Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Jaffa Cakes

When it comes to the saccharine I am equally as satisfied with a lovely piece of cakey cake as I am with a cheeky biscuity biscuit. So when the opportunity presented itself to try one of the most popular of cake/biscuit hybrids needless to say I jumped at the chance (I actually did a little jump).

I concede that I was more than a little apprehensive when attempting these, as both the jelly and the sponge were somewhat of a voyage into the unknown. My fears though were no more than that, as the process was as pleasing as it was gratifying and much easier than I anticipated. However to be honest, even if the recipe did prove a toil it would certainly be worth enduring, as the resulting cakes are darned delicous!

Prep time: 25 Mins (Plus some chilling time)
Baking time: 10-12 Mins
For the Jelly
135g Orange Jelly
250ml Orange Juice
1.5tbsp Marmalade

For the cakes
110g Caster Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1tsp Vanilla Extract
140g Plain Flour (Sifted)

300g Dark Chocolate (Melted)

First things first is the jelly. Break the jelly into cubes and place in a large heatproof jug, then pour the orange juice into a large saucepan along with the marmalade and place on a low heat. Whilst the orange juice is warming you can line a 28x21cm rectangular baking tin with baking paper. Try and do this with a single sheet of baking paper if you can. When the orange juice is steaming and just bubbling at the edges remove from the heat and pour over the jelly cubes. Mix until the jelly has dissolved, which I admit can occasionally prove a bit of a botheration. If it doesn't seem to be dissolving just pop the jug into the microwave for a minute or so and stir again. When the jelly has melted into the orange juice pour into your prepared tin, leave to cool, then transfer to the fridge to chill for a couple of hours until set.

For the sponge bases preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line two large flat baking sheets with baking paper. Sprinkle the sugar into a shallow heat proof dish and place in the oven for 5-10 minutes until hot to the touch. You don't want it melting, just heated. Whilst the sugar is warming crack the eggs into a large bowl then whisk on a medium speed for around 5 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add the hot sugar a little at a time and keep whisking until combined and voluminous. Add the flour and vanilla extract, then fold through until thick and smooth, making sure you get right to the bottom of the bowl when folding. Spoon or pipe the mixture onto your prepared tray. You want to try and aim for little rounds, evenly spaced apart and you should get around 20+ out of the mixture. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 10-12 minutes, until pale golden then remove and set to one side for 15 minutes, before peeling each round from the tray and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

When the rounds are cool you can finish the cakes off. Carefully remove the jelly on the paper then cut into little discs, smaller than the sponge rounds. I use a little (4.5cm) pastry cutter for this. Invert the rounds then peel each jelly disc from the paper and place in the centre of the sponge. Finish by covering generously with melted dark chocolate and leaving to set. Congratulations, you are finished!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Coconut Macaroons

Macaroons are one of the first things I ever learned to bake and a recipe I always recommend if you are venturing into the wonderful world of baking for the first time. But don't let their simplicity deceive, for as modest as they may be they are absolutely delicious and a perfect tea time treat. Crisp and biscuity on the outside with a soft and chewy centre, they are sweet, satisfying and entirely charming. I've kept the base recipe relatively straightforward, but by no means should that be the end of the tale. You have my full permission to freestyle until you heart is content!

Prep time: 15 Minutes
Baking time: 15 Minutes
2 large egg whites
125g caster sugar
100g desiccated coconut
100g ground almonds
A dash of Vanilla Extract
A dash of Almond Extract

Let us retire to the kitchen once more. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a large flat baking sheet with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl whisk the egg whites by hand until frothy, then add the sugar and gently whisk to combine. You don't want a meringue here, so be gentle with your whisking action. Add the coconut and almonds, along with the extracts then fold through with a flat bladed spoon or spatula until you are left with a consistent, sticky mixture. With damp hands take a small amount of the mixture, roll into a little ball then flatten slightly between your palms. Place on your prepared baking sheet and repeat for the rest of the mixture, evenly spaced apart (although they shouldn't spread during baking), then bake in the centre of the oven for around 13-15 minutes until firm to the touch and a light golden brown in colour. When you are happy they are baked remove them from the oven, leave on the sheet for 10 minutes, then carefully peel each macaroon from the paper and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. I like to finish mine with a little drizzle of melted dark chocolate, but as I mentioned previously you are free to adorn as you see fit!

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Gentleman Baker's Rules of Baking

Some would have you believe that baking is all about rules. As distasteful as I find such things as rules I admit that I do have a few of my own, although they may not be what one might expect...

"By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail..." Benjamin Franklin

When baking, to adequately prepare is a simple task, yet one that many (including myself) often forego. Take time to make sure your working environment is adequate, all required equipment is available and that your ingredients are measured out prior to commencement. This will reduce both the risk of failure and any stress that may threaten.

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end..." Ernest Hemingway
The process of baking is as important to me as the end result. It is not a chore, it is a wonderful, creative experience that is accessible and achievable by all. Enjoy baking for what it is, do not burden yourself with pressure and have fun.

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so..." William Shakespeare

No matter what others may say, there is no right or wrong way to bake anything. There are principles that ensure certain results, but the beauty of home baking is the freedom to create whatever you want however you want. Things may work or they may not, but do not ever think you cannot try new ingredients or methods. It is your kitchen and you are in charge

"Anything worth doing, is worth doing right..." Hunter S Thompson

As with anything, you get out what you put in, so if you decide to bake something, commit yourself fully to the process. Try to buy the best ingredients you can afford, treat them with respect and do not cut corners without good reason. Your efforts will be rewarded by the result.

"Imperfection is beauty..." Marilyn Monroe
You are a home baker, you don’t work in a professional kitchen with an army of assistants to aid you, so things are not going to work out perfectly all of the time. However I believe the imperfections are what give baking such beauty. Every blemish, every crack, these are what make your creations unique and they should be something to celebrate, not be ashamed of.

"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm..." Winston Churchill

No matter how hard you try, no matter how closely you follow the recipe, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned. To fail is not an issue. I have failed countless times and continue to do so, often spectacularly, often comedically. What is crucial though is how you respond. Failing should bother you, but it should also steel you. Learn from your mistakes, grow stronger from them and if at first you don’t succeed... 

"What one wants is unrestrained passion, fire for fire..." Henry Miller

The most important ingredient you’ll ever need is not something that can be purchased. It is your passion for baking, the care you take and the effort you put in that is ultimately the most telling. Something as simple as a loaf of bread can be made spectacular by the sheer will to make it so. Baking, as with life is about love. If you have it, the rest will take care of itself.

"You have to believe in yourself, that’s the secret..." Charlie Chaplin

These recipes are my gift to you, but that is where my contribution ends. It is within you to create a limitless array of delicious delights, you just need to believe that you can. I promise that you can be a great baker, all you need to do is try... 

Monday, 5 May 2014

Parsnip and Lemon Cake

Parsnip seems to be a rather divisive fellow, with as much condemnation as there is commendation for this pointy pabulum. Personally I love a good parsnip, although admit I rarely find use for them on my baking adventures. However this will most certainly change in the future, for after trying out this delightful recipe I believe the parsnip is as delicious in a cake as its more classic cousin, the carrot.

Even if you find parsnips unpalatable I implore you to still give this one a go. The parsnips add a mild nuttiness, not to mention giving the finished cake a near irresistibly moreish crumb. The parsnips though are only one chapter of this titillating tale. Sweet yet spiky lemons and plump sultanas more than play their part, as well as rich black tea, warm spicing and deep, dark brown sugar. To cut this story short, it is an absolutely fantastic cake, using relatively everyday, yet no less spectacular ingredients. Go and make it right now!

Prep time: 25 Minutes
Baking time: 50-55 Minutes
185g Unsalted Butter (Softened)
185g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
3 Large Eggs
The zest of 1 Lemon
1/2tsp Ground Ginger
1/2tsp Ground Nutmeg
1tsp Ground Cinnamon
200g Plain Flour
1tsp Baking Powder
1.5tbsp Tea (Black and Cold)
250g Sultanas
300g Parsnips (Grated)

For the syrup glaze
The juice of half a Lemon
3tbsp Golden Syrup

Let us begin you and I. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4, grease a 23cm springform tin and line the base with baking paper. In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the zest and spices, then sift in half of the flour. Mix to combine, add the tea, then add the rest of the flour, along with the baking powder and mix to a smooth consistent batter. Fold through the sultanas, followed by the parsnips until you are left with a heavy, heady mixture. Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin, smooth to the edges and bake in the centre of the oven for 50-55 minutes, until a metal skewer can be cleanly removed when inserted into the middle of the cake.

When you are happy the cake is baked remove it from the oven, leave in the tin for 15 minutes, then carefully remove and place on a wire rack. Warm, then mix together the lemon juice and golden syrup, then brush generously all over the top. Leave to cool and the cake is finished. Well done you!