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

Our New Years’ Day Tradition- Steak and Mushroom Pie.

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2017 brings you luck, health and happiness. 2016 was a mixed year for a lot of people and I just hope this year doesn’t continue in the same way.  I feel a different person to the one I was at the beginning of 2016 and now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I will be going back to Slimming World after not being able to make recent group meetings as well as trying to breathe life into this blog. It’s been a bit neglected recently.  This I would love to change.

Every New Year’s Day in the past we have usually eaten a big lunch at home and then gone out for a walk afterwards.  I tend to bake a pie and serve it with lots of vegetables and gravy.  This year things were different.  My son had been out at a party and got back in the afternoon from his friends’ house.  My daughter was working from lunchtime until the evening.  Our family New Years’ Day lunch ended up being a quiet tea time instead.

I chose to bake a Steak and Mushroom Pie this time as I had some braising steak in the freezer.  It was a cinch to make as I made a cheat’s shortcut. Not with the shortcrust pastry- that was homemade but with the pie filling.  I love Gordon Rhodes’ Gourmet Sauce Mixes and buy them regularly from my local farm shop.  I used their Slow Comfortable Stew mix with braising steak, a large onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a little water. Cooked for about 6 hours on a low heat in my slow cooker, it made the beef melt in the mouth and taste deliciously tender. I can’t bear tough beef. The sauce mix also suggests adding in chopped potato and carrot but I didn’t do this seeing as I wanted to serve these with the pie. Instead, nearer the end of the cooking time I put 250g of halved mushrooms into the slow cooker to soften for the last half hour.

The shortcrust pastry was made with 175g cold butter cut into cubes, 350g of plain flout and ice cold water to mix.  There was plenty of pastry dough left over so I gathered it into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the freezer for another time.  I bet I’ll forget about it, go to the freezer in a few week’s time and think “What the hell is this?”

As it was New Year’s Day I found my large number cookie cutters and cut out 2017 to stick on the top.  Mr SmartCookieSam said it looked too nice to cut up.

Not a scrap left of the pie. I’m beginning to feel like who ate all the pies here after all I’ve eaten.  But I won’t give up baking, I’ll just have to keep myself away from it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx