White Chocolate Cigarello Birthday Cake

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I have a lovely friend who is celebrating a birthday today. She’s one of those rare gems who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She spends so much time looking after everybody and is so generous in every sense of the word she definitely deserves to be spoilt on her birthday. I wanted to make her a cake that reflects her: beautiful, elegant and very special. Cue the cigarellos…

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These rolled chocolate straws instantly add a little sophistication to any cake. I used these from the Chocolate Trading Co.

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I like making cakes that have three thin layers of sponge as I think they look lovely when cut, and allow for more filling (which incidently is very forgiving should you accidentally over bake them. The extra filling helps moisten the sponge). I just used a basic Victoria sponge recipe which you can find here, on the BBC Good Food website. If you’re doing three layers I suggest reducing the oven temp to 160oC, and the time to between 12-15 mins.

Once cooled, fill your cake with whatever you want. I used seedless raspberry jam this time.

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Now you’re ready to proceed with the decorating. Make a generous amount of buttercream using a pack of unsalted butter, icing sugar, a couple of tsps of vanilla bean paste and a few splashes of milk to loosen. The consistency should be spreadable, but still fairly stiff. Secure your cake to the cake board using a dollop of buttercream. I find it easiest to pipe the buttercream onto the cake, starting with the gaps around the edges.

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Once you’ve filled the gaps in, continue piping until the entire cake is covered with a thick layer. This doesn’t have to be neat.

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Now take a palette knife and smooth the surfaces down. Again, don’t worry about getting perfect edges as it’s all going to be covered with the cigarellos and fruit.

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Wipe away any stray smears of buttercream off the board. Now you’re ready to start attaching the cigarellos by gently pushing them into the buttercream, which is effectively used as glue to hold them in place. Start at the back of the cake if you’re adding any additional decoration to the front (a name on the board for example). You will end up with something similar to this:

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I decided to top mine with strawberries and raspberries. Wash and hull them and dry well on paper towels. Take the largest strawberry and cut the point off the end. Push a candle in and add a dollop of leftover buttercream to the bottom before securing it to the middle of the cake.

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Now add the rest of the fruit, strawberries first to avoid crushing the delicate raspberries. Crush a couple of cigarellos in your hand and sprinkle over the fruit as a final flurry!

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The birthday girl was happy!

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Spiced ginger and date cake

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With the weather having turned and Christmas fast approaching I’ve found myself craving something warming and sweet to enjoy with a cup of coffee mid afternoon. Most days I have the willpower to resist, however this weekend I experimented with a basic ginger cake recipe, tweaking it with spices and dates.

The mini bundts went down well at a family meal served with custard and also the following day at church with a caramel drizzle, but to me, they were slightly dark and more pudding like than cake. So, with the school fair looming in Saturday I made some adjustments and came up with this easy recipe.

Boil the kettle and measure out 250ml boiling water.  In a blender cup (I used my nutribullet) weigh out 75g pitted dates and pour over the boiling water). Put the lid or blade on and leave until cool.

Whilst the dates are cooling cream together 125g butter and 125g caster sugar (I keep caster sugar in a jar with left over vanilla pods to add extra flavour) before adding in one large egg and 225g golden syrup. Beat together until fully combined then sieve in 300g plain flour, 1.5 tsp bicarb, 2 tsp each of ground ginger and cinnamon and half a teaspoon of ground cloves. Add in half a teaspoon of salt to offset the sweetness.

Whizz up the dates, and as the flour is combining with the wet ingredients drizzle in the date water.

Don’t be alarmed at how wet the batter is. Pour it into a well greased bundt tin, (or your tin of choice but be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly) and bake for 35 mins at 170oC or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed, and a skewer comes out clean.

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Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out.

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Because this particular cake is for the school fair, I baked a smaller cupcake version to cut into to show you the inside…

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Light and moist with a distinct ginger taste yet reminiscent of its delectable cousin the sticky toffee pud.

I plan to make a cheats caramel drizzle for the bundt by simply warming some condensed caramel up and spooning over the top. That can wait until Saturday though.

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Caramel biscuit, chocolate and peanut butter no bake tray bake!

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Oooh I love a good tray bake, especially when it’s a minimal fuss, no bake, tray bake. The amalgamation of caramel, chocolate and peanut is a heavenly flavour sensation, and not to mention a reliable crowd pleaser.

This recipe makes quite a large batch (these were for church), so by all means halve the quantities if you want,  or alternatively freeze any leftovers (if you can resist the urge to hide in a dark corner and demolish them).

I whizzed up two 250g packs of Lotus Biscoff biscuits in a blender with 2 tablespoons of icing sugar, before adding in dollops of crunchy peanut butter. When the mixture starts to clump together you’ve added enough. Press these sticky crumbs into a shallow tray (I think mine was probably about 12″ by 8″). Now melt 300g milk chocolate in a bain-marie, adding in a cup of Smooth Lotus Biscoff spread. Stir until it melts and pour over the biscuit base. Now melt a couple of additional tablespoons of the biscuit spread and drizzle over the chocolate topping. Use a skewer to unleash your artistic talents and make swirly patterns on top. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours before slicing into fingers or squares. Delicious!

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If you prefer a more uniform pattern on the top pipe little blobs of the melted biscuit spread onto the chocolate in straight rows and then drag a skewer through the centre of each blob in the row to create perfect little hearts. Here’s a pic from another test bake I made a while ago to demonstrate the technique.

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Easy peasey clementine sqeezey… Super simple cake

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Once you have a simple, fail proof cake recipe under your belt, you can’t go far wrong. Here’s my favourite basic recipe which can adapted and tweaked by adding different flavours.

Crack three eggs and weigh them, then weigh out the same amount of caster sugar, soft butter and self raising flour.

Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy then add the eggs one at time until they’re combined. If you’re adding flavours add them at this point. Vanilla, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, coconut, cinnamon, fruits, the list is really endless.

For this one I zested 6 clementines and added all but a teaspoon of it to the mix, before juicing the fruits and setting the juice aside. I added in the flour in four lots to ensure it was well combined before drizzling in some of the clementine juice to loosen the batter to dropping consistency: Three tablespoons did the trick.

I sprayed a bundt tin with cake release spray, and put the batter in before baking at 180oC fan.

While the cake was baking I added icing sugar to the remaining clementine juice plus a few drops of passionfruit extract. The floral notes of the extract really complement the citrus flavour.

After turning out, I let the cake cool before drizzling on the glaze and sprinkling with the remaining zest.

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Yum! Moist, sweet, tangy, satisfy and great with a cup of coffee with friends.

Watermelon "Cake"

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On my eternal quest to provide healthy but interesting cake alternatives at the social action and outreach events our church puts on, I had a go at a watermelon “cake” I’d seen on Pinterest, adapting the recipe to use a healthier buttercream alternative.¬† I say “cake” as it is actually just fruit, yoghurt, vanilla bean paste, cream cheese and toasted flaked almonds.

Cut a watermelon into a rough cake shape.

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Beat 100g light cream cheese then add 250g fat free Greek yoghurt and a tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.¬† Taste the frosting and if it’s not sweet enough for you add in one or two tablespoons of icing sugar. I don’t think it’s necessary¬† really as the vanilla sweetens it beautifully.

Cover the melon with the frosting.

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Lightly toast a couple of handfuls of flaked almonds in a dry pan, allow to cool then sprinkle on around the base. Decorate with whatever fruit you fancy and leave in the fridge for the frosting to set a little. Slice and enjoy… Guilt free!

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Elsa doll cake

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When I look at this cake the words “never” and “again” spring to mind. It probably would’ve been a lot easier had I had enough fondant to roll it out slightly thicker. As it happened I didn’t, and the result was that the skirt kept splitting, so under that white cape is actually a complete mess, hence there aren’t any pictures of the icing process. My hands were too sticky and my head to stressy to think about pics! Anyway,  here’s the link to the tutorial I was following, although you’ll notice the end results are pretty different due to the icing saga! I used three quantities of a basic Victoria sponge recipe and baked two in round springform tins and the third in a Pyrex bowl.

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Slice each cake in half and fill with seedless raspberry jam

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Stick each cake on top of each other using buttercream as the glue

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Wrap Elsa in cling from the waist down

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Carve a hole out using a knife

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Stick Elsa in up to her hips.

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Shave bits off the cake to create a skirt shape.

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Cover in buttercream and chill for an hour.

At this point the disasters started so I’m afraid the next pic I have is this one…

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I used flower paste to make the cape, and royal icing for the snow and snowflakes. The main thing is that the little one loved it!

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Here’s what it looked like inside:

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If you’d like to see the last Frozen cake I made (for her last birthday) you can check it out here.

Rich Chocolate and Beetroot Bundt

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HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and are ready to face 2015 with renewed vigour.

With an abundance of post-Christmas chocolate lying around at home, I decided to remove the temptation and share the love at church today with a very rich and indulgent chocolate and beetroot cake. Beautifully moist and studded with chunks of dark chocolate, this is bound to prove popular with kids and adults alike.

A lot of recipes call for cooked beetroot, but thanks to the pulversing powers of the nutribullet I used raw.

Here’s how to do it. Scrub a whole beetroot and weigh out 180g of it.  Cube and put in the nutribullet along with three large eggs.

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Blend until pulverised.

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In a bowl or blender mix 200g plain flour, 250g light brown soft sugar, 100g  good quality cocoa powder, 1 tbsp baking powder, 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste before adding the beetroot and egg mixture, and 200ml melted butter. You’ll end up with a lovely rich mixture like this.

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Chop 100g of good quality dark chocolate (no higher than 70%).

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Mix into the batter before spooning into a greased bundt tin which has been sprinkled with cocoa powder to stop the cake sticking.

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Bake for 35mins at 180oC or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for ten minutes before turning out.

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For the icing steep a few cubes of the leftover beetroot in some vanilla syrup (water or milk works fine if you don’t have syrup to hand), then add the liquid to icing sugar to make a thick pink drizzle. Pipe over the cooled bundt.

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It went down well at church this morning.

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Goji Berry, apricot and coconut oil flapjacks

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There’s something comforting about freshly baked flapjack. The smell, the warmth, the way it cries out to be paired with a steaming cup of Earl Grey. It reminds me of cold Sunday afternoons spent snuggled under patchwork blankets. Homely, comforting, simple.

This recipe can be adapted to suit your tastes, but I used:

350g oats
125g salted butter
125g unrefined organic coconut oil
200g dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
30g dried goji berries
150g chopped up soft dried apricots
A couple of tablespoons of pressed apple juice to soak the goji berries in.
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
A few grates of a while nutmeg.

Soak the goji berries in the apple juice for ten minutes.

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In a pan melt the butter, sugar, coconut oil, and syrup with the cinnamon and nutmeg, before adding in the drained goji berries, apricot pieces and oats.  Give it all a really good mix before pressing into a greased baking tin.

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I like to use a round springform tin so I can cut it into wedges rather than squares.

Bake for around 40-45 mins at 160oC. Leave to cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy with a cup of your favourite tea and good friends.

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Caramel Apple Cake

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Today, some friends and I went to a food festival at the beautiful Stonyhurst College. We decided (largely due to the lure of free entry) to each enter a cake into the ‘Great British Cake Off’ competition. I found the recipe for my entry, Apple Caramel Layer Cake in ‘Delicious’ magazine, and delicious it was (although, evidently not as delicious as some of the other entries as sadly I didn’t win!).

I’ve made the recipe a couple of times, but changed it slightly for this competition in that I only included two layers to make it easier to transport and slice. I also put apple puree and extra caramel between the layers as well as the Greek yoghurt and caramelised apple slices to give it a bit of extra bite. Caramelised apple slices and spun sugar finished it off nicely.

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I’d encourage you to give this one a try. It really is beautiful and a lovely way to use up all those seasonal cooking apples! Enjoy.

Our first Contact the Elderly tea party

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Well, this afternoon I hosted Preston’s first Contact the Elderly tea party in conjunction with Full Life Church . It was such a privilege and so incredible to see just what a difference a simple afternoon tea with others in similar situations can make to an elderly person who perhaps isn’t able to get out and about, or who doesn’t have local friends or family.

As you may well know, I love to bake, so used the opportunity to make a few different things to ensure there was something for everyone to enjoy.

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Scones, of course, are a given at any tea party, and I served mine with raspberry jam and dollops of clotted cream.

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These mini filo and creme pat fruit tartlets are also a crowd pleaser, and are so easy to make. Check out the recipe here.

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I came across a recipe for a Bakewell Cheesecake this week which I thought I’d have a shot at and it turned out pretty well. The recipe is from the BBC website here.

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Cute little chocolate fudge cupcakes added an extra touch of kitsch, while a blonde spiced fruit cake brought an element of old school.

As for savoury, I kept it simple just doing finger sandwiches with classic fillings to suit all tastes. Ham, mustard and cucumber, egg mayo and cress, smoked salmon and cream cheese and mature cheddar and tomato. A few sausage rolls, cheese straws and pork pies finished it off nicely.

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Six guests arrived escorted by their volunteer drivers, and they enjoyed a tot of sherry in the lounge before sitting at the table for tea.

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The food was enjoyed almost as much as the conversation.

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I was presented with a Contact the Elderly pin, which I will no doubt wear with pride!

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This afternoon highlighted a few things to me:
1) Even the simplest things, such as inviting someone to your home for tea and cake can make a huge difference to them.
2) It’s a sad fact, but there is a demand for this, and there are far more isolated and lonely older people than we might think.
3) Contact the Elderly really does provide a lifeline for so many, and you can be involved. It doesn’t take much. If you think you might be able to host a tea party once a month, or drive a guest to and from the host’s house  then please have a look at the Contact the Elderly website and do something amazing! You won’t regret it, I can vouch for that.