Monday, 27 May 2013

Chocolate Chunk Banoffee Cake

The last time I was casting around for ideas to use up the inevitable overripe bananas sitting in my kitchen I saw one of my more recent cookery book purchases, one which definitely deserves more of my attention. The book is 'The Birthday Cake Book' by Fiona Cairns, and is full not only of amazingly decorated cakes and biscuits (many of which are around different birthday party themes) but also really interesting cake recipes. I sometimes find that books can concentrate too much on the decoration of the cake and the actual cake itself is neglected. Which is slightly daft because however good the cake looks, ultimately it is going to be eaten!

One of the cakes in the book is a Banoffee Cake - in the book this is baked in two 13cm (6") square cake tins, which are then stacked and decorated to look like playing dice - very clever. I used the basic recipe as I wanted to use up my ripe bananas but made a few small changes. I left out the spices (nutmeg and cinnamon) and added a 100g bar of 70% dark chocolate, broken up into small chunks. I also wanted to bake it in an 8"/20cm round tin. This meant that the cooking time was 60-70 minutes (longer than I had expected really, so perhaps check slightly before this time if you make it).

I had intended to add either a chocolate frosting or some other kind of decoration, but ended up running out of time to do this so the cake went to work naked. It was really successful though - banana cakes can sometimes be heavy, dense and almost wet and although this one was quite dense, it was in a pleasant way. It felt substantial and I think the banoffee of the name comes from the toffee flavour imparted by using light muscovado sugar in the recipe. I enjoyed the chocolate chunks in it very much - the bitterness of the chocolate contrasted well with the sweet cake and I would definitely make it again. 

This is not a sponsored post - I bought and liked this book!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Jaffa Cupcakes

I do enjoy a jaffa cake or two (although it's been a while since I bought any) and the chocolate orange flavour combo is generally a successful one. I decided to combine the flavours by using a chocolate cupcake base, marmalade to add orange, chocolate buttercream flavoured with orange extract and then topped with a mini jaffa cake.

The cupcake recipe is my adaptation of the Hummingbird Bakery's recipe - I've altered the quantities to give me 12 reasonable sized cakes instead of 12 tiny ones. 

Jaffa Cupcakes
150g plain flour
30g cocoa powder
200g sugar
2tsp baking powder
60g unsalted butter
200ml milk (I used semi skimmed)
1 large egg
pinch salt
1tsp vanilla extract

For the buttercream (and as I'm typing this I realise I can't actually remember how I made the buttercream, but if I were to do it again these are the quantities I'd try)
90g unsalted butter, softened
75g dark chocolate, melted and cooled (see later comments)
140g icing sugar
1tsp orange extract

For filling and decoration
Marmalade (I used Tiptree's Orange and Tangerine - it's not as bitter as some marmalades)
Mini Jaffa cakes
Chocolate sprinkles if desired

- Preheat the oven to 170C. Place 12 paper cases in a muffin tin.
- Combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and butter in a mixer and blend. The mixture will not form any kind of coherent mass, but the butter should look fairly distributed rather than huge lumps.
- Add the egg, milk and vanilla extract and beat well until combined.
- Divide between cases and bake for 18-20 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Allow to cool.

- When cool, cut a cone out of the cake (this is more difficult than with some other cake recipes as the crumb is so soft), blob a little marmalade into each hole and replace the top of the cake you cut out. See photo above - coincidentally this is why you don't usually get in-process shots from me - I'm usually doing this late at night and the light is truly rubbish. Apologies!

- For the buttercream - firstly melt the chocolate and allow to cool - this is slightly tricky because you want it cool enough to not melt the butter in the buttercream, yet warm enough to avoid it recrystallising into lumps. I learnt the hard way that my chocolate was too cool.
- Beat the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, add the chocolate and orange extract and continue to beat. If the mixture is too stiff to pipe easily add a little hot water (from a kettle).
- Pipe onto the cupcakes, taking care not to dislodge the lid of the marmalade.

- Add a mini Jaffa cake and sprinkles if you want.

This chocolate cake recipe is really, really soft and light. It's quite sweet and structurally very delicate - perhaps not the most robust container for the marmalade but delicious anyway. The combination of soft chocolate cake, slightly tart, bitter marmalade and sweet orange scented buttercream was gorgeous and these were really popular at work. I'll definitely make this recipe for chocolate cupcakes again - they're so soft and moist!

Exhibit number one - cupcakes piped with a blocked star shaped tip. I was trying to use a Wilton 2D here, and the cupcake on the right is fairly ok. As I mentioned earlier, I found out to my cost that my chocolate was too cool - it has formed micro-blobs of chocolate in the buttercream mixture, making it impossible to pipe. The cupcake on the left shows what happens to your pretty rose when the tip is blocked - a bit of a mess. Hence the smooth-piped look in the rest of the post. I usually avoid this and especially with chocolate buttercream, but actually with the mini Jaffa cake it looks quite acceptable!

Ignoring the holes in the buttercream if you look directly at the centre of the picture above you can see a darker bit - that's one of the (many) bits of chocolate to clog the nozzle...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Banana and Blackcurrant Cupcakes

I wanted to say Banana and Blackcurrant Buns because that's how I think of these (and who doesn't love a bit of alliteration!) but then I wondered if the wider world would be confused by the use of 'bun' to describe a small cake. So I went with cupcakes. But if I start referring to buns, that's what I mean.

Anyway, enough musing on descriptions. I had ripe bananas. Quite a lot of them so I knew that I needed to use some to bake with. I quite fancied a simple little recipe, with the addition of banana and after a little searching came up with this BBC Good Food recipe for Dotty Banana Fairy Cakes. And then I wondered how I could make them more interesting. A while ago I bought some 'Fruit Flakes' which seem to be marketed to the parents of small children as a lunchbox addition. At least that's the way it seems to me. I don't think these are a particularly wholesome treat, in that they're fairly highly processed, but there's nothing too spooky (the usual sugar, thickeners, flavour, colour....) on the ingredients list either. I forget why I ended up buying them. I had some blackcurrant ones and decided to add them to my recipe too, to see whether they'd work or not.

Banana and Blackcurrant Cupcakes
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
150g self raising flour
1 very ripe banana, mashed
50g fat free yogurt
2 packets of blackcurrant 'Fruit Flakes'
For the icing
65g blackcurrant jam (I used Bonne Maman)
130g icing sugar

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Place 11-12 cupcake liners into a muffin tin. I got 11 from this mixture, but you could make 12 slightly smaller ones.
- Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, flour and mashed banana and beat again.
- At this stage my mixture looked quite dry so I decided to add 50g fat free yogurt.
- Fold in the fruit flakes and divide between the cases.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden.
- Allow to cool.

For the icing, mix the jam and icing sugar and very, very carefully and slowly add water to your desired consistency. Dollop the icing onto the cakes and spread it around. It will slowly spread on its own too....

I had lots and lots of positive feedback about these from colleagues, one of whom said these definitely ranked among the best cakes I have made. I thought they were good, but perhaps not quite that good! The icing worked really well - the blackcurrant jam (although sweet) meant that the icing wasn't sickly sweet as the blackcurrant bursts were slightly sharp (I love blackcurrant jam, I can eat it off the spoon...) and the cake was good too, light and moist. The banana flavour was in the background and the fruit flakes worked well. Because they're processed, the flavour is concentrated and therefore not lost on baking. They didn't melt away during baking and provided a nice burst of blackcurrant flavour in the cake. I have also (ages ago and haven't got round to blogging the experiment) tried the strawberry fruit flakes the same way and they're equally successful. According to their website the available flavours are strawberry, blackcurrant, orange, tropical and raspberry. I've seen the orange locally but would be interested to find the raspberry (not that I've made a particular effort to find them!).

Unadorned strawberry version

This is not a sponsored post, I bought this random stuff myself!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Frozen Chocolate Bananas and an idea for the 5:2 diet

Frozen Chocolate Bananas with chopped ginger or butterscotch pieces

This is literally as simple as it sounds - frozen chocolate bananas. But don't make the mistake of thinking that something so simple must somehow be underwhelming; these are fabulous. I can take no credit for the idea as I first saw it in a booklet for Comic Relief produced by Delia Smith, over ten years ago. I've made these many times since but had forgotten the recipe until recently when looking at the chocolate dipped bananas on Jac's Coconut and Mango fool. It occurred to me that it was time to revisit this favourite idea.


The frozen banana is a revelation - it's so creamy and smooth and utterly delicious. As Delia says, the snap of the chocolate followed by the creaminess of the banana is a great combination. She suggests that the chocolate dipped bananas can then be dipped in chopped nuts, but in my case I decided to go for very finely chopped stem ginger (drained of its syrup) or butterscotch pieces. Both were great choices. 

Sliced banana, ready to freeze

As for the 5:2 diet, the banana alone is seriously delicious. Having it frozen really makes it taste like ice-cream and it also means it'll take you longer to eat the banana rather than just eating it straight up. I obviously can't provide a calorie count because that will depend on the size of your banana and how much of it you eat....

Melted chocolate plus chopped ginger and butterscotch pieces

You don't need an ingredients list or method for this really but...
Bananas - as ripe as you like, as many as you like
Chocolate - your favourite - dark, white, milk, flavoured
Cocktail sticks - to allow you to pick up your treat
Nuts/Ginger/Butterscotch/popping candy/whatever else you fancy - optional

- Slice the bananas, insert a cocktail stick and open freeze on a piece of parchment paper on a tray until fairly solid
- Melt the chocolate and prepare optional dippers if necessary (I chopped my ginger finely)
- Dip frozen banana into chocolate, then into dippers if desired.
- Return to freezer until you want to eat them. Store frozen.

Final product


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Funny Face Jam and Cream Sandwich Biscuits (Cookies)

I often wish that I had stronger willpower when it comes to resisting things I see that I could use to bake with. I'm sure I'd be a lot better off without some of the things I buy, but it'd also be a lot more boring! That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. 

Anyway, I recently saw some biscuit (cookie) cutters in Lakeland and couldn't resist buying them. I  then made the leap from buying them to actually using them (this happens less often than it should!). Having seen Ros of the More than Occasional Baker using them very successfully I decided I would use her simple sugar cookie recipe for my own attempts. You probably wouldn't guess from the content of this blog, but I actually eat more biscuits than cake, it's just that I don't make them very often. I have a tendency to burn biscuits and they just never seem very successful so it was with some trepidation I set out to make these biscuits.

I needn't have worried though, the recipe was easy to use, and along with Ros's tip about chilling the dough they were very successful, thanks Ros!

Bulging slightly!

Vanilla Sugar Cookies
125g butter
125g white caster sugar
1 egg
2tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour

To fill
50g butter
70g icing sugar
30g white chocolate, melted and cooled

- Preheat the oven to 175C/Gas 4. Line baking trays with parchment paper.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light.
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat again.
- Add the flour and fold in. Divide the mixture into two flat discs and refrigerate for around 30 minutes.
- Roll out to your desired thickness (a few mm is fine) and cut out your cookies. Place on a parchment lined baking tray.
- Return to the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
- Bake for around 10 minutes, until going light brown. Mine took a few minutes longer, but watch like a hawk because they'll overcook quite suddenly.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

When cold sandwich together with white chocolate buttercream (50g butter, creamed with 70g icing sugar and then 30g cooled melted white chocolate added) and the jam of your choice - I used blackcurrant.

Generously filled

These were great - I'll definitely have to make my own biscuits more often. They were a lot easier than I was expecting and the dough was really easy to work with too. It was easier when still chilled though, and when it warmed up and started to soften it became more difficult to work with. 

They went really well at work - the crisp biscuit worked well with the soft, sweet buttercream and the slightly sharp jam. In essence, very posh jammy dodgers! Some of my colleagues were greatly amused to find that when bitten into jam oozed out of the eyes of the biscuits - what can I say, I have colleagues with a slightly twisted sense of humour.... (They were right though, the eyes do tend to bulge a bit!)

I'm entering these into Teatime Treats, the theme this month being biscuits/cookies hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, cohosted by Kate of What Kate Baked.

I'm also entering them into Jac's Bookmarked Recipes - I was pleased to have made these quite quickly after bookmarking them and even more pleased that I got round to using my shiny new biscuit (cookie) cutters!


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