Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

chocolate cake

Rich chocolate sponge, condensed milk & whiskey buttercream, chocolate ganache

We’ve just got back from two days in the beautiful county of Rutland celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday. With the recent bout of unexpected and unseasonally warm weather, he couldn’t have picked a better weekend for us to spend outside and out of London (or Leeds, where he lives), enjoying each others’ company, soaking up some sunshine and drinking in the country air.

I don’t really need to tell you that I offered to bring a birthday cake. That goes without saying and is pretty much what you’ve been waiting for, right? Continue reading

Afternoon Tea Cupcakes {Cucumber + Champagne}

champagne cupcakes

A simple cupcake with a hidden core of refreshing cucumber jam

There are few things more British than a cucumber sandwich. Simple and delicate (and delicious when made properly – think paper-thin cucumber, salty butter, soft white bread), this recipe of aristocratic origin is made all the better for being absolutely unnecessary. Traditionally served at tea-time (our way of justifying the indulgence of an additional mid-afternoon meal involving a lot of cake) they have next to no nutritional value, being probably the only sandwich in the world over which I wouldn’t shed a tear to see the crusts removed. But they are a delicious nonetheless, especially when accompanied by freshly-baked scones a glass of cold champagne. Continue reading

Malted Chocolate Layer Cake

chocolate_cake

Moist chocolate cake layered with rich malted chocolate buttercream

One of the questions I’m most often asked about this blog is where I get my love of food and baking from. My first point of reference is almost always my parents – a childhood where helping my Mum out in the kitchen and making my own birthday cakes was the norm, every summer spent in Italy amongst an abundance of incredible produce and a father whose eyes are a whole lot smaller than the stomach which unfortunately reflects his infectious love of food (sorry Dad!). Continue reading

Honey Chocolate Cake

honey_bee_cake

Honey chocolate cake decorated with little chocolate bees

The only reason for being a bee that I know of is to make honey . . . And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it’  Winnie the Pooh

When I was a little girl, my parents were fairly sensible when it came to the consumption of anything sweet. My Mum’s a wonderful cook, and we were allowed to eat the odd pudding on special occasions, but day-to-day meals were more likely to end in a handful of grapes or a little pot of yoghurt than anything more exotic and sugar-laden. I’m not saying we were deprived – we ate the most incredible home-cooked meals – but let’s just say mine was the only mother I’ve ever known to put packets of Sunmaid raisins in the goody bags of trick-or-treaters come Halloween. Continue reading

Popping Pink Champagne Macarons: Wear it Pink

popping_pink_macarons

If you do one thing this October, think pink

Staying true to the macarons it features, I’ll try to keep this post short and sweet. We’re coming to the end of Pink October – an annual international health campaign organized by various breast cancer charities to raise awareness and funds for research – and any mention of the dreaded ‘c’ word inevitably lends a certain seriousness of tone to proceedings. However, while cancer undoubtedly brings sadness and suffering to everyone it touches, the communities and support networks it creates are incredible. Rather than dwelling on the hurts and horrors, this post is intended as a celebration of life, of humans finding strength in adversity; above all it’s a toast to every woman who has ever been affected by this destructive disease.

Writing a food blog has made me think about what we eat in a very different light. While some simply consume for sustenance, there is a whole community out there for whom food is so much more. Cooking is an opportunity to explore our creative sides, to share experiences and mouthfuls with family and friends, to try new things, take a trip down memory lane, to celebrate, commiserate or simply to indulge. Food can also be used to positive effect, from the good old Blue-Peter-style bring-and-buy charity bake sale through to bigger events such as Action Against Hunger’s Love Food Give Food campaign. Continue reading

Double Chocolate Cardamom & Rose Cake

double_chocolate_cardamom_cake

Lightly spiced chocolate cardamom cake with white chocolate rose buttercream

One of my all-time favourite photos comes from a book of cakes. But it’s not just any old food photograph. This is a picture of my big brother as a toddler – all beaming smiles and golden curls – sitting in front of a giant drum-shaped birthday cake, two batons clutched in his hands. The photo was taken for a book written by one of my mum’s friends, Cakes for Kids, and provides the perfect snapshot of what baking and birthday cakes are – in my mind – all about; the pleasure of creating something to share with others, something that will bring joy long after plates are licked clean and memories are all that remain. The look of glee on my brother’s face says it all. Continue reading

Chocolate biscuit birthday cake

birthday_chocolate_cakeA couple of weeks ago a certain young couple tied the knot amidst a media frenzy. As they prepared for the big day (I imgine thanking a higher being for their respective soon-to-be enlarged bank account and expanded gene pool), the nation (and beyond) became obsessed with every detail of the wedding; who would be attending, what they’d be wearing, the flowers, the food, the drink and, of course, that dress.

The hot topic closest to my little loaf heart, however, was who would be making the cake. This honour fell to the fabulous Fiona Cairns, who produced a suitably stunning creation, but, not being a huge fruit cake fan, what really caught my eye was Prince William’s chocolate biscuit groom’s cake. Apparently this simple slab of unbaked chocolate, butter and biscuits is a childhood favourite of William’s. Not hugely regal or royal - I love the thought of dignitaries from around the world munching on what is essentially a glorified Rice Krispie cake – but totally delicious and a funny insight into a slightly more human side of the Windsor family.

chocolate_refrigerator_cakeChocolate biscuit, or refrigerator, cake is a firm favourite in my family, and has been since childhood (nope, I’m not secretly a member of the royal family, although we clearly share a similarly sophisticated palate when it comes to cake. . .). My mum used to make it for birthdays in a bunny-shaped mould, presenting the giant chocolate rabbit shape on a bed of green jelly grass. The height of six year old sophistication. Over the years our biscuit cake has matured and we now serve it in thin, rich slices, laced with dried fruit and booze as an alternative to Christmas cake. But at heart it’s still a birthday treat, so when my aunt asked me to bake a cake for my cousin’s 21st, we knew it had to be chocolate biscuit.

chocolate_birthday_cakeMaking a cake for fifty people is no mean feat. This concoction required a kilo of chocolate, a tin of golden syrup, enough slabs of butter to block your arteries just by looking at them, a vast packet of digestives (McVities take note, apparently Will’s cake was made with Rich Tea biscuits. Schoolboy error.) and a whole box of eggs. Chocolate biscuit cake, while incredible to eat, is hardly very elegant, so I also whizzed up butter, sugar and cocoa to create a thick buttercream frosting to mask the lumpy bumpy bits – totally unnecessary but actually rather delicious to have that contrast between the cool, crunchy cake and soft, creamy icing. I topped the whole thing off with some beautiful homemade chocolate roses (actually really easy, read my earlier post for instructions here) and was pretty happy with the final result. It certainly got polished off pretty quick by the hungry crowds.

A cake fit for a King? Who knows, it might just make the grade.

Chocolate biscuit cake for 50
(For a more manageable recipe simply divide each quantity by 5)

Ingredients:

625g butter
375g golden syrup
1kg dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
5 eggs
500g digestive biscuits
250g walnuts

Method:

Grease and line two large cake tins (I used one 20″ and one 22″ square) and set aside.

Melt together the butter and golden syrup in a large pan. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, then mix throughly with the butter and syrup mixture. Pasteurise the eggs by beating slowly and continuously into the hot chocolate mixture.

Put the biscuits in a large plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin until broken into a mixture of powder and larger chunks. Do the same with the walnuts then add to the chocolate mixture and stir until fully incorporated. You could also add raisins or other dried fruit at this stage if you wish, along with a splash of rum or other alcohol.

Press the mixture into the prepared tins and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours.

Buttercream frosting

Ingredients:

500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder

Method:

Blitz the sugar and butter in a blender. Add vanilla extract and enough milk until a thick, creamy frosting is formed. Transfer approximately 1/4 of the mixture into a small bowl and pop in the fridge (this is for the paler piping you can see in the pic). Add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture and blitz until fully incorporated.

Remove the cakes from the fridge. Transfer the larger cake onto a plate or cake board and layer the next one on top, securing together with a small amount of icing. Cover the cakes in a smooth layer of chocolate buttercream, then pipe the plain vanilla frosting round the edges. Decorate with chocolate roses, then return to the fridge and chill. Remove from the fridge around 40 mins before you want to serve to allow the flavours to really come through.

Did you know? When googling Will’s groom’s cake I read that while a classic wedding cake is served to the guests at the wedding reception, the groom’s cake is meant to be sliced up, placed into packages and given to them as favours when they leave. Single women at the wedding would take their pieces of cake home and sleep with it under their pillows in hopes of dreaming of their future husbands… (!) Bizarre advice and not something I’d recommend. Chocolate biscuit cake is meant for eating and will likely result in a hugely sticky mess if left under your pillow (although on reflection it would provide a pretty good midnight feast…)