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March, 2015

  1. Trip to Cake International

    March 29, 2015 by sarah

    Today I had a lovely day in London at the ‘Cake International’, the sugarcraft, cake decorating and baking show. It was packed even when I arrived at 11:30 but there was enough to keep me occupied until it closed at 5pm. The best bit was looking at the competition entries. There were absolutely amazing sugar flowers that looked too perfect they actually looked fake or made of silk! I got some great ideas for future cake decorating and bought a few bits and bobs to decorate my own cakes including a DIY silicone mould kit. Some more fun ahead using that!

    I am so tired now that instead of a recipe you can have a look at some photos. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out just as I got to the cupcake section so there are no photos from that class! The first photo is of a ski boot novelty cake I made a few weeks ago. The photos after that are from the show.


    The ski boot made by me!




    First place in the novelty Easter cake class.


    First place in the floral decoration class – those flowers are made of sugar!


    First place in the wedding cake class – very simple but perfectly executed.


    Second place in the wedding cake class.


    First place in the small novelty cake class.



  2. Lemon Curd Recipe (Yolks only) and Lemon Tart

    March 25, 2015 by sarah

    After making the Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the chocolate cherry layer cake, I had 4 egg yolks left over. The weather is too cold at the moment for ice cream (a good way of using egg yolks) so I searched for alternative uses for the yolks and came across some lemon curd recipes that just used the yolks. This recipe works well but I have say that since I have made lemon curd both ways, I prefer my lemon curd made with whole eggs as it is lighter in texture and richness. The upside is this recipe is it does not need sieving afterwards to remove the little lumps of firm egg white that inevitable form due to the whites cooking faster than the yolks.

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    With several pots of lemon curd in the fridge, I thought I would try making a lemon tart. I pre-cooked a couple of pastry cases (shortcrust or paté sucré) and then filled them with the fresh lemon curd. I tried caramelising the tops by sifting over some icing sugar and then browning under the grill – unfortunately all what happened was I burnt the pastry. But despite this the tarts were still delicious. Next time I will try topping them with some meringue for a lemon meringue tart.

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    I also must extol the virtues of a Microplane grater. Having struggled with all kinds of zesters and graters over the years, I gave in and asked for one for Christmas. And it truly does grate lemon zest faster and finer than anything else I have used. Try it for yourself.


    Yolk Only Lemon Curd


    4 egg yolks

    175g caster sugar

    100g butter

    zest and jiunce of 2 large lemons

    1/2 teaspoon lemon extract/oil

    In a heat proof bowl over barely simmering water, place all the ingredients. Stir until the butter is melted and then frequently stir until the mixture thickens. This takes 15 to 20 minutes. When thick enough to leave a clear path through the back of the spoon when a finger is drawn through, it is done. Pour into sterilised jars and leave too cool entirely. Refrigerate until needed but also freezes well. Eat within a couple of weeks.

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  3. Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake

    March 18, 2015 by sarah

    Sometimes a cake has to made for the sheer beauty of the thing. Don’t get me wrong; flavour is still my primary aim but sometimes it is nice to luxuriate in the beauty of a cake before devouring it. And this cake has it in spades. The delicate pink icing and filling contrasting with the dark brown moist cake and the cherries on the top. Like a cute black forest gateau.













    I wandered hungry and alone

    Downstairs to the kitchen

    Where upon I came across

    A recipe for a cherry chocolate cake.

    It was baked and made and iced

    And I drowned in the beauty of the cake I beheld.’


    Chocolate Cherry Cake


    225g butter at room temperature
    225g caster suagr
    175g plain flour
    50g cocoa powder
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon fine salt
    5 medium eggs
    200ml greek yogurt or cream or buttermilk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Handful (about 50g) of sour dried cherries

    Cherry jam, preferably sour cherry
    Swiss meringue buttercream (recipe here), add some cherry puree made from blended frozen cherries
    Cherries in alcohol for decorating, reserving some of the syrup/alcohol.

    Preheat the oven to 180 ºC/160 ºC fan. Grease and line the base of two 20cm/8″ sponge tins.

    Beat together the butter and sugar until creamed well. Sift over the dry ingredients. Beat together the wet ingredients to break up the eggs then add this to the bowl. Beat all together until well mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times. Fold in the dried cherries and then pour the batter into the prepared tins, trying to divide it equally.

    Cook for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. While the cakes are cooking, make a cherry flavoured syrup by heating the cherry syrup or alcohol base with some extra sugar to make it syrupy. Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes in the tins then brush over this syrup. After half an hour, take the cakes out of the tins and allow to cool fully on cooling wracks.

    Assemble the cake with some cherry jam as the filling and pipe the pink tinged buttercream on top. Decorate with the reserved preserved cherries, or fresh cherries if they are in season.

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  4. Marmalade

    March 15, 2015 by sarah

    The start of Spring means marmalade making time. The required bitter-sweet Seville oranges are only in the shops for a short time around about now so I always buy a bag when I see them before they disappear again. They bring bitter-sweet thoughts of places that are currently sunnier and warmer than this grey cold British start to Spring. But the sparkling bright orange jelly and tangy orange peel warm any breakfast.


























    It is a pain hand cutting the peel but there is no way round that; using a food processor just leaves mush, even a mandolin failed. The acid in the oranges also makes the skin of your hands go all pruney! But there is no way round it, so stick on some music and get down to work. Orange or other citrus marmalade seems to be a uniquely British product. I do not recall seeing it in any of the countries I’ve been to around the world. But a certain bear from deepest darkest Peru was rather fond of the stuff!



    Recipe from ‘The National Trust Good Old-Fashioned Jams, Preserves and Chutneys’ by Sara Paston-Williams

    Makes approximately 6 jars.

    1kg Seville oranges
    1 lemon
    2.4 litres of water
    2kg granulated sugar

    Wash the oranges well as the rough skins are prone to be dirty. Cut them in half (plus the lemon) and juice them, reserving the pips. Scrape out the pith (white bits and membranes inside the oranges) and also reserve with the pips. Then shred all the rind fairly finely.

    Place the shredded rind, juice and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for about 2 hours until the rind is very soft and disintegrates when squeezed.

    Heat the sugar in the oven and when the rind is soft enough, add to the pan. Then use the oven to sterilise half a dozen jam jars and lids.

    Tie up the pips and pith into a muslin bag and add to the pan. Gradually stir to dissolve the added sugar. Once the sugar has been added, increase the temperature and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Boil briskly, stirring frequently so it doesn’t catch on the bottom, for about 20 minutes before starting to test for the set. Once setting point is reached, take the pan off the heat, remove the muslin bag (squeeze well to get the goodness out), skim off any froth and allow the pan to sit for a good 15 minutes. Stir well before potting and stir while potting to evenly distribute the peel.


  5. Cullen Skink – otherwise known as smoked haddock chowder

    March 10, 2015 by sarah

    I love how food can transport us around the world in one dish and we are privileged in this country to have access to so many different cuisines. Some people lament the lack of decent British cooking (which is something else that is not true, but a discussion for another time) but why worry when one night I can eat in India, the next in Mexico, the next in France, then Italy, China or Thailand. So partially my cooking is a way of satisfying my wanderlust without crossing continents and bankrupting us. I travel in my kitchen each time I cook.

    Cullen skink (no, it is not a typo) is a traditional Scottish soup.  It is hearty enough to be an entire meal, served with some crusty bread. The last time I had it when it was not homemade was in Seattle where it is called a ‘Chowder’ and sprinkled with dry water crackers like you would have with cheese. The American version also contains sweetcorn but is otherwise the same dish. You must use good quality smoked haddock that is naturally smoked, not the bright yellow stuff.


    Cullen Skink


    25g butter
    1 onion, finely chopped
    1 bay leaf
    1 blade of mace
    600ml/1 pint of milk
    100ml double cream
    350g floury type potato such as maris piper, cut into large chunks
    450g undyed smoked haddock

    can of sweetcorn, drained (optional)

    Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed large saucepan. Add the onions and a pinch of salt; sweat until the onions are translucent.

    Add the milk, 300ml water and the bay leaf and mace. Add the potatoes, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

    Meanwhile cook the smoked haddock. I usually poach it in a water/milk mixture and then add the liquid to the soup for more flavour. Allow the haddock to cool enough to touch and then remove skin and bones and break into large flakes.

    Remove the bay leaf and mace from the soup, use a potato masher to gently crush the potatoes so that some thicken the soup but some are still in chunks. Add the cream and sweetcorn if using and the fish. Heat again to the boil and taste, adjusting the seasoning as desired. Serve immediately or allow to cool and store in the fridge for up to 48 hours.


  6. Biscuity Chocolate Truffle Balls

    March 8, 2015 by sarah

    These were actually made by my husband. He remembers buying them from the local bakers, Aulds, in Scotland in his youth and wanted a bit of nostalgia. He actually made them all by himself though I had to do the washing up! He says they taste very authentic. I wouldn’t know about that, having been deprived of Aulds bakery goods in my youth, but they do go down rather easily! And not at all posh unlike the proper chocolate truffle recipe I posted a couple of weeks ago. Also enjoy the random photo of our not posh cat, Brian.



    Biscuity Chocolate Truffle Balls

    20 oaty digestive type biscuits

    125g butter

    200g condensed milk

    2 tablespoon cocoa powder

    125g desiccated coconut

    chocolate strands or desiccated coconut to roll them in

    Put the butter and condensed milk in a small pan heat gently until the butter is melted.

    Put the biscuits into a food bag, hold the end closed and bash with a rolling pin until you have fine crumbs. Put the biscuits, cocoa powder and desiccated coconut into a large bowl and pour over the melted butter/condensed milk. Mix until well combined.

    Form the mixture into ping pong sized balls with your hands and place on a tray lined with grease-proof paper. Put the extra coconut or chocolate strands into a food bag. Drop in the balls and roll around to cover them. Place them back on the grease-proof paper and store in the fridge until set firm. Store in the fridge until needed. These will last a week once made.

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  7. Polenta and olive oil cake

    March 3, 2015 by sarah

    Reading this title you probably thought that something had gone wrong. Perhaps a supper dish from Italy? But a cake? Made from savoury ingredients? Have I gone mad? No, my dear readers I have not gone mad. This cake is indeed a delicious and light sponge perfect any time of day from breakfast to dinner, as my husband can attest. It also happens to be healthier too as it is not made with butter.

    This cake was deliberately chosen to use up some store cupboard ingredients I found in my January clear out. I don’t particularly like polenta as a starch for a meal so this recipe was ideal way of trying it in a different way. I have to admit though it is a little drier than one would expect a teatime cake to be, probably because of its lack of butter, but this was definitely balanced with some poached fruit or yogurt on the side. The polenta gave a fine gravelly, but not unpleasant, mouth feel. Buon appetito!


    Polenta and Olive Oil Cake

    6 medium eggs

    1 cup white caster sugar

    freshly grated zest of 2 lemons

    1 and 1/2 cups of plain flour

    3/4 cup instant fine polenta

    2 teaspoons baking powder

    1 teaspoon fine salt

    3/4 cup olive oil

    drizzle: juice of the 2 lemons and 100g caster sugar

    Preheat the oven to 180 ºC/160 ºC fan. Lightly grease a 9″/20cm springform pan with oil.

    Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and with the whisk attachment, beat for at least 5 minutes until light in colour and tripled in volume. Pour in the oil and sift over the dry ingredients. Start the mixer on very slow, beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides a couple of times. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and place in the middle of the preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes until risen and slightly coming away from the sides; a skewer should come out clean.

    While the cake is in the oven, dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice for the drizzle; you may need to heat it in a small pan to get it to dissolve fully. Once the cake is cooked and taken out the oven, sit it on a tray and pour over the drizzle. Allow to cool fully in the pan before turning out.