Christmas Cake [Part One]

So I’ve been meaning to get around to making my Christmas cake for a few weeks and finally found some time today. I was worried that I had left it too late but one of my friends mentioned that Sunday was actually the perfect day to make my cake because it was ‘Stir up Sunday’. This is a tradition that dates back to Victorian times when family members would gather together to stir the Christmas pudding and make a wish five weeks before Christmas (five weeks?! Blimey, I need to go shopping…).

Anyway, whilst Stir up Sunday traditionally applies to Christmas puddings I’m going to tell myself that it also applies to cakes and therefore I’m not behind, I’m perfectly on time with Christmas prep. In the kitchen at least…

I used a Mary Berry recipe from the GBBO Christmas book. Make sure you get yourself organised as the recipe requires you to soak the dried fruit in brandy for three days before baking the cake.

You will need a very large bowl for this as by the time all of the ingredients are in there’s a lot of mixture! I found the mixture to be a bit dry so I added a bit of brandy to the mix (can’t have too much booze!) to loosen it up a bit.

The recipe calls for the cake to be in the oven for 4-4.5 hours but I found that mine was done within 3 hours and 45 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different so keep an eye on your cake- when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean your cake is done.

I’m so excited that my cake is finally done! I’m just letting it cool in the tin before feeding it for the next few weeks so that it’s lovely and boozy for the big day! I’ll post part 2 once I’ve decorated it.

Happy Baking!


Sea Salted Caramel Showstopper Cake

As many of you know I am a member of the Winchester branch of Clandestine Cake Club and our theme for this month was Showstoppers as nod to the final of Bake Off. I wanted a cake that was a different flavour from one I would usually bake and that also had the “wow” factor in terms of how it looked. I scoured my (many!) recipe books and settled on the Sea Salted Caramel Cake from the new CCC book. If you read my Borough Market blog you will know that I am a big fan of salted caramel doughnuts and I have also tried it as a dessert and in a chocolate bar but I had never thought of it in a cake.

The first step is to make the caramel sauce. At first the mix looked awful because the butter separated and the sugar congealed into soft lumps but do persevere with it and once it is simmering stir it a couple of times and it will come together. When I added the chocolate and cream I added the chocolate first and stirred until this was melted before adding the cream as I didn’t want to risk the cream cooling the mixture down too much so that the chocolate didn’t melt.IMG_7037
I came unstuck a bit here (that’s what you get for not reading ahead!) and got on with the cake mixture whilst I left the sauce to cool. It turns out that the cooled sauce is in the cake mixture and so there is no point starting the cake mixture until the sauce is cool. To speed things up I measured out the 60g required for the cake mix and put this in a separate bowl to cool.

I found the cake mixture a bit stiff and so I added a little milk to loosen it. I imagine that I could have also added a bit more of the caramel sauce to loosen it as well and I will probably try that next time.

Once the cakes were cooled it was time to start the decorating process (exciting!). When filling the cake make sure the caramel sauce doesn’t go right to the edge otherwise it will get mixed in with the buttercream when you ice the outside of the cake.

As suggested by the recipe, the crumb coat is a good idea as it helps with the final look of the cake. The recipe says to crumb coat the sides but if I made this cake again I would also crumb coat the edge of the top of the cake where you intend to pipe as this would have made the finish neater. When you are doing the crumb coat you will get crumbs on your palette knife so make sure these don’t get mixed in with the rest of the icing as you don’t want crumbs in the icing you’ll be using to pipe the rosettes.IMG_7041

The rosettes took for blummin ever but the end result was worth it! Here is the finished product:
If you don’t have the patience for rosettes then you could do swirls or roses instead.

This cake did take a bit of effort and patience but in my opinion it was well worth it! And judging by the small slice left at the end of cake club so did everyone else!

Happy baking 🙂


Mary’s Mokatines

Sorry for the radio silence recently fellow bakers – I have been moving house!

I’ve been dying to try out my beautiful new kitchen (so much space!!) and I need to fill the massive void that has appeared in my life now that I no longer have Paul, Mary and co to entertain me on a Wednesday evening so I have decided to recreate some of the bakes attempted by the Great British Bake Off 2015 contestants. I have decided to start with the Mokatines which were the Technical Challenge in Week 8. You can find the recipe here, as well as the recipes for lots of the other bakes attempted in the Bake Off tent.

I decided on this challenge because it has a lot of technical skills involved, including creme au beurre moka, piping and genoise sponge which *lowers voice and looks over shoulder* I have never made before! Shh…don’t tell Mary or Paul!

I was quite nervous about attempting the genoise. I don’t know about you but I’ve heard so many things about how hard a genoise sponge is that I feel like mastering it is key to being able to call myself a baker! Anyway, it turns out the genoise was fine but I struggled with the icing! More on that later….

Given the tricky nature of a genoise I decided that I would use the ingredients set out in the GBBO recipe but I followed the technique suggested by James Morton in his book “How Baking Works” because it provides a lot more detail and explanation as to why each step is important. I can’t recommend it enough, it has such fabulous explanations!.

As explained by James you need to make sure you get masses of air into the mixture because there is no raising agent to help it rise so you need to whisk it like mad before you put it in the oven. James recommends to whisk the egg and sugar mix for 10 minutes before adding the butter and flour. When I first read this I thought it was crazy – 10 minutes?! But it is necessary; you cannot get enough air into the mix at this stage because adding the butter and flour will knock a lot out.
When adding the butter and flour make sure you are very gentle. The key is to “fold” the flour in rather than beat or whisk it. Folding just means gently mixing everything together. It is best to use a large metal spoon as the thin edge cuts through the mixture easily without knocking out air. Make sure you scoop right to the bottom to get all the flour mixed in. Try not to fold it too many times, just enough to incorporate all of the flour.

The Great British Bake off recipe says that the sponge should be baked for 35-40 minutes but this seemed like far too long for most sponges, let alone a delicate genoise so I baked my sponge for 20 minutes before checking it and it was perfect. The best way to tell if a sponge is done is to give it a little prod on top, when it is done it will spring back (don’t poke too hard though or you will put your finger through it!).

I was very pleased with how the sponge came out (even if I did nearly drop the tin when I was turning it out! So clumsy!).
Next I turned my attention to the decorating. I seem to find that this is the stage where it all goes a bit wrong for me so I was a bit apprehensive. It didn’t start well when the coffee icing was so dry it was more like a choux pastry mix! I added some water to the mixture (about a teaspoonful) which helped to loosen it and it didn’t affect the flavour at all so disaster averted thankfully!

Right. So far so good. Genoise sponge safely out of the tin (and not on the floor!) and small icing disaster averted. However…this is where it went really wrong and I ended up free-styling! The creme au beurre moka did not work for me AT ALL. The end mixture was extremely runny and I knew I would not be able to pipe it. I tried to salvage it by putting it in the fridge to firm up but this just caused it to separate and harden. I ended up making a coffee buttercream. Admittedly not quite the same but it works well and seems to have passed the taste test with my friends and family.

So next was the fun (and messy!!) bit. I decided to cut the cakes first and then fill them rather than fill then slice as the recipe suggests because I was worried that the coffee icing would just squidge out of the side when I cut into the sponge. Rather than spreading the icing onto the cakes I piped it in. This meant that I didn’t risk tearing the delicate sponge apart and allowed me to make sure each had the same amount of filling.

The next stage was quite messy – covering the cakes in the almond nibs! I found that I needed way more apricot jam than the recipe called for to ensure that the sides were covered sufficiently. I would estimate that I used at least 6 tablespoons and if I had had anymore I would have used it. It is important to make sure that the sides are totally covered in apricot jam because otherwise there will be gaps in the almond nibs.

I struggled to pipe the rosettes round the bottom as the almond nibs prevented the icing from sticking to the sponge. In the end I gave up and just piped the rosettes round the top.

The final stage is the fondant icing glaze on top. I found the recipe for this really weird. It calls for ready rolled fondant icing and says to beat this until it is smooth before adding water to make a glaze. My glaze ended up being lumpy as I couldn’t get the fondant to be completely smooth. I ended up sieving the glaze so that the lumps of fondant were removed and this worked well. I think that perhaps some royal icing would have worked better or perhaps even melted chocolate to add a different flavour.
I really enjoyed the challenges of this recipe but I have no idea how the bakers managed it in such a short time, I take my hat off to them all!

If any of you have any top tips or golden rules for creme au beurre moka then I would love you to comment below!

Happy baking!


Borough Market

This is not strictly a baking related post but I couldn’t resist sharing with you the wonderful food experience I have had today.

My lovely cake friends and I took a trip to Borough Market in London. A couple of my friends had been before but I had never been and have to confess that I didn’t know much (if anything!) about it. So I did what any millennial worth their salt does and Googled it! The website describes the market as: “London’s most renowned food market; a source of exceptional British and international produce” (so far so good) and a haven for “anybody who cares about the quality and provenance of the food they eat” (sounds great) and “people who just happen to love eating and drinking” (count me in!).image

And eat and drink we did. First up was Bread Ahead for brunch (well it HAD been a couple of hours since breakfast…). I was very excited to visit this stall as I have just bought Justin Gellatly’s book “Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding” and the recipes look amazing. The whole stall looked so tempting but I just had to try the famous doughnuts. There were so many to choose from – lemon curd, chocolate, vanilla, jam, hazelnut & almond praline. It was such a tough choice but in the end I went for the creme caramel and salted honeycomb and oh boy, did I make a good choice. We wandered to a quieter spot to enjoy our fabulous treats – as my friend Michelle put it “it’s impossible to eat it in a ladylike way, you just have to shove it in!”.

Suitably fortified we started to explore the labyrinthine maze of cakes, bread, cheese, pate, chutneys, spices and much more. We saw zebra burgers and kangaroo sausages (I wasn’t brave enough to try one this time- maybe next time!), live lobster and the freshest fruit and veg. It was a food lover’s paradise.image

We walked past Borough Olives and I just couldn’t resist getting a selection to try at home – I am particularly looking forward to trying the piri piri stuffed olives! The stall holders are so friendly and most will give you a sample to try before you buy. Olivier’s Bakery were taking fresh baguettes out of the oven as we walked past and the smell drew us all to the stall! I tried a piece of the freshly baked baguette and it was delicious – I was so tempted to buy one of everything but managed (just) to limit myself to a black olive loaf.

Next up was Spice Mountain, a treasure trove of spices from the usual to the weird and wonderful! I spied a pot of mastic which was in the recipe for flaounes which Paul Hollywood set as the technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off couple of weeks ago. I didn’t buy it as I had no idea what other recipes it might be used in! Any suggestions Paul? I did buy some wonderful curry mixes though and the helpful assistant pointed me to their website where I will find recipes for the mixes.image

After a hard morning(!) we headed to Wokit for lunch. The concept was simple – choose your noodles or rice, then meat and veg, then sauce. I (eventually) settled on rice noodles, chicken, pak choi and mushrooms in a teriyaki sauce but the Coconut curry, Veg Pot and Jiggie Sesame also come highly recommended from my friends!

Now that we were laden down with savoury treats and full up from lunch we decided we needed something sweet to round off the day and Borough Market did not disappoint! The pick your own fudge at Whirld was a huge test of my self control but I managed to limit myself to some white chocolate fudge for the hubby. Well done me! I deserve a reward for that…oh look there’s Konditor and Cook! I had never heard of this incredible shop before but the cakes and pastries looked spectacular. I bought two mini lemon meringue pies and have put their cookbook on my christmas list.

A detour via Bread Ahead again (I just couldn’t go home without some more of those doughnuts – lemon curd and chocolate this time) and then a final stop at Turnip for some blackberries to go in the apple pie I am baking tonight and we were done.image

It was a brilliant day spent in food heaven with my lovely friends and I can highly recommend a trip to Borough Market if you get a chance.

I could rave about the market all day but I have an apple pie in the oven so I’d better leave it there for now. Happy weekend all, I’m off to enjoy the treats I picked up today!


Victorian Baking

I hadn’t planned to blog tonight but I couldn’t resist – who knew Victorian baking was so flamboyant?! When I heard that the Bake Off theme this week was Victorian baking I was slightly disappointed. However, after watching the episode and doing a little bit of research, I have been pleasantly surprised and certainly inspired! The Victorians apparently invented baking powder, ready made gelatin and afternoon tea so they had quite a hand in changing the way we bake in England.

The technical challenge set by Mary and Paul (tennis cake) was certainly a surprise – I had assumed that marzipan and sugar paste were modern inventions. But this impressive cake was invented by the Victorians to commemorate the new game of lawn tennis. And what a way to celebrate such a wonderful game- fruit cake, marzipan and sugar paste (sounds like my husband’s idea of heaven on a plate!).

The Victorian era was an era of prosperity in this country and this was reflected in the theatrical bakes produced by the bakers of the day. This was shown in all of the challenges tonight, all of which, even the game pies, had wonderfully intricate designs and decoration. Writing this from my comfortable, cosy kitchen table I can’t imagine what it would be like to try and create such amazing bakes in a Victorian kitchen (I’m looking lovingly at my KitchenAid now!). It wasn’t until the end of the era that temperature controlled ovens were introduced (imagine baking without knowing the temperature?!). I have a new found appreciation for the temperature setting on my oven!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip back in time tonight! I usually stick to simple, classic decoration for my bakes but tonight’s Bake Off episode has inspired me and I am now intending to try and make my own. Watch this space for some ilovetobake sugarpaste!

Happy baking!

Katherine xx

My best friend’s wedding cake

Two years ago one of my best friends asked me if I would make her wedding cake.  Of course I said yes without hesitation – what an honour! And given that we were part (most) of the way through a bottle of wine and the wedding was two years away I wasn’t worried in the slightest…

Fast forward 18 months and all of a sudden I had to work out the logistics of a making a naked wedding cake (no icing to hide any flaws), transporting it from Winchester to Somerset in one piece (who knew there were so many corners to negotiate??) and being in to two places at once (I had the dual role of cake maker and bridesmaid!).  Here is my account of my first foray into wedding cakes, naked cakes and splitting myself in two…

The bride decided on lemon cake for the bottom and top tier and vanilla sponge for the middle.  All the cakes were to be filled with buttercream and it needed to feed about 60-70 people. Being a novice I had no idea how big the cakes needed to be so I did what I always do when I’m not sure – hopped onto Pinterest! I found a really helpful guide and decided on layers of 10, 7 and 4 inches.

My next decision (based on only having one tin of each size) was whether to bake the layers whole and slice them or whether to divide the mixture and bake separately.  Since the layers are so key in a layer cake I decided on the latter.  This took much longer of course but if you have the time I would recommend this way unless you have steady hands or a special tool to ensure your cutting is dead straight!Naked-Cake_Sponge_Sizes

Once the cakes were baked and cooled I needed to keep them fresh for two days so I wrapped them in baking paper and cling film and stacked them in cake carriers.  The cakes lasted remarkably well wrapped up like this and the wrapping cushioned them for the journey.

The next logistical challenge was the buttercream.  When I practiced this I made it the day before and left it in the fridge overnight but, even after HOURS out of the fridge the next day, it was like concrete and impossible to spread so I decided to just store it in a tub in my cool-bag with some ice packs.  This worked really well – cool enough that the buttercream held it’s texture and did not melt but was still easily spread onto the cakes.

After an extremely nerve-wracking journey to Somerset (I’m not ashamed to admit to talking out loud to the cakes) I was relieved to find that the cakes had all survived (small victory dance).

I had wanted to fill the cakes on the day of the wedding to ensure they were as fresh as possible but due to not having come up with a solution to the need to be in two places at once (damn) I had to fill them the day before.   If you have the option I would recommend filling them on the day as my cakes were slightly more moist than I would have wanted but if you can’t then filling the day before is fine – in fact I think I was the only one who noticed!

On the day of the wedding itself I managed to sneak off during the photos to stack and decorate the cake with the help of my sister (thanks Claire!).  I used cake dowels in the bottom and middle layers to support the tiers and used very thin cake rounds between the layers.  I used cake rounds which were one inch smaller than the cakes as this provided the support I was after with no chance of seeing the rounds peeking out from the cake (I would like to take credit for this ingenious idea but I can’t – thanks hubby!).

With the structure in place Claire and I then went nuts with icing sugar, fresh fruit and flowers.  There was no real logic to the decorating – I think these sort of things look better when they are a bit off-the-cuff!  We managed to get the last of the flowers in just as the first guests arrived to take their seats and my sister dragged me away from my frantic final tweaks to enjoy the wedding breakfast!Naked-Wedding-Cake_Fruit-Flowers-Sponge

I was too busy dancing the night away to remember to try any of the cake (doh!) but I got lots of amazing feedback from the guests and, most importantly, the bride and groom.  This was definitely the most stressful cake I have ever made but also one of the most fun and I hope I get another chance to make a naked cake again soon!

Do get in touch with your naked cake and wedding cake experiences – I’d love to hear about them!