home made cakes for special days and elevenses

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Iced Easter Biscuits and Jammie Dodgers

Our kids had already been given so much chocolate by the time our Easter Sunday BBQ and egg hunt came around that I thought I'd make some biscuits to hide in the garden, just to mix things up a bit!

I used the 'simple butter biscuit' recipe from my brilliant Biscuiteers book and my new cutters from the local pound shop (an absolute bargain). The book includes several biscuit recipes, many beautifully photographed pages of decorated biscuits and some very user friendly instructions. There is a biscuit design for every occasion!

My chicks and bunnies were a hit with the kids and there was enough dough left to make some jammie dodgers too. The book calls them linzer biscuits (as sold in Costa), but the kids were very excited by home made jammie dodgers so we'll stick to that.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Pecan and Salted Caramel Macarons

Another birthday at work means a chance to try out a new recipe. After a couple of failed attempts I have now mastered Ottolenghi's chocolate macarons, so thought it time to have a go at the peanut and salted caramel ones that share the same page in his lovely book. It didn't begin well because I had forgotten to separate any eggs in time to age the whites (the consistency changes after a few days in the fridge), but I got around this by freezing them the night before and defrosting through the next day. The freezing process seems to age the whites just as well as having them take up space in the fridge for three days.

Having sorted the egg whites I realised that I had forgotten to buy the peanuts, and my daughter was not going to appreciate another trip to the supermarket. Hence the pecans. They were a perfectly good substitute, as was the tin of Nestle caramel I used in lieu of the rather more expensive dulche de leche. This was a good tip from Scrumptious Sally, though I am still tempted to give the real thing a try at some point and see if it makes any difference.

Salty Peanut and Caramel Macarons - Yottam Ottolenghi (with a couple of tweaks)

110g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
2 free range egg whites (60g)
40g caster sugar
20g natural roasted chopped peanuts, roughly chopped (or pecans!)

30g  natural roasted chopped peanuts, finely chopped
100g caramel
salt to taste

Sieve the icing sugar and ground almonds together. For an extra smooth finish you could whizz them in the food processor first, but still sieve in order to get some air into the powdered mix.

Whisk the egg whites and caster sugar together to form stiff peaks and fold into the dry mix in three batches.

Line your baking trays with Bake-O-Glide or baking parchment, using a spot of the meringue mixture to glue each corner to the tray. Pipe the mixture into rounds the size of a £2 coin, leaving gaps between each. Tap the tray sharply on a table to help smooth out the macarons. Sprinkle a few of the roughly chopped nuts on to the top of each macaron and leave to rest for 30 minutes or more.

Bake for approximately 12-13 minutes, at 150 degrees centigrade. The shells will lift off the tray easily with a palette knife when cooked.

Stir the finely chopped nuts into the caramel, add a little salt to taste and use to sandwich together the macaron shells.

One very important thing to remember if you want to avoid cracked shells and achieve those all important 'feet' (the frilly bits around the bottom), is to leave the macarons to rest for about half an hour before baking. This seems to make a big difference for me - it is worth being patient.

Making macarons is a bit of a fiddly business but well worth the effort in my opinion. I haven't been brave enough to try any other macaron recipes yet as I know the Ottolenghi ones work for me, but maybe it's time to branch out and try something new. Some fruity flavours next perhaps.

Monday, 18 April 2011

May the Force be With You - a Star Wars Birthday

This week's cake brought back memories of childhood games with boys and Star Wars figures. I had a limited collection of my own, but my brothers and the other boys in the village had amassed a considerable army between them. My personal favourite was one that had a fish head on something resembling a human body, but I have no idea what he was called, or even if I'm remembering that entirely accurately. I also appreciated the shiny gold of C3PO but beyond that I wasn't altogether bothered. I'm no Star Wars geek so had to do a bit of internet research for this cake and printed off a few pictures to work from.

I decided that I could manage to recreate R2D2 and Yoda with sugarpaste and was confident that the two five year old boys I was making the cake for would be able to recognise them. Having not seen any of the Star Wars films from recent years, i.e. being stuck in the eighties, I wasn't sure which of the old charcaters would be known to the new breed of Star Wars fans. I surmised that R2D2 and Yoda would surely have survived any cull and set to work.

The birthday boys had requested buttercream rather than sugarpaste to cover the cake, which accounts for the less than smooth surface. I am yet to perfect a technique that produces a perfectly smooth finish like a freshly plastered wall, but I'm sure it tasted better than sugarpaste anyway.

If I do this one again I might attempt an Ewok. Maybe.


Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Boy Racer Birthday

I was asked to make either a Ferrari shaped cake or a Harry Potter themed one for my nephew's 8th birthday this weekend. I plumped for the Ferrari. Not sure if this was sensible or not as it is really not easy to carve a Ferrari shape from two square cakes. I have seen much better attempts than mine,with the curves, lumps and bumps in all the right places, but I've seen considerably worse as well! I'd love to show you some exapmles of the bad ones to make mine look good, but that would be mean. Anyway, the birthday boy declared it 'awesome' and that is what matters. Happy birthday Ben, hope you had a great day.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Princess and Pirate Cupcakes

This week's creations were for another one of my daughter's friends. She had a lovely 5th birthday party in a very pretty marquee full of little princesses and pirates. Unfortunately we missed half of it as we got hopelessly lost. The two princesses in the back of our car were very patient but did wonder why it was taking quite so long to get there. We arrived just in time for the lunch boxes, which was Sleeping Beauty's main concern, and they had a lovely time dancing and watching the boy pirates taking chunks out of each other with their swords.

The faces took forever to make but were a hit with the kids. They didn't seem to mind that the princesses are in fact a bit ugly!

My next challenge is going to be a birthday cake for my nephew - either a Ferrari or a Harry Potter theme. Watch this space ...