The Speculaas Spice Company- Chewy Speculaas Blondies and Speculaas Cookies.

I enjoyed my baking session using the Speculaas Spice miz.
I enjoyed my baking session using the Speculaas Spice miz.

I must admit I’d not heard of speculaas spice before.  So when Steven from The Speculaas Spice Company asked me if I would like to try a sample of his special Speculaas spice mix I was intrigued.

A little package arrived in the post last week along with some background information about The Speculaas Spice Company.  Speculaas is a special spice mix that originates from The Netherlands and many families had their own spice recipes.  Steven grew up in Amsterdam and wanted to recreate the smell and taste of the Speculaas biscuits his own mother baked at home.

The special Speculaas Spice mix packet and background information sent to me from The Speculaas Spice Company.
The special Speculaas Spice mix packet and background information sent to me from The Speculaas Spice Company.

The spices used in the VanDotsch Speculaas spice mix are organic or Fair Trade wherever possible and do not contain any preservatives.  There are nine different spices in the blend including ginger, cloves, cinnamon and six other aromatic flavours.

If you want to find out more about The Speculaas Spice Company then here are the details:

Steven Dotsch, The Speculaas Spice Company

www. speculaasspice.co.uk

Email: info@speculaasspice.co.uk

Tel: 020 8374 8718

To follow on Twitter: @vanDotschSpices

There are some delicious recipes to try out on the website but I was keen to try out the spices in two recipes I’d always fancied baking from the very first Edd Kimber book “The Boy Who Bakes”.  One  recipe was for some mouthwatering Blondies, also containing chocolate and hazelnuts, the other for some aromatic Speculaas cookies.  I thought that the Spice mix would transform the bakes onto another level. There were enough spices to bake both recipes and as soon as I opened the little packet the wonderful smell escaped out into the kitchen.  It made me very hungry.  One of my favourite aromas in the world is the smell of gingerbread men baking and I was immediately transported back to my childhood.  I am sure the Speculaas spice does the same for lots of Dutch children!

Edd Kimber says in his recipe introduction that he is “in love with speculaas.. what’s not to love?”  I have baked blondies before but not with spices added to them, this was going to be very interesting.  So, I greased an 8″ square tin and got stuck in!

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I used about three teaspoonfuls of speculaas spice mix in the blondies.
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Some butter was melted in a small pan.
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The spice mix was added to the melted butter, cooked for a couple of minutes and then I added some brown sugar to heat through.
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The melted butter, spice mix and brown sugar. This was taken off the heat and left to cool for a few minutes.
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The other ingredients were added. First the dry ones, such as plain flour, baking powder and salt were folded into the melted butter mixture. Then I added in a bar of chopped white chocolate and some hazelnuts.
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The batter was poured into the prepared tin and then baked in the oven for about 35 minutes. It took a little bit longer as I used a square tin and not a longer rectangular one. 
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The brownies had more depth than the ones in the picture because of the size of the tin. I had to adjust the baking time, it needed about 10-15 minutes longer than Edd suggested. This didn’t cause any problems, the blondies came out gooey and chewy as expected.
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The finished blondies- cut up and on a serving plate. The smell was absolutely gorgeous and it took all my courage not to scoff the lot there and then!

I was very impressed with the Speculaas spices and I hope to buy some more in the future.  I can see the comforting  spices working very well in cookies, gingerbread and other bakes that you would eat or make in the Autumn and Winter months.  As I was so entranced by the spices I decided to use the rest of them up in a second recipe from The Boy Who Bakes.  This time it was a recipe for Speculaas cookies.

Edd also says in the biscuit introduction that this is a “spicy biscuit with plenty of crunch” The recipe he states is not a traditional one but has the flavour.

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First, I put plain flour, the remainder of the spice mix, some salt, baking powder and sugar into a large bowl and mixed them together.
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To this I added cubed butter which I rubbed in to the flour and sugar mixture.

After this I added in one whole egg, another egg yolk and binded the mixture together to form a large ball of dough.  After this, Edd says to cut out the dough shapes and to chill them on a baking tray.  I didn’t have time to do this so I baked them straightaway as soon as I had cut them out.  The biscuits in the picture were circular ones but I fancied trying out two different shapes. I cut out plain circles and also a fluted rectangle.  The recipe went very far and I got loads of biscuits out of the dough.

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The finished circular Speculaas cookies warm out of the oven, deliciously aromatic and sprinkled generously with caster sugar.
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The rectangular biscuits.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Brunch Burritos- John Whaite Bakes At Home.

Over the past few Saturdays we’ve been so busy with one thing and another I thought it would be nice if we could all sit down together as a family for our lunch.  It’s always a quick snacky lunch on a Saturday as we’re so busy doing jobs and going here, there and everywhere.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  My son went out with his mates round town, my daughter went off with her Dad on another errand and I was left at home alone.  Was I enjoying the quiet freedom of being at home by myself? Well at least I got the bathrooms cleaned and the hoovering done.

I’d planned to cook the Brunch Burritos from John Whaite Bakes At Home for our lunch.   I don’t think I’ve ever had brunch in my life.  Maybe before I had children I would have a late breakfast at the weekend over the Sunday papers.  Now when people are eating brunch, I’m eating lunch as I’ve got up so early! The recipe serves one person but I’d quadrupled the quantities when doing my shopping. So at least I could work out how to cook it for one person and what a delicious and filling meal it was!

Here’s how to make the Brunch Burrito:

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I chopped half a red onion, a quarter of a yellow pepper, about 50g of chorizo sausage and sprinkled some dried chilli on top of it. These were softened gently without oil in a frying pan.
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In another frying pan I heated up a spoonful of oil.
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To this I added two beaten eggs and cooked them as if I was making a plain omelette.
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The cooked omelette is put on top of a warmed tortilla wrap.
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I added half a tin of baked beans to the chorizo mixture and warmed it through. Then I put the beany mixture on top of the tortilla.
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There was a lot of filling in the burrito so I had to eat it with a knife and fork!

I was so impressed with the burrito, it was tasty and filling.  So a couple of days later on the Monday night I cooked four of them for us for our tea to use up the remaining ingredients.  I’m so glad I did as even my fussy son enjoyed it.  My hubby asked if I could grate cheese over it next time or add some sour cream.

Thankyou once again to John Whaite for such a delicious and speedy recipe, not just for brunch but for lunch and dinner too!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cookie Dough Brownies- John Whaite Bakes At Home.

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Cookie Dough Brownies- another example of heaven on a plate!

My family are obsessed with brownies and who can blame them?  It’s just heaven to sink your teeth into some chocolatey gooiness.  My fourteen year old son loves any excuse to bake or eat brownies and had he not been at school when I baked them, I’m sure he would have been in the kitchen with me hovering around to lick the bowl out!

So,  last Friday when I planned to bake John Whaite’s Cookie Dough Brownies from his latest book John Whaite Bakes At Home, I knew I would be popular.

  I realised l I couldn’t bake the brownies straightaway as  I’d forgotten to buy plain chocolate!  So off I went to the shop, came back with what they had to offer plain chocolate wise (Bournville) and got ready to start.  It wasn’t a quick recipe to knock up but it was worth it!

So, once I was ready to get down to baking I started on the cookie dough part of the recipe. I then realised this was going to take much longer than I thought as the cookie dough has to be frozen in little balls first before you get round to making the brownie batter.  Thankfully I didn’t have a deadline for baking them or I would have been in trouble.

The cookie dough was quickly made up using a rubbing in and getting the dough together method then I separated the dough out into about 16 walnut sized balls.  These were then put in my freezer (easier said than done, my freezer is tiny!) on a lined baking tray.  I had to move everything about to fit the two small trays in.  I yearn for one of those massive American fridge freezers sometimes that fits more than a bag of peas or a pint of milk in.

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The cookie dough balls put onto the lined baking tray and ready for the freezer.

After a couple of hours in the freezer it was early afternoon and I wanted to get on with the brownies before my son came home from school.  I got on with making up the brownie batter.  Usually my brownies are made with Green and Blacks Organic plain chocolate but I couldn’t find any in the local shop so I had to use Bournville.  I like Bournville, though I know some chocolate snobs would be horrified to hear me say that!

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The chocolate and butter were melted gently in the microwave.
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To this I added in two free range eggs..
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and then some mayonnaise! Yes, you read right, mayonnaise! Well I know it sounds an odd ingredient for a cake but then again it does contain eggs and oil!
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Now for some milk and some vanilla extract along with some sugar.
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Finally, I folded in some plain flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Just look at that, yum, yum!

Out came the cookie dough balls which had frozen well and these were then put in the bottom of my greased square tin. I spaced them well apart, thinking that there would be about 12-16 pieces of brownie, so you would get at least one large cookie dough ball in it!

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Cookie dough balls in the greased tin.
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The brownie batter was then carefully poured all over the top of the cookie dough balls.

The brownies baked in the oven for about 25 minutes and the kitchen smelled wonderful.  I had been so careful eating healthily so far this week but the brownies would soon be my downfall.  I hoped I could hide them so that I wouldn’t be tempted.

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Cut up on a plate to share round the following day. Just how I like brownies, all fudgy and gooey inside with the cookie dough flavour and texture complimenting the brownies.
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It was very difficult to see the cookie dough in the cut pieces in the photo as they were inside the pieces of brownie. But believe me they were there and they were just sublime.

When my son came home he begged to have a brownie there and then.  He wasn’t very happy when I said no but he could have one for tea.  He kept trying to wheedle one out of me but I was having none of it.  Finally we ate one for pudding, I succumbed to the temptation and it was wonderful.  The other pieces went in the freezer for another time.

Well John Whaite, you have created a winning recipe with these brownies and I am sure my family would love me all the more if I made them again and again, thankyou so much!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Empire Biscuits on The Isle of Mull.

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Empire biscuits, a UK treat but especially popular in Scotland.

Over May half term week my family went on holiday to the Isle of Mull. It’s a place very special to  me and to my hubby.  We had loved trips to the island before we met, he watched the Isle of Mull Rally which takes place every October and I had been to Mull a couple of times before as a student on travels around the UK.  So when we first started going out together about 18 years ago,  we chose to spend a week on the Isle of Mull as our first holiday together.  We always said we would go back and visit when the kids were older and that’s what we ended up doing.

We stayed in a very remote, midge infested, but beautiful part of the island near Lochbuie in the south.  Our cottage overlooked a loch and was absolutely stunning.  It was comfortable, immaculately clean and was definitely a home from home.  The only thing that spoilt it was all the midges which swarmed round the front porch and somehow managed to get in through the bathroom and our bedroom window.  I was covered in bites and one became infected when I came home.  But apart from that we had a fantastic time, wandering around Tobermory, playing on the beaches at Calgary Bay and on Iona, exploring Duart Castle and eating of course!

Now whenever I have a UK holiday I love to try out the local baking delicacies.  I don’t really think about sweet stuff when I go to Spain or something like that but in the UK it’s definitely about the cakes!  There was one bake I couldn’t get enough of and that was the Empire Biscuit.

I’ve had Empire Biscuits before and I’m sure they used to sell them in my local Sainsbury’s years ago on the bakery counter.  They are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with jam and have glace icing spread on top with a cherry to finish.  But they’re very popular in Scotland and according to Wikipedia you can also get them with Jelly Tots on.

On the ferry over to Mull I had the 4 o’clock munchies and we went up to the Coffee Bar on the top deck.  I ended up buying a cup of tea and an Empire biscuit for myself.  It was just what I needed and kept me going until we had dinner that evening.  But throughout the week all I could think about were Empire Biscuits.  We enjoyed some Selkirk Bannock which I bought from a local Spar shop but I wanted more Empires!  On the last day of our holiday we were in Tobermory and I popped into the bakery on the High Street.  They had some scrummy looking Empires for sale and they were massive!  I bought four to take back to the cottage with us to have with a cup of tea and they were absolutely delicious.  The shortbread was perfect, which melted in the mouth and the icing wasn’t too sweet and sickly.  A perfect treat and ever since I’ve wanted to bake some Empires for myself.

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The mouthwatering Empire biscuits which I bought in the Tobermory Bakery. Absolute heaven!

Last Friday was my usual day off work and I had been really busy all day catching up on chores.  I hadn’t baked anything for nearly three weeks, apart from a quiche  for last Sunday lunch and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms.  So I got Googling and found out all about Empire biscuits through Wikipedia.  I decided to use my usual shortbread biscuit recipe but my biscuits would come out smaller as I couldn’t get in the garage to get my big circular cutters out.  We had a workman putting a new back door on and it was chaos. So I used my small circular cutter I found in the kitchen drawer from last time I baked cookies.

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Plain flour, sugar and salt is mixed in to a large bowl.
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Cold, small cubes of butter are weighed out and added in to the mixing bowl.
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After rubbing in the mixture and adding a large free range egg, I formed the dough into a large ball. This was then put into the fridge wrapped up in cling film to chill for about half an hour.

My daughter, who is on study leave at the moment doing her GCSE’s came downstairs and asked what I was doing.  She asked if she could roll out the dough and cut out the biscuits.  I let her as she is a great baker.  I just wish she would use a pallette knife to put the biscuits on the tray, not her hands!  Grrr! Anyway, she rolled the biscuits out beautifully and we looked forward to them being ready to ice.    The workman, as if on cue asked if I knew where the nearest cafe was for when he finished.  He was probably hoping for a biscuit but they weren’t ready then.

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The biscuits laid out and spaced well apart on baking trays ready to be put into the oven.

The biscuits were left on the tray to cool while I went out to walk the dog.  Then out came some seedless raspberry jam and the biscuits were sandwiched together.

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The biscuits now sandwiched together with seedless raspberry jam.

When this was done, I made up a quick glace icing but in my usual rush I made it a bit too runny.  It still spread ok and made the biscuits look presentable.  Finally, for the finishing touch I added half a glace cherry to each one.

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The finished Empire biscuits, left on the cooling rack so that the icing would set.

So the verdict?  These biscuits were just absolutely divine.  We all had one each, hubby and I had one sat outside in the sun with a cup of tea before I got on with the dinner and he said they were lovely.  That’s a compliment from him!  The rest got hidden away in a biscuit tin!

Now, if I ever realise my dream of owning a tearoom then Empire biscuits will definitely be on my menu!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books- Brand New Challenge for June 2014.

A new month.  Gosh we’re nearly halfway through the year, that is so scary!  It doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago since I was wishing everyone a Happy New Year.  Anyway I’m glad of the longer days, the light nights and the better weather (well mostly, we do live in the UK remember!)

So on my SmartCookieSam blog a new month means a new book to start baking from for my monthly Cooking The Books Challenge.  This month’s choice has been a really easy one to choose from, a book which has been out only a few weeks but I’ve been keen to bake from since it arrived on my doormat!

So drum roll, who is it then?  Well this time I’ve chosen none other than the fabulous John Whaite, who won series 3 of The Great British Bake Off in 2012.  He has now got two books out:  John Whaite Bakes and John Whaite Bakes At Home.  I’m going to be trying out recipes from the At Home one.  Now a lot of John’s recipes with their interesting and sophisticated flavour combinations appeal to me but not to my children. So I might struggle with recipe choices here.  Time consuming recipes aren’t going to go down well this month either, there’s lots going on Chez SmartCookieSam at the moment.

The front cover of John Whaite Bakes At Home.  Image courtesy of Google Images.
The front cover of John Whaite Bakes At Home. Image courtesy of Google Images.

Looking through the book, this is what I plan to have a go at.

Fast Fabulous Breakfasts:  Although I love cookies, I wouldn’t think to eat them at breakfast.  But I’d love to have a go at the Apple, Macadamia Nut and Oatmeal Cookies.  They sound delicious at any time of the day, not just for breakfast!

Leisurely Brunches:  What’s a leisurely brunch then?  I’ve never had one!  With two children, a horse and a dog breakfast is very early in our house.  So when people eat brunch, that’s usually my lunchtime!  Anyway, I still fancy trying out John’s Brunch Burrito at any time of the day and it would go down well with all of my family.

Afternoon Tea and Patisserie:  After looking through this chapter sadly I couldn’t find something that wouldn’t be too time consuming.  If I have time over the summer holidays or had an occasion to bake it I’d love to bake the  Choco-Berry Frasier Cake.  Instead I’ll bake two things from another chapter.

Family Bakes:  Instead of a bake from the Afternoon Tea chapter I’m baking two things from the Family Bakes one instead.  This month I will be helping at a neighbouring village’s Open Gardens where I am a member of their WI.  We do afternoon teas and coffees so I plan to bake the Lemon Sherbet Cake and some Aussie Crunch to take along as my contribution to the cake stall.

Picnics:  Now there were lots of delicious picnic recipes in the book but I just have to bake the Cookie Dough Brownies.  Whether we will have them on a picnic or not depends on the weather!

Friendship Feasts:  As I’m a bit of a Bundtaholic (is there such a word?) I plan to bake the Fig, Pecan and Orange Bundt Cake.  I don’t have the Heritage Bundt pan featured in the picture but I’m sure my Jubilee one would work just as well.  I’m not going to use figs in it though as I don’t like them, maybe dates instead?

Special Occasions:  Again I found a lot of these recipes were delicious sounding but I wouldn’t have the occasion to bake them right now.  I thought I’d bake a version of the Wedding Party Rings and take them along into school for the staff room biscuit tin!

The final chapter is Indulgent Treats and I thought I’d have a go at the Boozy Brambleberry, Honey and Oatmeal Meringue Messes as a pud for Father’s Day.

So watch this space to see how I get on!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Venetian Zabaglione Cake from Delia’s Cakes.

For the final recipe in my May Cooking The Books Challenge I had to bake something from the Dessert Cakes chapter of Delia’s Cakes.  I looked at all the recipes and wanted something different, something I’d not tried before.  I kept going back to the Venetian Zabaglione Cake, a recipe I’d originally seen back in Delia’s How To Cook Book Three.  This was also to be my fourth and final contribution to the Afternoon Teas down at the Village Hall in my village Open Gardens.

 Delia says the cake is “my adaptation of a cake still served in the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice.  You can eat it sipping a Bellini cocktail or with coffee at any time of day.”  Nearly two years ago I was lucky to go to Venice and the Italian Lakes for my 40th birthday treat.  It was so busy that we didn’t go to Harry’s Bar so I never got to sip Bellinis there but I did enjoy a lovely pistachio ice cream from a back street gelateria.  It was delicious.  But I did enjoy a Bellini on a cafe terrace overlooking the beautiful Lake Como.  Since then I’ve never had another Bellini but the memory of that perfect day stays with me all the time!

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St Mark’s Square in Venice.
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My Bellini cocktail with olives and other nibbles on the side.

So the cake sounded perfect to me, except for one thing.  It needed Marsala wine in it and I hadn’t got any.  Ages ago I’d bought some to make a tiramisu with, put the remainder in our drinks cabinet.  But it ended up being used in other recipes and I wasn’t going to spend loads of money on something I wouldn’t need.  Instead I added another Italian liqueur to the recipe, some Amaretto which was extremely strong but tasted fab.

The Zabaglione filling had to be made first and this is how it was started off:

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Egg yolks were whisked together, then some sugar was added to the mix.
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Then I added to the egg yolks, some flour and the Amaretto and kept whisking.

The mixture was added to a saucepan and heated.  I kept on stirring this until it thickened and then transferred it to a dish to cool and set a little.  This was a bit like making a custard. I then popped it into the fridge while I baked the actual cake.

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Here is the zabaglione mixture in the dish ready to be popped into the fridge.

The cake itself was an all in one vanilla sponge.  At this time my phone was on charge so I didn’t take any pictures.  It was baked in a 20cm/ 8″ diameter deep and round tin and then cut in half horizontally.  This was then left for a couple of hours until the filling and icing was ready to use.

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Out came the filling when the cake was ready to decorate. I whipped up the original filling with some double cream.

To decorate the cake, a generous portion was put on top of one half of the cake, the other cake was put on top of it and then I added it to the top and sides.  I didn’t read the recipe properly and wondered why there wasn’t enough icing left to decorate the cake.  According to the recipe, the remainder just goes on the side of the cake and the top is dusted with icing sugar.  I ignored this and spread the icing all over the top as well. No wonder you could see bare cake through the thin layer!

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The result, a bit messy but I hoped it would taste fine in the end.

I must admit I had serious doubts about this cake, the Amaretto was very strong and I was worried about whether people would like the taste or enjoy it in the hot weather.  I did put a warning note next to the cake about the alcohol content but when I went down to the Village Hall I didn’t see the cake on display.  My hubby said he had seen it out earlier on that day, does that mean it had gone?  I don’t know.  All I hope if it was served was that people enjoyed it!

I did like baking the Zabaglione Cake although it was very fiddly and it would be great to try it with the Marsala in, as it should have been made.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Ultimate Carrot Cake- Delia’s Cakes.

Carrot Cake is one of those cakes you see everywhere and there are many versions of it.  Over the years since I started baking I’ve made a fair few, some fantastic and some you’d want to chuck in the bin.  This version though, is horrifically calorific seeing as the icing contains mascarpone! Heavenly, but gorgeous!  Anyway, it wasn’t me who was going to eat it, this was another cake heading down to the Village Hall for our Open Gardens last month.  It was also another recipe from my Cooking The Books Challenge, this time I chose to bake The Ultimate Carrot Cake from Delia’s Cakes

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Eggs, dark brown soft sugar and sunflower oil were mixed together in a large bowl first.

In another bowl I added all the dry ingredients, which included self raising flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda.  These were combined carefully with the egg mixture, closely followed by grated carrot, dessicated coconut (which I’d never put in a carrot cake before), sultanas and pecan nuts.  What a heavenly combination! No wonder Delia called it the Ultimate Carrot Cake!

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The mixture ready to be popped in the oven.

As you’ve probably guessed I’m a bit behind with the blogging at the moment.  There’s been a lot going on.  So I’m talking about a cake I made over three weeks ago but as I love baking carrot cakes this one I had to say was a joy to make.  When they came out of the oven it took all my courage to not bite into the cakes there and then.  But I had to restrain myself and get on with making up the icing.

The icing was made by whipping together two tubs of mascarpone, some ground cinnamon, brown sugar and a small amount of orange juice to add flavour.  I forgot I needed to add a syrup glaze to the top of the cake first ,though!

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The luscious cinnamon mascarpone icing.
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The carrot cakes cooling down on my cake rack. They were baked in two 18cm or 7″ diameter sandwich cake tins.

While the cakes were cooling I made some carrot toppers out of sugarpaste to decorate the cake with.

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The side of the cake.
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As seen from the top!

The cake went down to our Village Hall with the other three cakes I’d baked and I was really pleased to see it had nearly all gone when I went down there with my mum in the early afternoon.  As it was a warm day I was hoping there wouldn’t be a problem with the icing going all runny but it was fine.

Definitely another winner here and one I’d love to bake again.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx