Pecan Pie Popcorn Naked Cake.

I love the trend for naked cakes (cakes with little or no icing on top). I have a sweet tooth but am finding a lot of buttercream and sugarpaste a bit too much when I eat it on a cake no matter how beautiful and delicious it looks.  This cake is the third and last cake I baked for our local village’s Spring Festival nearly a couple of weeks ago.  I had a full bag of pecan nuts which needed using up and also wanted to use up a bag of Sugar and Crumbs Toffee Apple Icing Sugar in the cupboard. These would work amazingly well with some Butterkist Toffee Popcorn to top the cake off.

I had already baked a carrot cake and a banana loaf as seen in my previous two blog posts.  By now it was Saturday afternoon and I still had to get this cake baked.  I needed to chop the pecan nuts and toast them first. This I did roughly with a small, sharp knife and then chucked them onto a baking tray. They were lightly toasted for about 10 minutes then left to cool down.

The cake itself was made by creaming together butter and sugar for a few minutes until the mixture became light and fluffy.  I used my hand held whisk to speed this up. After this I added in three eggs and half the quantity needed of milk, vanilla extract, self raising flour and baking powder. Then the rest was added in, all except I used four eggs the second time round making seven all together.  Once all the mixture was combined well, I folded in the toasted pecan nuts.

As you can see in the pictures, the cake is a triple layer cake. So I had to use three 20cm (8″) circular sandwich tins. These I greased and lined. I love the ready made baking parchment circles you can buy in varying diameters as they save the hassle of cutting out circles by hand when you’re pushed for time.

I was very impressed with the way the Popcorn Naked Cake turned out. Each layer rose beautifully in the tin and was left to cool down before turning out onto a rack.  While these were cooling down I made up some frosting.  It was a buttercream filling using butter, Toffee Apple Sugar and Crumbs Natural flavoured icing sugar and full fat cream cheese.  I know full fat cream cheese doesn’t sound healthy but using the low fat stuff just doesn’t work when you’re making icing. It goes all watery and separates. The icing was easy to spread and there was just enough to decorate the two filling layers and the top.  About half a packet of Toffee Butterkist popcorn adorned the top of the cake.

At the Spring Festival that afternoon after dropping off the three cakes I had baked my mum and I sampled two of my cakes. We cut each piece in half. Apart from the cream cheese icing in the Naked Pecan Popcorn Cake being a bit too sweet for me, the main cake was delicious.  I also had to watch the popcorn as I had refridgerated the cake and it did taste a little bit soggy. What I really needed to do was to have added the popcorn to the top just prior to serving the cake. Having said that, I’ll definitely be making this cake again. It tasted fabulous and looked it as well.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Carrot and Apple Cake with a Maple Cream Cheese Frosting.

You can’t beat a good carrot cake can you? Well maybe there are lots of other favourite cakes out there but I can’t resist carrot cake.  I’ve baked lots of them over the years and tried different recipes.

I’ve been enjoying testing out a few recipes from Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake” recently.  Our neighbouring village had it’s Spring Festival a couple of weekends ago and I always like to donate a cake or few to the cafe that the PTA run in the primary school hall.  As my son went to that school a few years back I always like to support it as he had such a happy time there.

Carrot Cakes always seem to be popular with lots of people and this one from Lorraine Pascale was no exception. This version contains not only grated carrots but also some grated apple.  This works extremely well with carrot and adds some natural sweetness. To add maple syrup to the cream cheese frosting was also a delicious touch which worked really well.

On the Saturday morning, the day before the Spring Festival I got up really early.  It had been a crazy busy week working full time teaching a Reception class in a local school and I was due to be there another week afterwards.   The night before I had gone off to bed at 9.30pm absolutely exhausted and laid there thinking would I have time to get everything done over the weekend? Thank heavens it was a Bank Holiday that weekend. I was up at 6am and was already baking.  I had to be at my beauty therapist friend’s house for my appointment at 10am and I had to have a headstart.  I find if I get up early without distractions then I get loads done.

I was so grateful to the grating attachment on my new food processor to help me out with grating the carrots and the apple.  I don’t mind grating by hand but I was in a rush and getting a machine to do the hard work really helped to cut the time down.  The carrots and apple came out a little bit chunkier than I would have liked but it did add to the texture of the cake.  In other carrot cakes I’ve added walnuts or pecan nuts but this one doesn’t contain nuts at all. It doesn’t have any dried fruit in either, like raisins or sultanas.

The recipe itself is simple to put together as all the ingredients are weighed out and put into one bowl.  This includes using vegetable oil as the fat instead of butter as is traditionally seen in a carrot cake or a muffin mixture.  Along with this was some light brown soft sugar, eggs, the apple and carrot, some self raising flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice, cinnamon and some vanilla extract.

When all the batter had been mixed together it was divided between two greased and lined circular loose bottomed sandwich tins. The cakes were then baked in my oven for about 30-35 minutes at around 160oC in my fan oven. While they were baking I went upstairs, sorted out some washing, put some washing away and tried to get my son’s uniform ironed for work. All while I kept an eye and an ear out for the oven timer.

Half an hour or so later the cakes were ready and out of the oven.  I left them to cool in their tins on the work top on top of a wire rack and headed down to see my friend to get my nails done.

In the afternoon I got round to decorating the carrot cake.  The frosting was a traditional cream cheese one but with the addition of maple syrup. Maple syrup goes beautifully with carrot cake and I was happy I had just enough in the cupboard from pancake day.  I’m not the neatest cake decorator and to be honest I found it really tricky to keep my frosting neat. My mum was standing next to me watching me ice it and she got her fork out and fluffed up the icing.  This wasn’t the original way I wanted to decorate the cake with neat, smooth edges but the more I tried to smooth the icing the more it wanted to fall off!  To finish off I used a dozen sugar carrots bought from a pack found in the supermarket a few weeks back.

The following morning I dropped all three cakes baked down at the school.  They were gratefully received and to help the servers in the cafe I pre-cut the cakes for them.  When my mum and I went back down to the festival a couple of hours later I noticed that the carrot cake had completely gone. It had sold out.  That made me so happy.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Hummingbird Cake- Mary Berry Everyday.

As soon as I saw Mary Berry’s new book Everyday I had to bake the Hummingbird Cake recipe from the book. A while back I’d made some Hummingbird Cupcakes which had been very popular with everyone who tasted one.  So I was keen to test out a big cake version of this “Southern US classic which takes banana cake up a notch,” according to Mary’s recipe introduction.  Mary also states that “It makes for a moist, substantial cake, beautifully offset by the tangy cream cheese icing,”

Baking the Hummingbird cake would also be a great way of testing out some Sugar and Crumbs Banana Split icing sugar I had got in my baking cupboard. I had bought it before Christmas and wanted to use it in something but not had the chance. As banana is one of the key flavours in a Hummingbird Cake, along with pineapple, this banana flavour would be a perfect additional dimension to the cream cheese icing.

Into a large mixing bowl went all the dry ingredients. Self raising flour, baking powder, cinnamon, caster sugar all went in as well as some chopped walnuts.  I mixed them all up together and then put them to one side to prepare the rest of the cake.

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In another bowl I mashed up two large, ripe bananas. These were then added to another mixing bowl along with some drained and chopped pineapple chunks, two beaten eggs, a spoonful of vanilla extract and some sunflower oil.

Both bowls were combined together and dry mixture was folded in carefully.  The mixture reminded me of a muffin batter.  This was then divided between 2 greased 20cm/ or 8″ diameter circular tins.  The cake baked for about 25 minutes in my fan oven. When it came out it had risen beautifully and smelled fabulous. I went off to put some laundry away and to do some hoovering.  By the time I’d finished that job it was time to take the cakes out of the tin and put them on a wire rack to cool down.

The Hummingbird cake does not need much decoration.  It’s all in the taste of the cake.  In the illustraion Mary uses a cream cheese frosting for the filling and the top of the cake. I wanted to add a little bit more yet I didn’t want to overdo things.  In the end I chopped up some more walnuts and sprinkled them on top to finish off.

The cream cheese frosting is made with softened butter, full fat cream cheese, vanilla extract and icing sugar. As mentioned before I substituted the plain icing sugar for the Sugar and Crumbs’ Banana Split icing sugar. I left out the vanilla extract.  This gave the cream cheese mixture a delicate banana flavouring. It was wonderfully creamy and so easy to spread on the cake.

As the icing contained cream cheese I chose to put the cake in the fridge to keep and this helped enormously.

A huge hit with everyone but the worst thing was that I kept craving more. I longed to have another slice and having the cake in the house tested my weakening willpower to breaking point.Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books February 2014- Flora’s Famous Courgette Cake from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Last Sunday I needed a pudding for our lunch and thought about baking something from the Cake chapter of How To Be A Domestic Goddess.  My favourite bake so far from that chapter has been the Boston Cream Pie but my eye has also been on the Courgette Cake in the same chapter.  The picture of it in the book looked so pretty with the pastel green pistachios sprinkled on top and a pale green layer of lime curd gently seeping out of the middle of the cake.  I definitely wanted to give it a try but I knew my family would not be keen on anything with courgettes in it.  They hate them with a passion. If I use any courgettes in my cooking they usually get fished out and put on the side of the plate.  I hoped, though that in a cake they wouldn’t notice them mixed in with other ingredients.  After all they troughed down the  Honey and Courgette Loaf baked from The Great British Bake Off Everyday cookbook when I baked it last summer!

Nigella mentions in her recipe introduction that the recipe was actually given to her by Flora Woods who worked in Harrod’s Waterstones when How To Eat was published.  She also mentions that “if courgette cake sounds dodgy to you, think about carrot cake for a moment, this is just an adaptation of that (though if you feel it’s safer, don’t tell people it’s made out of courgettes until after they’ve eaten it)!” I reckoned that would work with my family if they were well disguised!

So, last Sunday afternoon in between ironing and cleaning I attempted to wow my family with the pretty cake.  Read on to see how I got on with baking it:

Nigella mentions that you can add raisins to the mixture if you want.  I didn’t have any, only mixed fruit so I left them out of the cake.

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I grated two courgettes and tried to drain excess water out of them.
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In a bowl I combined eggs, oil and caster sugar.
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The eggs, sunflower oil and sugar were beaten together until creamy.
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Then the dry ingredients were added to the wet ones. These were self raising flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.
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Once this was mixed I then added in the grated courgette.

The two cakes were baked in greased and lined 8″ diameter sandwich tins at 180oC for roughly half an hour.  This wasn;t a problem and they didn’t look too bad when they came out of the oven.  I had my cooled lemon curd ready which wasn’t what I wanted to put in the cake at all after my disastrous attempt at making it earlier!

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Out of the tins and cooling on a wire rack in my kitchen.
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The lumpy lemon curd made earlier on that day to use as the filling in the cake.

I’d read somewhere that using low fat cream cheese is a no-no for making frosting with.  It just doesn’t work properly but sadly I hadn’t got any full fat cheese so I had to use the low fat stuff. As I mixed up the icing it just wouldn’t thicken and I became so frustrated. The icing was sloppy, gloopy and ran all down the sides of the cake instead of being spread all over the top of it.  I was really disappointed in it.

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Making up the cream cheese frosting to top the cake with. Unfortunately I used Morrison’s own brand low fat cheese which was far too runny as I didn’t have full fat Philadelphia. Big mistake, it just wouldn’t thicken up!
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The finished cake. The thick and creamy icing turned out to be thin and runny.
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The runny icing totally messed up the cake and dripped down the side of it. What a cake wreck!

To finish, I grated plain chocolate on top of the cake as I knew my children don’t like pistachios.  In the end I think the grated chocolate was the best part of the cake for them!

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We had a small slice for our pudding. As you can see not much was eaten!

I brought the cake out at pudding time and my son said “What the hell is that?”  I said it was a cake, which it was!  When I cut into it, he said “Ugh, it’s got bogies in it!” Both my son and daughter refused to try some and said they would go without.  My husband thought it was bits of lime zest in the cake and didn’t think it was courgette in it until after when he said he couldn’t taste any lime!  He didn’t like it and neither did I.  The lemon curd was very sweet and cloying and I ended up eating two mouthfuls of my cake.  I was very disappointed in it.

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A slice of courgette cake, the courgette is clearly visible which put the kids off straightaway and the lemon curd didn’t look very appetising.

Sadly the rest of the cake did not get eaten as none of us liked it in the end. In hindsight I should have chosen another cake from the chapter, there was also a heavenly sounding Butterscotch Cake which I should have gone for instead. Oh well, you live and learn!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Pumpkin Bars from The Hummingbird Bakery

Several months ago I was given a copy of the latest Hummingbird Bakery recipe book_ Home Sweet Home from The Hummingbird Bakery. When I first had it I baked several of the recipes but then got sidetracked by other recipe books.

The other week I was shopping in Northallerton on my day off.  I always head to Lewis and Cooper for cake decorating supplies and for other foodie treats.  These usually end up being Shepherd’s Purse cheese which my hubby and I adore.  This last time though as well as the cheese stash I spotted some cans of Libby’s unsweetened pumpkin pie puree.  I have bought this in the past to make Pumpkin Muffins with and have also used it at school when baking Pumpkin Pie towards a Thanksgiving celebration.  You can’t often find it in the shops, though Waitrose sometimes has it if I’m lucky.  So, I grabbed a tin thinking it would be useful for pumpkin muffins.  But, looking through my recipe books I spotted a delicious sounding recipe for Pumpkin Bars in the Hummingbird Bakery book.  The bars were baked like a massive rectangular traybake and topped with a cream cheese icing and sprinkled with desiccated coconut.  It sounded too delicious for words.

So, finally last Sunday I decided to have a go at making the Pumpkin Bars and would take them into school to share with my work colleagues.  Here’s how I made them:

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For this recipe you need a 400g can of LIbby’s unsweetened pumpkin puree.
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This is what the contents of the pumpkin tin look like! No, it is NOT cat sick as my 13 year old son said.
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The puree was whisked up with 4 large eggs, some sugar and some sunflower oil in a large mixing bowl.
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In another bowl all the dry ingredients were weighed out- plain flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon and ground mixed spice. It smelled heavenly and autumnal.
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All the wet and dry ingredients were folded in together.
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The mixture was poured into my large traybake tin which had already been greased and lined.
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After about 1/2 hour baking time the traybake came out of the oven and sat cooling on the rack until it was completely cold. It had risen well.
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The frosting was made by whisking together softened butter and full fat icing sugar.
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I then added some icing sugar to the mixture so it was sweetened slightly.
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This made a lovely, creamy frosting with an easy spreadable texture.
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The frosting was spread onto the traybake and dessicated coconut was sprinkled onto the top of it. I then cut the traybake into 16 large bars!
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One of the bars close up!

I was pleased with the way the pumpkin bars had turned out but I have yet to try one as I am trying (but not doing very well) to lose weight.  I kept four of the bars and put them in a container for the freezer to try out next weekend.  The rest went into work to share with my colleagues.  They seemed to go down well because I looked in the box on the Tuesday morning and only 2 out of the 12 were left!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx