Chocolate Chequerboard Cake.

img_1310Well, I can’t believe I started the New Year with good intentions.  I thought this year I would get myself back on track with my blog and update it more regularly.  All very well until I went back to work.  In the supply teaching world the Spring term is often the busiest for me. Each night I think I’m going to get that blog post written and it has just stayed in draft form for yet another night.  And now we’re nearly halfway through February. How did that happen?

Last month I didn’t bake much at all.  I’m trying my hardest not to have sweet stuff in at home as I’m doing Slimming World.  With 16lbs lost to date and another 16lbs to my target weight, I don’t want to undo all my hard work. Then again I’ve got to live, too.  That includes meeting up with my friends and also going to my much loved Clandestine Cake Club events.  About three weeks ago my friend Linda, who is the organiser for the Headingley and Meanwood branch of cake club, organised an event at East of Arcadia in Meanwood.  A lovely, welcoming venue and the event’s theme was “New Year, New Cake”.

I thought January is the perfect opportunity to try out something new, whether it is a new flavour, a new recipe or even a new way of decorating a cake. Fot me it had to be a new recipe combined with decorating a cake.  For once I was going to bake something that wasn’t a bundt but would still look and taste amazing.  While looking through a Green and Blacks Organic chocolate recipe book which my sister in law gave me one Christmas, I stumbled upon the perfect cake. A chocolate chequerboard cake which looked really impressive.

 

Chequerboard cakes don’t look as complicated and as fiddly as you might think.  I thought you needed a special tin or fancy cutting skills but it can all be done with a large plain piping nozzle and two large piping bags. One filled with chocolate cake mix, the other with vanilla.  You pipe concentric circles in contrasting colours by alternating them on each layer. This is so when the cake is assembled the contrasting colour and flavour is directly on top of the other one. Looks very effective when finished and if the cake is completely covered in icing nobody can tell what it looks like inside!

The Green and Blacks Chocolate Recipe Book which my sister in law gave me a couple of years back.  

It was a Monday morning, the day before the cake club.  I hadn’t got any supply work booked in until later that week and was feeling like January had got off to a slow and boring start.  The weather was foul and miserable with a damp, low fog that hung in the air.  I didn’t want to go out so the warmth of the kitchen appealed to me.  I thought as the phone hadn’t rung, I was safe.  I greased the three sandwich  tins I would need for my cake and began to get out the ingredients.  Just as I reached into the cupboard to get out my scales my phone rings. It’s one of the agencies I work through offering me work for that afternoon.  I say yes, quickly put everything away and go off to get showered and changed.

So my cake ended up being baked on the very same day of the cake club.  Fast forward to Tuesday morning.  The weather is still cold, wet and lousy but after walking the dog and dropping my son off at the bus stop I was ready to try again. As my photos show, there were a lot of interesting parts in making the cake but it was worth it for the impressive results.

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The cake needed a sugar soaking syrup to add to the cake when it was baked. So the first step was to make up the syrup using caster sugar and water.  This was then flavoured with a tiny bit of rum!
Two separate cake mixes were made up to make the chequerboard cake.  The chocolate one was flavoured with Green and Blacks Organic cocoa powder and the plain one with vanilla extract.
A bit of a messy job but made much easier with Lakeland’s Get A Grip Piping bags and their large piping nozzles which I swear by.  To help fill the bags I steadied the bags in a glass jug and this also kept them upright.
I started off by piping a chocolate ring round the edge of two of the cake tins and a vanilla ring around the edge of another one.  Doesn’t look very appealing at the moment, does it?
The piping is all finished in each cake tin and ready to bake.  I’m not the neatest at piping skills but it’s not the Great British Bake Off!
The layer with the vanilla ring round the edge was going to be the middle layer of the cake.
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All ready and waiting to come out of the tin.  When you have baked a cake like this for the first time, you never know what to expect.
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While the cakes were still warm I brushed the rum sugar syrup onto the top of the cakes. It soaked through but thankfully didn’t make the cakes soggy!
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Each tier was assembled with a generous layer of apricot jam.
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The middle layer goes on top of the bottom one…
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And now for the top layer.

In the Green and Blacks recipe book the cake was decorated with a simple Green and Blacks dark chocolate ganache and finished with chocolate curls and pieces of Green and Blacks chocolate.  This to me needed me to do something else which was a bit more fun.  I’d got some chocolate moulds I’d not used before as well as a packet of crispy M&M’s and a tub of mini chocolate jazzies.  I poured melted chocolate into a mini chocolate bar mould and then into a dog mould.  They didn’t come out in a perfect finish but then I’m no chocolatier. Once they were set and I’d got them out of the mould I started to make the chocolate ganache.  This ended up being flavoured with another spoonful of rum.  Luckily for me today the ganache was playing the game that day and let me spread it on the cake without it dripping all over the board and the wire rack underneath.

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It was hard to get a smooth finish on the side of the cake with the ganache but at least it tasted ok.
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My chequerboard cake as decorated from the top.  I didn’t have a plan of how I wanted it to look, I just threw everything on and hoped it looked ok.
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At Headingley and Meanwood Cake Club. Having a giggle with Amy over the cake and her trying to cut a piece of it. She said “That’s my piece!” and pretended to take the whole lot!
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I brought the last slice home for Mr SmartCookieSam and my teenage son to share.

I was so delighted when the cake turned out well and that it nearly all got eaten at Cake Club. That makes me feel really happy.  I’ll definitely be having a go at another chequerboard cake as it looked and tasted divine.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books March 2014- Chocolate Birthday Cake from A Passion For Baking.

Now for the last challenge in my Cooking The Books challenge using Jo Wheatley’s  A Passion For Baking.  I had already signed up to take part in a Virtual Cake Event with The Clandestine Cake Club which was taking place this weekend.  This is designed for members who can’t always get along to a cake club or if there isn’t one in their local area.  I love taking part and this month was a great theme- Sweet Shop Fantasy!  As soon as I signed up I began to think about what sweets I could use in and on a cake.  After lots of choosing I narrowed it down to two favourites: Percy Pigs from Marks and Spencers and Revels.  Though I nearly went with Maltesers but then again I wanted a cake flavour I’d never made before. So, to tick off more than one box I chose to bake a recipe from A Passion For Baking using the Chocolate Birthday Cake recipe in the Celebration Cakes chapter of the book.

My daughter was working today and was out all afternoon so my son came and asked if he could bake me a Mother’s Day cake.  I explained that I only had enough eggs and butter in to make a chocolate sweetie cake but if he wanted to he could bake this cake for me. He has made a chocolate cake before and did a great job so I let him loose in my kitchen!

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Choice of sweetie decorations? Do we go for Revels or Percy Pigs? Or both?

Well, first things first! If you’re a sweet toothed gal like me, DO NOT open the packets and put the sweets into a bowl to make them easier to handle. This is fatal!  As soon as that packet was open, my hand slid over to the bowl. Once I had tasted one Percy Pig, then I had to have another.. and another!  My son did the same. Before we knew it half the packet of Revels and Percy Pigs had disappeared down our cakeholes!  So I went into my baking cupboard and found a couple of packets of M&M’s!  These were meant to go in cookies donated to a coffee morning over the Easter holidays.  Now there would be enough to go on the cake.

My son, who is nearly 14 really enjoys being in the kitchen and sometimes cooks the tea on a Saturday night or bakes the odd cake for us.  He did ask me for instructions like “What does creaming mean?” and he asked if he was doing the chocolate ganache right for the icing. He was. I didn’t need to stand over him or watch him as I knew he would be fine.

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My son decorating the chocolate cake with ganache.
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The ganache (melted plain chocolate and double cream) filled and topped the cake. He then added the sweets to the top of the cake.

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Percy Pig sweets were put in the middle and round the edge of the cake with all the Revels and the M&M’s round the outside.
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Once decorated we had a slice with a cup of tea as a mid afternoon Mother’s Day treat. It was gorgeous.
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Ooops! Naughty, naughty! I caught my son nicking some M&M’s off the top of the cake!
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Get your hands off my cake!!!
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The rest of the cake what was left over. Put away in a tin for another time. Don’t think it will last long though!

I was very impressed with the flavour of the cake and the bright sweetie colours against the dark brown chocolate.  Definitely a Sweet Shop Fantasy for me and a wonderful treat for Mother’s Day.  Back on that diet again tomorrow- famous last words!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cooking The Books February 2014- Chocolate Macaroons from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

A week last Friday, when it was Valentine’s Day marked the end of a very busy week for us.  We had just got over a nasty flu virus and were still not feeling one hundred per cent.  The last thing on my mind was Valentine’s Day.  To be honest I don’t really care much for Valentine’s Day, if you love someone you show them every day, not just on 14th February. I do like to buy my hubby a card, we have a nice meal at home and I bake something for him.  It’s usually a big chocolate cake but this year I wanted to make something different.

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Chocolate Macaroons- a pretty Valentine’s Day treat for my hubby.

After I had managed to bake some pistachio and hazelnut macaroons a few weeks back, I was keen to try another recipe.  My hubby was pleased when I bought some macaroons home from Betty’s in Harrogate once and he enjoyed them.  So once again I turned to my trusty Nigella book “How To Be A Domestic Goddess” which I am baking from for this month’s Cooking The Books challenge.  Nigella has a recipe for Chocolate Macaroons within the Chocolate chapter of her book.  These sounded utterly sublime sandwiched together with a swirl of chocolate ganache.

So off I nipped to Morrisons to buy some chocolate and cream to make the recipe.  I had everything else in the cupboard and I hoped that Nigella’s method for making the macaroons would work as well as Lorraine Pascale’s did the previous time.

I needn’t have worried.  The macaroons came off the baking tray perfectly and I spread chocolate ganache in between two shells to sandwich them together.

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Deliciously chewy, the chocolate macaroons came out well. I’m afraid to say my hubby wasn’t the only one who ate them!

When my hubby got home he ate a couple with a cup of tea and said they were delicious.  My appetite had begun to come back after my flu virus so I must admit I sneaked a couple out of the tin, so did my daughter.  They vanished very quickly.  I will definitely bake them again as they worked out so well. I need to try some other flavours, my daughter has asked if I’ll make some raspberry ones.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

The Great British Bake Off Christmas Special- Mary Berry’s Tunis Cake.

As I type, it’s now December 30th. the rain is lashing against the windows and it feels decidedly un- Christmassy. I’m catching up on all the blog posts and getting up to date.  It’s been great to veg out at home and I’m now feeling totally relaxed.  I won’t be saying that this time next week when I’m back at work and the kids are back at school.  My hubby has had some time off over Christmas but he has been nipping into work to see things tick over.  So, for me it’s time to catch up on the blog.

One of my favourite bakes this year just has to be this gorgeous Tunis Cake which Mary Berry baked on the Great British Bake Off Christmas Special from a couple of weeks back.  Not only did it look simple to make, it looked pretty impressive and would be a fantastic pudding or cake for someone who doesn’t like lots of dried fruit.  My children don’t like fruit cake or Christmas pudding so it would be perfect for them.  I had never heard of a Tunis Cake before so it was great to try something new to me, although it is said they originate from Edwardian times according to Wikipedia!

Here is a link to the original recipe on the Great British Bake Off website.  http://thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/mary-berrys-tunis-cake/

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All the ingredients were chucked together in the KitchenAid; flour, butter, sugar, eggs and ground almonds.

The Tunis cake followed an all in one method and included ground almonds which gave the cake a lovely moist texture.  It took no time at all to prepare in my trusty KitchenAid.  I like cakes that do this, saves a great deal of time not faffing about!

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Mixing all the ingredients together.
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My large springform cake tin was greased and lined.
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The mixture was put in the tin and then went straight into the oven for about 45 minutes.
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Meanwhile I heated up some double cream to make the ganache. When the cream had heated up and I’d taken it off the heat I added some plain chocolate.

For the ganache you needed 400g plain chocolate. I used some 70% cocoa solids Swiss chocolate from Tesco which was the cheapest good quality chocolate I could find.  I’ve used it in lots of different recipes before and it always works out well.

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Making some holly sugarpaste leaves. I added the veining in by using my mini wheel, Scoring the paste with a small knife works well, too.

In the recipe Mary uses marzipan coloured with food colouring for her holly leaves but I couldn’t be bothered to get my food colourings out and mess about with the marzipan.  I needed to keep some back for using in stollen (which in the end I never got round to making, but that’s another story).  I had a special Christmas Cake Decorating pack from Renshaw Icing which contained five different coloured packs of their Christmas colours.  The green one was perfect for the holly leaves so out it came!  The red berries were made from some leftover icing (also Renshaw but coloured the previous week) when I was baking Christmas cookies with the children I work with in school.

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The finished cake.

The cake turned out completely different to the way it looked on the programme.  My cake looked a lot wider and shallower and I obviously in a rush had baked the cake in the wrong tin.  Also, being as Mary’s cake was a lot deeper, she made the ganache go halfway down the side of the cake.  As my cake was a lot shallower I couldn’t do that without making a mess so I just put the ganache on the top of it.  The holly leaves were put on a bit haphazardly but I thought the cake still turned out well.

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Next time I think I’ll use smaller holly leaves as these swamped the cake a bit. It would have been nicer if they had looked like they were in a wreath.
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A slice cut for Sunday lunch dessert. Great with a dollop of cream after our Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding.

All of my family really enjoyed the cake and it didn’t last long enough til Christmas Day. I had to make another Christmas Pudding alternative instead.

I was so glad that Mary featured this recipe on the Great British Bake Off.  Looking through Facebook and Twitter just after the programme was on, it seemed like lots of us cake bakers were keen to try the Tunis Cake.  If you baked it, what did you think?  I’d love to know.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx