Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Pumpkin Cake for Halloween

This may look like a perfectly normal generic cake. 
(Especially compared to Bryony's Hobbit masterpiece, omg.)

But this cake tastes awesome, because it's actually got pumpkin in it - think carrot cake, except more seasonal, and a liiiittle bit spooky. Because Halloween.

The first time I made this cake it was October 2011, during our first year in halls. I made pumpkin cupcakes and Bryony and I decorated them with Halloween pictures.

Bryony's was the cat and mine was the castle.

But the recipe is quite substantial and I seem to remember making about a thousand of these goddamn (although admittedly quite small) cupcakes. So this time I've made a full on layer cake instead. Because why not?

Now I'm not entirely sure where I got the original recipe that this is based on from, because at the time I found it online and wrote it down on a scrap of paper to bake from and never wrote down where it came from... And now I can't find it.. But it's seriously awesome cake.

Pumpkin ready to roast
You also need to make pumpkin purée, and I used this method here. It's super easy and super effective. If you use a whole pumpkin, you'll definitely have some left over. I used mine to make pumpkin risotto, or you could make it into pumpkin soup or freeze it for future pumpkin cakes.

So. Here's what you need:

280g self raising flour
2 Cardamom pods, seeds only, ground into a fine-ish powder.
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/ tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp salt
110g butter, softened (or margarine)
200g caster sugar
5 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
180ml milk
250g pumpkin purée

For cream cheese icing/filling:
100g cream cheese
25g softened butter
175g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

And here's what you do: 

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. (Or gas mark six. I have a gas oven now, it's very weird...)
2. Grease and line two cake tins. Alternatively, you could use this mix to make cupcakes, in which case you should line cupcake tins with cupcake cases.
3. Sift together the flour, nutmeg, ginger and allspice, then mix in the salt and the cardamom.
4. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter, the caster sugar and the brown sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs, one at at a time. Once combined, stir in the milk and the pumpkin purée. 
5. Stir this into the flour mixture, until just combined.
6. Distribute your cake mix between the two tins, or between your cupcake cases.
7. Place in the oven and bake. If you're doing two big cakes,bake for around 40 minutes, checking them after 20 to see if they need turning. If you're doing cupcakes, bake for 25 minutes, and check after 15.
8. Take out of the oven and cool thoroughly.
9. Once cooled, you can ice your cake(s). To make the icing, beat the cream cheese and the butter together. Beat in the icing sugar a little at a time, add the vanilla extract and beat it in thoroughly.
10. Pipe decorative swirls of icing onto your cupcakes, or if you're making a layer cake, spread the icing mix on top of one layer then sandwich the other one on top. Dust with icing sugar and voila, pumpkin caaaaake.

(Also, this is Alex and I dressed up for Halloween. Alex is dressed as a bat. Again. You can't see my wings but I was dressed as an evil fairy type thing :p)

Monday, 28 October 2013

We're Baking the Hobbits for James' House

Our good friend James had his 21st birthday last week, and to celebrate he had a hobbit party. I got to make the cake...

It was some of the most fun I've ever had baking. Plus it went down really well, and I got to wander through Englefield Green dressed as a hobbit, carrying a cake shaped like a hobbit hole. I'll miss being a student.

What a motley crew. Also I took my shoes off as soon as we got there, don't worry
The cake recipe belongs to Jamie and is a family favourite from what I gather - and I'm not surprised. YUM.

Ingredients (for the cake):
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1tsp salt
- 1tsp baking powder
- 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
- ¾ cup cocoa
- 2 cups caster sugar
- 1 cup sunflower oil
- 1 cup hot instant coffee (or hot chocolate)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1tsp vanilla extract

1. Line a 9x12" rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper, and heat your oven to 170°C.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the oil, coffee (or hot chocolate) and milk and beat for two minutes.
4. Stir in the eggs and vanilla and whisk.
5. Pour the batter into the tin, and bake for 40-45 minutes.

If you're planning on making your cake into a hobbit hole I recommend baking it the day before, so it can cool properly and the flavours can mature a bit before you decorate it. If you're hobbit hole-ing it up:

You will need:
- 1kg fondant icing
- icing sugar
- gel food colouring: red, yellow, blue, black
- a rolling pin (or empty wine bottle)
- 1tbsp jam, any flavour
- a pastry brush
- gum tragacanth (optional)
- cocktail sticks
- a sharp knife
- shot of vodka

1. Begin by putting the jam into a small saucepan, and heating until it's runny. Put to one side.
2. Slice about 2.5" off the end of your cake. Take the piece you've just cut off and shorten it so it fits on top of the larger cake (using the jam as glue), then stick the second cut-off on top and carefully smooth the corners. Then, cut a small, shallow groove down the middle of the cake. It should look something like this:

3. Grab your fondant icing and the blue and yellow food colouring. Sprinkle some icing sugar on your worktop, then knead the fondant icing until it's soft and malleable. Cut off 1/3 and put it to one side, then add the food colouring to the remaining 2/3 and knead in until you have the desired colour.
4. Sprinkle some more icing sugar, then roll out the icing 'til it's about 3mm thick. Using the rolling pin for support, drape the icing over the cake and smooth it down. Carefully cut off any excess.
5. From here on it's mostly your call. I made some grey coloured fondant and cut it out to look like paving stones. To stick them on, lightly brush with the vodka (I don't really know why this is but my Mum's friend's daughter makes cakes professionally and it's what she uses, so I just go with it).

6. Mix some icing sugar with a splash of water and yellow and blue food colouring, then either grab a piping bag or just spoon it over the cake to resemble grass.
7. Create yourself some brown fondant, and cut out a round door and window. To give the wood effect, mix the colours in a small pot and then literally paint it on. Grab a cocktail stick and make the grooves, then dip the stick in the black colouring and paint where the grooves are. If you're feeling super nerdy you can also make yourself a little door handle and scratch in Gandalf's mark.

8. Make a few strips of pink fondant and roll them up into roses, and accompany with leaves (which Zosia kindly made for me). For the fence, cut a handful of cocktail sticks in half and stick them into the 'grass', then use a few splodges of the water icing to secure more cocktail sticks to lie across horizontally.
9. Aaaaand you're DONE. Now dress up like a hobbit and take it to your friend's house while you sing THIS all the way there.

Monday, 21 October 2013

And Then Something Amazing Happened

Hello, lovely readers. I have some very exciting news - you remember my vegetable chilli? Well... it's featured in this month's Reader Recipes Competition in the Sainsbury's Magazine!

I had no idea until I was approached by a girl in one of my seminars, who double-checked my name and then told me I was in it. I was (/am) completely thrilled, and spent the rest of the seminar texting my parents from under the table because it was just too exciting. I'm in the same magazine as Mary Berry!

The chilli's so easy to make, and so perfect for this time of year as it gets wetter and colder and you need something to cheer you up inside and out.

I would be so grateful if you could click on this link - right here - and vote for me, as the recipe with the highest number of comments will be printed in full. Also if I win the cookbook I'll make things from it and then blog about it, so it's really all for you, dear readers. Thank you!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Our Daily Bread

It's said that man cannot live on bread alone; however, we are a house of women.

I've always eaten a lot of bread, and loved making it, but I hadn't done much over the last two years because gluten free bread is just so difficult. Now though, I'm back on full-baking-form, and between us Jamie and I are making a loaf of bread every few days. 

It's the easiest thing, and so cheap to make. Seriously - a 1.5kg bag of bread flour costs 80p, the 7g of yeast costs about 4p, and 1½ tsp of salt would be about 0.3p. Which brings the cost of a basic home-made loaf of bread to about 40.3p!

The thing that puts a lot of people off making bread is the time needed to make it, but that's one of the reasons I love it. Spend 15 minutes on the initial mixing and kneading, then go to campus for a few hours of lectures. By the time you get back you'll have a beautifully risen dough with minimal amounts of effort! 
So give it a go.

Basic White Loaf - Ingredients:
- 675g strong white bread flour
- 7g yeast
- 1½tsp salt
- 450ml warm water

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then make a well in the centre and pour in the water.
2. Using your hands, mix everything together until you get a dough. If it's too dry you can add a little more water, but if it's on the wet side try your best to work with it rather than adding flour as a wet dough often leads to a better loaf.
3. Sprinkle your worktop with flour, then turn out your dough and knead for 10-15 minutes, until it's silky smooth and elastickey. If you're not sure about your kneading technique I recommend youtube - there are thousands of videos with instructions and demonstrations.
4. Put your dough back in the original bowl and cover with cling film, then leave it alone. It needs at least an hour and a half to prove, but it can really be left for as long as you need it to be.

Before and after proving
5. Tip out the risen dough and knead for a couple more minutes, then shape and place on a greased baking tray. Cover with cling film and leave for another hour or so.
6. Heat your oven to 230°C. Take off the cling film and, using a sharp knife, cut a few slashes diagonally along the top of the dough (you can also dust it with a little bit of flour at this point to achieve a more rustic look), then stick it in the oven.
7. After 15 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 200°C, then bake for a further 20-25 minutes (the initial blast of heat will give you a better crust).
8. Remove your beautiful creation from the oven and transfer to a wire rack if you have one, or just a likely chopping board if you don't. You should leave it for at least 15 minutes before attacking it with mounds of butter, though in our house we can never wait that long.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Smokey Red Risotto

If you've been reading this blog for more than five minutes, you'll know that Zosia and I have quite a thing for risotto, and we also like playing with recipes. Therefore we have posh risotto, gin risotto, red wine risotto and pink risotto among other things - and this is another new one.

It embodies everything you could want as the weather starts to get colder: it's smokey and warm and comforting, and fills your kitchen with the sweet scent of spice. I'll also be using it in future as a way of getting Zosia round for tea, because it's very odd not living with her this year and I miss her.

Ingredients (serves 6):
- 2 red onions, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2tsp dried basil
- 1tbsp smoked paprika
- 400g arborio rice
- 1 ½ tins chopped tomatoes
- 400ml red wine
- 1000ml vegetable stock
- 6 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
- bunch fresh basil, torn
- salt and pepper
- soft goats cheese, to serve

1. In a large pan or wok, cook the red onion and garlic with a knob of butter for about 8 minutes, until starting to colour. Add the dried basil and paprika and cook for another minute or so before adding the rice.
2. After another minute, add the chopped tomatoes, the red wine and a ladle-full of the stock and stir in. Bring to a simmer, and add more stock as the liquid is absorbed by the rice - this should take about half an hour. Stir it as often as you can.

Stirring fun: the reunited cookers
3. When it's almost done, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil, and season to taste. Serve with the goats cheese and lots of garlic bread. If you have it, drizzle over a little garlic olive oil too, for an extra bit of yum.

Awesome. Also I should say that term has started again and the current amount of business is unreal. Seriously - yesterday I threw some pasta together and had to put it in a tupperware box to eat while I ran/was on campus. Also I have freshers' flu. So bear with us for a little while, while we find our feet again!