Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chocolate Cola Cupcakes

I think Nigella likes to put Cola in everything, hams, cakes you name it! These cakes really entice children as the thought of cake, cola and icing all together sounds too good to be true.

I used the Odlums recipe for these cakes, but instead of a two layered cake I made cupcakes instead. I didn't use the recommended icing either and instead made a chocolate buttercream from the Hummingbird Bakery as I thought it would be better for piping with. Together they are a match made in heaven. Rich, chocolately and very more-ish.

I made these for the Bake Sale I helped with a few weeks ago and decorated in a few different ways....

Smarter than the average bear

Fizzy cola bottles

Add some antlers and the bears magically turn into reindeer

Or how about some sugar paste flowers?

Chocolate Cola Cake - Adapted from Odlums 
I love the Odlums website, it so definitely retro but perfect for being so.

350g Odlums Self Raising Flour 
300g Caster Sugar 
3 heaped tablespoons Cocoa (sieved) 
Good pinch of Bread Soda 
225g Butter 
225ml Cola 
125ml Milk 
2 Eggs (beaten) 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees or 160 degrees fan.
Sieve flour, cocoa and bread soda into a bowl. 
Slowly melt butter in a saucepan with the cola. 
In a jug mix the eggs, milk and vanilla extract. 
Add the cola and milk mixtures to the dry ingredients. Mix throughly but gently. 
Use an ice-cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter between the bun cases. 
Bake for about 15 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. 
Allow to cool on a wire rack. 
Decorate to your hearts content. 

Chocolate Buttercream Icing - Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days
400g icing sugar
100g cocoa powder
160g unsalted butter
80ml whole milk

In the freestanding mixer, combine the butter, icing sugar and cocoa until and mix until sandy in texture. Add the milk and mix until smooth.

Decorations - 
I used sugarpaste for the reindeer / bear snouts, stamped out with the lid from the vodka bottle (the only reason I keep a bottle of vodka around!) Coloured with chesnut. The ears are a piece of chesnut fondant with a smaller piece of pink inside, shaped with boning tool. The eyes are also made from sugarpaste. I made the antlers with melted chocolate freehand, melt the chocolate, leave to cool slightly, pop into a freezer bag or piping bag and pipe out shapes onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. 
For the flowers, I stamped out coloured sugarpaste with a PME flower stamper. I then left them to harden in an egg box to give them shape. The leaves are cut free hand and shaped with a boning tool. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Frangipane Mince Pies

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, there really is no denying it now. Even without the seasonal (read disruptive) snowfall that we had last year at this time. The lights are all up and turned on in Dublin now even though the sun is mostly still shining on us. We've all spotted a Christmas tree up in someone's house through the window already and discussed on Facebook how it was far too early for that lark. But come Thursday, it's December and then we will all be sending the husbands (or other designated male in the house) up the attic to pull down the Christmas decorations. Apparently it's only men that are allowed in the attic. Then we'll be writing cards, wrapping gifts, drinking copious amounts of red wine, singing along with Wham on the radio, gossiping about what so and so did at the Christmas Party and generally partaking in the Christmas spirit.

I think I'm even begining to feel a little festive. I don't know whether this is because I saw Santa and a few elves in the RDS this weekend or if it's because I baked some mince pies. I think it could even be down to the mulled wine I had. Or uttering the sentence, so casually like it had just slipped out, 'What do you want for Christmas?' it was out of my mouth before I even realised. But something has clicked and now I'm ready to start preparing for it. And prepare I did, I have started to put my mincemeat to use and made some frangipane mince pies on Sunday afternoon......

Adapted from Neven's Real Food for Families - Neven McGuire

This recipe makes 16 mini mince pies and 7 regular sized pies

100g butter, chilled and diced
175g plain flour
50g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tbs of cream or cold milk

115g butter
115g icing sugar
25g plain flour
115g ground almonds
2 eggs
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1tbsp of vanilla extract

Put the butter, flour and sugar into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and cream or milk and blend again, until the mixture just comes together. It's important not to overwork the pastry at this stage or it will become tough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for about an hour.

To make the almond filling, place the butter and icing sugar into a freestanding mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the flour and almonds and then gradually beat in the eggs, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Beat for 5 minutes until pale and fluffy.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
When the pastry is completely chilled. Roll it out between two sheets of clingfilm* a little thicker than a €2 coin. For the mini mince pies, use a 2 & 1/4" scone cutter and for the large pies use a 3" scone cutter. The pastry is difficult to work with, so have a small pile of flour on hand to dip your fingers in and for the knife that you are using to lift the pastry shapes. I also found it useful to have a small rolling pin on hand, dusted in flour that I used to push the pastry down into the tin with. If the pastry begins to start sticking and you feel like you want to throw a hissyfit, wrap it back up with cling and stick it into the freezer for 10 minutes, so you can both cool down.

Fill the pies with mincmeat (the small ones will only really need a teaspoon of mixture) and top with frangipane. Have two teaspoons and a cup of hot water on standby, use one teaspoon to dollop on the frangipane and the other spoon that was sitting in the hot water smoothing the mixure down.

Bake in preated oven. About 10 minutes for the mini pies and about 15 for the larger ones. Ensure they are golden brown when removing from the oven. Leave in the tins for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

*This prevents the pastry from sticking to the work surface and also stops the flour ratio in the pastry increasing and unbalancing the recipe.

I've put my mince pies in the freezer until closer to the big day. If you want to do the same, just pop them into a freezer bag (I really like the Ikea ones) and store until required. Let the mince pies defrost at room temperature. They can be warmed through in the oven before serving. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lemon Drizzle Cakes with Lemon Curd - 'Curdzles'

If I were to magically become a UK resident (again!) and could enter The Great British Bake Off, this would be my signature bake. I make this cake more often than any other. Sometimes in squares, or loaves or cupcakes. Whatever form it comes in, it's amazing!

I've made this recipe so many times, I could nearly do it with my eyes closed. Until Friday. I baked two dozen cupcakes for the cake sale with the plain flour I had out on the counter and not the self raising the recipe calls for. I only noticed when I peeped in through the glass door of the oven and alarm bells started ringing. 'Why aren't they rising?' I was shouting at everyone in the house. The cat didn't care. Chub didn't care. I flamin' well cared though and started a sit down protest by the oven willing them to rise, until I realised what I had done. There wasn't a chance in hell they were going to rise. They were still edible. I ate two of them. Probably more to take them out of my sight than anything else. I'm not sure what to do with them now, they are asleep in the freezer now until I can figure out a plan as I just can not make myself throw them out.

The second time around, I added a little home-made lemon curd to the centre before baking, which was delicious. But I think anything with a lemon curd inside would be delicious really.

The recipe I use comes from an old baking book that my Mam found for me in a second hand shop (in fact the local Fred's Fashions as it used to be known back then!) many years ago when I first started taking an interest in baking.

Lemon Drizzle Cakes - Practical Cooking Baking
Makes about a dozen cupcakes or 1 loaf or 7inch square cake

125g butter
175g caster sugar, I usually use vanilla caster sugar
2 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
2 lemons, preferably unwaxed - otherwise wash really well in warm water
50g granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 or 160 fan assisted. 
In a freestanding mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy and pale in colour. 
Beat the eggs and gradually add them to the butter and sugar mix. 
Add the flour, I do this in the freestanding mixer and it works perfectly without making the sponge dense. 
Add the zest and the juice from one lemon to the mixture. 
Spoon into the prepared tins. (If you would like to add the lemon curd, spoon a little of the cake mixture into the base of the tin, add a teaspoon of curd and then top with more cake, until the case is two thirds full - pic above)
Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer comes out clean, checking after 15 minutes. 
Remove from oven but leave the cakes in the tin. 
Meanwhile, zest the remaining lemon and mix with 25g of the granulated sugar. Reserve. 
Squeeze the lemon juice into a small saucepan with the remaining sugar. Heat gently, stirring occasionally. When the sugar has dissolved simmer gently for 3-4 minutes until syrupy. 
Skewer the cakes all over. 
Sprinkle the lemon zest and sugar over the top of the cake and then drizzle over the syrup and leave to cool.

Lemon Curd - Adapted from Rachel Allen Bake
Makes 250ml

75g butter
150g caster sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of 3 lemons
2 eggs
1 egg yolk

Place the butter, sugar, lemon zest and juice into a medium size saucepan. 
Sieve the eggs and egg yolk into the saucepan, this breaks up the egg white and prevents long strands of cooked eggs through the mix. 
Put the saucepan onto a low heat and stir until the mixture has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon. 
Remove the pan from the heat and pour into a sterilised jar. 

In case you're wondering - this is how stressed the cat was about the non-rising cakes.....

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Great Irish Bake for Temple Street Children's Hospital

About 3 years ago, one of my oldest friend's little girl contracted an awful virus which resulted in her heart pretty much shutting down. Crumlin Hospital couldn't do as much as they needed to for her and she was brought to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in the government jet for what they thought was going to be a heart transplant. The little girl was a fighter and fortunately didn't need the heart transplant and every day now her heart is getting stronger and stronger. Now she's a 3 year old little madam who's favourite colour is pink and is her Daddy's number one girl (outranking her mammy)

My friend now organises a charity night every year for a children's hospital as she counts her blessings  that she has her little girl causing mischief and mayhem. The first year, a camel race night - which I missed as it was also the night I was whisked off and proposed to. My luck didn't stretch to my camel, Inspector Rebus, winning any races though. Year two, was the male waxing night, I kindly volunteered Chub and he dutily kept a smile on his face throughout his torment. He complained bitterly of having cold legs for weeks afterwards and donned his kilt socks everyday. This year, she hosted a Great Irish Bake Sale for Temple St Hospital.

I didn't hesitate to pitch in as of course, I love baking and also because Temple St is close to my heart too. Once upon a time I had a baby brother. He was born with a liver problem. Unfortunately, there was nothing Temple St could do for him except make his short life as comfortable as possible. I clearly still remember visiting him in Temple St when I was five years old. He was born the year I started school and I will always remember arriving home, dropping my school bag in the driveway so I could run faster to go see him. I was always trying to pull him out of his cot without being seen for cuddles, didn't everyone know this was MY baby?  I was mad about him, unlike my sister, who I thought was sent to earth to ruin my life (what? I was only 5!)

I had a disaster baking for the sale. I took a half day from work on Friday to get a head start. I started with two dozen lemon drizzle buns, stuffed with home-made lemon curd and then realised (once they were in the oven) I had used plain flour instead of self raising. Chub said they could be used to sink battleships. I had all of my four!!!! gingerbread houses baked and cooling on the racks when I realised I had forgotten to add the sugar to the mix. Not a good day for me at all. Time to call it a day and start again.

I was really pleased with how all the baking turned out in the end, all of the buns nicely dressed and really for selling.

We're fortunate to be from a small village where everyone knows everyone and word of mouth spreads very quickly. We had lots of donations and support on the night and raised 400 euros.  What a result!

Remember to check back, I will post recipes in some separate posts!

Here's some more photos in the meantime.....

Some cakes made by another kind person..

Cards made by crafty/sporty sister. I know it kind of breaks the rules since it is technically a bake sale, but who hasn't broken a rule once in a while?

Mrs B taking charge

More donated cakes

Setting out the goodies!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Traditional Fruit Cake

I already have my Christmas cake made. Yes, I feel smug and a bit domesticy-goddessy! The cake is wrapped up tightly in brown paper and safely stowed upstairs in the spare room out of danger. It's drinking more alcohol than I did when I was in college on a regular basis. We're skint feeding the cake brandy.

I've been using the same recipe for fruit cake as long as I have been making it. This year is our (the recipe and me's) third anniversary. My cousin gave it to me and her friend gave it to her, I hope they won't mind me sharing with you. I think it's a recipe that was probably passed down through the family and it's nice to think how many Christmases, weddings and other special occasions it has been baked for in the past.

I normally ice in marzipan and then fondant before decorating. I want to do a bit of step-by-step here closer to the time on these bits so don't forget to check back.....

If you want to see something that will make you giggle, I will show you my first attempt at cake decorating, three long years ago, my first Christmas cake. I spotted a picture of three reindeer panned out  on a beach in a book. Not real reindeer obviously but sugarpaste ones. And I found it suitably amusing so I thought I would do that. I underestimated how long it would take and lost the will to complete the antlers before calling it a day. So my reindeer actually look like three sunbathing pigs. I hadn't noticed this, until I presented the cake to someone who called over for admiration and they were like 'oh lovely, sunbathing pigs' I turned to drink to help me think that comment was funny and then we ended up posing the pigs in strange locations.

But to make myself feel better 'cos your all laughing at me now. I also used this fruit cake recipe for the 10" layer of my wedding cake.... and here's a picture of that.....  I did it all myself, baking, icing, decorating and delivering *takes a bow*

The recipe was given with a strange list of ingredients, all a mixture of nothing exact, grammes and ounces. I will put both the original and what I make it out as.

Adrienne's Cousin Anne-Marie's Friend's Fruit Cake

Line an 8" circular tin with a double layer of greased parchment paper & place a layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin.

Original List of Ingredients
60z of brown sugar
8oz of flour
60z of butter
100g of chopped almonds
100g of ground almonds
1 packet of sultanas
1 packer of mixed fruit
1 tsp of nutmeg
2 tubs of cherries
1 tsp of mixed spice
1 tub of mixed peel
3 eggs
1 large orange
50ml of brandy + 40ml for pouring over the cake when cooked.


My List of Ingredients
170g soft brown sugar
170g butter
375g sultanas
375g mixed fruit
300g glace cherries, chopped
200g mixed peel
1 large orange
227g plain flour
100g chopped almonds
100g ground almonds
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
3 eggs
50ml brandy + a whole lot more.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees (fan assisted)
Place the sugar, butter, sultanas, mixed fruit, cherries, mixed peel, 50ml brandy, zest and juice of the orange into a saucepan. Put the saucepan on a low heat until the sugar and butter have completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
Mix the eggs together in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, almonds and spices.
Add half the flour mixture and half the beaten eggs to the ingredients in the saucepan and mix well. Add the remaining flour mixture and eggs and again mix well.
Pour into the lined cake tin and place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 2 hours 15 minutes. If you feel the cake is getting too brown on top, cover with a circle of greaseproof paper (this is called a cartouche to those in the know!)
After 2 hrs 15 mins, begin testing the cake with a dry skewer. Insert the skewer into the centre of the cake for 5 seconds, if the skewer comes out clean, the cake is cooked, if not leave in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes and check again.
When the cake is done, remove from the oven.
After 10-15 minutes pour a few tablespoons of brandy over the top of the warm cake.
Allow the cake to cool completely cold before removing from the tin.
Wrap the cake in parchment paper and then tin foil until feeding time.

To feed the cake
I don't know if this is right or wrong, but it's what I do. I use a clean skewer to poke a few holes through the cake and pour a couple of tablespoons of brandy over it. Then I just wrap it up again until the next time. For the next feeding, I turn the cake over and poke it in the bottom (snigger!) and pour another couple of tablespoons of the good stuff over it. I would probably give it about 3 or 4 feedings before Christmas, if I think of it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Galeries Lafayette Gourmet

When we were in Paris a few weeks ago, I put Galeries Lafayette's Food Hall on our to do list. It may seem strange to want to visit a Food Hall when in Paris, but this is no ordinary Food Hall. Galeries Lafayette is a department store, it's the equivalent of Dublin's Brown Thomas and London's Harvey Nichols, but about 5 times bigger and better and brighter. There's certainly no 'R' word happening in here, we walked by queues of people waiting to get into the designer accessories rooms and then we popped down to say 'hello' to the designer shoes. Well I said hello, Chub was a typical man and said nothing to the beautiful shoes and only shook his head. I always pick the shoes up as if I'm browsing and check out the prices and then try to put them down calmly like I'm not shocked by the insane extravagance. Anyway, I digress, where was I? Oh yes, the Food Market. It's huge! We spent ages walking around to soak it all in. There were counters for breads and sandwiches, coffee, sushi, patisserie, butchery, terrines, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, foie gras, the list is endless. The shelves were packed high with every food item imaginable.....

I was very excited to see a Blue Elephant counter, as we did a cookery course with them in Bangkok when we were on honeymoon last year. We had some nibbles here.... I love Asian food! 

Look how shiny these apples are!

I have a serious crush on baby pumpkins, they are just so cute! 



Don't you wish you could shop at a fish counter like this one?

Or pick and mix your spices? 

Or pick a slice of one of these to bring on a picnic?

Or have a jar as large as this one to use for pancakes? I should of put a regular size jar beside this 'mahoosive' one for comparison purposes, but I thought the price tag could do the talking. Yes, that jar costs 39 euros! 

I'm kind of glad I don't live near this little piece of heaven as I think I would end up bankrupt.... But I can always dream of doing my weekly shop there (to include new shoes too!)

Monday, 7 November 2011


This time last year, we honeymooned in South East Asia. We spent four weeks visiting Bangkok, Kuala Lumpar, Langkawi, Penang and Singapore. It was the trip of a lifetime. We arrived during Diwali and by the time we reached Singapore the build up for Christmas was starting. Asia is amazing, so many different cultures and customs so there is always a festival to celebrate. It was so strange to be in a tropical climate with Christmas decorations and lights and piped music. We left 35 degree sunshine and arrived back to Dublin. As if it wasn't bad enough to be home, the snow started the next day. And never really stopped.

As we were away for so long, I didn't manage to get as much Christmas preparations done, although I did bake my Christmas cake six days before we got married. Yes, apparently I am insane. This year I'm looking forward to getting lots of baking done. So first to tick off the list was the Christmas cake. I have it safely stowed away upstairs wrapped in brown paper, waiting on it's next feeding of brandy. I love saying that, 'feeding the cake' it cracks me up every time.

Next up, mincemeat. I made mincemeat for the first time two years ago. My Mam was a great baker, but always bought a jar of mincemeat to stuff the homemade pastry. No fancy shapes for our house, Mam used to cut out a circle of pastry and then pile it with mincemeat and add another circle of pastry on top so it was like a flat pie, like a mincemeat ravioli I guess. I was never a fan to be honest, but like everything, now that I bake them myself I will eat them.

The recipe I use makes a lot of mincemeat. I had so much leftover last time that I ended up sending Chub's mum home to Scotland with a jar in her hand luggage. Security stopped her and were going to confiscate the offending item. She explained it was just mincemeat so they opened the jar up for a good sniff and said it would be a shame to throw it away. Herself and the security lady ended up swapping recipes on how to use it up.

I use Neven McGuire's recipe from Neven's Real Food. 'Tis a great book, think I've nearly made everything from it now at this stage. This year I halved the recipe and still have a large Kilner jar of it. I've left the ingredients for the full amount below.

Neven's Aunty Maureen's Mincemeat

350g eating apples
225g raisins
225g sultanas
225g currants
100g mixed peel
175g blanched almonds, chopped
175g dark muscovado sugar
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
finely grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 tsp of freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves 
1/2 tsp salt
225g butter
300ml whiskey

Peel and core the apples, then coarsely grate. Place in a large bowl with the raisins, sultanas, currants, mixed peel, almonds, sugar, orange and lemon zest, spices and salt. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly, then stir into the fruit mixture with the whiskey. 
Leave to stand for 2 days, then stir well and put into sterilised jars and cover. Allow at least 2 weeks to mature before using and up to a year is fine.