Cookies & Cream…. And Cake

 I’ve waited a really long time to make the Cookies and Cream cake from the Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home recipe book.  Apparently I have very few friends who have a sweet enough tooth to handle this dynamic duo.  Thankfully, my friend from work had a birthday coming up, and has a seriously sweet tooth (even sweeter than mine!) so I shot-gunned cake duty and went all out on this cake.Read More »

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The 2-4-1: Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

Need I say more? Even the name of these scrumptious little delights get my mouth watering, metaphorically … and a little literally!

I’ve made these cupcakes before and was more than happy to make them again; my excuse this time being that it had been a while since I’d taken anything to the office and my colleagues were suffering from baked-good-withdrawal-symptoms.  Ahem … any excuse to bake!

These cupcakes followed the pretty basic vanilla cupcake recipe; to be honest the hardest part of the challenge was not to eat all the strawberries before they could be used.  I tend to follow a one-for-you / one-for me strategy when it comes to strawberries and have resorted to buying twice the amount in the recipe just so there’s enough for everyone.

This time there was the challenge of not eating the cupcakes when I was chopping them up, and when I was distributing them among the cupcake cases. I’m a hopeless case!

Despite all these setbacks, I did manage to distribute the chopped up strawberries to all the cupcake cases and quickly filled the cases with batter  (up to 2/3rds full).  I figured this would stop me eating any more strawberries!

The cupcakes took around 25 minutes to bake – as my oven has randomly decided to take much more time to cook anything – and came out a light golden brown. Yum. The first cupcake went straight to my mum, as she didn’t want any cream-cheese frosting (wtf?!). The rest went onto a wire rack to cool down while I made my icing.

It is the icing/decoration that turns these strawberry cupcakes into cheesecake cupcakes.  I whipped up a batch of Hummingbird Bakery cream cheese frosting, and twirled it in the famous Hummingbird Bakery style.  Once this was done I crushed up a few digestive biscuits and sprinkled them on top of the icing.

The cupcakes were packed up and taken to work the next day – all 24 were gone by lunchtime!  Thankfully I did manage to get my hands on a cupcake to ‘taste test‘ before they all disappeared.

What can I say about this recipe? It’s literally a two-for-one situation: the strawberry cupcake on the bottom is tasty enough on it’s own, but add the ‘cheesecake’ part on top – what else could you want in life?

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!

Better Than A Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

I flaked on going out with a friend the other week and promised I’d make it up to him. He decided it that I could make it up by baking something with chocolate and orange. This was when a little light bulb turned on in my head and I remembered a recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery book for Chocolate Orange cupcakes.

The surprising thing about this recipe, however, was that it also used vanilla essence … hmm. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical while making the cupcakes, I thought there would be too many different flavours going on.  But, as always, I put my trust in the Hummingbird Bakery and powered through.

The cupcakes were made in the standard Hummingbird way, mixing all the ‘wet’ ingredients e.g. butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence etc. with all the ‘dry’ ones.  Once everything was incorporated and the batter was smooth. I used smaller, UK sized cupcake cases and managed to get 24 cupcakes out of the batter.

 

After twenty minutes in the oven, out came some great smelling, and perfectly flat cupcakes.  I was so happy! It’s been ages since they’ve come out looking so nice.

I let them cool and made up the icing, which consisted of icing sugar, butter, cream cheese, orange zest and cocoa powder.  Now I’ve finally learnt that you can’t pipe icing with any bits in it, no matter how well you mix it. So I went for the typical Hummingbird Bakery swirl and put a few chocolate stars on each to decorate.

 

A box of these cupcakes went to work with me the next day, as I seriously doubted my friend could work his way through 24 of them.  I got to work at 9am with the intention not to try one, but I caved by 11am and had a cupcake with my tea, for taste testing reasons, of course.

Now I’ve never actually had a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but the cupcakes taste exactly how I imagine them to be.  A colleague actually said they tasted better, and another described the cupcakes as ‘heaven’.  Well, you can’t get a compliment better than that!

Personally I really liked the taste and was pleasantly surprised that all the different flavours worked so well.  The vanilla essence actually helped to develop the orangey flavour.  The icing is beautifully smooth and unbelievably tasty.  Definitely one to bake again!

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!

A Halloween Treat

For Halloween this year I was determined to make two things that were thankfully related:  carve my first pumpkin, and make pumpkin cupcakes.

Now the first part, carving my first pumpkin, was actually a lot easier than it seemed.  The hardest part was trying to get enough pumpkin out to make the cupcakes with, after that it was a case of carving without trying to cut any fingers off.

The pumpkin cupcakes were a bit harder to carry out, I firstly had no idea what pumpkin puree was or how to find it in a supermarket! Thankfully my mum came to the rescue and made some puree with the insides of my pumpkin.  Phew!

Actually making the cupcakes seemed pretty easy; you mix the ‘dry’ ingredients in one bowl, then add the ‘wet’ ingredients to the mix.  I think this is where I made two mistakes. Firstly the pumpkin puree itself seemed to have too much water in it, even though we squeezed as much moisture out as possible.  Secondly, it was really hard to mix the puree in evenly, so I must have over-mixed the batter.

The batter was spooned into the cases and into the oven for 25 minutes.  They came out sunken, which was because of the over-mixing, but otherwise smelt great.  The pumpkin and the cinnamon make a great smelling team!  Another thing I noticed however was that the bottom of the cupcake cases were really greasy; I put this down to the moisture in the pumpkin.

I made up the cream cheese frosting, twirled in the famous Hummingbird Bakery style, dusted it with cinnamon and distributed the cupcakes among neighbours and friends.  Everyone loved the taste and said it was really lovely and moist.  I had some issues however; again I think It was because of the two mistakes I made, but the cake itself seemed too moist for me and I felt like it stuck to the roof of my mouth.  Once you get past that, the actual taste is good; I’ve never had pumpkin anything before but the cinnamon used in the recipe really complimented the taste and texture of the pumpkin.

I would make these cupcakes again, even if it was purely because everyone else liked it so much, but I would take more time to perfect the puree next time.

Carrot and Ginger Cake…One of Your 5-A-Day? I Think So.

This recipe was meant to be the Pièce de résistance as a dessert for yet another dinner party.  I made Apricot and Almond cookies as a pre-snack to go on the table but wanted to make a layer cake for dessert.

The Apricot and Almond cookies were made first and I decided to take a tea break before I attempted the main cake; my mum was cooking the numerous dishes and I decided to give her a break from battling for kitchen space.

Before actually starting the cake, the recipe calls for a lot of grated carrots and root ginger.  I actually hate grating but everyone was busy and I couldn’t beg them to do it for me so I sat there for a good 20 minutes grating with a tortured look upon my face.  I made it through my ordeal with only five small injuries (nothing compared to how many injuries I normally get!).  The carrots, ginger, vanilla essence, oil, butter and sugar got whisked together to make a not so attractive ‘mix’.

The dry ingredients, were sieved together and then mixed into the carrot mixture in two goes.  It was when I got to the next step that I realised I had to chop up and stir in lots of pecan nuts.  Once again I would suggest reading the recipe through once before actually starting; a mistake I don’t seem to learn from apparently.

I finally managed to get the batter into three prepared sandwich tins and into the oven for around 45-50 minutes.  They came out smelling amazing but had risen quite a lot.  I left them to cool a bit before taking them out of the tins.  I then attempted ‘trimming’ the top of the cakes to make them flat enough to layer on top of each other.  It is actually quite painful to do this, as it feels like a complete waste but I luckily have members of family that walk into the kitchen, pick up a ‘trimmed’ piece, a cup of tea and walk back out again; so at least it was all eaten.

I was worried that the cakes wouldn’t cool in time so I put them into the fridge and made the icing just before the guests arrived.  The icing was essentially the cream cheese frosting recipe with orange zest.  In the past, I’ve had issues with zest and piping and I had planned to make a wicker basket pattern along the side so I vetoed the orange zest.  I layered each cake on top of the other with icing in the middle and applied the ‘crumb coat’, which is essentially a thin layer of icing around cake to lock in any stray crumbs.

This is when I realised the biggest problem in my master plan; the heat.  For those who don’t live in the UK; we’ve been lucky enough to have a random heat wave, which was amazing and thoroughly enjoyed until I had to deal with icing. Although I followed the recipe to the letter and the icing wasn’t watery in any way; it wasn’t drying as it should and was a lot moister than it had been just after I made it.  So, I squeezed the cake  and the rest of the icing into the fridge to cool off properly.

When it came to the top coat of icing I decided to scrap my plan to do a wicker basket pattern as it would take too long and the icing wouldn’t last long enough to hold the pattern in the heat.  I ended up adding the orange zest and copying the decoration that was on the recipe book.  I used the palette knife to create vertical stripes along the sides and a nice spiral pattern on the top.  I also couldn’t find any orange food colouring so stuck to pecans along the top rather than making icing carrots.

This again went back into the fridge until serving to make sure that nothing melted away.   Once the cake came out, there were lots of ooh’s and aah’s and I had about 30seconds to get a few photo’s before it was cut up, served, and consumed; you wouldn’t think these people had just had a huge meal the way they were going at it!

I managed to get a slice to take a photo of and turned around to answer a question; when I turned back to take the photo some one had sniped a bit of it! Typical! In terms of taste, you can’t really taste the ginger but it is still a really nice cake. What I found strange was that you could see the carrots when the batter went into the oven, but when it came out and got sliced you couldn’t.  Intriguing. Anywhoo its definately a cake to try and hey, its one of your 5-a-day (or should be) so you have a reason to make it.

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.