Tuesday, 23 March 2010

JJ's Birthday Cupcakes

cupcakes 1
If you're anything like me, you have about 10 blog posts half finished lying around. Whether the pictures are on flikr but the words aren't typed up, or the post is waiting to go but the pics are still sitting on my camera, there's a bunch of lost and lonely dishes just sitting there, waiting, gathering dust and probably not long for this world... (one day I'll have a sort out... One day. About 20 years from now).

Normally, the reason I forget is because whilst they were good, they weren't great. But then yesterday, I spotted that I'd totally forgotten to post these babies! And the 'not great' descirption definitely doesn't fit here. These were stunning. So here it is! The ever so slightly late post on JJ's birthday cake part deux.
cupcakes 3
Hands down, the best thing about birthdays is cake. And if you're JJ you get two birthday cakes! (well, birthday cupcakes and a birthday cake). When I asked him what cake he'd like this year to take into work, it didn't take him long to settle on cupcakes. I did mention that maybe these weren't the most masculine of choices, but he reasoned that now he's engaged, he's free to confess his love of cupcakes without any question marks over his masculinity.

And I did try and make them as manly as possible! Apparently it's the cake-to-icing ratio, ie lots of icing! I thought it was just me who had the monster sweet tooth, but apparently not...

Now, I find that you have to have a great cake and a great icing. One without the other = a sub par cupcake. So to make these puppies I did a little research and mixed two recipes - the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cake base and the Primrose Bakery icing (both FANTASTIC cake books - the Hummingbird cake method intrigued me but the icing used cocoa not chocolate*, hence using the Primrose icing).
cupcakes 2
This was a genius combo and one I highly reccomend. As for the second birthday cake? Oh it was good. SO good. Check it out over here...

Rosy xx

Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, makes about 12 English fairy cakes or 8 American cupcakes

100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g soft unsalted butter
120ml whole milk
1 egg
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
So the method is very different to how you'd normally make a cake but follow it to the letter and it'll work, I promise!
Preheat your oven to 170C and line a tin with cupcake cases.
Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. On a low speed, mix until it resembles sand. This took me a fair while, so have patience if it doesn't happen instantly! Of course, this could also be because my kitchen is currently freezing cold...
Whisk the egg, milk and vanilla extract together and mix half into the flour mixture. Beat on high speed until smooth. Then add the rest of the milk and give a quick mix to combine, trying not to overmix. (I've made these a few times now and I have to say, it works fine if you have the beater on, pour in the milk slowly and then give a quick beat for a few seconds to thoroughly combine)
And that's it! How easy is that?! Just fill your cases 2/3-3/4 full and pop them in the oven for 20-25 mins until springy and a skewer comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.
Chocolate Icing
Adapted from the Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery
175g dark chocolate, melted (go for a 70% cocoa solids one if you can)
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tbsp milk at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar, sifted
Melt the chocolate - any way you like! I use a pan of simmering water with a glass bowl over the top, but that's because our microwave exploded. But microwaves are great for melting chocolate - I was actually melting chocolate when ours exploded (not the cause - crappy old rental house microwave was the cause!). Anyway, melt the chocolate and then leave it to cool.
Beat together the butter, milk, vanilla and icing sugar. Add the melted chocolate and beat. You'll probably have to beat it for a good 5 or so mins to get the mixture to thicken but don't panic if it's not yet spreadable, just keep beating!
Spread on your cooled cupcakes and decorate as appropriate for your audience. I just attacked a bar of white chocolate with a potato peeler to get the curls.
Eat! And try to stop at 1 - I dare you...

*I've since tried the Hummingbird cookbook icing and it's also very good - less ganache and more buttercream.

Friday, 19 March 2010


It finally feels like the cold is behind us and spring is here! Although the bulbs are having a hard time registering that they should probably get a move on and produce flowers... And so the season of planting has suddenly come around and we've not planted a single seed. Not even close - our garden is still a total mess. But that means I get to dream up grand plans of what to do with it! I'm thinking raised beds this year. Yep, they look pretty easy to make... Granted, I haven't picked up a saw in, um, 15 years and I'm hardly the world's best DIY peep but that's obviously not going to stop me! What this space for how I get on. Or alert the local hospitals...

We had a go at gardening last year. As you can see, our efforts weren't rewarded well...
mini carrots
We ate A LOT of courgettes and had a fair amount of success with tomatoes, but root veg appears to hate us and almost everything else was dug up. I hate squirrels. So what to grow? I'd like to try strawberries and we're definitely going to do courgettes and tomatoes again but more ideas welcome!! (easy please!)

Rosy xx

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

carrot cake 1
Who doesn't love carrot cake?? It has to be one of my all time favorite cakes. Super simple to make and incredibly versatile - you can add or take away nuts, sultanas, coconut or pinapple and switch out spices as you wish. The one thing that's absolutely clear to me though is that there's no such thing as the ultimate carrot cake. What floats one person's boat won't be to someone else's taste. And from having a look at the comments on this week's Sweet Melissa Sunday's choice of carrot cake with orange cream cheese icing, most people have their favorite recipe that's tried and true and no other cake would really live up to!
carrot cake 2
I do have a great carrot cake recipe but it's more suited to a loaf cake than a layer cake. More along the lines of wholesome and best without any adornment. This recipe is, I think, what I'll choose when I make a layer cake though! Delicious, moist and (with a couple of minor alterations) full of flavour. Both me and my testers were big fans, one even proclaiming this to be the best carrot cake they'd ever tasted!
carrot cake 4
All I changed was to use light brown sugar to up the depth of flavour, add orange zest to the batter and a good handful of sultanas (love them in carrot cake!). Ooo, I also used pecans rather than walnuts but that was just what I had on hand. I also used a different cream cheese icing - 50g butter made into a buttercream with 100g icing sugar and then 50g cream cheese mixed in. It's yummy and a touch more 'cream cheesey' if that makes sense!!! I love it but, true to form, JJ prefered the Sweet Melissa's cream cheese icing from the red velvet cake! See? You just can't win!!!
carrot cake 3
Thank you to the lovely Julie of A Little Bit of Everything for this week's great pick (the recipe's on her blog) and don't forget to have a see what the other bakers got up to! I think there's some rather fab cupcakes to be seen...

Rosy xx

Thursday, 11 March 2010


Cast your minds way way back… Do you remember the Menu for Hope raffle?? Well last weekend I made delivery number 1 of 12! As luck would have it, the winner is based just up the road from me, so no tricky posting of baked goods to get around – cue layer cakes, fancy cupcakes and hugely perishable numbers like this pavlova!
pavlova 2
I say the winner lives around the corner… Technically the winner lives in Australia, but her sister lives around the corner and the prize was gifted to her to help with her homesickness. Isn’t that just about the best gift??! It was also a total surprise to said sister so felt like quite the covert mission appearing at her door on a Sunday afternoon with a large meringue!!

Pavlovas are one of my favourite summer time desserts – light, sweet and bursting with seasonal fruit. Unfortunately, seasonal fruit in the UK right now consists of apples and pears. Delicious though they are, I can’t really picture them as pavlova compatible! So I went the tropical route, with mangos, papaya, passion fruits, kiwis and blueberries (ok, so not technically tropical but they’re so pretty!). Really, any soft fruit works like a dream – I love love LOVE ripe nectarines and English strawberries but it’s one of those dishes that is inherently flexible, so make it with whatever you have on hand.

And SUPER easy!! When I say super easy, I mean a total doddle. Perfect for dinner parties as you make it the night before (or that morning) and just whack the cream and fruit on for an instantly impressive centrepiece. Simple and stunning! You can tell from the ingredients that it’s easy to scale up or down too – just make sure your baking tray is large enough!

Adapted from Delia Smith’s recipe

Meringue base:
4 egg whites (room temperature and nice and fresh)
8 oz caster sugar

Double cream (about 300ml)
½ tbsp icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Selection of fruit, peeled, deseeded and chopped as necessary – I used 1 each of mango, papaya, kiwi and passion fruit plus a handful of blueberries.

Preheat the oven to 150C.

Cut a square of baking parchment the same size as a baking tray. On the reverse side, draw a circle about 9” in diameter (I just use a plate) with a pencil and flip over. You don’t want to spread the meringue on the pencil markings!

In a super sparkly clean bowl, whisk up the egg whites until they form soft peaks (there’s a test here, of suspending the bowl upside down to see if they fall out, which they won’t do if they’re ready. I’m not that brave but if you are, go for it. But please don’t send me the dry cleaning bill!!!).

Add the sugar gradually whilst whisking and whisk up to a beautiful, glossy, thick meringue. Place dots of the mix between the tray and paper to anchor the parchment paper down. Spoon the egg whites onto the paper, following the guide of the circle to produce a beautifully circular disk. I like to build the sides up slightly so that there’s a dip in the middle to fill with whipped cream and fruit, but this is by no means essential!

Pop in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 140C. Cook for one hour and then turn the oven off BUT DON’T REMOVE THE PAVLOVA!! Leave in the oven until the oven cools down – I normally leave overnight, but a few hours should do it. This helps cook the meringue in the residual heat and produces the crispy outer and soft, mallowy middle that makes the pavlova a thing of beauty.

Then carefully peel away from the paper and place on a serving dish (bear in mind the pavlova is fragile). Whip up the cream to soft peaks and whisk in the sugar and vanilla. Pile into the centre of the pavlova and cover with fruit.

This is best served quite soon after making but will be fine in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Hummingbird Cake

hummingbird 2
I promised you a super yummy cake and here it is! Does anyone else find that choosing a birthday cake is beyond difficult?? Probably due to my love of all things cake! Jon’s was sooooooo amazing this year that I had a whole lot to live up to. Bearing in mind this competition is just with myself, I should probably go ahead and get a life right about now…

Ahem, anyway, so I finally decided that I wanted something rich, moist and above all, layered. I do like cupcakes, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something just so majestic about a layer cake. And nothing says birthday like slicing into a mile high pile of sweet, soft cake. Not the same impact with cupcakes (although they’re a lot more portable; something I should’ve considered when making Jon’s cake as that was not easy to carry around London from pub to pub whilst becoming increasingly tipsy!).

Having spent a solid 4 days searching through my vast array of cookbooks, I happened upon a Hummingbird cake. Whilst I did find it in the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, it’s not named after the store - it’s origins come from the Southern states of the US. Beyond that, I’m not sure but at a guess, I’d say the name stems from a hummingbird’s love of sweet things. This cake is along the lines of a banana cake but has the added bonus of pineapple thrown in! The one thing I did find was that the pineapple added greatly to the texture (like carrots in a carrot cake) but I couldn’t really taste it. I’d be tempted to up the quantity slightly when I make this again – and oh my, will I be making this again!!
hummingbird 1
I actually had to be physically restrained from polishing off this whole cake by myself. You know when you just take a sliver to straighten up the side of a cake? But it’s still wonky so you take off another little sliver?? Yeah, I did that. About 10 times a night for a week… So addictive! It also stores beautifully – I’d probably say it improves after a day or two as the flavours really develop (if you can resist not scoffing the lot instantly).

You know what, I’ll bet this would make a great loaf cake too – halve the recipe though as this makes one big cake!

Rosy xx

Hummingbird Cake
Adapted, barely, from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook

300g caster sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
270g peeled bananas, mashed (this was about 3 I think – the riper the better)
1 tsp cinnamon, plus a little extra for decoration
300 plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
100g tinned pineapple, chopped into small pieces (I’d imagine crushed would work well too)
100g pecans, chopped, plus extra for decorating

Cream Cheese Icing
600g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g full fat cream cheese, cold

Grease and line 3 20cm round tins. I only have 2 but they’re nice and deep and it worked fine, they just need longer to bake.

Preheat oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

In a mixer with a paddle attachment (or a hand held mixer), beat the caster sugar, eggs, sunflower oil, bananas and cinnamon until incorporated.- don’t worry if it looks a little split, it’ll be fine.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Add this slowly to the wet mixture, followed by the vanilla, and mix until incorporated.

Stir in the pineapple and pecans by hand. Split this between the tins, smooth down the tops and bake for 20-25 mins until springy to the touch and a skewer comes out clean.

To make the icing:

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the icing sugar and butter until well mixed. It’s not going to come together yet and you do need to mix for quite a while to make sure the butter is fully incorporated.

Add the cream cheese all in one go and beat on high for 5 mins until light and fluffy. Be careful not to overbeat though.

To ice the cake:

If the cakes have domes (mine did, probably because I only used 2 rather than 3 tins) it’s best to level the tops off with a sharp knife. I didn’t and you can tell by the amount of icing used to patch up the gap!

Place little squares of parchment all around your serving plate and place one layer on top. Spread with icing, place the second layer on, spread with icing and top with the third layer. Cover the whole cake with a thin layer of icing – this doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s to catch the crumbs so that the top layer won’t have stray crumbs floating in it. Pop the cake in the fridge for 15 mins to set.

Once cool, ice the whole thing neatly with a final layer and decorate with pecans and a dusting of cinnamon. Carefully remove the parchment paper and serve!

Monday, 1 March 2010


Wow, haven't I been a terrible blogger recently??! I can't believe it's been two whole weeks. It's not that I haven't cooked - I've made this risotto about a thousand times and this aubergine parmigiana? Oh it's so good and sitting in our fridge awaiting our return from work! But I've been so terribly lax about taking photos and actually getting stuff onto the blog.

JJ and I are in such a fun place - right in the middle of wedding planning, thinking about all the sweet little details we can add to make the day really personal, and looking forward to being married! We had a huge flat overhaul this past weekend, involving nesting, an early Saturday morning trip to the tip (how you know you're getting old!) and lots of flat pack furniture making. And the worrying thing? It was just about the best weekend ever. Being on the cusp of married life, it was a brief glimpse into our future, where I'm sure there will be a LOT of flat pack furniture and weekends of clearing out and organising! I'm sure this bodes well for our relationship; that we can construct an entire shelving system without killing each other, wrong parts without the correct holes in and all.

So please forgive me if I'm a touch slow on the posts while we get on top of the wedding (and work) stuff, plus there's the ineviable reduction in sweet treats with a pretty dress on the horizon! But please do bear with me and I do happen to have one seriously yummy cake waiting for you on my camera's memory card to make it up to you!

Rosy xx