A Carrot Cake … With Lots of Banana?

I’m an office feeder. Yes, I know it’s shameful.  I make lots of treats and I take them to work for everyone to eat; it’s gotten worse since my family decided to become healthy and reject my baking. However, I eat as much baked goods as everyone else so I could say I’m not as bad?!

Anyway, my colleague requested a carrot cake for his birthday and I just couldn’t say no. I’ve already tried my hand at the carrot cake from the Hummingbird Bakery recipe books, so I thought I’d give Mary Berry’s Baking Bible a go, as it’s on a great running streak.

So I prepared my cake tin the Mary Berry way, (lining it with greaseproof paper) and turned my oven on. To save time I bought chopped walnuts from the supermarket, I admit it’s ridiculously lazy but it was definitely worth it.

What confused me most in this recipe was the amount of banana used, there was actually more banana than carrot! I used the tiniest two carrots I could find and I still had to eat half of one; but I used 2 large bananas. I was starting to question Mary Berry’s methods but I kept going – I figured at worst it would be a nice twist on a carrot cake.

Once all the ingredients were grated, mashed and whisked I poured the batter into the prepared dish and cooked it for the recommended time.  The cake had risen beautifully when I took it out too cool. The smell managed to send my entire family into the kitchen, scavenging for a slither of cake.  I had to hit hands with the spatula and bribed them with berries and cream cheese icing to keep them away!

It was pretty late the time I had finished baking and preparing the icing and I was still waiting for the cake to cool completely.  My need for sleep increased drastically and I resorted to spreading the icing on a semi-warm cake and quickly put it in the fridge to stop the icing melting/dripping etc.  Now I know this is blasphemous in terms of baking but sleep comes first for me!

I woke in the morning to find that it didn’t run as much as I thought it would. I wacked on a few walnuts, and whisked it off to work, where it was demolished before I could take any proper photos – damn.

  The cake tasted great – which was insinuated by the speed at which it disappeared. I’m generally not the biggest fan of using oil in cakes as I can always taste it but version of the carrot cake managed to hide it well and the banana added a lovely moistness to the sponge.

All in all a great recipe, Mary Berry hits the nail on the head again. I promise I will not doubt her ever again!

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Why Is It Called Madeira?

This is the first question that came to mind when I made this cake.  At first I figured it must come from the Madeira Islands … apparently not! According to the internet (i.e. Wikipedia), the recipe originated in England in the 18th/19th century and was named after Madeira wine, which was served with the cake and popular at the time. Huh … You learn a new thing every day.

History lesson over, I chose the recipe because I was intrigued by the amount of ground almonds it used … OK, you got me, I actually picked it because I had nothing else in my cupboard and this cake doesn’t need anything random!

So I turned on my oven and prepared my cake tin with greaseproof paper (the typical Mary Berry way).  The recipe said to bung it all in and mix it – which I’m very wary of – so I used my standard method.  I firstly beat together the butter, sugar and lemon and added in the eggs.  Then I added the almonds and sifted the flour before mixing for a bit longer till it all came together.

This went into the tin and in the oven for around 30 minutes.  The recipe then says to take the cake out and put some citron peel on top before putting it back in for another 10-15minutes. Naturally I didn’t have any, in fact, I didn’t know what it was and guessed it to be any citrus type fruit. So…  I used some orange peel … Ah well!

Once the cake was ready and the kitchen smelt like roasted almonds, I took the cake out to cool and served it up with tea (obviously I didn’t know you had to serve it with wine at the time).

 

The cake is actually really delicious, it’s quite dense and could potentially be mistaken for dry; it actually reminded me of a few Iranian desserts, which are meant to be accompanied with a drink – normally tea. The almond wasn’t overwhelming but complimented the cake really well. Mary Berry does it again, she’s fast becoming my favourite cookbook.

A Piper’s Dream

We had a charity cake a few weeks back and I was one of the many people who decided to bake for it.  I wanted to do something a bit different, i.e. try out some piping skills, so decided on a big vanilla sponge with a difference.

I used the vanilla cupcake recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery books and doubled the amount, put them into 3 cake tins and baked them for roughly 40 minutes. I had some batter left over so made some small cupcakes as well.

While the cakes were cooling, I used some white and green fondant and cut out a selection of big and small flowers and leaves and left them to set and harden.

I cut the top off all three cakes to make a really straight, smooth surface to work on.  I doubled the Hummingbird Bakery buttercream icing recipe and started assembling the cake.  I put a layer of icing inbetween each layer and made a ‘crumb coat’ around the outside of the cake. This is essentially a thin layer of icing to pack in all the crumbs.  I left this to harden a bit before I started to decorate.

Now, I’ve been a follower of Arty Cakes for a while and absolutely love what they do with their piping. So I used their basket weave concept as inspiration for this cake.  I started by spreading a thicker, and hopefully smoother layer of icing on the top of the cake.  I’m absolutely rubbish at this and even with a straightening tool had a lot of trouble getting it perfect.

I then split the rest of the icing and coloured the larger portion pale green.  This went into a piping bag with a basket weave decorating tip; I used Wilton’s no. 47.

To start the basket weave, pipe a vertical line on the cake.  Then, start at the bottom and draw a horizontal line across the vertical one.  Leave a space the size of the nozzle above and pipe another horizontal line above that etc. till you get to the top.  You then draw another vertical line next to the first one and pipe horizontal lines in the gaps (I hope this all makes sense!). You continue this all the way around the cake.

Now my biggest problem was my improvised piping bag.  I currently only have a large piping bag, which was too big for the nozzle I was using, so I used a sandwich bag with the corner cut off instead.  When you squeezed the piping bag, however, a small hole would often appear, which made it really hard to get any icing out at all, let alone evenly. My poor dad was there with the duck tape, taping any holes as they came!  With his help I finally managed to finish the basket weave and started on the top edges.

I used the Wilton 17 nozzle with the remaining buttercream icing to tidy to outside edge of the cake.  To achieve this effect hold the piping bag horizontally, squeeze quite hard while holding the bag still and gently remove pressure as you move the bag sideways.  Again I had problems with my piping bag and couldn’t squeeze too hard in case the bag decided to explode!

To finish the cake off, I stuck the fondant flowers and leaves onto the top of the cake with a little buttercream in whatever arrangement I thought looked good. This was at 2am however so my idea of ‘good’ may have been a little off at the time!

The last job of the night was to decorate the cupcakes. I used the Wilton 2D nozzle to make little roses in the centre of the cupcake and used spare fondant flowers and leaves to decorate the side.

Both the cupcakes and the big cake went down a treat at the bake sale and lots of money was raised for ‘Volunteer Reading Help’. A job well done and a hell of a lot of fun with the piping – only next time I might have to invest in some better piping bags!

Apple Streudal Cake

Apple crumble is one of my favourite puddings and I was saving this cake for a time that I could enjoy it; preferably a time when we didn’t have too many people to have to share it with!

This week, I promised my brother a cake in return for a lift and he called the favour in with this cake.

The cake had three different layers: the sponge, the apples and the crumble.  I didn’t listen to the recipe and started off by chopping up the fruit.  I was supposed to peel, core and slice 3 Granny Smith apples; but by then end I think there were about 2 apples worth of slices left (I had taken the ‘one for me, one for you’ method of chopping fruit).

The crumble is simply made by chopping up the butter while cold, and rubbing it in with the cinnamon and flour till it looks like breadcrumbs.  Then you stir in the sugar and tra-laa.

The sponge followed what I consider to be the standard recipe.  Mix the wet ingredients together and sift in the dry ones.  I poured the batter into the pre-greased tin and started place the slices on top in concentric circles.  The cake went straight into the oven to cook.

Forty-five minutes later, the oven bell went and everyone started on at me to get it ready to eat.  The cake smelled amazing and I quickly heated some custard to accompany it.  OK, so it was ready made custard, we’re taking baby steps here!

 

The cake tasted amazing.  I am incredibly happy with this recipe, it’s my two favourite things meshed into one: cake + apple crumble = beautiful.  The cinnamon in the crumble gave it a nice kick and it went beautifully with the custard.  The apples were cooked perfectly, still a tiny bit crunch but really sweet and juicy.

I’d definitely suggest this to everyone and anyone. It’s a great treat and is something a bit different from your average cake or apple crumble.  Officially another favourite!

A Christmas Marble Loaf

So, it was Christmas (as if you didn’t already know) and there were a few recipes that I had saved up specially. Firstly, I wanted to remake the Cinnamon and Raisin Loaf, as I was naughty and didn’t blog on it the last time I made it.

I started by whisking together the butter and sugar; and adding the eggs one at a time.  My £3 electric whisk was starting to make some really strange noises and I said a tiny little prayer to get it through the day, as I had so much to bake!

I carried on whisking the mixture and added the flour, baking powder, salt and soured cream to the mixture.  The recipe then said to take out some of the mixture and stir in the cinnamon.  This made a really lovely smelling brown batter. The raisins were then stirred into the remaining batter.

I then put the original batter in the greased and dusted tin and spooned in the cinnamon batter on top.  Now the first time I tried this recipe I was too scared to mix it in too much in case it all turned one colour.  This time I tried to stir it in more but was still a bit worried about over mixing.

The loaf went into the oven for around an hour; about halfway through the smell started to waft from the kitchen.  Boy do I love the smell cinnamon makes in a cake! I was so tempted to take it out there and then but I prevailed and didn’t open the oven door till the timer went.

The cake came out and was essentially demolished.  I absolutely love this cake; it’s the perfect mixture of sweetness and cinnamon. It goes great with tea or coffee and was the perfect pre-Christmas treat.  I even could deal with the raisins, although I’d love to try it with dark chocolate chips next time.

An Angellic Cake… But Does it Taste Good?

Since I’ve started this blog, my colleague has refused to try my cakes and has said he’ll try them when I make a protein cake… Charming! Well it was his last day on Friday and I looked through the Hummingbird Bakery books to find something that could be called a protein cake.  I found the Angel Cake.

What makes it a protein cake you might ask? Well firstly, the lack of any butter, caster sugar or any form of sweetness makes it very healthy, and secondly there are 10 egg whites used in the recipe.  Look up protein cake in the dictionary and you’d find a picture of this cake.

So how do you make a cake with no butter or casting sugar? Well I had to whisk the egg whites and crème of tartar till they had ‘soft peaks’.  I still have no idea what a ‘soft peak’ is so I guessed, naturally.  You then carefully fold in the flour, a bit of icing sugar, and the vanilla and almond essence in a bit at a time so that you don’t fold out all the air.

This goes into you’re prepared tin and into the oven for 50 minutes.  When my time went off I tested the cake with a skewer and it came out clean all over even though it was quite light.  I put this down to  the egg whites and left it to cool before attempting to take it out of the tin. I’ve decided I don’t like my tin any more because it keeps taking a little chunk of cake with it here and there no matter how much I grease it.  Oh well.

I left cake to cool overnight before attempting putting icing sugar onto the cake.  The recipe states to dust icing sugar on top as decoration, I decided on the same method but tried to be clever with it (as always!).  I cut out letters that said ‘Bye Aaron’ and put them onto the cake before dusting the icing sugar.  This looked amazing and I was really happy with it.

So I run upstairs to get changed and come back down to put the cake in the cake box and leave; to my horror half the letters had dissappeared – the cake sucked up the icing sugar! Eek!  I was running late as it was so packed it up and left, hoping that all the icing sugar would get sucked up, which it did.

I finally made it to work and was starting to get more and more worried about the cake – bits were broken off from the tin, there was no ‘Bye Aaron’ on the top, let alone any icing at all, not to mention I was worried about the taste.

After all that worrying, the cake went down a treat anyway.  We served it with blueberries and strawberries and everyone loved the taste.  Everyone, except me!  Personally i thought it was too  heavy and tasted more like a brioche than a cake.  Everyone else loved it because it was so healthy and not too sweet.  It definately wasn’t for me though;  I think if you’re going to make a cake, you might as well go all out.  Don’t be put off though, the cake is nice with fruit and is a good alternative if you want to be healthy and still have a sweet treat.

An Indulgent Apple Cake

We had special guests coming over to our house this week and I was commissioned to bake something for dessert.  I decided to try out the Spiced Apple Cake with Brown Sugar frosting, solely based on the fact that it would be big enough to feed a lot of people.

Reading through the ingredients, I did start to get a little scared so I think its my responsibility to provide this warning: this cake has a hell of a lot of butter and sugar in it; I mean LOTS! Naturally my mum managed to find out and had a mini heart attack but I tried to calm her down with the knowledge that a little slice wouldn’t have THAT much in it (denial is so sweet!).

Anyways, onto baking this monster of a cake.  The first part consists of grating the apples and cooking it with some butter, sugar and yummy spices.  The smell of this alone got my tummy rumbling! I then chopped up all the pecan nuts while the syrup type liquid cooled.

Once everything was chopped and ready it was again a matter of whisking together the wet ingredients and slowly adding the dry ingredients.  Sound simple? For this monster cake, nothing seemed to be simple. It took a long time to mix the dry ingredients in.  I have to admit that hand mixing the pecans and the apples was definitely a good arm work out though.

Unfortunately I didn’t have 4 cake tins to hand so I poured the batter into three and improvised with a loaf tin (decided on a mini side cake to go with the monster).  Cooking time took a lot longer as there was more in each tin and with 4 different tins to check; the oven door got left open for a while.  This is why my cakes have sunk a bit.

While the cakes were cooling I prepared the icing; again I was shocked at how much butter went into it but I decided that this not-so-normal cake needed not-so-normal icing.  Once the icing was ready, I left it to cool for an hour.

Icing the cake was easier than normal.  My best tip for icing a layered cake with any sort of icing would be to start with a crumb coat.  This is simply a thin layer of icing that you spread over the cake, that once dry, keeps in all the crumbs.  When you start icing a second layer the icing comes out a lot smoother and straighter.

I decorated the cake by drawing stripes in the icing using the palette knife and going round the edges with a randomly chosen Wilton nozzle.  My cake did turn out looking more like a basket but it was the taste I was counting on.

The cake actually got a round of applause at the dinner party, everyone loved the taste and the nutty texture; even the icing went down well.  They loved the fact that it wasn’t too sweet but had a nice mix of both cake and icing.

If I’m completely honest however, I was let down a bit by the apple flavour, or lack of. I couldn’t wait for the spiced apple taste but found it seriously lacking.  Although the cake went down amazingly well, I don’t think I’ll be making it again.  I would recommend this cake to people who don’t have much of a sweet tooth but still enjoy a nice dessert; just be warned that its tastes more like a pecan cake than a spiced apple cake and is a tiny bit calorific!

A Mission To Reach Perfection….With A Banana Loaf!

With the success of making the lemon loaf, I decided to try another recipe to see if I can use all the batter this time.  If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  So here goes my second attempt, my excuse for baking this week was Father’s day.

For some reason, I get really excited when I have to put different spices into cakes because I know however they turn out, they definitely won’t be labelled as bland.  This cake had a mixture of cinnamon and ginger in it.  The job of mashing up the bananas was allocated to my father (as it was father’s day I wanted to ‘include’ him in the preparation!) and was apparently quite fun to do.

Last time I made a loaf, I was worried the batter would overflow so didn’t put all of it in and made a few cupcakes.  This time, I wanted to see if I could use all of the batter.  Ignoring my gut feeling not to, I put all the batter into the pre greased and dusted tin, put it in the oven and forbid myself to open the door until it was done.

Now you’re probably waiting for me to tell you of my complete failure; but it didn’t turn out that bad.  It was all nicely cooked; it just decided to not look very much like a loaf.  Instead of rising, as the cake hadn’t cooked enough before the batter rose to the top; it collapsed and spread along the sides of the tin. It ended up looking more like a mushroom if I’m honest.

This turned the simple act of getting a cake out of the tin into a very tricky experience; thankfully I somehow managed it and left the cake to cool.  I grabbed my father and rushed him off to his Father’s Day present, dinner and the ballet.

Regardless of its interesting shape; the cake  turned out really well,  it was very moist and the mix of banana and spices complimented eachother really well; each not being too overpowering.  Definately one to try EVEN if you don’t like bananas!

A Loaf of Lemoniness…

Another first for me but a different type of first: still cake, different tin.  A lemon loaf. I’m guessing it’s called a loaf because of the tin but you never know, there may be an extremely scientific or arbitrary reason.  Anyone who can enlighten me, please do.

Any-who, I digress.  I have a love/hate relationship with lemon cakes: love the taste; hate the effect it has on my poor fingers.  This recipe only called for 2 lemons to be grated (thankfully) so it didn’t take too long to get started on baking.

 

The recipe seemed to be the reverse of you’re normal cake making process, as the butter went last.  I actually had to switch the bowl I was using because I immediately put the butter in first.  Oops.  Other than this there weren’t any huge dilemmas.  I used the same technique of greasing and dusting the tin to stop it sticking.

Ok. I lie.  There was one other mini mishap.  I had a bit of a panic when it came to putting the batter into the cake tin; nothing too dramatic, there just seemed to be a lot of batter in relation to my cake tin.  I was a bit worried that the cake would seriously overflow into a gooey mess while baking so held back on using the rest.  Instead I improvised and made a few lemon cupcakes.

After going in the oven, the cake took around an hour to cook (this was less time than the recipe suggests but I put that down to not using all the batter).  The loaf came out really nice and golden; to be fair I could have used all the batter without making a mess but this is a learning curve.

 

The syrup was easy enough to figure out: sugar, water, lemon zest and juice.  You’d think that I couldn’t manage to mess that one up right? Wrong.  I got a bit eager and started preparing the syrup as soon as the cake started to bake and then took it off the heat when it was ready and the cake had a long way to go still.  With the cake timer beeping I came back to see my syrup had gone a bit sticky and, well, solid.  It was saved quite easily by putting it back on the hob for a minute or two but I ended up with less syrup than I should have had.  I would suggest starting on the syrup when the cake is out of the oven.

Another tip for pouring the syrup, make little holes in the loaf before you pour the syrup over.  Doing this makes some of the syrup go through to the cake and makes it that much nicer.  The loaf came out really nice and moist and was greatly enjoyed by the lucky person who got it as a present.

A Last Minute Bake-A-Thon

It’s midnight.  I have no idea why I decided to start writing up this blog post at this time of night, but I do know that after 3 hours of baking I’m still on a bit of a baking high.  Yes there is such a thing as a baking high!

On my way home from work on Friday, I was asked to bake something for a barbeque on Saturday and decided on a Guinness chocolate cake, which I naturally had no ingredients for.  After a very speedy trip to the supermarket, I got hold of all the ingredients I needed and finally started baking at 9pm.

The recipe was simple enough to follow; even my tired self could cope.  Half of the ingredients went onto the hob with the Guinness and were later mixed with the flour and other dry ingredients.

According to the recipe, I didn’t have a cake tin big enough, so I used two and halved the batter.  Instead of greasing and dusting the cake tins, I tend to cut out a circle of greaseproof paper to fit the bottom of my cake tin and grease the sides.  To be honest I’m not quite sure how I came about this method of preparation but it’s worked perfectly for me so I stick to it when dealing with these types of cakes.

35 minutes later I whipped the cakes out of the oven and in a moment of panic, I almost chucked both cakes in the bin thinking that they had burnt. Thankfully I saw the picture in the cookbook just before, realised they’re meant to be very dark and stopped myself just in time.

I’m not very good at icing cakes properly; I can never seem to get the cake to stand straight and the icing to look smooth.  As I made two halves, I cut the top off one of the cakes (to straighten it out) and put a layer of cream cheese icing on top.  The second cake went on top of this and the 15 attempts to get the icing on straight and smooth started to commence.  Twenty minutes later I gave up and dusted the top with cocoa powder.

Second tip of the day; don’t put a lot of cocoa powder in the sieve and practice on an empty plate to figure out how gently you should shake it.  I got a bit excited and went crazy so had to mix the cocoa powder in with the icing and try again.

At 11pm I managed to turn out a slightly wonky and definitely not smooth Guinness Chocolate cake. You have to love the homemade feel of it though.  The cake got the official seal of approval at the barbeque, was loved by all and sneakily taken home by others.  It was a bit too rich for myself but the cream cheese frosting complimented it nicely.  Definitely one I’d tell everyone to try for the sake of saying you made a Guinness cake.