The BIG Cake Show

BigCakeShow-Matt-Austin-134

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited by the organisers of The BIG Cake Show to go along as a VIP blogger and sample the many cakey delights on offer.

For those of you who don’t know, The BIG Cake Show is a brand new event in Exeter organised by local friends, event organisers and baking enthusiasts Kim and Mel. It took place over three days, following a similar format to the Cake and Bake shows in Manchester and London, which I’m sure many of you will have been to.

There were baking demonstrations, from both celebrities and local chefs, classroom workshops, children’s activities, competitions and of course lots and lots of fabulous local and national producers and suppliers selling everything from cake decorating tools to chocolates, wine and of course cake.

Although on a smaller scale than the Cake and Bake shows, there was plenty going on to make it well worth the bargain £12 entry – I was kept entertained from 11 until 5, and I don’t exactly have the longest attention span…

The big draws in terms of celeb chefs were Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, but neither of them were there on the Saturday when I went. I really wasn’t too bothered though, as my two favourite GBBO contestants (and winners) were there – Edd Kimber and John Whaite.

John was up first, giving a demo which was half baking, half stand up comedy – he was brilliant! The butterscotch banana giant chelsea bun he made looked incredible too – I believe the recipe is in his new book which came out this week…

One of the benefits of my VIP ticket was priority seating for the demos. I was a little bit late arriving for John, so I just ran in and grabbed the first seat I saw, in the middle of the front row. It was only when John made a comment about the people sat next to me that I realised it was actually Edd Kimber and Jo Wheatley, off of actual Bake Off!

I took the opportunity to grab a quick photo with Edd – what a lovely man! His demo later in the afternoon was fab too – making a flour less chocolate and blackberry cake, he did a great job of answering all the audience’s questions and you could tell there was no blagging whatsoever, he really does know his stuff! Although I can’t help but be a little jealous of anyone who bakes for a living and classes Paul A Young as one of their best friends…

I also saw local chefs Rob Spencer and Darrin Hosegrove from Ashburton Cookery School demoing in the West Country Larder, ably (?!) assisted by local radio DJ David ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald. The cookery school has won loads of awards and should anyone really, REALLY love me, one of their patisserie courses would make an excellent gift… Just saying!

It was great to see local producers alongside the bigger baking companies, and I enjoyed both catching up with some I’ve met at previous events and meeting some lovely new people too.

For anyone who shares the same mild obsession with blueberries that I have, the Blueberry Brothers are just amazing – they make jam, truffles, brownies, tarts and muffins, as well as a blueberry beer called Blue Yonder which I’ve been on the lookout for since Christmas.

I should explain – pre-Christmas, I met Nick from the Blueberry Brothers at a farmers’ market in Plymouth. We got chatting, and he gave me a recipe for venison seared in blueberry jam then slow cooked in blueberry beer, which I wrote up and gave to my stepdad along with a bottle of beer and jar of jam. He like the recipe so much he wanted to do it again, but sadly Blue Yonder isn’t too readily available in Cornwall – so when I saw it on Saturday I was more than a bit happy!

Not a beer lover myself, I sampled one of their blueberry and apple muffins, fuel for the long drive home, and it was absolutely delicious. Next on my list to try is their blueberry marzipan – I have a feeling I could quickly become addicted.

One of my favourite new finds of the day was Frandie Macaron. Having previously spoken to them on Twitter, I made a beeline for their stand when I arrived, to check out all the beautiful brightly coloured macarons, hand made in Devon.

I’ve always been too scared to make macarons, so it was rather reassuring to see that even the professionals don’t always get it right – Frandie Macaron sell bags of ‘maca-wrongs’ – misshapen shells that taste just as good but are a little lacking in the looks department.

I tried one of their raspberry and limoncello macarons, which were created especially for the show through a fan competition. It was lush – I really do need to have a go at making my own though. Soon, maybe…

In the competition arena was a great selection of novelty cakes, all with a South West theme. The winning cake really was outstanding, they packed everything Westcountry that they could think of into a bit tower of cake, including Yeo Valley yoghurt, Clarks shoes, Paignton Zoo and Thatchers Cider – just look at the INSANE detail, I can only dream of being able to make a cake this good!

So, The BIG Cake Show was basically brilliant, and I am so happy that Mel and Kim have managed to create something for people in the South West – as much as I love cake, the 5 hour drive/7 hour coach to London is not the most fun, and I know a lot of people will agree that with so many amazing local bakers and producers, it’s only right that the South West should have its own show!

Thanks to Tracy and The BIG Cake Show team for my VIP pass, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

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Salted caramel aubergine chocolate torte (GF)

Sorry for the slightly long title, but I really needed to include all the key elements of this cake so you know what we’re talking about.

First up, I lied – it’s not a cake. It it deliciously dense and squidgy, it sinks in the middle – it’s definitely a torte.

It’s chocolate. Super chocolate. But it also has probably the weirdest vegetable I’ve baked with replacing any butter or oil – aubergine.

And then there’s the salted caramel. What dessert isn’t improved by salted caramel?!

This is really a hybrid of two recipes from Green and Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes – Harry Eastwood’s Heartache Cake, which I’ve made before, and a Velvet Salted Caramel Torte.

To make sure the caramel layer would stay in place and not mix in with the cake batter, I tweaked Harry’s recipe to whisk the egg whites separately and fold them into the mix last, so it would hold the weight of the caramel.

It worked – you can’t see too clearly in the photos, but there was a definite layer of caramel, and it took a great chocolate torte to another level – so, so good!

Seriously, don’t be put off by the aubergine, or the hassle of making caramel, it really is worth it – if only I could have another slice now…

Salted caramel aubergine chocolate torte (adapted from the Heartache Cake and Velvet Salted Caramel Torte in Green and Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes)

For the caramel:

  • 90g caster sugar
  • 45ml water
  • 60g butter
  • 60ml double cream
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (or more if you’re a salt fiend like me)

For the cake:

  • 1 medium aubergine (around 220g)
  • 150g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 medium eggs, separated
  • 100g clear honey
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp baking powder

For the caramel, heat the sugar and water in a saucepan stirring until the sugar dissolves, then leave to simmer until the syrup thickens and turns a rich amber colour. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter, cream and salt. Pour into a bowl or jug and set aside to cool.

Pierce the aubergine with a skewer or sharp knife all over, microwave for about 8 minutes on high, then leave until cool enough to handle. Peel off the skin, then puree the flesh in a food processor until no lumps remain. Stir in the chopped chocolate until melted – you might need to give it another quick blast in the microwave.

Beat the egg yolks, honey, cocoa powder, almonds and baking powder for about a minute, then add the aubergine chocolate mixture and beat again until well combined. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks in a separate bowl, then fold these into the cake batter a third at a time.

Spread two thirds of the mixture into a greased and lined 6″ round tin. Pour the caramel on top and spread to within 1cm of the edge of the tin. Top with the remaining cake mix and try to spread it as evenly as you can to cover the caramel.

Bake on a low shelf at 180 degrees (160 fan) for about half an hour, until the cake has risen and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool completely – it will sink in the middle, but that’s what you want. Remove from the tin, then slice and serve.

Elvis Sandwich Cake

Sun, sea, cake and coffee – I’m not sure there’s much else you need to make a mid-week day off work basically the best thing ever…

This week I treated myself to said day off, in the name of Clandestine Cake Club. Taking place at the Blue Tomato Cafe in Rock, Cornwall, the theme of course had to be ‘Rock n Roll’.

It took me quite a while to decide what to bake, mainly because I was debating the different between generic rock music, and the much more specific rock n roll. Luckily, I knew exactly who to turn to for advice – the fabulous Miss Charlotte White, of Restoration Cake.

Charlotte (who’s first book, Burlesque Baking, is out now, just in time for my birthday, hint, hint, HINT) suggested going down the Elvis route with a peanut butter, banana and salted caramel cake, in honour of the King’s favourite sandwich, and decorating it to look like a record.

I’m not sure my cake entirely lives up to Charlotte’s vision, but I was pretty happy with it nonetheless. Had it spent any longer than half a day out of the fridge the layers may well have been sliding all over the place, but it held up for long enough to look fairly respectful on the table of delicious cakey delights.

It was a pun-tastic cake club, with a Chuck Berry Bundt, Rock n Roulade, Rocky Road, Mint Aerosmith and my personal favourite, ‘Gums n Roses’ cake, adorned with wine gums and Cadbury’s Roses – brilliant!

We were also treated to some barista training from the lovely Mat, who showed us how to make the perfect coffee, create hearts on top of lattes, and even demonstrated the infamous ’12 inches of Italian pleasure’ – a thick and rich hot chocolate topped with marshmallows, whipped cream, a chocolate flake, giant meringue, more whipped cream and a malteser. Amazing!

I’m not going to write out the whole recipe for this cake – the sponge is exactly the same as this one, only increasing all of the ingredients by 50% to fill three 7″ cake tins instead of baking it in the smaller 6″ tins.

I used the caramel recipe from my Millionaire’s Shortbread, and made a peanut butter cream cheese icing by beating 200g cream cheese, 200g smooth peanut butter and 400g icing sugar together until well combined.

I spread a layer of peanut butter icing on the bottom and middle layers, topped with thin slices of banana, and then spread caramel on top. I stacked the cakes, spread more peanut butter icing all over, and then made the record by rolling out black sugar paste and using the cake tin to cut a circle. The lid of the peanut butter was used to cut a circle from the middle, and to cut another circle out of cream coloured icing, which I decorated with a gold icing pen. Done!

Big thank you to the wonderful Sean for all the good photos on this post – you can see all the other cakes on the round up over on the Clandestine Cake Club website. Can’t wait for the next one!

Bacon chocolate cupcakes

Down the road from my office is a van, occupied by a man called Bacon Dave. You can guess what gourmet delights come from his van…

Bacon Dave is very popular with my colleagues, particularly the boys, and so when one of their birthdays came around I decided that whatever I made would have to contain bacon – whether it tasted nice or not.

I wanted to go down the chocolate route, because if there’s anything that will make bacon taste ok, that’s it. I found a recipe by Simon Rimmer which I used as the base recipe, then just tweaked it by throwing in some caramelised white chocolate chunks for extra sweetness and switching the frosting to a simple cocoa buttercream.

The reactions were very, VERY mixed. The birthday boy actually had a cold and said he couldn’t taste the bacon, whereas another colleague thought the bacon was overwhelming and didn’t like it.

I thought it was weird, but I had more of an issue with the texture than the taste. My housemate on the other hand loved them and ate two, so I guess it just comes down to personal taste!

If you like bacon it might be worth giving these a go, but for me I don’t think I’ll be likely to use bacon in anything sweet for quite a while…

Bacon chocolate cupcakes (adapted from Simon Rimmer’s recipe)

  • 6 slices bacon, grilled until crispy
  • 75g milk chocolate
  • 75g white chocolate
  • 115g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 25ml strong coffee, cooled
  • 115ml sour cream
  • 60ml vegetable oil

For the icing:

  • 60g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 1-2 tbsp milk

Start by melting the milk chocolate, then crumble up the bacon and mix two thirds of it into the chocolate. Spread this out on a piece of baking paper or tin foil and leave to set. Make the caramelised white chocolate by chopping the chocolate and placing in a baking dish in the oven on a low temperature. Stir every 5-10 minutes until it’s golden and caramelised, then stir in 1/2 tsp salt and spread out on baking paper or foil to set, as with the milk chocolate. When both are completely set, chop into chunks ready to use in the cupcakes.

To make the cake mix, sift all the dry ingredients together into a large bowl and mix well. In another bowl beat together all the wet ingredients, then fold this into the dry mix along with the chocolate chips. Divide the mixture between 9-10 large cupcake cases and bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for 20-25 minutes, or until well risen and a skewer comes out clean.

For the icing, beat the butter to soften, then sift in half the sugar and beat to combine. Sift in the remaining sugar and cocoa powder and beat again. Once it comes together, add a tablespoon of milk and keep beating until light and fluffy, adding a little more milk if necessary. Spread the icing over the cooled cupcakes, then sprinkle the remaining bits on top.

Delicious?!

Tropical desert island cake

Sometimes I have an idea for a cake that in my head is completely and utterly amazing, but I don’t quite have the skills to turn my vision into reality and I’m left feeling a little deflated.

Luckily, this cake was one of the rare occasions when the finished bake turned out EXACTLY as I had imagined, and I was very pleased indeed!

It was made for my first Clandestine Cake Club of the year, which took place at the gorgeous St Michael’s Hotel in Falmouth. The theme was ‘ship shape’, and my thought process was basically ships – sea – shells – island = tropical dessert island cake.

I knew what I wanted it to look like before I had decided what flavour it was going to be, but it had to be tropical in both taste and appearance, and a nautical cake has to include some form of rum…

So, I decided to use a Dan Lepard rum-soaked coconut sponge recipe, which I’d previously used for a coconut and chocolate cake, paired with a white chocolate mousse filling and buttercream icing both flavoured with a homemade mango and lime curd.

The ‘sand’ was made by throwing all the scraps of cake leftover after levelling the layers into a food processor and blitzing into crumbs, which were both the perfect texture and colour.

Blue icing flecked with desiccated coconut for the waves and white chocolate shells with a slightly marbled yellow effect completed the desert island look, and I think it ended up being a pretty attractive cake!

I got great comments from the people who tried it cake club, and from my housemates, so I think I can safely say it was a success. The cake itself was light and managed not to be too sweet even with the mousse and buttercream, and the flavours worked really well together.

Now all I need is an excuse to make it again!

Tropical desert island cake (loosely based on Dan Lepard’s coconut cake)

  • 150ml coconut milk
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 50ml white rum
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 225g butter
  • 270g caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • juice of one lime and 2 tbsp rum to drizzle

Start by heating the coconut milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour over the desiccated coconut and stir in the rum and vanilla bean paste, then leave for at least half an hour to soften the coconut (I actually left it overnight).

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then fold a third of it into the batter. Stir in half the coconut mixture, fold in another third of the flour, the remaining coconut mixture and then finally the last third of the flour.

Divide between three 7″ round baking tins and bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for 25-30 minute, or until golden and springy. Leave to cool completely, then level off the tops, keeping the offcuts for the sand. Squeeze the lime over the tops of the sponges, and then drizzle with the rum.

For filling and icing:

  • 200g (ish) mango and lime curd (I used this recipe but used less sugar)
  • 150g white chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 100g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • blue food colouring
  • desiccated coconut to sprinkle

To make the mousse, melt the white chocolate in a small bowl and set aside to cool. Whisk the cream until soft-medium peaks form. To try and avoid the chocolate seizing when it’s added to the cream, I start by adding a spoonful of cream into the chocolate bowl to loosen it, then add that back to the cream and fold in. Add about 4 tbsp of the mango curd and give it a quick whisk – not too much or it will start to thin. Chill in the fridge for half an hour, then divide into two to sandwich the sponge layers, and put the whole cake back in the fridge to stop the mousse spilling out the sides.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter to soften then sift in half the icing sugar and beat until well combined. Add the rest of the icing sugar and beat again, then finally add the mango curd – I think I used about 4 tbsp again, but you’ll need to use your judgement of the consistency of the buttercream – too much curd and it will be too runny to ice with.

Spread a thin layer of buttercream all over the cake to crumb coat, then chill for half an hour. Spread about 3/4 of the remaining buttercream all over the top and sides so there’s a good layer of icing all over. Use a cocktail stick to draw out the pattern of the waves all around the sides of the cake.

Throw the cake offcuts you saved into the food processor and blitz to make crumbs, then gently press these into the icing on top of the cake and down the sides as far as the top of the waves. Add a little blue food colouring (I used Sugarflair gel in Ice Blue) to the remaining icing and beat until fully mixed in, then use this to spread or pipe onto bottom half of the cake to fill in the waves. Finish by sprinkling a little desiccated coconut on top of each wave to look like the foam.

Finally, decorate the top of the cake with shell-shaped chocolates – I made my own using a cheap mould from Hobbycraft, but you could definitely use some of the Guylian-style praline filled chocolates if you want.

And there you have it, a tropical desert island cake, that tastes as good as it looks!

Lemon poppyseed meringue cupcakes

I love lemon curd. Nothing is better than biting into a cake, tart or pie and getting smacked around the face by a big zing of lemon – right?!

Part of the reason I was so disappointed with the lemon meringue torta I had at Pizza Express recently was that earlier in the week I’d been making my own lemon curd for these cupcakes, and, without wanting to sound too arrogant, the bland version they used jut couldn’t come close to it.

These cupcakes were for a friend’s birthday, and combine the best of both (lemon) worlds; lemon poppyseed cake and lemon meringue pie.

I wanted to bake something that was relatively light, as somewhat of an antidote to all the heavy Christmas food and stodgy winter puddings that having been wreaking havoc with my waistline over the past few months.

Not that I can exactly claim these are healthy, but they are light in flavour and texture, and the meringue frosting is certainly a little less bad for you than a buttercream or cream cheese icing would be.

They went down well with everyone who sampled them, and although the meringue would have looked better if I’d had a blowtorch to finish it overall I was still very happy with how these turned out.

Lemon poppyseed meringue cupcakes (adapted from BBC Good Food and Baking Mad)

  • 150g self raising flour
  • 120g caster sugar
  • zest of a large lemon
  • 1tbsp poppy seeds, toasted
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 65g natural yoghurt
  • 120g butter, melted

Sift together the flour and sugar and stir in the lemon zest and poppyseeds. Beat the eggs and whisk in the natural yoghurt and melted butter, then add this to the dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Divide between 9 large cupcake cases and bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for 20-25 minutes, or until risen and springy (but still quite light in colour).

For the filling and icing:

Once the cupcakes are cool, cut a hole in the centre of each and fill with 1 tsp of lemon curd, then replace the bits you’ve cut out so the top is level again. Heat the caster sugar in a saucepan with 25ml water. For the best results, use a sugar thermometer and take it off the heat when it reaches 230 degrees fahrenheit.

While the syrup is heating, whisk the egg white until stiff peaks start to form, then once the syrup reaches the right heat slowly pour it in down the side of the bowl, while you have the mixer running. Keep whisking until the bowl, and the meringue, completely cools. Then you can spoon the meringue into a piping bag to frost the cupcakes. At this point, if you have a blow torch you should absolutely use it, but if you don’t you can do what I did and either put them back in the oven on a low heat for a more cooked meringue, or blast them under the grill for brown tops and a marshmallowy inside. Both ways are good!

tea time treats

As these cupcakes star egg yolks in the curd and egg whites in the meringue, I think they’re perfect for this month’s Tea Time Treats, hosted for the first time by Jane at the Hedge Combers. Eggs is the theme, and as much as I love them scrambled, poached or in an omelette, in cakes they’re even better…

Cinnamon, milk and white chocolate cake

As I mentioned in my Happy New Year post last week, I made a cinnamon layer cake to take to my friends’ New Year’s Eve  party.

Although I took photos before being cut, I didn’t get any of the inside – normally this would mean that I just wouldn’t blog about it, but I liked the cake so much that I decided I would have to make it again so I could share it with you all.

The sponge recipe comes from The Novice Chef, via Beantown Baker, and is light, fluffy and richly scented with cinnamon and vanilla – everything you could want from a basic cinnamon cake.

For the icing, I was originally just going to do a white chocolate buttercream, but when I first made it I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to both sandwich the layers and cover the cake, so I also made a milk chocolate ganache which became the filling, leaving the buttercream to use as frosting.

The buttercream is sweet, for sure, but it works with the cinnamon, and the milk chocolate ganache is a little less sweet but not overpowering, as I think dark chocolate probably would have been.

I didn’t really need to decorate this cake as it was just for me, my housemates and colleagues, but an all-white cake doesn’t photograph brilliantly so I added some red sprinkles and gold dragees. I love the finish, but I can’t help but think it looks a little red velvet…

This cake is honestly one of my favourite bakes of recent months, and even if you’re not as much of a cinnamon fiend as me it’s still worth giving it a go – the fact I made it twice in a week is testament to how good it is!

Cinnamon, milk and white chocolate cake (adapted from The Novice Chef’s Churro Cake)

  • 115g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 60g natural yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 180g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 125ml milk

For the filling and frosting:

  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 115g butter
  • 120g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then beat in the vanilla, yoghurt and vegetable oil. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, then fold a third of it into the cake batter. Add half the milk, then another third of the flour, the rest of the milk and finish by folding in the final third of the flour.

Divide the mixture between three greased and lined 6″ round cake tins, and bake at 170 degrees (150 fan) until risen, golden and pulling away from the sides of the tins. Leave to cool while you make the fillings.

For the milk chocolate ganache, melt the milk chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water. Add hot water a tablespoon at a time, whisking into the chocolate. t might not come together after the first spoonful, but even if it splits just keep whisking and it will be fine. Add about 3 tbsp, until it’s fairly liquid but still thick enough to cool to a spreadable consistency.

For the buttercream, melt the white chocolate, stir in the salt and set aside. Beat the butter and icing sugar until combined, then add in the white chocolate and continue to beat until light and fluffy.

Spread the cooled milk chocolate ganache on top of the bottom and middle cake layers, stack all three layers, then spread a thin amount of the white buttercream all over to crumb coat. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, then spread the rest of the icing over the top and sides. Decorate with whatever you like – the more sprinkles the better!

Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël

When I signed up for the Plymouth Chamber Christmas Bake Off, all I really wanted was to do well enough to get to the final week, as the theme was cake and I much prefer baking cakes to biscuits, bread or pastry.

However, by the time I got there, down to the final three contestants, I’d be lying if I said a bit of competitiveness hadn’t started to creep in.

I had to create a festive-themed showstopper cake, and knew straight away that I wanted to do a bûche de Noël – the question was, how would I make it stand out against the other two entries?

Decoration was one of the judging criteria, so I knew I had to go over the top. Giant cake board, covered in green sugarpaste, meringue mushrooms, holly leaves and berries, a fondant robin, gold almond pine cone and even a little ladybird, added at the last minute to fill a gap in the forest floor.

I struggled more deciding on what flavours to go with, but fate intervened when I had to go and meet with a chef for work – the fantastic Tom Milby from the Pandora Inn at Restronguet Creek, on the south coast of Cornwall.

I told Tom one of the options I was considering was salted caramel, and he suggested pairing it with something nutty – and then gave me a tub of the most beautiful Callebaut hazelnut praline paste, which is what turned a good cake into an amazing one.

I folded the praline into whipped cream for the filling, and made a salted caramel chocolate ganache to cover the cake. The two flavours complimented each other perfectly, and I was very happy with the outcome.

The judging of the final round of the bake off was led by Chris Tanner, one half of the Tanner Brothers who own two excellent restaurants in Plymouth and are cookery tv show regulars.

So, how did I do? Well, I won!! Amazing! Apparently my cake was ‘the clear winner’, and Chris said he loved all my detailing and decoration as well as the taste.

My prizes are a bread baking masterclass at the Devonport Column Bakehouse, and tickets to see Paul Hollywood when he brings his tour to Plymouth next year. Aside from the prizes though, I’m just thrilled to have won, and for an actual proper chef to say he likes my baking! Such an awesome Christmas present 🙂

Hazelnut and salted caramel bûche de Noël (loosely adapted from a Mary Berry yule log recipe and a Hummingbird Bakery chocolate ganache)

  • 4 medium eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 65g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder

For the filling:

  • 200ml whipping cream
  • 100g hazelnut praline paste

For the ganache icing:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 180ml double cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped

For the sponge, whisk together the eggs and sugar until really light and fluffy and tripled in volume – at least 4-5 minutes of whisking. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, and fold in gently, taking care not to knock the air out of the mixture. Spread into a 14×10″ baking tin, lined with baking paper, and bake at 200 degrees (180 fan) for 8-10 minutes,  or until springy and pulling away from the edges of the tin.

Lay out another piece of baking paper and dust liberally with icing sugar. Turn out the sponge onto the paper, and peel off the backing paper from the underneath of the sponge. Score a line along one of the long edges of the sponge, about 1″ from the edge, then starting from that side tightly roll up the sponge and leave to cool.

To make the cream filling, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold a third of it into the hazelnut praline to loosen the mixture, then fold in the rest.

For the ganache, heat the caster sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan with 60ml of water. Heat the cream and salt in a separate pan and set aside. Keep the caramel pan on the heat and simmer until it turns a lovely deep golden colour, then quickly whisk in the heated cream mixture, stirring until it stops bubbling.

Pour the caramel over the chopped chocolate, and stir until all the chocolate melts. Leave to cool to room temperature, when it should be a spreadable consistency. If it seems too thick, you can reheat and add a little more cream, then leave it to cool again.

To assemble, unroll the sponge and spread the hazelnut cream all over. Re-roll as tightly as you can, then trim the two ends to neaten it. Cut the log a third of the way down at a 45 degree angle, to create a piece to use as the branch. Place the two pieces on whatever cake board or serving plate you’re using, then cover with the chocolate ganache. To get the bark-like effect, I just used a butter knife to roughly spread the icing lengthways down the log, then swirled it on the ends of the branches.

Dust with icing sugar and serve!

If you want to make meringue mushrooms, there’s a great tutorial over on Sprinkle Bakes – they’re easier than they look, but they are very fragile – at least a third of mine broke before getting anywhere near the cake!

Banana and cinnamon layer cake

Banana cinnamon layer cake

Right, I know I’ve been a bit rubbish at posting recently, but I have a huge backlog of things to write up so I am going to make a proper effort to make time and give you all some baking goodness!

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been house sitting for my wonderful friend Jenny, and her two GORGEOUS cats, Lizzie and Ted. Before she left, she mentioned that there were a few bananas in the fruit bowl that she’d intended to make a cake with but hadn’t had the time, so I decided to let them keep ripening and make her a welcome home cake to use them up.

I’ve made a fair few banana loaves, which I love, but I wanted this to be a layer cake, with a light and fluffy texture rather than the more moist denseness of what you’d possibly consider banana ‘bread’.

After much research, there didn’t seem to be any real secret to producing such a lighter banana sponge, so I adapted my favourite loaf recipe simply by adding a little more milk, some extra baking powder and beating the butter and sugar to death to try and achieve the texture I wanted.

Luckily, it worked – baked in three 6″ round tins the sponges were indeed light and fluffy. I kept things simple and layered them with a cinnamon cream cheese icing, going with the ‘naked cake’ look which is apparently all the rage at the minute and is a lot less faff than icing the sides!

I am a bit of a cinnamon fiend so for me the icing was the perfect partner to the banana sponge, but if you’re not keen you could either stick with a plain cream cheese icing, or go for something like a chocolate buttercream which I imagine would be equally delicious.

Banana and cinnamon layer cake (adapted from this recipe, originally found in Green & Blacks Ultimate Chocolate Recipes)

  • 200g bananas, mashed (2 medium-ish)
  • 100g butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50ml milk

For the icing:

  • 50g butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 125g cream cheese

Start by mashing the bananas well – the blacker and riper they are the easier this will be to do, mine had been on the counter for over a fortnight before baking with them).

Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer for at least 2-3 minutes to get a really light and fluffy base. Add the eggs one at a time, beating and scraping down the sides of the bowl, then add the mashed bananas and beat again. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and fold half into the cake mixture. Stir in the milk, then fold in the remaining flour mixture.

Divide the cake batter between three 6″ round cake tins, then bake at 180 degrees (160 fan) for abot 20 minutes, or until risen and golden. Leave to cool completely.

For the icing, beat the butter with the vanilla paste to soften, then sift together the icing sugar and cinnamon and add gradually to the butter. It probably will seem like it won’t come together, but add 25g of the cream cheese and keep beating and it should be fine. Add the rest of the cream cheese, then beat for a few minutes until thickened – don’t over mix. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To assemble, trim the domes off the sponges to level, then spread a third of the icing on top of each sponge – you don’t need to be too neat, that’s the beauty of naked cakes! Slice and serve 🙂

National Cupcake Championships

So you may remember that a little while ago I announced that my bourbon pecan pie cupcakes had been shortlisted for the National Cupcake Championships – ridiculously exciting for an amateur baker as only 15 people from across the country were shortlisted in my category!

The finals were held at Cake International in Birmingham, a few weekends ago. I won’t leave you in suspense – I didn’t win! I didn’t really expect to, but I did have an amazing time at the show.

When I arrived first thing in the morning I dropped my cakes off at the judging table. The picture above shows all the entries in the amateur ‘baking with alcohol’ category which I was competing in, including the winning mulled wine cupcakes which were chosen as the winning bake.

I had the rest of the day to explore the show, and it was really a cake baker’s dream. While the Cake and Bake Show had lots of cakes to buy and eat, Cake International was all about the decorating tools and ingredients, and you could buy pretty much anything you could ever need for creating fabulous cakes.

Speaking of fabulous cakes, half of the exhibition hall was taken up with the displays of competition cakes, and they really were INSANE.

My favourite (as a total Harry Potter geek) was the Buckbeak cake above – can you believe it’s actually made from cake?! Seriously amazing.

Below are a few more pictures of some of my favourite cakes from the show. They have certainly given me something to aspire to, although it’s going to be a long time and a lot of practice before I can even come close to anything this good!

Another great film scene:

I don’t know why you’d want to make a cake look like breakfast, but this proves that you can…

Some of the more traditional wedding cakes:

And one that’s still traditional, but with an actual moving carousel!

There were many, many more amazing cakes and you could easily spend hours looking at them all. I did find time to buy a few decorating bits and pieces, and also watch one of the demos from Paul de Costa Greaves, who made a beetroot chocolate cake with chipotle chilli ganache – definitely have to recreate that soon!

I’m setting my sights a little lower with my next competition, which is the local Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Bake Off – will keep you all updated with how it goes!