It was my wee sister’s birthday on Monday so I cooked up this cheery guy. Carrot cake with whipped mascarpone frosting.
Happy birthday wee sis!
It was my wee sister’s birthday on Monday so I cooked up this cheery guy. Carrot cake with whipped mascarpone frosting.
Happy birthday wee sis!
For the last three weeks I have been travelling in Europe with Fran (a Christmas present from our amazing husbands) having adventures and, of course, sampling the local cuisine wherever possible.
While the baking in Germany was exceptional, and there may be related blog posts to follow, the best sweet by far was in Prague.
Climbing the hill from the Charles Bridge to the castle, we spotted a cafe whose doors read “Support Tea, Tea Supports You”. This place not only serves a great cup of tea, but is also where we were introduced to Honeycake. Being a fan of honey in general, I have tried several “honeycakes” before, but this cool, pillow-soft confection in Prague beats them all, hands down. It was not too sweet, not too rich and somehow, slightly wholesome feeling. Not having much of a sweet tooth, despite being a baker and confectioner, I have never before returned to an establishment for a second slice of cake within a month of having the first, but that evening I found myself climbing the hill once more in search of honey cake.
Naturally as soon as I got home I started scouring the internet for recipes and, thankfully, came across this recipe for “Russian honey cake”. I made a few tweaks so I’ll write out my own version here in full:
dough – 125g slightly salted butter
a generous tablespoon of good quality honey (I used Hood of Ormiston’s pure Scottish blossom honey)
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 cups plain flour
filling – a 397g tin of Carnation condensed milk
3 eggs, beaten
2 generous tablespoons of honey (same as above)
170ml sour cream
topping – 2 digestive biscuits
75g walnuts or walnut pieces
For the dough – In a heavy saucepan or flameproof casserole dish, melt the butter over a low heat then stir in the honey. Beat the eggs and sugar together then add the bicarbonate of soda, making sure to completely mix it through. Add the egg mixture to the pan and stir to combine with the butter. Keeping the heat low, add the flour a little at a time and mix to make a smooth, uniform paste (sort of like the start of a white sauce). The paste will be thick by the time all the flour is added. Take off the heat and leave to cool. While the dough is cooling, preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180C). When the dough is cool, dust the work surface liberally with flour and divide the dough into 5 equal pieces. Roll the dough until it is about 2mm thick, then use a 22cm baking tin to cut a circle out of the dough (a 20cm tin would would just as well). Repeat for the other four pieces. You should then have enough left over dough to roll one more circle – making 6 layers in total. Bake each circle of dough on a flat baking sheet in the hot over for about 4 mins until they are a deep golden brown and cool on wire racks.
For the filling – put everything except the sour cream in a pan and stir over a medium heat while it thickens. Lumps will form at first but as long as you keep heating and don’t stop stirring it will eventually thicken to a uniform texture, slightly finer than semolina. Pour into a cold bowl or container and leave to cool a little.
To assemble – When the cakes are cool, but the filling is still slightly lukewarm, assemble the cake. If you wish your cake to be pretty, I suggest you trim each of your layers back to a uniform 22(or 20)cm, but if, like me, you can’t bear waste and only the family are going to eat it, just leave them as they come. Top each layer with a thin layer of sour cream and a slightly thicker layer of the honey filling before sandwiching on the next layer. When you reach the last layer, you should also top this with a thin layer of sour cream and a slightly thicker one of the honey filling. Top make the topping, pop the biscuits and walnuts in a food processor and blend to a fine crumb. Scatter this evenly over the top of the cake and press lightly down.
Leave for at least one hour before serving so that the cake layers soften up a little.
I find I enjoy this cake best with a cup of Oolong tea.
Tastewise, the only difference between this home made cake and the one I ate and adored in Prague is the subtle flavour of the honey. There is some magic in the honey from Czech bees that isn’t quite replicated by our local workforce. Still, I think the taste of a local honey really sets a thing in its right place and this cake is right for Edinburgh.
I have been playing a lot of Skyrim recently. A lot. And I strongly suspect I am not alone in that. But you can’t always be at your Xbox. Sometimes you have to be at work, or having a cup of tea with a friend in the real world. Fear not! Now, you can take a little piece of Skyrim with you!
A friend pointed me at this rather excellent blog which provides everything you need to know to make a Skyrim-style sweet roll, but I thought I could do one better. Why stop at one snack when you can have two, eh? So, here follows my recipe for the “Honey Nut Treat” and it couldn’t be easier!
200g raw pistachio nuts
350g dried apricots
3 tbsp good quality honey
2 tbsp pineapple juice or lime juice
Blitz everything together in a food processor until it reaches the “sticky mess” stage then, with damp hands, roll the mixture into balls slightly smaller than golf balls. You can eat them like this, or for a more authentic finish, thread them in threes onto bamboo skewers. Either way, keep them in the fridge until you are ready to snack, or at least over night before packing them into a lunch box, so they firm up a bit.
And without further ado, more cakes!
I’ve been making a lot of interesting cakes and then going on to make more interesting cakes instead of sitting down and blogging about them. I apologise for being so easily distracted, and by way of apology, here are some pictures!
Stay tuned for more pictures!
A very special owl for my sister’s birthday last weekend. He is an almond and vanilla cake with rich chocolate buttercream frosting and almond and sugarpaste decoration.
I have been terribly remiss in my blogging recently so will be making up for it over the next few days with a plethora of posts. I held back on this particular post as I was promised official pictures from the organisers which would undoubtedly be better than mine, but as they are taking so long I decided to just blog my rubbish pics anyway and do a follow-up post with the good stuff!
Last month I spent a brilliant 5 days on the Truly Scrumptious intensive cake decorating course learning all sorts of neat little tricks and making three brilliant cakes. I came home every evening exhausted and starving and woke up every morning excited to get back to it. It really was intensive, but that’s exactly what I want from this sort of course, especially for this sort of money! The instructor, Paul, was fantastic and really easy to get along with and I think I was really lucky with my classmates for the week. We somehow managed to work really hard while giggling uncontrollably. I really recommend this course to anyone thinking about doing something similar. There are all sorts of little things that a professional cake decorator does that can save you time and effort when creating perfect cakes and I got much more out of the ‘simple’ things we did than the making of the mad huge things. Now, on to the cakes!
The first cake we made was the 3-tier chocolate wrap:
This impressive giant is made from chocolate cake, dark chocolate ganache, and lots and lots of chocofrom! I had a lot of fun making the chocolate roses and sparkly deely boppers for this piece!
The second cake we finished was the lion’s head:
When I read the course description, this is the cake that I thought I would get the least out of. I could not have been more wrong. Not only was it full of neat little tricks and skills but the finished cake was by far the most fun looking!
The last cake we made was the Jimmy Choo:
This cake involved a lot of painstaking smoothing of ganache to get that neat rectangular finish but it was well worth it. While the design may not be to my particular taste, the techniques involved were invaluable.
So, at the end of the week I came home happy, excited and with three huge cakes. What to do! Looking at the lion’s growling mug, it was obvious to me where he should go. Straight to the Edinburgh Capitals to raffle off to raise funds for the team! At the last home game of the season Scott Neil was happy to take it off my hands and Paws delighted to see his mini-me come through the door! I even got to stand on the home ice to hand the cake over to the winner of the raffle!
Thanks to Ian Millar for the second picture!
Now for the big chocolate cake! My husband knew of a cake sale and origami event being held at the informatics forum to benefit the Red Cross efforts in Japan so I donated the cake for another raffle. By the end of the day the event had made over £1700 for the relief efforts and the raffle accounted for 10% of the total funds raised!
That just left one cake to be distributed to friends and family. Not a crumb was left!
I made this teddy bear’s picnic cake as the centre piece for a stall I was running on Sunday as part of an event by the collective art gallery. It is a chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache filling and fully edible sugarpaste decoration.
It might seem strange that I travelled all the way to London to review cupcake culture before checking out what was on offer in my own city, but the fact of the matter is that, until very recently, there was nothing at all. Cupcakes in Edinburgh tend to be made by people like me – fresh to order, rather than lined up on boutique counters for choosing. This means that people get the freshest possible product and can easily have it tailored to suit their occasion, however, it doesn’t really suit inquisitive foodies like me who like to wander around, peer into windows and buy the occasional sample to dissect. Knowing myself to be in a very unusual minority, this wasn’t too surprising, but I was never the less pleased when cupcake shops started to pop up nearer to home. Google provided me the details of two cupcakeries in the city centre and I set off on a sunny spring day to investigate.
First on the list was Bibi’s Bakery, a little shop just off Princes Street very much in the style of the London cupcakeries. The shop was colourful and trendy and the cupcakes were frosted high!
Then onto Liggy’s Cake Company in the West End Village – a quiet couple of old Edinburgh streets just a few steps away from the end of bustling princes street. Unlike Bibi’s, Liggy’s seemed to me very much like an Edinburgh cake shop and the girl behind the counter was really cheery and enthusiastic about her cakes and baking in general. So much so, in fact, I came away very pleased to have met such a like minded person!
Time to gather the experts and taste the cakes!
In interest of fairness (and because I was only visiting two bakeries a short walk from my house) I bought the same to flavours of cupcake from each bakery – double chocolate and lemon. I picked these flavours because it seemed a safe bet both bakeries would have them and because, even though they seem standard, almost everyone has a different take on them. They’re also the two flavours that I’m particularly fussy about in terms of my own personal tastes – I prefer a dark rich chocolate and a sharp, light lemon.
Me: Lovely light sponge with smooth mousse like frosting and milk chocolaty taste. I could feel one or two sugar crystals but it was not over-sweet. However, it was not very rich either.
Holli: The chocolate icing was like fluffy mousse which was a nice surprise! The cake was nice and moist and tasted like a chocolate brownie.
Mark: Good. Nice consistency, slightly too sweet but not in a bad sugary way.
Me: My initial impression was that this cake was incredibly sickly, but on closer inspection it was just the yellow icing that I didn’t like. It put me in mind of fondant fancies and was far too sweet for my palate. Without this, though, the sponge was very nice, light, fluffy and pleasantly lemony.
Holli: Thought this cake was really pretty and the sponge was lovely – like a lemon drizzle cake. However, the white icing didn’t taste of anything and the yellow icing was slightly too synthetic lemony.
Mark: Liked it. Tastes like a lemony angel cake but better quality than your typical angel cake.
Liggy’s Cake Company
Me: This cake had a lovely chocolaty smell when I unwrapped it. The cake had a smooth texture and a chocolaty flavour which put me in mind of hot chocolate drinks for some reason. The icing and the sponge balanced well.
Holli: Looked really pretty and had a nice sort of malty flavour to it. “I rather liked it.”
Mark: Tastes like chocolate chip cookies. At first the icing seemed too soft but actually went really well with the cake. Smells nice too.
Me: Tasty, zesty, fluffy sponge with smooth icing that tastes like lemon ice cream. Mmm…
Holli: The cutest cupcake! Love the sprinkles! Really liked the lemony icing but thought there was not much flavour in the sponge.
Mark: Icing seemed kind of strange and it was sort of like a lemon meringue pie in flavour and feeling – which is good. Flavour is nice and it looks nice.
And now for some verdicts!
Favourite Chocolate Cake
Me: I can’t choose! I liked them both, but neither was perfect (remember I have high and unusual chocolate cake standards!)
Favourite Lemon Cake
Overall Favourite Cake
Me: Liggy’s Lemon
Holli: Liggy’s Lemon
Mark: Liggy’s Chocolate
From London to Suffolk to stay a day with Fran and her husband Søren, catch up and, most importantly, get their opinions on the four remaining cupcakes! Trust me, these guys know their cake.
Chewie’s – Chocolate with coconut topping
Me: I was a little daunted by the thick layer of frosting but it actually tasted lovely, felt silky smooth (more ganache-like than frosting-like) and helped to compensate for the bland sponge which tasted brown rather than chocolaty. I think the coconut was mostly for decoration rather than flavour.
Fran: Less chocolaty than expected. The icing was very pleasant and incredibly smooth, overshadowing the cake.
Søren: Found this cake slightly disappointing as he expected really chocolate truffly-ness but would still eat this cupcake again.
Sweet Couture – Peanut Butter
Me: The sponge had a great peanut butter flavour but the icing was too sugary to take the flavour on. I would be happy with an uniced version of this cake and a big glass of soya milk!
Fran: Liked the real peanutty taste. Thought the icing was slightly too sweet but there was a good all round flavour and the sponge had a good texture.
Søren: This cake could have done with half as much icing – it was way too sweet! The icing completely overpowered the sponge. Would have liked it better with just a thin layer of icing. He didn’t think he liked peanut butter but quite enjoyed this cake.
Outsider Tart – Chocolate
Me: The sponge had a nice firm, moist texture but no chocolaty flavour at all. The whole thing put me in mind of those ‘chocolate-flavoured’ syrups you get for ice cream and dunkin’ donuts. Which is not my idea of chocolate!
Fran: Not chocolaty at all although it has sort of a nostalgic charm, conjuring memories of sugary childhood treats and the chocolate icing they use on cinnamon swirls in Denmark.
Søren: Thought this cake smelled like the chocolate cakes of his childhood but didn’t taste of much. The most distinctive taste was from the sweets used to decorate it.
Maison Blanc – Pistachio
Me: This cake was beautifully executed – the sponge had a lovely light texture and the frosting was airy and not oversweet – but the whole cake tasted a lot like marzipan which I do not like at all. Sorry!
Fran: Icing was slightly over-sweet but the balance of icing to cake was good as the light, crumbly sponge needed a good frosting to complement it. However, it tasted like marzipan rather than pistachio.
Søren: Doesn’t really like marzipan but loves this cake. Liked the way the icing sort of melted with the light cake. This is the only one of the bunch he could have eaten all of.
Søren: Maison Blanc Pistachio
Fran: Peanut Butter. But thinks the pistachio cupcake was actually the best, just not to her personal tastes.
Me: I totally agree with Fran. In terms of the best cake, Maison Blanc’s pistachio was flawless but the taste is not my cup of tea at all. Personally I like the peanut butter cupcake from Sweet Couture the best today.
So what was the best cake overall? It’s actually very hard to say. In terms of what I enjoyed eating, I think it was the raspberry ripple (Cox again!) but the peanut butter cupcake would have maybe taken the top spot if it had been unfrosted (or frosted in a less sickly fashion). However, if I had to award the title of “best cupcake” to one of these eight, it would have to be the pistachio from Maison Blanc. And, even though I think price isn’t really a factor for luxury goods like cupcakes, the Maison Blanc cake was also the cheapest.