Tuesday, 29 September 2009

No scales, no tins, no electric whisk...

When he read my recipe for chocolate and beetroot cake, a friend said, "That sounds amazing. I'm going to need to get a cake tin, aren't I?" and, as silly as it sounds, I never for a moment imagined that anyone wouldn't already have one. Okay, probably not a ridiculously over-spilling couple of cupboards' worth, like I have, but a loaf tin or a muffin tray, at least. Now that I consider it though, why would anyone have a cake tin if they don't already bake?

The last thing I want to do is put anyone off at the very begining, by making them feel that there's no way they can join in the fun, until they go out and spend a fortune on equipment. The fact is that you really don't need much at all to bake a simple cake. I'd like to encourage and inspire everyone to have a go, whether you've been baking for years, but just fancy trying out a new recipe, or you're a total novice who's never baked a thing in your life.

When I was growing up, our kitchen scales broke when I was 5 and weren't replaced until long after I'd learned to cook without them. I still often bake without scales, which is why I tend to think in Imperial rather than Metric measurements; it just seems to make more sense, when all you are armed with is a tablespoon. A slightly heaped tablespoon of dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa...) is roughly an ounce, and as long as all your ounces are to the same rough measurement, there's no reason why your cake won't be delicious. With butter, it's just a simple matter of division. The standard size of a packet of butter is 250 grams and there are 28 g to every ounce; you can round it up or down, but I always go for 25 g because it's marginally easier to calculate. So, now that we've established that a 250 g packet of butter has roughly 10 oz in it, we can work out quite easily how much each recipe calls for. If the recipe asks for 5 oz, that's half a packet of butter, if it needs 4 oz you'll need 4/10ths, etc, etc. Some brands have the measurements marked on the packet already, so then it's just a matter of cutting down the line. It really is as simple as that.

You don't need an electric whisk either, a wooden spoon (or even a metal one) will do just fine. Steer clear of all-in-one sponges though, as you're more likely to overwork the gluten in the flour and end up with a heavy, bready cake. As long as you stick to the old-fashioned method of beating the sugar and butter together, then gradually adding the egg a bit at a time, before folding in the flour, your cake should work perfectly.

So far, the only equipment you've used is a couple of spoons and a butter knife, but what of a tin? Well, like a lot of people, when I was young, we often had sponge puddings, either steamed or just baked in an oven-proof dish (like a pyrex casserole or a pie dish, or even in little ramekins), that would usually have fruit at the bottom, or sometimes jam. My grandmother often used to make upside down raspberry puddings (or blood clots as we affectionately referred to them), which were basically a layer of raspberries placed in a buttered ramekin and topped with basic vanilla sponge. Once they were cooked, she would turn them upside down, whack them on the base with a spoon and out would pop a delicious blood clot ready to be doused in custard. Or, as my grandfather would say, pus.

You can easily make a sponge topped pudding (perfect for an Autumn night), but there's also absolutely no reason why you can't line your pie dish, casserole, or anything else you've got as long as it's oven proof, with baking parchment or buttered greaseproof paper, before pouring in the cake mixture. Once it's baked, you can turn it out on to a wire rack, remove the baking parchment and leave it to cool, just like you would if you'd baked it in a tin. Okay, so you won't be left with a perfect shaped cake, but you won't notice once you've sliced it. Frankly, with home baking, as long as it tastes like cake, who really cares what it looks like? You don't really need a cake rack either, just wash and dry one of the shelves in your oven - it will do exactly the same job. Thinking about it, the only thing I would recommend is a sieve - which you're more likely to already have than a cake rack anyway, but if you don't, and don't want to fork out for one, just gradually drop your flour off the spoon from a bit of a height to aerate it. If you don't have a big enough bowl for mixing, then use a saucepan, and if you don't have a saucepan, go out and buy one immediately - that's ridiculous!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Chocolate and beetroot is one of those combinations that probably shouldn't work, but does. And really well too. Although it doesn't actually taste of beetroot (and by all means test this out by doing a "guess the secret ingredient" survey on friends and family), the cake has a background note of earthiness which really compliments the bitterness of the chocolate. This is not an overly sweet cake, so if, unlike me, you don't appreciate being hit round the face with the taste of chocolate then by all means reduce the amount by half, or substitute some of the dark chocolate for milk. Something like Green & Blacks milk chocolate would be good, but I think their new creamy milk wouldn't be chocolatey enough, even for the dark chocolate-shy. For the chocolate die-hards, I sometimes substitute 1 oz (25g) of flour for cocoa.

Although not a totally new flavour, chocolate and beetroot is still a bit of a frightening proposition for some. I can't pretend to be sympathetic towards anyone who is scared to try new flavours (you're only hurting yourselves, folks), but I can understand people thinking if they don't like beetroot, they won't like this cake. I think this could be a turning point for the beetroot-phobic amongst you though, and this recipe can help get rid of some of the excess you get over the autumn months if you have an organic veg box delivered.

The beetroot gives the cake quite an exciting colour when cut, and you'll have purply smears and stains all over your plate by the time you've finished eating it. It keeps for ages in a tin and is still completely fine after a week, although it's unlikely to last that long...

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160 Fan Assisted) and grease and line a loaf tin or 7" loose-bottomed round.


For Cake

10 oz (250g or 2 and a half bars) of dark chocolate.
2 - 3 beetroots
2 oz (50g) light muscovado sugar
2 oz (50g) dark muscovado sugar
4 oz (100g) golden caster sugar
3 1/2 fl. oz (100ml) sunflower oil
A splash of vanilla extract
3 large eggs
4 oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 oz (50g) brazil nuts
A pinch of salt

For icing

2 oz melted dark chocolate, cooled but still a bit warm
3 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz icing sugar, sifted
splash of vanilla


For the cake
  • Rinse the beetroots (you don't need to peel them at this stage), place in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer gently until soft. This can take quite a while, but keep an eye on it and top up the water from the kettle if need be, just so that the beets are covered.
  • Once the beetroots are soft (check by inserting a knife or skewer), remove from the pan and set aside on a cold plate to cool.
  • In the meantime, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over barely simmering water and leave to cool slightly.
  • Either blitz the brazil nuts in a food processor until you have a fine powder or stick them in a bag and bash them with a rolling pin.
  • Place the sugars and oil in a bowl and whisk until combined, add the egg a bit at a time, continually whisking, until the mixture is pale and creamy. Add in the ground brazil nuts and a pinch of salt and stir in.
  • Wearing rubber gloves so you don't stain your hands, remove the top and tail of the beetroots and carefully peel them; the skin should come away quite easily. Chop them up and blend them in a food processor until smooth, or attack them with a masher.
  • Mix in the chocolate and beetroot to the sugar and egg mixture.
  • Sift over the dry ingredients and fold in until everything is well combined.
  • Pour the cake mixture into your prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf for about an hour and 15 minutes. Cover the top with greaseproof paper or foil halfway through cooking if the top is browning too quickly.
  • To check the cake is done, insert a metal skewer to see if it comes out clean.
  • Leave the cake in the tin and place it on a wire rack to cool.
For icing:
  • Place the chocolate, butter and vanilla extract in a bowl. Sift over the icing sugar and whisk until all the ingredients are well combined and the icing is glossy and thick.
  • Turn the cooled cake out of its tin on to a serving plate and spread the icing on top with a palate knife.

Wedding Cake For Pudding, Anyone?

Serving your cake as pudding is a great way to be both economical and indulgent. So often, the cake gets cut and wheeled out at about 10 o’clock, when guests have already eaten a three course meal and drunk enough champagne to launch a fleet. At this point in the evening, it’s savoury not sweet you want; I don’t know anyone who comes back from a party and scoffs a chocolate √©clair. It’s marmite on toast or a chip butty all the way. What you need is something to soak up the endlessly refilled glasses of Pimms, fizz, table wine and anything else that your guests have managed to reach.

Some people will make a valiant attempt at polishing off the cake, even at this late hour. Mostly what you’ll find is various half-eaten slices forgotten about by distracted guests once Come On Eileen hits the speakers. Others won’t even notice that the cake has been served at all, so busy are they demonstrating their disco manoeuvres or discovering the attractive evening guests, newly arrived and shiny.

If you serve your cake as pudding, not only are you making a saving on the dessert course, but you are also guaranteeing minimal waste. If you’re worried about excluding your evening guests, you can always save a tier for later on, or bring out some extra cupcakes. Serving the cake as pudding also means you can feel more justified in choosing glamorous and indulgent options: chocolate and hazelnut torte with whipped Frangelico ganache or passion fruit layered gateau are both firm favourites at Victoria’s Cake Boutique. Dessert cakes can be iced in any way a sponge or fruit cake can be iced, and you can even have a fruit cake top tier as a nod to tradition. It can be served plain, accompanied by seasonal berries and fresh cream, ice-cream, or, my personal favourite, sweet vanilla scented mascarpone. It’s like Mr Whippy for grown-ups.

Some venues will tell you they only offer a fixed price three course menu, but this is usually negotiable with a bit of persistence. If they do prove unmovable, then having your third course as cheese can be an excellent way of providing night-time nibbles for your guests, while still allowing cake to be served as dessert.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Bewl Water Wedding Fayre

Yesterday, I exhibited at Bewl Water Wedding Fayre. It was a really lovely day and I had a lot of interest from potential future clients. The cakes I was offering as samples (chocolate fudge, lemon and fruit cake) went down very well, and were enthusiastically tucked into, both by the visiting public and the other exhibitors!

The only problem is, I realised, to my absolute horror, near the end of the day, that the email address on my promotional literature was wrong. Hopefully people will contact me by phone or through my website, but otherwise, if you happened to be at Bewl Water yesterday, and had a nice chat about wedding cakes with me that you are thinking of following up on, please note that my email address ends in a .co.uk and not a .com! Easier still, just give me a ring or contact me through my website, and then we can all be sure that I will receive your enquiries. Thanks.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

STOP THE ROT! Why I love British Plums.

Britain has had an abundant plum harvest this year, but many supermarkets are still importing cheaper foreign plums for higher profit margins. Foreign plums can be imported for around 35p a punnet, which supermarkets sell on for £1, making a 65p profit. British plums will cost them around 70p a punnet, which they still sell on for £1, making less than half the profit that they do from imported varieties. Some supermarkets are, at least, offering their customers a choice, but still not all, meaning orders for UK plum growers are at an all-time low.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'd rather pay £1.35 to stop our own gorgeous, ripe and sweet British plums being left to rot. Aside from supporting the British economy, food seasonality and saving food miles, surely it's our duty as food lovers not to allow ourselves to lose out on what has been described as a truly glorious "vintage" crop of UK plums this year. So, next time you're food shopping and perusing the fruit aisles, why not pick up a punnet of plums, but please remember to check the label: buy BRITISH and buy BIG.

As some inspiration, here's a recipe for a delicious plum cake I made last night. It's lovely with a cup of tea or served warm with custard for pudding. Enjoy!

Plum Cake

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C Fan Assisted). Grease and line a loaf tin or a deep, loose bottomed 7" round tin.


A punnet of British plums (I used Victoria plums)
Vanilla extract or essence (but definitely not "flavouring")
A knob of butter
6oz (150g) light muscovado sugar
2oz (50g) caster sugar
5oz (125g) self raising flour
3oz (75g) ground almonds
8oz (200g) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
The zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
A generous grating of fresh nutmeg (or about 3/4 tsp of ready ground)
A pinch of salt.

  • Wash, halve and stone the British plums.

  • In a deep frying pan or skillet, put 2 tbsp light muscovado sugar, 1 tbsp water and a generous splash of vanilla extract. Stir on a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat slightly until the syrup becomes a soft caramel. Melt in a knob of butter and place the plums flesh-side down. Turn the heat back down and leave to simmer until the fruit softens, the caramel will turn a gorgeous pinky red. Turn the plums over, so they are coated in the syrup and quite soft. Using a slotted spoon, remove the plums from the syrup and place them on a cold dish to cool.

  • Once cooled, chop the plums into chunky pieces (I just cut them in half again). Retain the syrup for later.

  • Whisk together all of the ingredients (minus the plums and plum syrup) until you have a light, fluffy batter, you can add a bit of milk if the consistency is a bit too stiff, but you don't want it to be too loose, or all your plums will sink to the bottom. Once it's thoroughly mixed, add the plums and fold in with a metal spoon. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf for about 1 hour, but check after 50 minutes, as ovens vary so much. If the top is starting to brown too quickly, rest a sheet of greaseproof paper or foil over the top of the cake for the second half of the cooking time. You can check the cake is done by inserting a metal skewer that should come out clean.

  • Once baked, stab the cake all over with a skewer and pour over the plum syrup reserved from earlier (you can warm it over a gentle heat if it has started to solidify).

  • Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack before turning out.


If you are using a loose-bottomed tin, a great tip to get the cake out is to upturn a small bowl or mug, place the tin on top and simply pull the tin down, you can then slide the cake off the tin base straight on to a serving plate.

Village Fete-tastic!

When choosing your wedding cake, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being traditional. Opting for classic flavours and classic design makes a beautifully elegant statement, but it's fun to be playful and inventive too.

A couple of weeks ago I made the wedding cake of a good friend, whose wedding had a village fete theme. At our initial discussions, neither she nor her fiancé had really given much thought to how they wanted their cake to look, apart from having a mild preference for individual cakes and a colour scheme of pink and lilac. I sketched several designs with gingham bunting, rosettes and other summer fete-inspired themes and in the end, they chose a tower of miniature cakes and cupcakes with a top tier, all iced with sugar bunting, bumble bees, daisies, forget-me-nots and pink and lilac roses.

They had already come for a cake tasting a few weeks before and had chosen two cake flavours: passion fruit and chocolate and red peppercorn; flavours that were new to them, but that they were excited by, that they wanted their guests to be excited by too. The feedback was wonderfully positive and people really enjoyed the cake. They had been delighted when they saw the cake displayed (one guest described it as "such a happy-looking cake!”) and then, when it came to eating time, enjoyed the surprise of having something other than fruit cake or vanilla sponge.

My friend thanked me for helping to make her marquee look more beautiful, which is exactly what a wedding cake ought to do. You spend a fortune on flowers and table decorations to make the venue look special and your cake should be just as ornamental; a design focal point that is spectacular to look at, as well as a pleasure to eat. It is so important for your cake to look beautiful and to reflect your personality and style, but it would be ridiculous if beneath the icing veneer the cake itself was dry and tasteless. If the cake looks great but tastes awful, it becomes an empty promise, which is ultimately a big fat disappointment.

I thought it was brilliant that my village fete wedding friends were happy not to play too safe and, as a result, their cake was a real talking point and reflected their laidback style and great sense of fun.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Welcome cake lovers!

I specialise in bespoke cakes made to fit the unique personalities, styles and tastes of my clients. I have a huge range of flavours that I add to on an almost weekly basis; dreaming up exciting flavour combinations, trialling them in my kitchen, and making them available for clients to choose from on my cake flavour list. I believe strongly that fantastic-tasting cakes can only be made using the very best ingredients. Powdered egg, cake mixes or added preservatives to increase shelf life are all definite no-no’s that will never have a place in my kitchen.

In this blog, I’d like to offer you some hints and tips about choosing your perfect celebration cake and share with you some delicious recipes and beautiful photographs, as well as to let you in on some trade secrets along the way. Enjoy!