Sunday, 26 August 2012

I meet the King&Queen of baking at Bolton Food&Drink Festival

He calls her ‘Bezza’ and she teases him about watching his weight – the relationship between Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood is special, and I got to witness it firsthand when I met them on Saturday. 

I was visiting the Bolton Food and Drink Festival and was lucky enough to be allocated an interview slot with the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) judges.

As a huge baking fan, I was already quite informed about the pair’s history – their books and recipes, family life and successful baking careers – but there was still a raft of questions I had in mind. 

Unfortunately I didn’t get the time to ask them everything I wanted but I teamed up with Dolly Bakes and A Little Bit Of Heaven On A Plate to do the interview and I think between us we got our answers. 

During our chat, Paul said one of the best desserts he’s ever had was a passion fruit roulade with mango ice cream at Ston Easton in Somerset where bake-off was filmed. Mary joked that he had it every night, and each time she pinched a little bit – she couldn’t have too much because she didn’t want to get fat!

Both said they never know who’s going to win GBBO at the beginning of the show. They said they judge each programme as it happens and rarely look back on their decisions so the contestants have to prove themselves. 

Now you probably expect me to say this, but they seem like two lovely people. Their banter is natural, funny and endearing and they were happy to spend their lunchtime speaking to queuing bloggers and journalists and signing books for fans. 

After the interview, an eager audience piled in to the AGA Rangemaster marquee in Victoria Square for a live demo from Mary and Paul, in which Mary made a Frasier (strawberry) cake and Paul showed us how to prepare a two-strand plaited loaf.

I was pleased that Mary’s cake looked quite easy and once I’m back from my holiday I will certainly be giving it a go. It’s made up of a Genoese sponge sandwich, filled with strawberries and a creamy lemon filling, and topped with a marzipan disc and melted chocolate for decoration.  
Their banter continued throughout the demo as they cracked little jokes, usually at each other’s expense. Paul joked that Mary’s AGA was bigger than his first house and he laughed when the electric whisk was accidentally switched on at the wrong time, covering her in cake filling!

Paul also had a couple of cheeky digs at Mary’s age, telling the audience her fist book was published in 1853 and joking she was 105 when she said life was too short to clarify butter! 

We also got a lovely insight into their home lives. Mary loves baking with her grandchildren at home while Paul’s ten-year-old son Josh (whose godfather, incidentally, is James Martin) has an exceptional palette and often runs rings around him in the kitchen.

The pair had tons of useful tips for baking such as dropping the cake mixture into the tin at close range, lining your tin with butter and then a disc of greaseproof, and my favourite from Mary – always use full fat ingredients and “just have a smaller slice”. I couldn’t agree more!

Paul admitted that he often uses other bakers’ ideas for inspiration but that he’d personally had more inspiration from junior bake-off than the main show – I must admit, what those kids can do is awesome.

Sadly, both denied rumours of any appearance on Strictly Come Dancing this year, but Paul seemed open to taking part next year.

Snippets from the interview

Who inspired you both?
Mary: First of all it was my cookery teacher, Miss Date. She was lovely, a little round dumpling and she was very kind to me
Paul: It was my dad and my mum. I grew up in a house full of bakers so mum was making pies, apple pies and my dad was making all the bread and scones.

Last year the Guardian said you were the best reality TV judging duo ever – how do you feel about that?
Paul: Haha, bang on! I mean, what can you say?
Mary: I liked it because they said we were better than Simon Cowell.
Paul: I met Simon recently actually and he said 'you're me aren't you?' I said, ‘apparently yeah’. I mean you take it with a pinch of salt. I mean, we just judge from our hearts, we're honest. It's all about integrity and if it comes across well then it comes across. We're just honest to ourselves that’s all.

There are so many baking gadgets out there these days – what's your must have item?
Mary: I think don't have too many gadgets. You need a sharp knife, you need the basic tins – I don't use an awful lot of gadgets or a lot of tins because most people haven't got the room to store them. If I can get away with using a traditional tin or traditional item, I use it. I don't go in for all the 'a thing to hang bananas on' or all the little intricate things, I can manage without. 
Paul: There's only one thing I would say and that's digital scales and they will help, everything else you don’t really need.
Mary: It's very important to weigh accurately. If you want to be a good baker, you need good ingredients, and use the right sized tin and then digital scales.

I believe you have a KitchenAid Mary, what do you think of them?
Mary: They are both good but also you don't need one. If you're not doing an awful lot of baking you can buy for about £15 a hand beater - that's what we're going to use today - you don't need (unless you are going to do an awful lot) you don't need too much specialist equipment.
Paul: KitchenAids are good and so are Kenwood. They are both very good. It depends what you want, they both do the same job. I've test driven the two of them recently and they're both good.

After the demo I wandered around the fabulous market, sampling Harvey Nichols’ French onion soup, as recommended by Mary, and later indulging on chocolate mocha and cookies and cream fudge.

There’s still one day left of the Bolton Food and Drink Festival – see here for details. And if you’ve not been yet, I’d strongly recommend a visit! 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Taste buds tickling for Bolton Food & Drink Festival

ONLY a few days remain until the Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2012!!! 

I can't stress enough how fantastic this four-day culinary extravaganza is – whether you're a passionate cook or a complete novice, if you like eating and drinking (and who doesn't?!) then it's definitely worth a visit.

The seventh annual event – set to big the biggest and best yet – will see more than 80 traders occupy stalls in Victoria Square, Oxford Street and Deansgate between Friday, August 24 and Monday, August 27.

If you haven’t been before, don’t miss out on the chance to peruse the stalls and experience new tastes and flavours, or visit one of the many restaurants putting on special deals as part in the festivities. 

Events and demonstrations being held across the town are bound to get visitors salivating and no doubt inspired to cook more and try new things.

For the first time, the festival will include a designated al fresco dining area, called Gourmet Kitchen, featuring a variety of traders selling high-end international street food such as Harvey Nichols’ Gastronomique van selling French cuisine; Ginger’s Comfort Emporium selling unique flavoured ice-cream (including olive oil!) and The Hungry Gecko – Asian street food by Masterchef 2011 finalist Jackie Kearney.

The main events will take place in the Rangemaster Cookery Theatre, featuring two star Michelin chef Michael Caines; Queen of cakes Mary Berry and artisan baker Paul Hollywood; French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and proud Yorkshire-man and Saturday Kitchen presenter James Martin.

I’m like a child waiting for Christmas knowing that I'm going to see the lovely Mary Berry on Saturday – so be sure to read a blog about that next week!

If you just fancy a wander around the speciality market, other tasty treats include cupcakes; speciality bread; homemade jams; handmade chocolates; rustic pies and traditional fudge.

Special events at venues and restaurants throughout Bolton include a Best of Lancashire dinner at JJ’s Restaurant in Egerton; a special festival menu at Nick's at Chequerbent; Afternoon Tea at the Holiday Inn, Bolton town centre; Greek Meze and live music at Sokrates Greek Taverna in Horwich; and a family fun day at Pizza Express in Bolton.

For more information on the events, visit

Read my interview with chef Michael Caines at last year's festival here

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bake off is back!!

I'm thrilled that The Great British Bake Off has returned to our TV screens – just in time to fill that gaping hole left by the BBC’s superb coverage of the Olympics.

It’s early stages, but who is your favourite competitor so far? I know who my least favourite is – I'm sorry but tomatoes shouldn’t go on top of a cake. Fact.

Due to an unexpected excitement towards the Olympics, I haven’t blogged since June. I've just been too distracted and watching all those athletes with their incredibly toned bodies made me think about cutting down on my cake.

I say think about, I didn’t actually do it   and now that Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the King and Queen of baking, have returned, I will be back in the baking bubble in no time.

If you haven’t seen this show, you must. It got the entire country going baking mad last year with shops seeing huge sales increases in baking products.

The fantastic thing about it is that we get to know the bakers' personalities – they're just ordinary people who bake for fun in their own homes.

It becomes an obsession and last year I found myself thinking about what cakes I would make if I were on the show all the time – I dare you not to want to get straight in the kitchen when it finishes.

If you do, try these easy cake recipes to get you going. The star cakes were done recently for a wedding – they are lemon sponge and the recipe is here  just add the juice of one lemon to the sponge mixture and the juice of half a lemon to the buttercream.  

The banana and walnut muffins are really easy and make great breakfast snacks.

The Great British Bake Off is on Tuesdays, 8pm, BBC2.

Banana and walnut muffins

175g/6oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g/6oz sugar (half light muscovado, half golden caster)
75g/2½oz chopped walnuts
2 medium-sized eggs
175g/6oz self-raising flour
3 medium-sized over ripe bananas, or 2 large
A drop of vanilla extract
Some demerara sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and weigh out your ingredients. Then put muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin baking tin.
Beat the butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl using a hand mixer or a wooden spoon until light and coffee-coloured.
Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, then mix in the walnuts and self-raising flour.
Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork. Gently fold the vanilla extract and the bananas into the cake mixture using a spatula or metal spoon, turning gently and taking care not to over-mix.
Scoop the cake batter into the prepared cases leaving a little bit of room at the top for the cake to rise slightly.
Dust with a little demerara sugar then put into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes.
Leave the muffins to cool for about ten minutes then take out of the tray and cool completely.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Pretty Victoria sandwich with fresh raspberries

It’s a fact that British desserts are the best. Okay the Italians have ice-cream and America has the New York cheesecake but I’m talking about hearty cakes, tea breads, crumbles and hot sponge puddings – proper traditional comforting treats. And one of the most popular British classics is the Victoria sandwich, named after Queen Victoria of course.

Now I know what you’re thinking – Victoria sponge is more of an afternoon tea kind of cake, to be enjoyed with a cup of tea drank from a dainty China cup (little pinkies sticking out dahhling), and I agree.

But that’s if you’re doing things the traditional way, and if that’s the case your Victoria sandwich will be made up of strawberry jam sandwiched between two light sponge cakes, no cream – the way baking queen Mary Berry does it.

But for me, no piece of cake is complete without cream, so my Victoria sandwich is a bit of a twist on the classic version (sorry Mary).

I use raspberry jam instead of strawberry, lashings of thick whipped cream, scattered with fresh raspberries (I know, I’m such a cake rebel aren’t I?).

Placed on a fancy cake stand and dusted with icing sugar, it looks much more impressive than it actually is as it’s really easy to make.

I recently made one for my birthday and if I did it again I think I’d double the quantities of cake mixture to make a really deep cake. After all, if you’re going to have a piece of cake on your birthday, you may as well go for a huge, calorie-busting sized piece and you can deal with the guilt the next day.

Here’s the recipe.

175g soft margarine
175g golden caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
3 medium-sized eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300ml double cream
3-4 tablespoons raspberry jam
3 tablespoons icing sugar
pack of fresh raspberries

Line two small sandwich tins with greaseproof paper and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
Put the margarine, sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla into a large mixing bowl and mix with an electric hand mixer, starting on a low speed and gradually increasing until combined.
Split the mixture equally between the two cake tins and smooth over the top. Place in the oven for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. Then leave to cool on a wire rack.
In the meantime, use a hand mixer to whisk up the cream, adding two tablespoons of icing sugar to sweeten and continue to mix until thick.
Place in the fridge until needed.
Once the cakes are cooled, spread the jam over the bottom cake then add the cream before sandwiching the other cake on top.
Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with raspberries.
If you don’t have two sandwich tins you can use a deeper round cake tin and slice the cake in half once it’s cooled.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pancetta-wrapped monkfish with lemony potatoes and greens

Monkfish is a dish that sounds impressive – something that you’d have at a dinner party or restaurant. But it’s actually really easy to cook and can be packed with flavour.

For years I was slightly apprehensive about cooking monkfish, worried that I’d never be able to get it as juicy and tasty as I’d tired at restaurants (my favourite being the monkfish with crispy rice at Nick’s Restaurant in Bolton).

In fact it was only last October when Paul and I visited friends in Newquay that I cooked it for the first time – monkfish from a farmers’ market freshly caught that morning, which is ideal.

Although you can now get lovely fresh fish in supermarkets at the fish counter and if you do have a farmers market nearby, even better, it’s quite affordable too.

In our house we now have monkfish quite regularly for a healthy weekend tea which is matched perfectly with a bottle of crisp white wine such as Pinot Grigio.
It’s really easy to cook and I almost always roast it in the oven wrapped in parma ham or pancetta to enhance the taste and keep the fish moist.

As with any fish, you can get monkfish filleted and ready to cook, or just buy a tail and fillet it yourself. It’s really easy to do – I just searched for a video on YouTube and followed it step by step.

It’s just one back bone and there aren’t any of those annoying little bones that you would find with fish like haddock or sea bass.

This dish – which I’ve adapted from a Good Food Magazine recipe – is a great one to do for friends or family because it looks and tastes impressive but actually takes very little skill or time.

One monkfish tail or two fillets
300g new potatoes
100g green beans, trimmed
small broccoli head, chopped into small florets
handful of Kalamata olives
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
four slices of pancetta or parma ham
few sprigs of fresh tarragon

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Put the potatoes in a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
Add the green beans and broccoli for the final two to three minutes. Drain well and slice the potatoes in half.
Tip the potatoes and greens into a roomy baking dish and toss with the olives, lemon zest, olive oil and half the tarragon.
Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and put in the oven.
Season the fish with a little salt and pepper and wrap each piece in the pancetta or parma ham.
Place the fish into a snug baking dish and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Put in the oven at the same time as the potatoes and cook for about 12 minutes until the fish is cooked.  
Add a squeeze of lemon and the rest of the tarragon and serve on top of the potatoes and greens.
(You could cook the fish on top of the potatoes to save washing up but I found that the juices from the fish made the potatoes slightly soggy so I find it best to keep them separate.)

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The most gooeyist, rich, jubilicious chocolate cake ever

In honour of Queen’s Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee I’ve made this rich (and I mean rich) chocolate, prune and brandy celebration cake.

Okay, that’s not entirely true - it’s got nothing to do with The Queen. I’m not really into all this pomp and circumstance but I do feel as though I owe Liz one for giving us two days off work.

It was my first free Sunday afternoon is weeks and despite a Prosecco-induced headache I wasn’t going to spend the day sat on the sofa watching Queeny on a barge sailing down the River Thames.

I found this cake recipe amongst a huge pile of Good Food magazines on the coffee table. The idea of prunes and brandy didn’t exactly draw me in, but the picture of the finished cake looked so gooey and calorific that I was starting to drool.

Minimal ingredients, minimum effort and one of your five-a-day – what’s not to love? Don’t quote me on the five-a-day thing I’ve just made that up!

I used the best dark chocolate available – Lindt Excellence 85% cocoa solids, which is quite expensive but currently on offer in Tesco!

It’s literally the nicest chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten. But it’s extremely rich so should be eaten in small doses, if you can stop.

I think it’s the perfect celebration cake if you’re having a jubilee party this Bank Holiday – the chocolate and brandy will lift spirits (no pun intended) if the rain is threatening to ruin the occasion.

Stick a tacky Great British flag in the top and serve with a dollop of thick cream on the side and a glass of something bubbly.

Happy jubilee everyone!

225g butter and a little extra for greasing the tin
100g chopped prunes from a tin
100ml brandy, or thereabouts
250g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
200g light brown muscovado sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 tbsp cocoa powder for dusting

Heat the oven to 160 degrees and grease a 22cm loose-bottomed cake tin with butter. You don’t need to bother with greaseproof – the mixture is so moist that it won’t stick.
In a small bowl, soak the prunes in the brandy.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs yolks. Fold in the melted chocolate.
Separately, whisk the egg whites for about 5 minutes until white and frothy.
Add the brandy soaked prunes (but not the brandy) to the chocolate mixture then gently fold in the egg whites. Take your time doing this bit.
Tip the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes.
Leave the cake to cool. It will be very moist and cracked on top so take care when transferring it onto a plate. Once cooled, dust with cocoa. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Tortilla or frittata? You decide!

Well, where have I been for the past two months I hear you ask? Wedding venue-hunting, house-hunting and a busy time at work hasn’t left much free time.

But the cakes and cooking hasn’t stopped and I’ve still got lots of lovely recipes up my sleeve to share with you! But before I give you the recipe for this week, I have to say that I’m not entirely sure what it’s actually called.

Jamie Oliver says it’s a Spanish tortilla, and I’ve definitely had tortillas like this at tapas restaurants. Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall on the other hand calls it a frittata – he says the difference is that the frittata is grilled on top unlike the tortilla. I’m confused!!

It doesn’t really matter what it’s called – it’s basically just on omelette with lots of yummy things like potatoes and herbs thrown into it.

It’s become a bit of a Monday night staple in our house as you can use leftover spuds from your Sunday roasts and throw in pretty much anything else you like.

I’ve tried this with chicken and with chorizo and it’s always tasty and satisfying – it’s healthy too and full of protein from the eggs. It’s also a good mid-week tea option because it’s super quick and easy and a leftover slice makes a good lunch the next day with a salad.

You may be thinking, ‘that’s not going to fill me up!’, but believe me it does – if Paul is satisfied with it as a meal, that’s a winner in my eyes.

If you do want something more substantial, this tortilla/frittata or whatever it’s called is perfect for a tapas feast along with salads, chorizo, stuffed peppers and bread with dipping oil.

As I said, you can try different things – just start with the potato, garlic and onion base then throw in anything else you want to try. Below is Jamie Oliver’s recipe and you don’t have to stick rigidly to the quantities but it’s a good guide.

250g leftover baby new potatoes
1 small red onion
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 gloves garlic
½ small bunch of fresh rosemary
8 medium-sized eggs
Rocket salad and olive oil to serve

Chop the potatoes into 1cm chunks and fry in a large frying pan with olive oil.
Roughly chop the red onion and once the potatoes are browned, add the onion along with he fennel seeds and stir to combine.
Leave for a few minutes on a low heat until the onions have cooked then crush the garlic and add to the pan with the rosemary, salt and pepper.
Stir again and leave for a further few minutes.  
Taste and check the seasoning then evenly spread the mixture in the pan.
Beat up the eggs with salt and pepper and pour into the pan. moving the pan around to create a marbled effect with the eggs and cover most of the mixture.
Once the eggs have started to set around the sides, place under a grill to finish off on top and grill until light and fluffy – this only takes a couple of minutes.
Serve with a rocket salad and drizzle with olive oil.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Half-term boredom buster - crunchy peanut butter cookies

I have been making these little cookies for years and I still go back to them time and time again.

I came across the recipe when I was living at home with my parents.
When I first started taking an interest in baking I would flick through my mum's cookery books and look for something easy to try.

The book which this recipe came from has been my bible ever since.
It was written my Rosemary Wadey and published in 1979 (five years before I was even born) and it literally includes everything you need to know about baking and cake decorating.

My mum probably thinks she’s lost this book – sorry mum, I’ve had it all this time.

The peanut butter cookies have always been an easy option because I pretty much always have a jar of peanut butter in the cupboard, crunchy of course.
I just love the stuff. But the taste of peanut butter isn’t overwhelming in these biscuits, it is light and very subtle.

If you’re a parent with young children and are looking for something to keep them entertained over the Easter holidays, this recipe is a great one to try with the kids.

They’ll love rolling the dough into little balls (your hands do get quite greasy), and they will love the sweet and crunchy taste.

If you’re not a parent, try this recipe anyway for yourself. The cookies are really quick and easy and they go nicely with a cuppa.

50g/2oz crunchy peanut butter
50g/20z margarine
Grated rind of half an orange
50g/2oz caster sugar
40g/1.5oz light soft brown sugar
½ beaten egg
40g raisins or sultanas, chopped
100g self-raising flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto a baking tray.
Put the peanut butter, margarine, orange rind and sugars into a mixing bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg then add the dried fruit and flour, and mix to make a fairly firm dough. (You can do this part in a food processor or mixer if you wish.)
Roll into balls about the size of a large walnut and place well apart on the baking tray. Slightly flatten using a fork in a criss-cross pattern, or use a blunt knife.
Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes or until risen and light golden brown.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Pie master Tom Bridge celebrates British Pie Week

To mark British Pie Week which ends today, Bolton chef and author Tom Bridge has shared one his favourite recipes and written a guest blog about his passion for cooking and his love of the Great British pie…
I started cooking at a very young age, holding on to my mother’s apron.
I was born in the pub trade, for 20 years my mother made pies for the customers at the Gypsy’s Tent pub in Bolton town centre.
Since then I have worked all over the world, cooking for numerous celebs including Charlton Heston, Jane Seymour, David Niven and Frank Sinatra to name a few.
To date I have had 23 cookery books published – the best seller at the moment being Pie Society.
Here is one of my favourite recipes – a Lancashire Tart. It is so tasty and you can make it your own by using your local bacon and cheese.
The tart is made with layers of traditional British pork or Cumberland sausage meat, black pudding, smoked bacon and scallop potatoes topped with Lancashire cheese accompanied by a herb salad and a spicy tomato dressing.
350g shortcrust pastry
200g Lancashire black pudding, skin removed
200g pork or Cumberland sausage meat
150g slices of naturally cured smoked bacon, trimmed
2 large potatoes peeled and thinly sliced to 3mm
250ml full fat milk
150ml double cream
5 free range eggs
500g grated Lancashire cheese
Chopped parsley
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 or 180 degrees
Line a tart case with shortcrust pastry and blind bake for 15 – 20 minutes.
Seal the cooked pastry with egg wash and bake for a further minute.
Make the black pudding into a round paté and cover with cling film and flatten out to fit the tart case, repeat this process with the sausage meat.
Trim any fat from the bacon then grill until crisp. Chop into fine pieces and leave to cool.
Slice the potatoes to approximately 3mm in depth and steam until just el dente (if steamer is not available simply boil).
Blend together the milk, cream and egg, and seasoning slightly.
To assemble the tart as seen in the photograph, start by placing black pudding and a layer of potato in the bottom of the tart then a ladle of cream mix, a sprinkle of Lancashire cheese and a pinch of parsley.
This process is repeated with the sausage next, then bacon, then sliced potato and finally by sprinkling chopped parsley and cheese on top.
This is then baked for 40 minutes at 140 degrees until the liquid is set. When cooling place a weight on top of the tart to compress the layers.
Portion as you like but this will provide 14 portions as a starter size.
For more recipes and pie-related news from Tom Bridge, visit his websites or 

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Coffee and walnut cake without the monkey poo!!

Fresh coffee and walnut cake
I have to admit, first and foremost, that this recipe is a few weeks old and has been parked in the back of my brain somewhere waiting for me to pull my finger out and write it up ever since. 

And now I’m revisiting the recipe I’m really wishing I had some of this cake right now to enjoy with a cup of smooth, velvety coffee.

Watching Raymond Blanc on the telly while I’m writing this isn’t helping either – he’s making babas with raspberries and cream and they look bloody lovely. 

It seems to come naturally to me now that whenever I find myself with a spare couple of hours at the weekend I’m inevitably going to end up baking, much to the delight of my work colleagues who often get the leftovers on a Monday, but hugely detrimental to mine and Paul’s health-kick.

Now coffee, the main flavour in this cake, is like marmite: you either love it or hate it, and in this house we definitely love coffee.

Random fact: did you know that the world’s most expensive coffee is made from animal poo?! According to the British Coffee Association, Kopi Luwak is a rare, gourmet coffee from Indonesia that’s made from coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (a monkey-like creatre).

But don’t let that put you off as there isn’t a drop of monkey poo in sight here.  

My standards are set quite high when it comes to coffee cake having tasted many versions, including the coffee and hazelnut cake at Chester’s in Ambleside which is just to die for. But it’s great for a home-made afternoon tea-style treat and it’s really quick and easy to make.

175g unsalted butter
175g light muscovado sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp strong black coffee
175g self-raising flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
100g walnut pieces, plus extra for chopping and sprinkling on top

For the buttercream
100g unsalted butter
175-225g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp strong black coffee

Grease and line a loaf tin (or a round cake tin if you prefer).
Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy then gradually add in the eggs and beat well. Add the coffee. Don’t worry if it looks like it’s curdled at this stage, it will all come together once you've added the flour.
Sift in the flour and baking powder then fold lightly and evenly with a metal spoon. Fold in the walnut pieces.
Put the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for around 25 minutes or until a skewer or knife comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Cream the butter until soft then beat in the sugar a bit at a time then add the coffee. Beat and add the milk if necessary to get the right consistency. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Caramel-filled chocolate cupcakes with caramel buttercream icing - I've died and gone to heaven!

They (I still don’t know who ‘they’ are) say men think about you know what every six seconds, well I can beat that, because I think about cakes every second of every day. Sometimes I don’t even want to eat the cakes (okay not very often), I just want to make them then put them proudly on a fancy cake stand and admire them, alone, drooling. God, I need to get a life.

The last few weeks have seen me stuck in a bit of a ‘work, eat sleep’ pattern with not very much in between, so I’ve found my mind wandering into cake land more than ever (and what a blissful place it is).

Last weekend me and Paul were seeing family, including four children under four, so I thought I’d better make some sweet treats. The visitors were just an excuse in all honesty as I’d wanted to make these caramel cupcakes for weeks after coming up with the idea one night when I should have been doing something much more productive.

I know cooks shouldn’t comment on their own food, but I’m not a cook so I will proudly proclaim that these are the best damn cakes I have ever made. There’s no room for modesty here, they are totally amazing and I want to eat them over and over again until I cry tears of caramel.

They went down well with the family, especially Paul's newphew Arthur who asked “what’s caramel?” before promptly stuffing one in his tiny mouth and getting buttercream all over his little face. I take that as a sign of success.

I also discovered that the caramel filling tastes incredible as a warm sauce poured over vanilla ice-cream, but no matter how much of it I ate, there was still enough caramel left to make caramel shortcakes the next day. (See my blog from September 11, 2011 for the recipe.)

This recipe will make about 12-15 cakes and it needs to be done in stages.

Stage One – Make the caramel filling
Put 150g unsalted butter and 150g dark brown sugar into a non-stick saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.
Add a 397g tin of condensed milk and bring gently to the boil, stirring continuously. As soon as it comes to the boil and is a bubbling golden caramel, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Stage Two – Make the chocolate cupcakes

6oz vegetable margarine
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
4.5oz self raising flour
1.5oz cocoa powder

Line a muffin tray with paper cases and pre-heat the oven to180 degrees.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, starting with the margarine, sugar, then eggs, and flour.
Mix using an electric hand mixer – starting on low speed until all the ingredients are mixed, then increasing the speed until the mixture is creamy and a soft dropping consistency.
Spoon into cases until half full (they will rise quite a bit) and bake for around 15-20 minutes until springy to touch and a skewer or knife comes out clean. Leave to cool.

Stage Three – Make the caramel icing
Melt 115g margarine or unsalted butter in saucepan over a low heat.
Add 200g dark brown sugar and 60ml milk and bring to the boil, stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool. (You can use this time to prepare the cakes) Once cooled, beat in 220g icing sugar until smooth.

Stage Four – Filling cakes
Once the cakes are cool (usually okay after an hour or so in a cold kitchen), get a small sharp knife and cut out a triangle from the middle. Slice the bottom off so you are just left with a circle to cover the hole, and set aside (and enjoy eating the spare bits!!).
Dollop the filling into the middle and place the circle on top to cover.  


Stage Five – Icing the cakes
Once you’ve added icing sugar to the icing mixture, it might benefit from being in the fridge for an hour so it’s not too sloppy when you try to pipe it.
Put it into a piping bag with a star nozzle and swirl on top of the cakes, from the centre outwards. Then sprinkle with broken up Caramac bars or whatever you prefer!!