Fail safe sponge cake

Hi everyone! So I’ve been MIA for a while – I don’t really have much of an excuse. Oh except that…I GOT ENGAGED!! So I feel like most of my time has been spent on Pinterest wedding planning which is VERY exciting. Anyway, you’re here to read about cake!

While all this planning has been going on I’ve still been baking, of course. One thing I’ve always struggled with is my cake mix splitting, or my sponge coming out a bit unevenly and rising too much in the middle etc. I tried SO many things – making sure all my ingredients were at the same temperature, beating the eggs in a bit at a time with some flour etc but my mixture ended up splitting Every. Single. Time. It didn’t affect the taste mind you, but it was still goddamn frustrating.

Then, I found a method which seems to have solved my splitting and rising woes all at once. It’s a method championed by Mary Berry and essentially involves lobbing all your ingredients into your mixer and beating them together!

The all in one method is my new fail safe way to a perfect sponge cake, and it hasn’t let me down yet. So, here are some very basic guidelines, although it almost seems insulting as it’s so easy!

Ingredients (minus amounts – you’ll see why in the method!)

Eggs

Caster sugar

Self-raising flour

Butter (Stork is great)

Baking powder

Method

  1. Another method I’ve been employing lately is to use my egg weight to guide the rest of my ingredients. So, firstly, weigh your eggs with their shells on. This is the point to decide how big you want your cake to be. Obviously, the more eggs the bigger your cake will be! I generally use four eggs for a medium sized cake. So, for the sake of this post, let’s say the eggs (with shells on) weigh 250g.
  2. Secondly, weigh out 250g of all your other ingredients except your baking powder.
  3. Break your eggs into your mixer first followed by all the other ingredients. Add three level teaspoons of baking powder (I find this is the best amount, but of course if you’re using more or less eggs then adjust the amount accordingly).
  4. Beat until everything is well combined and ta-dah – there you have your cake mix! At this point you can be creative an add in some extras if you wish. I quite like splitting the mix into two batches, adding some melted dark chocolate to one batch and then swirling them both together to make a marble cake.
  5. Bake in two round cake tins at 180C until the cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Decorate in whatever way you like (I’ll be doing a post soon with some basic decoration tips to make your cakes look fab!).

I will take the time to say that is SO worth getting a cake tester. They’re cheap as chips but so handy when it comes to knowing if your cake is ready.

Here’s a photo of Oscar thinking he’s king of the castle. Here is also a photo of our chickens!! I’m now at a point where they are laying enough for me to use their eggs in every bake I do. I absolutely love knowing the eggs I use have come from happy, free range chickens (except when it’s raining (i.e. ALL THE TIME), then they look like little feathery, miserable drowned rats).

   

When it all goes horribly wrong

Sometimes, things just don’t work out. You get to a restaurant and they’ve run out of your favourite dish. You step on a plug. Or, like me, your three tier 50th birthday cake goes completely tits up.

Now, this happened to me nearly a month ago and I’ve only just brought myself to write about it. Fortunately it wasn’t an order for someone else or I’d have had a full on mental breakdown. Unfortunately, for my mum, it was a cake for her 50th birthday party.

My dad had organised a surprise party with 50 of her friends and I was all like ” oh hey dad, why don’t I make the cake” as if it was the most casual thing in the world. In my head I was planning a three-tiered cake, with each tier a different flavour and colour, which, as it turned out, was most definitely NOT casual.

I can’t even really say it started well. The bottom layer was my trusty carrot cake so I really wasn’t worried about it. However, I was baking it in a 24cm springform tin instead of my normal 20cm loose bottomed tin. How I underestimated what a difference this would make. It came out looking like a carrot pancake which, if it was February, I could maybe have got away with.

It turns out this wasn’t the biggest disaster as it was still high enough to not look stupid against the other tiers, plus I padded it out with buttercream.

Now, the next two tiers I sailed through, which lulled me into a false sense of security. The middle tier was a prosecco cake which came out beautifully light and spongy as if it was saying “hey chill, everything’s gonna be fine”.

The top tier was a gin and tonic cake (you might be thinking “christ her mum likes the booze”, in which case you’d be right on the money) and this too came out like a fluffy dream. All was going swimmingly and my carrot cake woes were forgotten.

Even icing the carrot cake went well, so I popped it into the fridge to chill and moved on to the prosecco cake. This, my friends, is where it all went horribly downhill.

I made the utterly stupid decision to put jam in the middle of the cake which, when I began icing the whole thing with buttercream, decided to ooze out leaving it looking like something out of the Walking Dead. “Ahhh well, it’ll just add to the effect” I thought. I was wrong.

Icing the gin and tonic cake was fairly stress-free, but by this point the prosecco cake was still oozing like a bad wound and I had a horrible feeling everything was going to get a lot worse. I was right.

I assembled the tiers without anything collapsing which was a small miracle, looked at my watch and realised I had precisely 30 minutes before we were due to leave for the partay. THIRTY MINUTES.

Which wouldn’t be an issue if I hadn’t decided to put a different coloured drip on each effing layer. I was thinking orange for the carrot cake, pink for the prosecco cake and green for the gin and tonic cake.

If you read that thinking “my god surely that’s going to end up looking like something highly toxic which should only be handled by men in white coats”, you’d be correct.

Nevertheless, I persevered with my plan and set to work putting different coloured drips on the cake, trying to ignore the clock. Only I couldn’t ignore the clock and ended up rushing the whole damn thing so I ended up with horribly runny ganache which basically ran down the entire length of the cake with each colour merging into one another like something from Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat gone wrong.

Still, I tried ignoring my inner critic and ran upstairs to grab my bag, thinking that I’d feel better after walking away from the cake and coming back to it with a new perspective. Five minutes later I opened the fridge and wept like a small child.

Mum’s birthday was ruined. I was an awful baker never to be let near an oven again. My poor boyfriend tried to console me the best he could but the wailing continued. “Let’s just take it over anyway” he said, and I eventually agreed.

You’d think that would be the end of my woes, but no. We got the three-tiered monster into the extremely warm car and within precisely 3.4 seconds it all started to melt. By the time we got to my gran’s house where we planned to get ready before the party the cake looked like something you wouldn’t even want to feed your cat*. I cried. Again.

And so that was it. The cake stayed in my gran’s fridge, I put on my best face and turned up at the party hoping no-one would even know there had been a cake. I hugged the first of the guests as they whispered in my ear “I heard about the cake – what happened?” Turns out my gran, who had obviously arrived before us, had been round and told pretty much the whole room about my cake saga. Excellent.

I ended up getting very drunk that night. The moral of the story? Fail to prepare prepare to fail. Basically make sure you have enough time. Oh and make sure there’s booze handy at all times.

*This is my cat. He’s lovely. Apart from when he waits at the bottom of the stairs like a ninja and attacks your feet.

Oh, and in case  you wanted to see the toxic mess… Normally I’d try and take a decent photo but there was literally no point.

The BEST carrot cake recipe ever

 As you might have heard, I held a bake sale to raise money for the British Hen Welfare Trust (where I work) on Good Friday. I’ve never baked so much in so little time! I planned my menu in advance and knew what I had to make when. There were a couple of tricky, fiddly items on the menu but one thing I knew I HAD to include, especially as it was Easter, was a carrot cake.

I’m not one for being big-headed, but I know my strengths and one of them is a delicious, moist carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting. Heaven! I must admit the whole reason this cake turns out so great is because I have a fail safe recipe, once again from the wonderful Hummingbird Cake Days book.

This cake does take a bit of time, not least because you have to finely grate 450g of carrots! But my god is it worth it when you taste the end result. Seriously, I cannot bang on about this cake enough! Just go make it. Please.

Ingredients

450g finely grated carrot

Roughly 2tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger

80ml buttermilk

3 large free range eggs

1tsp vanilla essence

350ml vegetable oil

420g caster sugar

500g plain flour

2tsp baking powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp salt

1tsp ground cinnamon

1tsp ground ginger

80g chopped pecans

For the cream cheese frosting

100g butter (I used Stork)

600g icing sugar

Zest of half an orange

200g cream cheese (the original recipe uses 250g but I found 200g was plenty to make a nice smooth frosting)

Orange zest and chopped pecans to decorate

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line either four or two 20cm tins. (If you use two you’ll just have to keep an eye on the rise and then cut the cakes in half if you feel so inclined so you end up with four cakes – I just opted for  two very big halves!).
  2. Mix together the carrots, root ginger, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, vegetable oil and sugar until well combined.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and ground spices then slowly beat into the carrot mixture, adding in three batches. Mix in the chopped pecans.
  4. Stick your head in the bowl and revel in the smell for a second. Mmmm.
  5. Right, back to it. Divide the batter evenly between your tins and bake for around 30 minutes or longer if you’re using two tins. Keep checking them with a cake tester until it comes out clean. Leave to cool.
  6. To make the frosting, mix the icing sugar and butter on a low speed until combined but still powdery. Add in the orange zest and cream cheese and beat again until you have a silky smooth, light frosting.
  7. Spread some of the icing between the cakes, then smother the rest over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with the orange zest and chopped pecans and enjoy!

Oscar was hugely helpful and decided to jump in the cupboard every bloody time I opened it. He swiftly got bored of this and then tried eating the bits of grated carrot which had dropped on the floor before deciding that, in fact, he did not like carrot.

Working with fondant

When I started this blog I had no preconceived ideas of getting shed loads of orders in, or making any money from it whatsoever. I was happy enough baking and blogging and anything else would be a bonus.

So, when a friend contacted me and asked if I could make her some engagement cupcakes, I was pleasantly surprised and excited. Then I experienced another feeling altogether. Fear. What if I couldn’t do it? What if they turned out like a dog’s dinner? What if I made them and she refused to accept them because they were so god damn awful?!

I had never worked with fondant before but, luckily, I had over a months’ notice which meant plenty of time to prepare. Which leads me on to my first bit of advice for anyone embarking on something like this…

  1. Prepare! If you have a recipe, designs and all the right equipment before you begin you’ll hugely minimise your chances of things going wrong.
  2. Seek inspiration! My friend had left the designs completely up to me, so my first step was to get on Pinterest and start looking for ideas. And there were plenty!
  3. Pick designs within your skillset. I was under no illusion that I could make a cupcake look like a work of art. However I was confident I could produce some very cute, engagement-themed cupcakes with a bit of flair.
  4. Draw your designs out (they don’t have to be a work of art!) so you have guidelines to work from as you go.
  5. Use plenty of icing sugar when you roll out your icing. This is common sense really but if you don’t do it everything will just stick to your worktop.
  6. Put each fondant decoration in the fridge once it’s done to chill it and give it more structure.
  7. Maintain a delicate hand. Fondant isn’t particularly flimsy, but if you’re too heavy handed you’ll end up squashing your pretty shapes.
  8. Use edible glue! This stuff is brilliant and holds everything in place perfectly. Here’s a link to the one I bought.
  9. Be flexible. Something might not end up going the way you thought it would, so just adapt and try something else.
  10. Give yourself plenty of time. I knew it would take a while to get all my designs sorted and looking the way I wanted them, but I did underestimate just how long I’d spend doing fiddly things like making rings and marking the quilt on the fondant.
  11. Have fun! Above all, just enjoy it and remember the beauty of fondant is that you can just squash it back into a ball, re-roll it and go again!

Here’s how my cupcakes ended up. They’re not perfect by a long shot, but for a first attempt I was pretty chuffed. I had good feedback from the bride-to-be as well, which was as much as I could have hoped for.

Needless to say Oscar just slept through the entire process. At one point I think I actually stood on his tail and he barely flinched. Maybe it was his ‘couldn’t-give-a-shit’ attitude that kept me calm…

Gluten free no bake chocolate peanut butter pie

This little beauty is an absolute must for any peanut butter lover. I’d been eyeing it up in the newest Deliciously Ella book for a couple of weeks and finally got round to whipping it up at the weekend.

It’s a gluten free recipe which produces a beautiful pie with an oaty base, a layer of pure peanut butter all topped off with a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate topping made with pure cacao butter.

Granted, cacao butter and cacao powder aren’t exactly cupboard essentials, but I was intrigued to see what kind of finish they’d produce. I bought my powder in Atlantic Village and had to get the cacao butter on Amazon, but it was worth it!

Ingredients

For the base

200g oats (I used Sainsbury’s standard porridge oats)

40g coconut oil, melted

30g peanut butter

30g honey (I used Quince Honey Farm’s clear Devon flower)

For the middle layer

150g peanut butter (I didn’t weigh mine, I just dolloped on until I was happy I’d used enough)

For the chocolate topping

120g coconut oil

100g raw cacao powder

30g cacao butter

60g peanut butter

60g honey

60g coconut sugar (you can just use caster sugar if you like)

Method

  1. First make the chocolate layer by simply popping all the ingredients in a medium pan and melting together over a low heat. To begin with it might all look a bit dry, but stick with it and it’ll turn into a glossy, gorgeous mixture. Set aside to cool.
  2. While that’s cooling, make the base by firstly whizzing the oats in a food processor until they turn into a sort of oaty flour. Then add in all the other ingredients with two tbsp of water and two tbsp of the chocolate mix. Blend it again until it turns into a lovely sticky mix.
  3. Press the crumbly mix into a 23cm loose bottomed tart tin until it’s nicely compacted.
  4. Next spoon your peanut butter over the top until you’ve got a lovely layer, and pop the whole lot into the freezer for around 15 minutes, or until you’re confident the chocolate won’t mix with the peanut butter.
  5. Finally pour the chocolate mixture over the top and spread it out evenly before topping with lots of chopped nuts. Pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I stored mine in the fridge as I was worried it’d melt1

Enjoy! This is a super rich tart so a little slice goes a long way, and I’d highly recommend it with cream or ice cream. YUM.

Oscar decided to lend a helping hand by falling asleep on the worktop. Useless cat.

White chocolate and raspberry cupcakes

White chocolate and raspberries are such a winning combo. These cupcakes are gorgeous little bites of fluffy goodness with fresh raspberries and chocolate chunks studded inside. You really can’t go wrong!

I had my new Wilton 2D nozzle delivered this week and I couldn’t wait to give it a try, so making these cupcakes was the perfect excuse. I also bought some Sugarflair pink food colouring so wanted to use this to make a pretty pink buttercream icing for the top.

I decided to top mine with a blue ‘raspberry’ sweetie, but the beauty of these cupcakes is you could add whatever topping you wanted, or none at all as the rose pattern is so pretty on its own. You could opt to top them with a fresh raspberry or a couple of chunks of white chocolate. YUM.

Ingredients

75g fresh raspberries

75g raspberry jam (or strawberry, if that’s what you’ve got in your fridge)

150g white chocolate, chopped into chunks

150g caster sugar

188g butter (I used Stork)

3 free range eggs

1.5 tbsp milk

225g self-raising flour

For the icing

500g icing sugar

160g butter

splash of milk

food colouring (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C fan and pop 18 cake cases into one or two muffin tins (if your tin only hold 12 cases you can either bake two batches or bake six of the cupcakes without using a tin, but they might not hold their shape so well).
  2. Put the jam into a bowl followed by the raspberries and mix together, lightly crushing the berries.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer or using a handheld whisk until pale and creamy. Mix in the eggs and milk until well combined. Don’t worry if the mixture splits a bit – the flour will help rectify this.
  4. Sift in the flour and fold until just combined (i.e. don’t mix it furiously). Pop in your white chocolate and mix again to combine. Finally, add in the raspberry mixture and stir through until marbled.
  5. Measure out the mixture into your cupcake cases so each has an even amount (aim for around 50g per case).
  6. Bake in your preheated oven for between 12 and 15 minutes until the tops are golden brown and springy. Leave to cool completely.
  7. Meanwhile make your icing by beating the icing sugar with the butter until the mixture resembles sand. Next, add in a tiny splashes of milk until you have a nice, thick buttercream. I can’t emphasise the word ‘tiny’ enough here. If you add too milk much the buttercream will be too thin, then you’ll have to add more icing sugar. So less is more!
  8. Add in your food colouring if using. Sugarflair colours are SO strong I only had to use a pea-sized amount and it actually make my buttercream a bit too pink! If you use a liquid food colouring, not a gel, this could alter the consistency of your icing, so bear this in mind.
  9. Either spread the icing on top the cooled cupcakes or, if you want to get all fancy pants, pipe it on using a Wilton 2D nozzle to make a rose effect. Start in the middle by pipping out a big blob and from there pipe in circles, working outwards until the whole cake is covered.
  10. Either leave as they are or pop your chosen topping on the top!

These little lovelies would be a perfect present for Mother’s Day. If you haven’t got the time to make any yourself, or just don’t fancy it, I’ll happily take orders for these – just let me know by Saturday. Either give me a text/call on 07773604311 or email francesca.taffs@gmail.com to place your order.

Oscar thinks you should…

Mini egg fudge

You may have guessed by now that I’m a bit obsessed with mini eggs. I could eat bags and bags of them at a time. It’s a problem.

So when I stumbled across a recipe for mini egg fudge on Jane’s Patisserie’s blog it was all I could think about. The next day I headed straight off to the shops to grab all the necessary components, leaving my boyfriend to do some DIY. We’re not a stereotypical couple, honest.

This, as Jane says, is a ‘cheat’s fudge’ as it’s genuinely so easy to make. It involves just a handful of ingredients and within a few hours you’ll have beautiful, creamy, chocolatey fudge studded with mini eggs. I mean c’mon, sounds good right?!

Ingredients

397g can of condensed milk

25g butter

400g white chocolate

100g icing sugar

360g Cadbury mini eggs, bashed into bits (some can remain whole)

1tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Line a 23cm squared tin (I just lined the base and it came out fine)
  2. Stick the condensed milk, chocolate, butter and vanilla extract into a large pan and melt together on a low heat, keeping a close eye so the chocolate doesn’t stick.
  3. Sift in the icing sugar and beat to combine.
  4. Leave the mixture to cool for around five minutes but make sure you stir in every minute or so to stop a skin forming.
  5. Mix in 3/4 of the mini eggs and pour the whole lot into your tin. Spread the remaining eggs over the top and press them into the fudge.
  6. Pop the tin in the fridge and leave for about three hours before cutting the lot into little (or large!) squares. This is one the hardest bits so make sure you’ve got a super sharp knife. Put the fudge back in the fridge until completely set.

Enjoy! If this doesn’t tickle your fancy as little Easter treat then you must be dead inside. Or have no tastebuds.

Oscar popped in to wake me up and make me go to the shops, so I must partly thank him for this fudgey goodness.

Buttermilk scones

It’s almost that time of year again when you can look forward to a cream tea in the sunshine at the weekend. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d whip up a batch of soft, fluffy scones to get myself in the mood for summer eating! These are a bit different to scones I’ve made before but I adore the taste and texture that buttermilk gives to cakes so, why not use them in scones too?! I used a BBC Good Food recipe – honestly you cannot go wrong with their guidance!

I adapted it very slightly by adding some chopped dates into half of the mixture. I’m not a huge fan of sultanas but I could eat dates until the cows come home. They add lovely little bites of sweetness into the scones.

Their recipe says to use a 284ml carton of buttermilk but the ones I got from Sainsbury’s was 300ml – I used it all and it did the job just fine! I think it would’ve been a bit dry had I used any less…

Ingredients

450g self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

100g cold butter, cubed

85g golden caster sugar

300ml buttermilk

2tsp vanilla extract (I forgot to add this in and they still tasted good to me!)4

200g chopped dates (don’t worry about being fancy and using medjool dates, the normal ones will do)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C fan.
  2. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, rub the butter and self-raising flour together with your fingertips until it resembles sand. Otherwise if you’re lazy like me just use a food processor. Pulse or mix in the caster sugar.
  3. Pop the whole pot of buttermilk in the microwave (removing the lid) and heat in 20 second bursts until warm. Pop the whole lot into a large bowl followed by the flour mixture and mix together with a knife.
  4. Bring all the ingredients together in a ball using your hands, then turn half of it out onto a lightly floured worktop.
  5. Press the mixture out until you have a nice thick slab (a couple of inches, roughly) and stamp out some rounds using a cutter. I used the smallest cutter I had which was about 4cm, but you can use whatever size you like. You may choose to opt for your largest cutter and end up with mammoth scones! Whatever floats your boat.
  6. Next, mix your chopped dates into the other half of the mixture and repeat step five.
  7. Pop the  scones onto a baking tray (I put six on per tray), brush the tops with beaten egg or milk and bake for around 13 minutes (this depends on your oven of course).

It’s now time to enjoy your beautiful scones! I will say now that if anyone reading this dares put jam on first then you are not worthy of these scones. Go hang your head in shame or move to Cornwall.

Oh, here’s Oscar after a hard days’ work.

Mini egg brownies

Easter isn’t far away and the shops are already stacked full of creme eggs and the like. I’ve been wanting to make some mini egg brownies for a while as I knew it would be a winning combo.

I’ve finally perfected my brownie recipe so am going to start experimenting with lots of different flavour combos! This was a cracking one to start off with. You’ll notice I’ve included 100g of dulce de leche in my recipe – I use this every time now as it just gives the brownies a little something special. It makes them super gooey and even more indulgent. Trust me, it works!

Ingredients

200g good quality dark chocolate (70% minimum cocoa solids)

200g butter

100g dulce de leche

4 free range eggs

200g caster sugar

130g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

pinch of salt

two 90g bags of Cadbury mini eggs

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan.
  2. Whisk the dulce de leche, sugar and eggs together until well combined, and then pour the silky chocolate mix on top and mix again.
  3. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and pinch of salt in a bowl, then add this to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
  4. Smash up one and a half bags of mini eggs by bashing them in the bag with a rolling pin, then add them to mix.
  5. Pour the whole lovely lot into a 23cm square baking tin (mine was 20cm so the brownies were  just a bit thicker) and stud the mix with some mini eggs (I used 16). This also gives you a guide for when you come to cutting them up! Bake at 180C fan for around 40 minutes. Mine were still super gooey in the middle so you may need an extra five minutes.

Eat, and enjoy! Looks like I’m not the only one in this house who likes mini eggs…

The no-bake pancake cake

Hands up who doesn’t like pancakes? That’s what I thought. Pancake Day is just around the corner so what better excuse to whip up a batch (or 12, to be precise) and create a cake out of them?!

There are some recipes out there which call for pancake cakes to be baked but, frankly, the damn things are already cooked so why waste more time staring at the oven? So, this isn’t really a ‘bake’ at all.

The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver and, while time consuming, is super simple. I will warn you, it’s almost impossible to make this look good unless you want to spend even more time trimming, measuring and decorating but to be honest I’m more concerned about the taste!

Ingredients

3 cups self-raising flour

3 cups milk

3 large free range eggs

Pinch of salt

Olive oil

150g dark chocolate

600ml double cream

1 tbsp vanilla flavouring

1.5 tbsps caster sugar

Method

  1. Stick the flour, eggs and milk into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Heat up a no-stick saucepan and pour in a drop of olive oil. Make as many pancakes as you can with the mixture you’ve got. I made 12 but, in hindsight, I would’ve made less pancakes but made each one thicker. Stack them on top of each other and leave to cool.
  2. Heat 200ml cream in a saucepan (but don’t let it boil), take it off the heat, then add in the chocolate, chopped, and keep stirring until it’s all melted. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk the remaining cream with the sugar and vanilla flavouring until nice and thick.
  4. Assemble the cake on a board or stand. Put a dollop of cream on the board/stand and put one pancake on top, pressing gently to stick it down. Spread some chocolate on the top and put another pancake on it. Spread with cream and then plop another pancake on top. Repeat until everything is used up! You can decorate this with chopped nuts or fruit if you wish.

Oscar decided to have a fight with the bathroom mat while I was cooking. We were away last night so I think he was a bit grumpy with us and wanted to take it out on something.