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Red Velvet Cakes

Today Hubs leaves a company he’s been with since he graduated and is heading to the big smoke of Derby to be a big, bossy, managerial engineer kind of thing. His current workmates have been testers for my baking experiments over the years from the Beetle Cakes (that left some horrified) to not so successful bakes that, because they are blokes, were still politely inhaled.

As part of his leaving day I promised to bake anything they requested and that meant Red Velvet and Lardy Cake. Two bakes that I’ve never made, let alone tasted. While Red Velvet cake is a big trend at the moment it’s yet to hit the rolling hills of Derbyshire. The Lardy Cake disturbed me. During baking stage the lard, of which I hate the smell of in the first place, leeches out of the bread and essentially fries the bottom of the bread. Then when it’s cooling in the tin the bread soaks it back up again. Read the rest of this entry

Baked Bean Tin Christmas Cake – pt 1

Before I get chastised for writing a C*&^%$£~s post in October the organised amongst you will be beginning to prep for festive baking time. While Stir-up Sunday, when you traditionally make Christmas Pudding, isn’t until 20thNovember, now is the time to start on the cake to give it sufficient feeding time. A Christmas Cake that hasn’t been stuffed to the gills with alcohol is deemed as substandard in this house. This is the recipe I’ve used for years, and after many request to stop keeping the recipe close to my chest here it is. It’s from a 2005 edition of Prima magazine and produces a lovely moist fruit cake. Read the rest of this entry

Beetle Forest Gateau

Those of you with entomophobia (fear of insects) may want to look away now. When I heard that the first Derby Clandestine Cake Club theme would be Trick or Treat I knew that last year’s Black Beetle Cakes would have to make a reappearance but in a slightly different form. The Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) has strict rules: no brownies, muffins, cookies pies or tarts and don’t even think of darkening the door with cupcakes. We’re talking big cakes that can serve 8-12 people. Derby’s first CCC was hosted by A Wannabe Foodie.

Read the rest of this entry

Writing for Marks & Sparks

Back in May I was asked to take part in top-secret mission. It meant I was going to work with an iconic British brand, spend some time researching a topic, write an article, develop a special recipe…and get paid for it. Fast forward a few months and Marks & Spencer have recently launched a social space called M&S Stories where customers can read about new ranges as well as insider tips & tricks. Now it has been launched I can say I was asked to be involved as a guest writer. First thing friends & family asked when they heard my news? Can you get me some free Percy Pigs? Ah, nope. I get first dibs. Read the rest of this entry

Apricot & Almond Tart

There’s no denying my favourite thing to bake is a cake that involves frangipane. Be it a Bakewell Tart or Rhubarb Tart I love the almond sponge. A few weeks ago mum gave me a jar of apricots that had been steeping in a thick whisky syrup and decided that combining them with a frangipane tart would be a great cake for the Easter weekend. While not necessarily a traditional Easter cake it certainly ties to spring with the colours.

While it’s lovely to use fresh fruit the wonders of preservation mean we can eat fruit all year round. I know some people are a bit stuffy about using tinned/jarred fruits but I have no such qualms as they still count as one of your 5 a day; ok maybe not when served in a cake! Preservation is an age-old method that allowed our ancestors to eat a balanced diet. If it was good enough for them it’s good enough for me. You don’t have to preserve your own fruit (though this is a great thing to do if you have a local PYO or a glut of fruit) as  there is a great choice out there. If you’re not looking for uniform fruit pieces many of the supermarket’s basic ranges are fantastic for fruit salads and fillings. Another gem  is to look in places like Home Bargains or B&M Bargins. You often get imports or more obscure end of lines for very good price. These apricots came from one of these stores. The pastry used in this tart is rich and can be rolled out quite thin which gives a fantastic crust to the pie. Certainly don’t skip the step of brushing the hot pastry with egg white as this seals the pastry and can stop filling leaking out.

Apricot & Almond Tart
serves 8-10


125g plain flour

Pinch of salt

75g unsalted butter, cold and diced

25g caster sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp cold water

1 egg white


100g butter, softened

100g caster sugar

2 large eggs

25g plain flour

100g ground almonds

1 tsp almond extract

30g flaked almonds

20 apricot halves

1)In a large bowl mix together flour, salt and sugar then rub in butter until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg yolk and water until you have a smooth dough. Flatten into a disk, cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for 45 min.

2)On a floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 3mm thick then line a 20cm tart tin with the pastry. Lightly prick the base with a fork and chill for 30 min.

3) Preheat the oven to 180oc (160oc fan). Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans then bake for 20min until pastry is a light golden colour. Remove the beans and parchment, brush the inside of the pastry shell with egg white and bake for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 min

4) While the pastry is cooling beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and almond extract. Stir in the flour and ground almonds until well combined.

5) Pour frangipane mix into pastry case. Level out with a pallet knife. Press apricot halves in to the frangipane mixture then sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 35-40 until risen and golden.

6) Allow to cool in tin before eating.

Light Chocolate Cake for Easter

Julia Parsons from A Slice of Cherry Pie has hosted an Easter Cake Bake since 2007. My previous entries have included Mini Egg Tiffin and Simnel Cupcakes. I was pleased when she announced she was hosting it again as I already had a cake in mind. Easter in the culinary world usually means chocolate and a lot of it. As we had visitors this weekend I thought it would be a great opportunity to make my first ever sandwich cake (yes you read that right, my first!) and bake something from my newest cookbook purchase – Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood.

Sometimes I’m a bit slow to jump on the cookery bandwagon, I haven’t attempted cake pops, whoopie pies or macarons yet. When Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache was released in 2009 I admit I didn’t pay too much attention to it even if I’d been baking vegetables in cakes for a while. Until someone on twitter was talking about this book recently I didn’t really appreciate what it was about. This isn’t just about baking with vegetables it’s about gluten free baking and baking cakes without butter. Shocking at first the thought of baking without butter, but this can be replaced in the cake by vegetables. As Harry points out only use butter in cakes where it is going to be tasted. With the ever-increasing price of butter this is good advice. In the case of the Light Chocolate Cake the butter is replaced with Butternut Squash. While the majority of the recipes featured in the book use rice flour this can often be substituted with plain flour if you wanted to. I haven’t had a problem sourcing rice flour. Sainsbury’s sells Doves Farm rice flour, but you won’t find it by the conventional flour it’s but the free from foods. Holland & Barrett also sell brown rice flour.

You would never guess this moist, fluffy cake was gluten free and tasted far from virtuous. In keeping with the slightly haphazard way I bake the two layers of the cake were slightly different sizes, I was too stubborn to go and buy two identical tins but being blinded by the chocolate no one noticed. I could have trimmed the layers to make them equal, but was running out of time.

I could put the recipe below, but if you followed it probably wouldn’t work as the recipes from this fantastic cookbook are not simply recipes they are a revolution in baking. To get the most out of the recipe you need to read the introduction in the beginning of the book that explains the ingredients and methods that are different to traditional baking. To give you an idea about the recipes in Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache Harry has put a few of the recipes on her website. I wholeheartedly recommend buying the book and look forward to baking from it again soon.

Royal Wedding Mr Whippy Cakes

When deciding what to do for a Royal Weddings bake I wanted to combine my desire to bake something a bit kitsch and the fact that the Royal Wedding means we get a Bank Holiday. What’s the activity Brits stereotypically do on a Bank Holiday, apart from catching up with the DIY and watching Sound of Music? Head to the coast, no matter the weather, and eat Mr Whippys on a wind-whipped beach.

The last made I made Ice Cream Cupcakes was for my Birthday a few years back. Now I own a Wilton1M tip I decided to give these cakes another go. I’m still getting there with my piping technique. What you can’t see is the gaps at the back between the cone and the icing! By the time I make them again at the end of the month I’ll be better. I need to keep remembering to hold the tip at a 90° angle to the cake. Thank you to the people who have also given me the tip to add a small amount of milk to get the buttercream smoother when being piped. I think I got a bit overenthusiastic when beating the butter and sugar.

The best types of colours I find are the gel/paste colours as they don’t water down the icing and allow you to get the intense colours. The colour also intensifies once the icing is left to rest so be aware of this when your mixing it. Since I took the photos for this blog 2 hours ago the colours on the cakes are now very much vivid! The best tips I can give for the buttercream is to please use butter (products like Stork, Trex etc taste awful in buttercream) and whip it more that you think you need to. The more you whip it the whiter and fluffier it will become but don’t go too mad or, as you can see in the photos, while you have super fluffy icing the bubbles in the buttercream give rougher edges.

So what are you making and baking for the Royal Wedding?

Royal Wedding Mr Whippy Cakes
Makes 8-10 cakes

For the cakes
125g plain flour

125g caster sugar

125g softened butter

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 tsp baking powder

8 flat bottomed ice cream cones

for the icing
120g unsalted butter, softened

240g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

red & blue food colouring

2 Flakes, cut in 1/4

1) Preheat the oven to 180oc. Beat together the sugar, butter and eggs, then mix in the rest of the ingredients.

2) Line up the cones on a baking sheet. It does make it slightly easier if you put the cones in the cups of a bun pan or individual silicone cupcake liners.

3) Fill up the cones about 2/3 with cake mix. Don’t overfill or they erupt over the top. Bake in the oven for 15 min, or until they are golden and pass the skewer test. Allow to cool on a wire rack before icing.

4) Once the cakes have cooled beat together the butter and vanilla extract then gradually add the icing sugar. Beat until desired consistency. Split the icing in ¼. Colour one ¼ blue, another red and the remaining icing stays white. Spoon into a piping bag. You can either put all the icing in the bag together (like above) or make 4 individual piping bags and put them inside a bigger bag. Pipe the swirls on the cakes. Decorate with a flake. Leave for a few hours to allow the icing to set.

Blackberry and Lemon Curd Loaf

Sometimes in amongst the chaos you want something to bring a hint of summer to the days. After doing some recipe testing for work I was left with some lemon curd along with some Greek yoghurt and good old Stork (I’ve been teaching about WW2 rationing if you’re wondering about the Stork!) and wanted to do some baking. After a quick request on twitter I decided on this recipe. The blackberries I found at the bottom of the freezer we foraged near Calke Abbey last September were a perfect summery addition.

I’ve only ever made a cake with yogurt before and it was a total fail. The cake refused to cook in the middle and collapsed into a soppy mess when turned out of the tin so I’ve always been a bit suspicious of yogurt cakes. This didn’t work out too badly at all. What is surprising about this recipe is that you just throw all the ingredients together and beat together, this slightly scares the traditionalist in me. I think the cake could be a bit lighter if you do the traditional method of creaming the butter and sugar together then adding the eggs and finally the rest of the ingredients. However, if you still use the bung-it-all-in-together method it does still work.

When baking soft fresh fruit in cakes do be careful. It can be tempting to put more fruit in that the recipe suggests but this can lead to a heavy soggy cake. Also sprinkle the fruit on the top of the cake just before you put it in the oven. This can help reduce the distance the fruit sinks in the cake.

Blackberry & Lemon Curd Loaf
Makes 1 2lb loaf
Based on BBC Good Food recipe

175g softened butter or marg (in this case I use the leftover Stork)

100ml Greek yoghurt

3 tbsp lemon curd

3 eggs

1 tbsp lemon juice

200g self-raising flour

175g caster sugar

100g blackberries

for the icing

icing sugar

lemon juice

1) Preheat oven to 160°c/140°c(fan) and line a 2lb loaf tin.

2) Put all the cake ingredients, apart from the blackberries, in a bowl and beat together with an electric whisk until just combined. Don’t overdo it or you could have a heavy cake.

3) Pour the cake batter into the lined tin then sprinkle the blackberries on top. Bake for 1hr15min – 1hr30min or until cake has risen, golden and cooked through. Use a skewer to test it.

4) Once cake has cooled turn out of the tin. Mix icing sugar and icing sugar together until desired consistency and drizzle over the cake. I never measure the icing amounts, just do it by eye.

Herman the German Cake

I will admit, until my sister-in-law gave me this recipe and starter I had never heard of this cake before. A little researching and I found out it is a little bit like the cake of the sourdough world in that you are given a starter, you feed it then split it up and pass it on to friends. Claire from Things We Make & Fairyfeltmaker have been the lucky recipients of this batch of starter, though I did warn them at the time that I hadn’t made the cake and didn’t have a clue as to what it would be like! While over tea & cookies at the QUAD cafe in Derby, Claire & I christened this cake Herman the German because we love a bit of rhyming and it is thought the cake does originate from Germany.

It takes 10 days to turn the starter into something that is suitable for making a cake. When it came to making the cake I was pleasantly surprised as it was light and fluffy. Airborne yeast is used to make the dough rise.  Claire told me the Herman cakes she had tasted in the past were similar to a Mr Kipling Manor House Cake and I have to agree with her.

I’m not sure how you would go about making your own starter. The recipe I was given is quite cringy with the wording, but here it is. One thing I would say is that I did it in a 8″x8″ tin as the tin suggested seemed far too big. Within 50 min the cake was cooked perfectly. I also ditched the nuts and used 100g sultanas, 50g of glace cherries and 50g citrus peel.

Day 1 Herman is given to you. Pour him into a large bowl (not metal)
Day 2 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon (you can leave the spoon in the bowl)
Day 3 Stir herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 4 Herman is hungry; give him – 200ml milk, 8oz/200g self raising flour, 10oz/250g sugar
Day 5 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 6 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 7 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 8 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 9 Herman is hungry. Give him – 200ml milk, 8oz/200g self raising flour, 10oz/ 250g sugar. Share him into 5 equal portion and give four little Herman’s away with a copy of these instructions. Keep the 5th portion for yourself.
Day 10 Herman is absolutely starving. Give him – 6oz/150g self raising flour, 3 eggs, 2 tsps cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder, 4oz/100g finely chopped nuts, 2 grated apples or 4oz/100g of any dried fruit and cherries, 150ml sunflower oil

Now Herman likes to go to a hot resort, the oven will do. Pre heat the oven to 170oc/Gas mark 3.5. Mix everything together and pour him into a cake tin (10″ x 12″ baking tray). Leave him in the oven for about 1 hour. Herman is now ready to eat.

Chocolate Banana Bread

I will openly admit, I’ve always been a Nigella fan and I don’t care what people say. Her cookbook How to be a Domestic Goddess was one of the first books I bought for the house when we moved into it 5 years ago. It ended up igniting a passion for cooking and is one of the most used books in the house. My favourite recipes from it have to be the brownies and banana bread. The banana bread being totally fail safe and, I think, the first recipe I cooked from it. Even me, a chronic recipe fiddler, sticks very closely to her recipe as it’s so good.

Well I say I stick to the recipe, with baking recently I’ve been cutting back on sugar. As much as I love baking I surprisingly don’t have a sweet tooth. Offer me a chocolate bar of bag of crisps I will unashamedly take the crisps. I don’t like sweeteners for various reasons so prefer to use the real thing, but use less of it. With the majority of cakes you can cut back on the sugar as much as 50% without ruining the cake. Of course this won’t work with food like jam and meringues where the sugar is essential.   Now I make the majority of things we eat from scratch the biggest thing I’ve noticed is how over-sweet the majority of shop-bought cakes and biscuits are. So much so I can no longer eat the once-loved chocolate digestive as I find it tooth-achingly sweet. This banana bread certainly doesn’t lose anything from the sugar being reduced as so much sweetness comes from the banana and sultanas. If anything it brings out the rich chocolate taste. One thing I will say is that the banana does have a tendency to sink to the bottom in this cake, but don’t worry as this gives it a delicious gooey fudgeyness.

Chocolate Banana Bread
based on Nigella Banana Bread recipe

100g sultanas

75ml dark rum

150g plain flour

25g cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

125g unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

4 (300g) ripe bananas, mashed

50g chocolate chips

1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Place the sultanas and rum in a bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave overnight.

2) Preheat oven to 170°c then grease or line a 2lb loaf tin.

3) Mix the melted butter and sugar together until well combined then beat in the eggs one by one followed by the mashed bananas. Stir in the chocolate chips, vanilla and sultanas

4) In a separate bowl mix together the remaining dry ingredients then carefully stir into the wet ingredients. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the cake passes the skewer test.

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