Semlor

Lent is fast approaching, and with it Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, pancake day, whatever you call it, it is for using up your fatty and decadent food before the start of fasting.

Here in the UK, we make pancakes, which I will of course be making! Over in Sweden however, they make cream buns called semlor (singular: semla). I tried making them last year and here are the results!

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I haven’t ever had a ‘real’ semla so I’m not sure how authentic they were, but they were delicious! Cardamom-scented buns, filled with soft almond paste and loads of cream. I followed this recipe, but there are plenty in English to be found around the internet.

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Festive treats

Feeling Christmassy is a little more difficult these days but I’m working my way there! I’ve almost finished my Christmas shopping (one of my favourite parts of the season), we’ve got the tree up (but no decorations yet), we have a wreath on the door, and I have stopped skipping past Christmas songs on my itunes! This week we have been to a carol concert performed by The Sixteen, and my sister will be coming home at the weekend, so I want to feel fully festive by then! One sure-fire way to get in the spirit is to inhale seasonal smells, and there is nothing more Christmassy than festive baking!

For the perfect Christmas flavour-bomb, look no further than the mince pie. They fill the house with the scent of spices, brandy, and butter, and they are perfect (not to mention essential) for when guests come round!

If you are familiar with the mince pie, feel free to skip this part, but if not let me explain. Mince pies are a traditional Christmas treat in my part of the world, and no, they do not involve meat. They do involve beef fat though (bear with me) in the form of suet, essentially little pieces of flavourless fat. You would not know there were any animals involved, trust me, and there are always vegetarian substitutes if that is a step too far!

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The traditional mince pie is a small tart, with a crisp pastry crust and lid, filled with mincemeat – a mixture of dried fruit, citrus peel, spices and alcohol, along with the suet. You can make the mincemeat at home, or there are plenty of really good ones in the shops.  There are so many ways to adapt the mincemeat to your taste, using different dried fruits, adding nuts, or using different spirits – brandy, whiskey, or port is always good.

I made my own mincemeat last year, roughly to this recipe (we had plenty of apples from the garden and Delia is always a good bet for traditional recipes). I had a sealed jar leftover in the fridge, so this time I just refreshed it with some dried cherries and a splash of brandy. I also made some pies for those who don’t like mincemeat, filled with a cranberry-orange mixture. Instead of topping them all with my usual pastry star, I decided to mix it up with biscuit and nutty crumble tops.

Daisy, Daisy

I’ve been dying to make pretty layer cakes for ages, and when I finally let myself do it I ended up making two in as many weeks! Of course I made the chocolate cake featured in my previous post, but before that I also made this beauty:

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A lemon sponge, filled with lemon curd and covered with lemon buttercream. I tried to make is taste as lemony as possible, so I added in extra zest, juice, and lemon extract.

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I had been putting off making layer cakes, as there are just not enough people around and I would probably end up either eating the majority of it myself, or wasting it, neither of which I wanted to do. I found the solution when I popped into Lakeland and found they were having a 40% off bakeware sale! I treated myself to some 6-inch tins. This meant I could stack the cake high, while only using a 3-egg sponge mix.

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This was my first attempt at properly icing a cake, and I think I did pretty well! I’m proud of it anyway, it was certainly the prettiest cake I’ve ever made.

If you are thinking of trying something like this, I found these videos a great help.

A Special Message

This post is dedicated to my lovely friends. Over the past few weeks some of you have graduated from university, got into medical school, won awards, found jobs, and just generally been awesome.

This post is also for my friends who are having a bit of a rough time at the moment, whether you’ve been having a hard time at work or uni, you’ve been rejected for a job, or you’ve recently broken up with someone.

This message also goes to all my lovely readers – yes, you – and it is:

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Devil’s food cake, fluffy chocolate frosting and bronze sprinkles. Go for it. You deserve it. You’re awesome.

TREAT.

YO.

SELF.

(if you don’t know what I’m on about)

Sadly I wasn’t the first to come up with this, I got the idea here

Wilsoooooooooon!

Today I thought I’d share one of my recent bakes with you. Although I don’t have too many photos of the cake, I thought it was pretty fun and worth sharing!

A couple of weeks ago was my sister’s birthday, and she requested a cake for her Tom Hanks-themed birthday party (don’t ask). After lots of pestering on my behalf, she finally came up with an idea for it – she wanted a Wilson cake.

If you don’t know, Wilson is a “character” in the movie Castaway, a volleyball that becomes one of Tom Hanks’ companions on the desert island he is washed up on.

I have to say that I was terrified at first, and continued to be worried until I’d finally finished with it. The only way I could think to do it was to bake a cake in a bowl and then cover it with fondant icing, and I’d not had much luck with that before. My sister and quite a few of her friends work as costume designers, ie. are artistic, work with their hands and pay great attention to detail. It felt like a lot of pressure to get the cake to look right.

The cake was a chocolate-Malteaser cake with white chocolate icing. I baked the cake in advance and froze it, as we were going on holiday and getting home on the day before the party. When I was ready to decorate it, I sliced the cake into layers, filled and coated it, trying to get the buttercream into a hemisphere. I then chilled it, covered it with the fondant, and got to decorating.

Unfortunately my camera was out of action that day, so I only have phone photos.

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I then decided to add blue royal icing to make it look as if he was floating in water. I don’t have a good photo of that, unfortunately. Here’s a photo of poor Wilson during the party though.

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White Chocolate Mousse

I came up with this recipe back in October, when I made dessert for a dinner at my friend’s house. My friends have been asking for the recipe ever since, but I wanted to try it again before I shared it, to nail down the quantities. For the dinner party, I used the mousse to fill a tart with dark chocolate pastry, and when I did get around to trying it again, it was to fill my cake commission. I tested that before I made the real cake too, so I am pretty confident that this recipe works!

IMG_3752The pastry case I made using a recipe from Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I don’t like raspberries very much, but even I have to admit this mousse goes very well with them! I topped the tart with late home-grown ones, hence the small number!

White Chocolate Mousse

makes enough to fill a 20cm tart + extra (I put the extra in ramekins and ate it chilled)

  • 200g good-quality white chocolate
  • 2 sheets gelatine*
  • 120ml whipping cream, liquid
  • 250ml whipping cream, whipped

Heat the 120ml cream in a small pan over a medium heat until almost simmering. Soak the gelatine in cold water, then turn off the heat and whisk the gelatine into the cream until dissolved.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Pour over the hot cream and beat until the chocolate is melted. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Whip the remaining cream, then fold into the cooled chocolate mixture. Pour the mousse into bowls or your tart case, then chill in the fridge.

 

* I suspect that different gelatine brands might be different sizes and set different amounts of liquid, so just in case, I used Dr Oetker Fine Leaf Gelatine

My first Commission!

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I completed my first cake commission today! My Mum’s friend asked me to make a cake for her birthday party, and here it is. I got the decoration idea from the Great British Bake Off book I have. Mum’s friend asked for a cake with fruit, so I thought this would be perfect, particularly as I am useless when it comes to decorating with icing. Coincidentally, it also looks like a Danish flag, and the birthday girl is Danish! It is a white chocolate cake, filled with white chocolate mousse and raspberry purée.

Keeping my fingers firmly crossed for now, as I have to take it in the car to the party venue. Praying it doesn’t get dropped or smashed!

Catch-up Post

Hi everyone! I haven’t been active for a while, but I’m still here. It’s been a tough few months for my family, and very busy, so I haven’t had much time or energy to blog. Time is moving on though, and we need to get back to living, as we are now.

In better news, I have also been busy with a new addition: meet my puppy, Digger!

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I have been baking, though less so after Christmas as I was working through all my chocolatey presents! Here are a couple of things I have made since I last posted.

I’ve also been doing some crafting, so hopefully I should have some “makes” posts on the way!

The C word

No, not that one! I mean Christmas! It is far to early to get excited about it, even if the lights are on in Oxford Street and there are are adverts on the tv constantly. The one thing I have allowed myself to do is get on with the Christmas pudding. The puddings get better with age, so it is well worth making them early.

If you aren’t familiar with Christmas Pudding, it is a steamed suet pudding filled with dried fruit, spices and booze. It’s delicious! I made mine from a Good Housekeeping book that we have, but you can use any tried and tested recipe. I would recommend Delia Smith for example, or any of the ones on the Good Housekeeping website.

I soaked the fruit in rum and brandy overnight, then got on with making the pudding. I made two puddings, so I can send one to my Grandparents. They are steamed in basins lined with muslin for hours so it is worth starting out in the morning. When they are steamed, you wrap them up and keep them somewhere cool to mature until Christmas Day.  On the day you steam them again to warm them up.

If you are planning to make a pudding but haven’t yet, never fear! The traditional time to make your pudding is Stir-Up Sunday, which will be 24th November this year.

Brilliant Bread!

I’m still determined to improve my baking skills, so I have been tackling one of the techniques I have historically found very difficult – working with yeast! I have had some memorable disasters in the past, not least a completely inedible focaccia (I blame the recipe of course)!

As I had been avoiding making bread, I didn’t have many recipes to work from, so I decided to treat myself to a new book – Brilliant Bread by James Morton (and it was half price!). You may know James from the 2012 series of the Great British Bake Off. I went for this book because, besides my little crush on him, I read about his motives and aims when writing the book and I thought it was a good choice for a beginner like me. Morton writes about how he was dissatisfied by the books on the market which are written by professionals and simply include scaled-down industrial recipes, and don’t explain how the processes in bread-making work.

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I’m really glad I bought this book. It’s not only good-looking, Morton also has a succinct and approachable style, and he gives some really clear and in-depth explanations of the science and theories behind baking with yeast. I particularly liked the trouble-shooting advice and step-by-step pictures of techniques such as kneading and shaping.

The book is set out in chapters with recipes of increasing difficulty, so I have started to work my way through. My first attempt was of the first loaf in the book – basic white bread.

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It looked pretty good, but it was quite tough. It improved a lot with toasting though! I consulted the book and figured out that it was underproved.

So for my second loaf I tried the same recipe again. This time for some reason it refused to stay shaped, so I ended up shaping and re-shaping about ten times. I got very frustrated with it and in the end I just put it in the oven. It turned out really nicely! The bread was nice and soft, with a fairly even texture, but it did have a weird flat bottom.

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Next I tried making some rolls, though I never managed to get a photo of those. I also figured out that it is quite hard for 3 people to get through a dozen rolls before they go stale so I probably won’t be making those again until there are more people around to eat them. We are very much a toast-eating household, so a loaf is a better bet.

My most recent bread was a wholemeal loaf, baked in a tin. This was my best yet! A nice even crumb, easy to cut, with lots of texture and flavour. I will definitely be making this again.

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If you want to start making bread, I can heartily recommend Brilliant Breads by James Morton as a beginner’s tool, or as inspiration for the experienced baker.