A trifle delicious!

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Summer is very nearly here – well, there is a smidgeon of sunshine and we Brits need to take what we can get while we can!

These cupcakes just scream sunny days, BBQ’s and long, lazy evenings.

For a cupcake, these were a lot more work – cutting out circular sections, filling with a raspberry and jam and custard (which you make yourself) and then piping more custard on top.

But, they were extremely worth all the effort and the wait, as they take a lot longer to assemble.

One tester said it was just like eating a miniature trifle – and you can’t get better praise than that!

My custard went a little runny and didn’t stay as stiff as I would have liked. There was no way I was getting the Hummingbird swirl with this. I think my problem was being too cautious at the boiling stage and not wanting to burn the custard, so I would just warn you about this.

Apart from this, these were easy enough but they do need to be eaten on the day of frosting – I’m sure you won’t get any protestations with this piece of advice!

Summer Victoria Sponge

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Classic Victoria Sponge with blackberries and cream

When I was younger nothing seemed to complete a Sunday tea like a Victoria Sponge.

And, until this spring, I’d forgotten that and had never baked one in my adult life – so I decided to give it a go.

I’d had a trial run around the time of the Royal Wedding as I’d decided my contribution to our street party would be a heart-shaped (natch) Victoria sponge filled with summer fruits and whipped cream. It screamed kitsch and royalty rolled into one.

I used 8 inch tins and I’m pretty sure I doubled the recipe below. And I think the final thickness was perfect – nothing worse than a thin sponge.

If you’ve never made a Victoria sponge mixture, it’s a very thick batter. I wasn’t too sure when I first tipped it into the tin but it was lovely when baked. Really light.

Ingredients

200g butter

200g caster sugar

1/2tsp vanilla essence

4 free range eggs

200g self-raising flour, sifted

A tbsp of milk to loosen the batter

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/350F/Gas 5. Grease and line 2 x 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl or food processor until well combined.
  3. Slowly beat in the eggs one by one. Fold in the sifted flour and carefully pour the mixture into the prepared tins.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden-brown. Test by pushing a skewer into the centre of the cake. If the skewer comes out clean the cake is ready.
  5. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack and set aside to cool.
  6. Spread one cake with whipped cream. Cover with fresh fruits of your choice and place the other cake on top.
  7. To serve, dust with icing sugar and cut the cake into slices.

 

Royal Wedding sponge

I’m back!

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Gosh, I feel like I’m about to enter the confessional box in Church.

Yes, I know it’s been months since my last blog update, yes I am sorry and yes, for my penance I will bake and eat 24 cupcakes …. oh, wait…!

Well, I’m back and I’ve been busy over the Summer. Lots of baking and lots of pictures and recipes to share with you. My proudest achievement was my girls’ birthday cake. A monster five-layer rainbow cake that looked and tasted great – even if it did have 20 eggs, and 1kg each of butter and sugar in just the sponges alone! Ah well, at least it fed around 50 people!

Just let me get writing and I’ll be updating as much as I can over the next few days.

Chocolate Orange Cake – it’s all mine!

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Every year at Christmas, since I can remember, my mum has bought me a Chocolate Orange and put it in my stocking.

I love the taste of chocolate with orange, so when I saw a recipe for this and there wasn’t one of the Christmas treats included in the recipe I was sceptical that it would live up to its name.

But, boy, did this cake pack a punch! It was delicious and not something that should be kept in reserve for the festive season.

I doubled the recipe below to get enough sponge and frosting for a four-sponge chocolate cake. I used 20cm round tins and cooked the sponges for 20-25minutes.

You can also use this recipe for cupcakes – use the amount below and it should make around 20-21 muffin-size cakes.

Ingredients:

SPONGE

70g unsalted butter (softened)

210g caster sugar

105g soft light brown sugar (I used normal white sugar and didn’t feel it detracted from the final result.)

2 large eggs

1tsp vanilla essence

1tbsp finely grated orange zest

255g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

2tsp baking powder

1/4tsp salt

240ml whole milk

FROSTING

600g icing sugar

100g unsalted butter softened

250g full fat cream cheese (only use Philadelphia)

60g cocoa powder

3tsp finely grated orange zest

Method:

FOR THE SPONGE

Preheat oven to 190ºc.

Using an electric hand held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment cream together the butter and both types of sugar until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time on a medium speed, followed by the vanilla essence and orange zest.

Sift together the remaining ingredients, then add to the creamed mixture in three batches with the milk alternating between each and mixing on a low speed.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition, and once everything has been incorporated, raise the speed to medium and continue beating until the batter is well mixed and smooth.

Divide the mixture between each tin. I also lined each tin first.

Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the sponges spring back when you gently press them.

Allow to cool for a short while in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

TO MAKE THE FROSTING

Whisk the icing sugar with the butter on a low speed, using either an electric whisk or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until crumbley in texture and no large lumps of butter remain.

Add the cream cheese and cocoa powder and continue to mix, on a medium speed, until the frosting is smooth and light.

Add the orange zest and stir by hand.

Trim the sponges so that they are even and flat. I usually chill the cakes for 20 minutes beforehand to reduce the amount of crumbs.

Chill the sponges again after cutting and before frosting. After the chilling, put a reasonable layer of frosting between the sponges and layer up the cake.

Using a spatula put more frosting around the sides and on the top of the cake and smooth it. Do not use all the frosting at this stage – it is just a crumb coat. Chill the cake again for 20 minutes before final layer of frosting.

Finally slap on the last lots of frosting with a spatula smooth around and then decorate however you would like. I used my spatula blade to make lines up the side and swirl on the top.

Happy decorating!

This keeps for about three days in an airtight container in a cool place. But I defy anyone who has made this cake to have any left at the end of this time!

Homemade pasta with stuffed beef rolls in a tomato sauce(ragu)

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Weekends when I was younger consisted of timing our visit to my Nan’s house just in time for her to dish us up dinner.

And Saturdays in our curious Italian-Anglo family deep in the heart of Wiltshire was always pasta day.

Sometimes homemade pasta, sometimes not but always delicious.

My Nan was from a tiny village near Naples and what she didn’t know about cooking pasta, pizza and vegetables didn’t warrant knowing.

As I got older, I’d turn up earlier and earlier on these Saturdays and she would put me to work – helping to make pasta and the meatballs that may accompany it or grating so much parmesan that my hand would ache.

When I finally moved into my house, she bought me a pasta machine back from one of her trips home and it is one of my most treasured possessions.

I was overwhelmed with a wave of nostalgia for those Saturdays and my Nan, who died five years ago, last week while watching Two Greedy Italians – chefs Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carlucchio’s new BBC2 show.

They visited Naples and the Amalfi coast – a trip I had made with my Nan and Gramp, a Wiltshire man who’d fallen in love with the Mediterranean visitor when she came to work in a hospital in England in the 1950s.

She’d taken me to visit her family home in Candida when I was nine and I loved every second of it.

So, spurred on by this memory, I decided to make my family a sample of what was a typical meal when I was a child.

Stuffed Beef Rolls

Cheap, thin cut, quick fry steaks – I had under 500gs for this recipe and it was enough for 2 adults and 2 children.

Sliced garlic cloves (around five thin slivers per piece of steak

Flat leaf parsley

Grated parmesan cheese (I had a mix of parmesan and its cheaper alternative Grana Padano)

Salt and pepper

A little dried or fresh oregano

Cocktail sticks.

Method

Take the steak, cut into 8-10cm in length and 5c-7cm wide strips and bash with a rolling pin until thin and beaten.

Season the strips of steak with salt and pepper.

Take the garlic slices and place around 4-5 on each piece of steak, followed by a generous sprinkle of parmesan and top with the flat leaf parsley.

Roll up and fasten the meat with a cocktail stick.

Seal the parcel in a frying pan and then leave on a plate until you are ready to place them in the tomato sauce to cook for around three hours.

Tomato Sauce (ragu)

This is a really simple sauce and the base for all my pasta sauces. There’s only a few tips I can give you. Cook it for three hours minimum and buy the best quality tinned tomatoes and passata that you can afford. If you buy cheap, watery tomatoes, then your sauce will be cheap and watery.

As this sauce will serve at least ten people, there is plenty leftover for freezing for quick and easy meals later in the week or perfect for use as a pizza sauce (which is what I’m making my family tonight!).

2 of the small tins of concentrated tomato puree

2 tins for top quality tinned tomatoes – like Ciro or Fortuna. Even Napolina is nice.

1 jar of passata.

2 cloves of garlic

1 small finely chopped onion (if you wish, I don’t use onion in my pasta sauces as my Nan never did.)

Gently fry the chopped garlic (and onion if you have opted for it)  in some olive oil in a large pan with a lid.

Add in the tinned tomatoes.

Dilute the tomato puree in a little warm water and add to the frying garlic and tomatoes.

Then add in the passata, stir together and add in the beef rolls previously made and sealed.

Lid on and cook on a low heat for three hours. Season with salt to taste at the end of the cooking time. I usually use around 4-5tsps but it is dependent on taste.

Homemade pasta

115g Type O (sometimes called Pasta Flour) Flour

1 egg

This will make 1 serving of pasta. On Saturday I used 345g Flour and 3 eggs. It made more than enough for me and my husband with some leftover too. The leftovers would have made two child portions.

Put half of the flour into a bowl and add in the egg/s.

Mix together with a spoon until it forms a dough and gradually add more of the remaining half of the flour until you get a pliable ball of dough.

Tip all the contents onto a clean, dry surface and knead together, adding more flour until it is not sticky.

Once the ingredients are combined, place in a dry, clean tea towel and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

You can either use a pasta machine or a rolling pin to roll out your dough and make the shapes you require.

Once the dough is rolled out to the required thickness, leave the sheets to ‘dry’ a little for 30 minutes – 1hr. The pasta will cut better then.

Once cut, the pasta should be left to dry for a further hour or so before cooking.

Boil some salted water and throw the pasta in for 3-4minutes before adding to some sauce and serving.

Traditionally in Italy, the pasta is a first course with the sauce and the meat is then served as a second course with salad.

What a loaf!

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I never thought that a bread book would actually make any difference to the loaves I managed to turn out, but, boy was I wrong!

The River Cottage Bread Handbook arrived on Wednesday and I spent an evening absorbed in different types of flours, coupled with gluten and yeast advice. The book dedicates nearly 100 pages to explaining the bread-making process but it is worth every word spent on it.

Charlie was equally as excited about the book – and decided to take all the advice given to heart. And look at the loaf he managed to make!

It was, by far, the best loaf of bread either of us have ever managed to make – and it tasted great too.

Flutter by, butterfly…..

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Just a few of the sugar paste butterflies I will be decorating my Help for Heroes Cake Sale cupcakes with.

Very sweet. Just hope I can get them to bend a little now so they look like 3D rather than flat!

 

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