Archive for the ‘Cakes and cupcakes’ Category

I have to admit, I was reluctant when I first read this challenge. A cake without flour? Whyyyyyyy? I mean, fine for all those gluten-free believers out there, but I LIKE gluten. I like the way flour makes a cake look and feel. I like it to rise. I like crumbs. And (warning: impending sacrilege here), I’m not so psyched about heavy-duty chocolate affairs. I kind of feel I’ve done my time in awe of the chocolate gods. These days, I prefer my dessert to be a single scoop of something cold, and light.  So I kind of dragged my feet. And chastised myself for missing last month’s challenge, which looked gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous – those lovely French tuile biscuits.  Wouldn’t they make a splendid little accompaniment to a tiny cold glass of Vin Santo, instead of cantuccine, for a kind of French twist on the Sienese tradition… Sigh.

But I wasn’t going to miss two in a row. So, late one Friday afternoon, I screwed my courage to my flourless sticking place, took out my lovely new mini-cake tins (yay!! I have mini cake-tins!) and told myself it would all be okay. Truth be told, this was undoubtedly the easiest of the DB challenges I have ever done. I think the challengers knew it would be easy, so they added a little fiddly bit: make your own ice-cream to go with it. Even with the ice-cream, it was a walk in the park. And – to my astonishment – delicious. Here’s how it was for me:

I made Dharm’s custard-based ice-cream. Vanilla bean, with the addition of some preserved ginger. Next time, I think I’d omit the vanilla. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a vanilla kinda girl. (Well, mostly vanilla, as a friend once reminded me.) But fresh vanilla is such an overpowering flavour that I felt it somewhat overshadowed the prickly, zingy edge I was hoping for from the ginger. Still, it was delicious. Especially because I found this delightful old hand-operated Donvier ice cream maker at the back of my mother’s kitchen cupboard. I think I ordered it off a mail-order catalogue when I was about 11 years old, but it still works a treat. It has a freezable metal insert; once that’s frozen good and proper, you just hand-crank the spatula to whirl up this perfectly soft, smooth gelato. Cute, huh?



dsc00903Teacup for scale… we had the bigger of the mini-cakes for Shabbat dessert the night I made it. The other little one is in the freezer, a treat for a rainy day. And you know, my fears were totally unfounded. It was delicious. Dense as sin, but utterly more-ish.


Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Dharm’s Ice Cream Recipe
Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis (tested modifications and notes in parentheses by Dharm)

1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with vanilla extract)
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Semi Skimmed Milk – in the U.S. this is 2% fat (or use fresh full fat milk that is pasteurised and homogenised {as opposed to canned or powdered}). Dharm used whole milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g / 3oz / 6 tbsp caster sugar {superfine sugar can be achieved in a food processor or use regular granulated sugar}
5ml / 1 tsp corn flour {cornstarch}
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Double Cream (48% butter fat) {in the U.S. heavy cream is 37% fat)
{you can easily increase your cream’s fat content by heating 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3 Tbs of butter until melted – cool to room temperature and add to the heavy cream as soon as whisk marks appear in the cream, in a slow steady stream, with the mixer on low speed.  Raise speed and continue whipping the cream) or use heavy cream the difference will be in the creaminess of the ice cream.

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways.  Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
Lift the vanilla pod up.  Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. SET the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy.  3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time
4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl.  Cool it then chill.
5. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon.  Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container.  Freeze for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice (during the freezing process – to get smoother ice cream or else the ice cream will be icy and coarse)
By Using and Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker)

The credit:

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.

We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge. February’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Valentino, inspired by Malaysia’s “most flamboyant food ambassador”, Chef Wan. The recipe comes from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan.


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The first Daring Bakers challenge I did was SO challenging that every month I quiver a little in my boots and wonder what they’re going to ask us to do next. So it was a sweet surprise to discover that this month’s challenge was technical, but simple: bake a cake. Very sweet, very homely. The technical bits of the challenge were the sugar work – boiling up a dark caramel syrup, burning butter and making caramels. I must admit I passed on the caramels as the caramel cake was sweetness overkill for me already.

Thanks to the hosts of this month’s challenge:

Dolores from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, along with Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo, Jenny of Foray into Food and for the alternative bakers, Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

The recipe is from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater – and you can it recipe here. To be dazzled and amazed by how glamorous this cake can look if you are a more dazzling baker than me, check out some of my accomplished fellow Daring Bakers – Aran, Helene and others. Me, I’m not one of those to turn my cake into spectacular works of art; this is about as homely-looking a baked thing as I’ve made in a long time. But sweet sweet sweet!

My only variation on the main recipe was to add sliced apples into the top. And I didn’t have a plain round tin, so I used this fluted one:


The batter took ages to cream, and then later it curdled somewhat during the beating process. I blame the 30-year-old Sunbeam I was using…


Mandatory breastfeeding break between batter and icing making:


One homely-looking cake, cooling:


For the icing, I used a bit of mascarpone instead of the cream. The burnt butter was AMAZING though, and we used some of the leftover butter over asparagus for the starters that night.


I couldn’t face icing over the pretty apples, so I iced the sides instead. I think it gives a very Bohemian 70s look. Not glam, but it has homely appeal 🙂 And it went down well for dessert on Shabbat, night before the posting date!




Caramel Cake With Caramelized Butter Frosting, courtesy of Shuna:

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}
Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. (The best tip I got for this was to cover the pot in some thick aluminium foil with a hole in the middle, and to pour the water through the hole. Muuuuuuch safer!!)
Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Caramelized Butter Frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

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All done and pretty
All done and pretty

This is my first post as a Daring Baker!! To be honest, I thought I’d join this group for fun – hey, I like baking bread and cookies, and I know my way around a yeasted pastry recipe. No sweat.

This month’s challenge was hosted by Chris of Mele Cotte. When Chris posted this month’s challenge, I gulped a little. She chose the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream, from Carol Walters’ Great Cakes. As I read the recipe, I realised: I am actually a Lazy Baker. Firstly, I tend to make and remake and remake recipes that I’ve known for years. Secondly, I tend to veer towards the easiest (read one-bowl) recipes, or to tweak recipes to make them as easy as I can get away with. Now, that’s not exactly Daring! Time to let the DB crew yank me up to a new level of Daring Bakery!!

This month’s challenge was a Filbert Genoise with Praline Buttercream. It’s not a cake I would ever have chosen to make: laden with buttery icing, heavy on piping, finicky with layers. But quickly it dawned on me: this is the point of a challenge. What’s the point of an easy challenge? I had to google filbert, and then come up with a plan for how to make such a thing whilst working around a 3-month-old baby.

What I learned:
– that you can bake around a 3-month-old baby… if you do it in stages and plan it carefully
– what a genoise is, and how you make one
– how to divide a cake into layers (different techniques for slicing it)
– what buttercream is, and how to make it – and how not to make it
– a little about how sugar melts
– how to pour ganache (a skill I shall be using OFTEN from now on!)
– how to set aside my qualms about complicated recipes and unbelievable fat content, and just enjoy making and eating something complex and gorgeous!

This is how…

7 July: Take Kolya for his immunisation shots. Discover we have half an hour to kill before the appointment. Walk down to Holland and Barrett and buy a load of hazelnuts. Only discover later that Sainsbury’s have much more reasonable hazelnuts.

Hot hazelnuts ready for rubbing

16 July: Toast the hazelnuts to have them ready for cake and praline making. I discover via the internet that the way to do this is to put them on a baking tray in an oven heated to 190 for about 10 to 20 minutes. Then throw the hot nuts into a teatowel and wrap them up for a couple of minutes before rubbing it all together to peel them. The best part is opening up the teatowel and rubbing hot hazelnuts between my hands to get the more stubborn skins off. Hot nut hand therapy.

17 July: Bake the genoise. Easier than I thought, and a great technique for baking a cake. I like cakes that involve melted butter. I only realise later, when the cakes are wrapped and frozen, that I was supposed to seal them with apricot glaze while they were still warm. Oh well. They’re in the freezer.

Operation genoise

Operation genoise

18 July: I make praline. I have difficulty not eating half of it. I can’t bring myself to blend the lovely crunchy hazelnut candy into a fine paste.

Melting sugar on a skillet

Melting sugar on a skillet

The heavenly smell of caramel sugar and warm nuts

The heavenly smell of caramel sugar and warm nuts

22 July: First buttercream disaster. The original recipe calls for a Swiss buttercream that needs to be beaten into meringue over bubbling water. I don’t really have the facilities for that in our tiny kitchen, so I find an alternative buttercream recipe at Zoe Bakes, a wonderful baking blog I find via the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Great texture, but it tastes like… butter. Only later, when I’m breastfeeding Kolya, do I realise that this is because I left out half the ingredients when I boiled the sugar. Instead of dissolving it with water and cream of tartar, I simply put the sugar in the pot and waited for it to boil. And am surprised when it turned into a thick toffeeish stuff that solidified on contact with the butter mixture. Oh, well, bung it in the freezer.

Can you see the solidified caramel on the side of the bowl?
Can you see the solidified caramel on the side of the bowl?

24 July: Second buttercream disaster. This time I make Zoe’s amazing buttercream again. This time, it tastes great, but the texture is…. cake batter. Oh well. Freezer.

26 July: Dani’s having some friends round for tea tomorrow. I’ve promised to bring a marvelous cake. I express enough breastmilk that Nik can feed Kolya all morning and all I have to do is make more buttercream and ganache and do some piping. It’s about 29 degrees Celsius outside.

This time I get the buttercream a bit more right – still not quite as glossy and stiff as I’d like, but a half hour in the fridge and more beating works a treat. Thanks to several useful videos from youtube, I have a sneaky plan for my ganache-pouring. I cover the cake in buttercream, refrigerate it, smooth the buttercream all over the place like Polyfilla, refrigerate it more. Then I flood the ganache with perfectly warm-but-not-too-hot ganache. It’s the most glorious moment.

The piping is less glorious as it starts coming out in unpredictable forms every time a bit of praline gets jammed in the piping nozzle. Sounds like most DBs had this problem, so I’m not particularly surprised, just relieved when it doesn’t make a total mess

27 July: Cake-eating day!

To my surprise the cake is delicious – not as heavy and dense as I expected, and the buttercream is lovely, not offputtingly heavy either.

Pretty inside too
Pretty inside too

The full recipe for the Hazelnut Genoise with Praline buttercream can be found here.

There were several rules about variations. For the most part I stuck with the original recipe. The combination of apricot, orange and hazelnut, with the dark chocolate ganache worked beautifully, I think. I used Cointreau instead of Grand Marnier, and as mentioned above, chose an alternate buttercream which I found at Zoe Bakes, although it was flavoured with the praline and liqueur, not with chocolate and coffee as in Zoe’s recipe.

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It’s never a good idea to go to a supermarket when you’re hungry. Chances are, you’ll buy much more than you need, and plenty that you don’t need at all… I do it regularly. So I was on my way back from the allotment one time, and passed the little superette along the way, and stopped (as I oh-so-regularly do) for some orange juice. And, well, maybe one of those nice pain-au-chocolat things that they do so very nicely for a supermarket in a crappy area. But to get to the pain-au-chocolat shelf, I had to pass that other shelf. You know – the one with the packaged biscuits and cakes and mini-rolls and stuff. And of course, I’d been working in the garden the whole morning, so a box of cupcakes by the so-called Fabulous Bakin’ Boys seemed like A Good Idea.

Ha ha. These guys ought to be called the Not-so-Fabulous Bakin’ Boys. Either that, or the boys had a really off day when they made these. The baked items in the box looked like little fairy cakes with a dark chocolate icing layer. Adorable, really, until you tried to eat them. Dried out, much-too-small fairy cake bit, and utterly unlickable chocolate layer on top. It resembled, uh, dark brown wax. An altogether depressing cupcake experience, and one that left me wanting the thing I’d imagined. Luckily the thing I’d imagined was all too easy to put together.

These are the cupcakes I made. The cake recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I usually find Nigella a bit too AbFab for my taste, but Domestic Goddess does contain more than its fair share of classic recipes (if you have it, go get yourself some orange marmalade and a few slabs of chocolate and go make Store-Cupboard Chocolate-Orange Cake).

Nigella Lawson’s Fairy Cakes

(from http://www.nigella.com)

125g self-raising flour

125g caster sugar

125g soft unsalted butter

2 eggs

Half a teaspoon real vanilla extract

Approximately 2 tablespoons milk

1 x 12-bun muffin tin

12 muffin papers

Preheat the oven to 200C and line the tin with the muffin cases.

It couldn’t be simpler to make cup cakes: just put all the ingredients except for the milk in the processor and then blitz till smooth.

Pulse while adding milk, to make for a soft, dropping consistency, down the funnel. Or using a bowl and wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs one at a time with a little of the flour.

Then add the vanilla extract and fold in the rest of the flour, adding the milk to get the dropping consistency as before.

I know it looks as if you’ll never make this scant mixture fit 12 bun cases, but you will. I promise you this mixture is exactly right to make the 12 cup cakes, so just spoon and scrape the stuff in, trying to fill each case equally, judging by eye only of course.

Put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cup cakes are cooked and golden on top. As soon as bearable, take the cup cakes in their cases out of the tin and let cool, right way up, on a wire rack

For the chocolate topping, I just melted a slab of plain dark chocolate with about a tablespoon of butter to make it soft and glossy. Spread the cooled, melted mixture onto the cooled cupcakes.

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My newly acquired allotment plot has a large rhubarb plant growing on it. Thankfully one of my neighbours at the site pointed it out to me, or I would’ve yanked it out with the rest of the weeds, as I had no idea what rhubarb looked like. Or what it tasted like, even, as I’d never encountered such a thing before. Nik’s sister Katya advised simmering it with tons of sugar and eating it with yogurt, which was nice. And pink. Then I found this recipe from Veg Box for an upside-down rhubarb cake, yet another utterly easy, not-too-sweet cake that falls into the category of wonderful things you can eat for breakfast. With or without a large dollop of greek yogurt.



200g rhubarb
75g brown sugar


175g self-raising flour
175g butter, softened
3 medium eggs
175g caster sugar


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 C. Grease and line a 7-inch (18 cm) deep-sided cake tin. (I used a loaf tin).
  2. Trim the leaves and bases off the rhubarb stalks. Chop the stalks into 2 cm chunks. Place evenly over the base of the lined cake tin and sprinkle the brown sugar on top.
  3. Beat together the butter and the sugar until they are creamy and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, with a tablespoon of flour. Beat well to combine at each stage.
  5. Fold in the rest of the flour, so you don’t lose the air from the cake.
  6. Spoon the cake mixture on top of the rhubarb and even out the top of the cake, making a small well in the middle. (This means it should rise evenly, rather than with a dome in the middle).
  7. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and springy. A sharp knife or skewer inserted into the middle will come out clean.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes. Turn the cake tin upside down onto the serving plate and gently remove it from the cake. The cake is literally served “upside down” with the rhubarb on the top.
  9. Allow to cool before serving.

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