about baking I admit that I do find the process of creating something delicious without the aid of my trusty old oven a welcome distraction. These no-bake cakes are as fun to make as they are scrumptious with a near irresistible combination of the crunchy, creamy, chewy and best of all, chocolatey. They are also brilliantly adaptable and although I've gone for a combination of dried fruit, nuts and biscuit you are welcome to add whatever you fancy. If super sweet is your thing, then drizzle in an extra tablespoon of golden or maybe syrup. It salty floats your boat, then how about some salted peanuts. The possibilities are endless, but if you are looking for a few ideas on what to try (as well as what to avoid), then take a look below...

        Worth adding                    Worth avoiding
        Sour Cherries                   Baked Beans
        Marshmallows                    String
        Popcorn                         Tree Bark
        Honeycomb                       Sand
        Roasted Hazelnuts               Hair

Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: Zero!
200g Dark Chocolate (Broken into squares)
100g White Chocolate (Broken into squares)
120g Unsalted Butter (Chopped into cubes)
200g Broken Biscuits (I used digestives)
50g Macadamia Nuts (Chopped)
50g Flaked Almonds
100g Raisins (As plump and as juicy as you can find)

Let's begin. Place the dark chocolate, white chocolate and unsalted butter in a large heatproof bowl and warm in the microwave on medium for around 2-3 minutes, until the chocolate and butter have melted together. If you are wary of using your microwave for melting then you can instead use a bain-marie, but as long as you are watchful any mishaps should be avoided. When the chocolate has melted into the butter stir together and set to one side for a few minutes.

In a separate large bowl bash the biscuits into small nuggets with the end of a rolling pin. Add the nuts and raisins, then pour in the chocolate mixture and thoroughly stir together until combined. Line a 21cm square tin with baking paper then tip in the mixture, pressing down firmly to the edges with the back of a wooden spoon. Place in the fridge for around 2 hours until set.

When the mixture has set carefully remove from the tin and place on a large chopping board. Slice into squares with a sharp knife and boom, you're all done!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Honeycomb AND Chewy Chocolate Honeycomb Cookies

Honeycomb is so easy to make it felt miserly of me to end the story of its creation without at least one cheeky little twist. You can fold broken honeycomb through vanilla ice cream, drizzle it in melted chocolate, or just nibble on it as desired. However I cannot recommend these utterly delicious cookies highly enough. I could wax lyrical indefinitely about the sweet, almost cindered toffee flavour of the honeycomb, the intensely dark and aromatic chocolate, or the charmingly chewy texture,  but instead I will simply demand that you make them immediately.

For the Honeycomb
Prep time: 20 Mins (Plus around 90 Mins to set)
200g Caster Sugar
150g Golden Syrup
2tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

For the Cookies
Prep time: 20 Mins
Baking time: 11-12 Mins
150g Honeycomb
100g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
100g Caster Sugar
1 Large Egg
175g Plain Flour
1/2tsp Baking Powder
100g Dark Chocolate (Chopped)

As I previously mentioned, honeycomb is very easy to make. However it is important that whenever you are working with hot syrup or sugar you do so with great care, as not only can it burn very quickly, if you become cavalier it can also burn you!

Tip the sugar into a medium saucepan along with the golden syrup and place on a low heat. Allow the sugar to melt slowly into the golden syrup, without letting it come to a simmer (yet). When the sugar has dissolved bring the heat up to medium and simmer, lightly bubbling away until the syrup is a golden amber. At this point turn the heat off and tip in the bicarbonate of soda, which will cause the syrup to froth and expand. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the bicarb has disappeared, then carefully tip the mixture onto a large shallow baking tray that has been lined with baking paper. Leave for around 90 minutes in a cool place until set. Done!

For the cookies begin by lining a large baking sheet with baking paper and preheating the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. With a very sharp knife chop 100g of the honeycomb into little nuggets, making sure you aren't left with any large fragments. For the other 50g of honeycomb crush to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar. You want to avoid doing this too far in advance or the moisture in the air will cause the powder to set again to a solid lump. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and caster sugar, then add the honeycomb powder and do the same. Beat in the egg, then sift in the flour along with the baking powder and mix until you are left with a  cookie dough. Add the chopped honeycomb and chocolate, then fold through to combine.

Take a relatively small amount of the mixture, roll into a ball, about the size of a walnut and place on your prepare baking sheet. Repeat, making sure each ball is very well spaced apart. I tend to bake these in batches of only five as they do spread considerably during baking. The mixture should make about 20 cookies and will sit happily in a cool place whilst you bake each batch. Place the baking sheet in the centre of the oven and bake for around 11-12 minutes, until the cookies have spread and are a deep golden brown. When you are happy they are baked, remove from the oven and carefully slide the paper onto a wire rack or ovenproof surface so you can continue with another batch. After around 30 minutes you should be able to peel the cookies easily from the paper, leaving them to finish cooling completely on a wire rack. Finally, only one important task remains, to eat them all up!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

My Baking Adventures - November 2013

Here's a little peek at what I've been baking and making over the last month or so. Most of the recipes can be found on the blog, but as always if you have any questions or comments don't hesitate to get in touch...

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blackberry and Hazelnut Focaccia

Baking bread is one of my favourite ways to relax. Sanative, solacing and satisfying it is wonderful way to spend part of any day. However I freely admit that therein lies an issue. Baking bread does usually require a relatively significant period allocated to allow for proving, etc and as joyous as this is, it is always good to have an option with a smaller time requirement (or at least one that affords the opportunity to stage the main tasks at your convenience).

This sweet focaccia is a real show stopper. Beautiful for breakfast, brunch, even as a cheeky lunch it is simple to create, easy to adapt and (most importantly) DELICIOUS to eat. It is also a great one to try if you have limited time, as you can make the dough many hours in advance and leave in the fridge until you are ready to finish it off. I made mine the night before, ready to bake when I awoke the next morning. I could barely sleep I was so excited!

There is just one final point of note. Please feel free to use more or less blackberries or toppings depending on your preference, or even change them entirely. I am only here to guide, you are in charge...

Prep time: 30 Minutes (Plus around 8 hours/overnight+45 minutes to prove)
Baking time: 25 Minutes
For the dough
12g Fresh Yeast
1tbsp Caster Sugar
150ml Cold Water
50ml Milk
1 Egg Yolk (Beaten)
300g Very Strong White Bread Flour
1/2tsp Salt

For the topping
150-200g Fresh Blackberries
1tbsp Unsalted Butter (Melted)
2tbsp Chopped Blanched Hazelnuts
1tbsp Caster Sugar

Righty-ho, let's begin. Crumble the yeast into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and pour over the cold water. Mix around with a mini-whisk or fork until the yeast has begun to dissolve, then add the milk, egg yolk, flour and salt. Briefly mix until a loose dough begins to form, then tip out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for around 7 minutes, stretching the dough away from yourself, folding back, rotating by a quarter and repeating, until smooth and elastic. It will be quite sticky initially but try to avoid adding extra flour unless absolutely necessary. Return the dough to a large, clean bowl that has been lightly greased, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for around 8 hours, ideally overnight.

Remove the risen dough from the fridge, take it out of the bowl and shape into a flattish round. You can do this on a lightly greased surface, but I just do it in my hands! Place in a greased, medium sized baking or roasting tin, then with your fingers press the dough all over, nudging it gently towards the edges. It doesn't matter if the dough won't stretch all the way. With a sharp knife make a small incision in the top of the dough, stretch out a little with your fingers and pop a fresh blackberry into the pocket. Repeat until the dough is generously studded with berries. Place the tin in a large plastic food bag (you can pick these up inexpensively from the supermarket) and leave in a warm place (such as an airing cupboard) for around 45 minutes, until the dough has risen, enveloping the blackberries.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Remove the tin from the plastic bag, then brush the surface of the dough all over with the melted butter. Add the chopped hazelnuts to the dish the butter was melted in and toss to coat lightly. Scatter over the dough, then finally sprinkle over the caster sugar. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 25 minutes, until deep golden and the blackberries have just started to soften, releasing their juices. Your work is done.