Wednesday, 19 May 2010

There's nothing wrong with a sponge, but why stop there?

I have been chasing my tail all week, finishing orders and meeting clients, but tiredness can never get quite so tight a grip when the sun is shining and the birds are singing outside. What has been genuinely lovely this week, is the number of clients who have got in touch to let me know how thrilled they have been with the cakes I have made for them. What I find particularly pleasing is how much they emphasise the taste as well as the look, because that's really why I started this business in the first place. I wanted to give people a place to go where they didn't have to stick to choosing between two types of sponge or a fruit cake, but where they could come for a real and thoughtful selection. I love to create new and special flavours and to be set a challenge. This must be why Victoria's Cake Boutique has 157 different chocolate cakes on the books, and that's before any other flavour. I love nothing more than inventing a new recipe, or finding a way to create delicious cakes for clients with allergies, that go beyond just substituting wheat flour for gluten-free or using oil instead of butter. They have to be created with these needs in mind, otherwise you inevitably end up compromising the taste or texture of the cake whose original recipe you altered. Taste is everything to Victoria's Cake Boutique because we can't see the point of a beautifully decorated lump of nothing and because we love flavour and don't want to bother eating anything that doesn't quite hit the mark.
With all the wonderful feedback we've received over the years in mind, I thought I'd nudge my readers in the direction of The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2010, which are now open for voting and which include categories for Best independent shop or retailer and Best food blog (UK based). You can vote here: Just saying...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Oreo cake

I was set the challenge of making an Oreo cake this week. Or, more specifically, a Haagan Dazs (Oreo) cookies and cream ice cream cake. Without the ice cream. The request came from a client who loves Oreo cookies and its Haagan Dazs ice cream above most other sugary things, so he and his fiancee thought it might be a fun idea to have an Oreo flavoured tier for their wedding cake. I must admit, I couldn't remember what an Oreo tasted like, so long ago was it that I ate one. To be honest, if it's biscuits and cookies I want, I'm more likely to make them than buy them, but on the few occasions I do cruise the supermarket shelves for tea-dunking treats, I tend to head straight for the hobnobs or chocolate digestives. Not this time.

Oreos are surprising in their lack of cocoa-richness, given their black colour, and there is something ever so slightly smoky about them. For my palate, the lack of a proper chocolate hit is slightly disappointing - if something promises to taste of chocolate, it's chocolate I want to be tasting. But it is exactly this lack of cocoa depth that is so appealing to others. Oreo cookies have a huge, international fan club and if that many people are convinced, who am I to disagree?

So, Oreo cake. Obviously, it was important for the cake to look as much like an Oreo cookie as possible, so besides it needing to be a sandwich cake with a white filling, the cake itself had to be almost black. Thinking about how I could make the cake almost black, started me thinking about molasses sugar. I love molasses, in all its syrupy, smoky blackness, but oreo cookie it ain't. It's just too strong a flavour. I decided to cut the molasses with light muscovado, so I could get the molasses colour without the molasses depth. When it came down to it though, I realised quickly that there was no way I could make an Oreo cake without some actual Oreo cookies in the mix. I blitzed a packet of Oreos (minus the two cookies I'd already eaten for, aherm, "research purposes") in a food processor, until they were finely ground. Then I adjusted the measurements of the dry ingredients to ensure the cake wouldn't become too dry. The sandwich cakes came out very dark and very moist, with a pleasing crumb - just like Oreo cookies. I sandwiched the cakes with a thick layer of sweet, vanilla mascarpone. I chose a mascarpone filling rather than vanilla buttercream, because it has a natural ice-creamy charm about it. My Oreo cake tasted very Oreo-y and my Oreo-adoring clients were so pleased that they have chosen it as the flavour for one of the biggest tiers of their wedding cake.

Oreo Cake
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and grease and line two 8" sandwich tins.

3 oz/ 75 g molasses sugar
6 oz/ 150 g light muscovado sugar
3 oz/ 75 g dark chocolate
7 fl. oz whole milk
3 oz/ 75 g soft, unsalted butter
2 large eggs, beaten
A splash of vanilla
1 packet (minus 2 cookies) Oreo cookies, finely ground in the food processor
4 oz/ 100 g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt

  • Place the chocolate molasses sugar and milk in a saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate and sugar have dissolved. Leave to cool slightly.
  • Beat the butter and light muscovado sugar together until pale and creamy.
  • Beat the egg in a little at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
  • Whisk in the chocolate-molasses milk.
  • Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda over the cake batter, add the salt and whisk until well combined.
  • Fold in the ground Oreos and pour the cake mixture into your prepared tins and place on the middle shelf of your oven for 25 - 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes on a wire rack before turning out to finish cooling.
  • Once cooled, sandwich the cakes together with sweet vanilla scented mascarpone (make half the amount specified for the chocolate and Guinness cake). If the mascarpone goes runny (this can happen with over-beating), beat in 3 oz/ 75 g of soft, unsalted butter and place in the fridge to set a bit before spreading.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Election Cakes (iv) - Popcorn caramel cake

The polling stations have closed and the counting has commenced. It's exciting, nerve-wracking stuff. This is the final installment of my election cake countdown and it's the turn of The Liberal Democrats to make their cake and eat it. I don't know if you've noticed (you must have noticed, unless you are colour blind or shamefully unobservant), but I've tried to make the cake itself and not just the colour of its icing resemble the party colours, and this cake is no exception. On thinking of yellow things, the things that first sprang to mind were lemons and bananas. Too obvious. Especially given the Lib Dem's sudden and exciting power march forward as worthy and noticed contenders. Their surprising leap into the public's consciousness deserves a cake equally as attention-grabbing.
I made this cake up today. In theory, it's a salty sweet yellow slice of heaven. It's currently in the oven, and may well turn out to be a disaster, but I'm letting you in on an early trial run. If it's a masterpiece, I'll post the recipe tonight. If, on the other hand, I've got carried away with too many free-from ideas, not properly thought through, I will modify the recipe until it works as well as I am certain it deserves to and let you know. So, here it is, the last cake in my 2010 election specials is Popcorn Caramel Cake, a gluten- and nut-free sweetcorn cake (all of which may well change for future revisions) with caramel buttercream and salted caramel popcorn. You'll have to wait a few hours yet to hear the final results of the election, and most probably a few hours more than that to hear the final results of my Lib Dem cake. Let's hope all goes to plan. Here goes yellow...

Popcorn Caramel Cake

Recipe to follow...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election Cakes (iii) - Red Velvet Cake

Today's the day, so grab your keys, pull on your boots and get out there and VOTE! It's a lovely day, so there really are no excuses. Next up, in alphabetical order, in my election cake countdown is Labour. Will they stay or will they go? I think we all know the likely answer to that one. If you will be sorry to see them go, you can make this cake to take your mind off your woes and pray for a better result next time. If you'll be happy to see the back of them, you can make this cake and eat it in giant bites as some kind of symbolic statement. And, needless to say, if the political colour of any of this week's cakes puts you off but you like the sound of the flavour, make it anyway! You can always bung some different coloured icing on top if you want to. Remember, people, these are cakes, not rosettes, and blueberry cupcakes are still delicious regardless. On with this week's quest. Here goes the red team's cake:

Red Velvet Cake
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and grease and line two 8" sandwich tins.

6 oz/ 150 g of soft, unsalted butter
12 oz/ 300 g caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
A generous glug of vanilla
10 oz/ 250 g plain flour
1 oz/ 25 g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 oz/ 50 g good quality cocoa
250 ml buttermilk
pinch of salt
1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
3 tbsp liquid red food colouring or 1 tsp of red paste dye (I only had enough liquid dye for 2tbsp, so my cake in the picture isn't quite as red as it should be)

for the icing

8 oz/ 200 g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
8 oz/ 200 g soft, unsalted butter
2 lb/ 800 g icing sugar, sifted
A generous few splashes of vanilla extract.

  • Whisk the egg whites and salt together until stiff peaks form and set aside for later.
  • Using the same whisk (this order of things is purely to minimise on washing up), beat the butter together until pale and fluffy. A large bowl is advisable here if using an electric whisk, to prevent spraying the contents all over your kitchen. An electric whisk is also advisable for the un-beefy of arms, as this cake requires a lot of whisk action.
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition, followed by the vanilla extract.
  • Mix together the red food colouring and buttermilk. This should be a very vibrant colour, so if your's isn't, add more colouring until it is.
  • Mix about a third of the red buttermilk into the sugar, butter and eggs and sift over a third of the dry ingredients NOT INCLUDING the bicarbonate of soda and whisk again.
  • Mix in another third of the buttermilk, then another third of the sifted dry ingredients and repeat until everything is mixed up well.
  • Fold in the whisked egg whites until thoroughly combined.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. It will fizz up. Fold this into the cake mixture and pour into your two prepared sandwich tins.
  • Bake on the centre shelf of your preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave the cakes to cool in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning them out.
  • When completely cool, sandwich the cakes together with half the icing and spread the rest over the top and sides of the cake. You can, if you wish, cut each cake horizontally across, with filling in between each to make extra layers for an even more stylish and greedy cake.
for the icing
  • Whisk the cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy and add the vanilla and whisk again.
  • Sift over the icing sugar in batches, whisking between each addition, until it's all combined and silky smooth.
  • Taste for vanilla and whisk in some extra if you feel it needs it.
  • Slice both cakes horizontally (if you just want to make a sandwich cake, leave out this step and reduce the quanity of icing by half) and stack them together with a layer of icing in between.
  • Cover the top and sides with icing and it's ready to serve.
Photo to come...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Election Cakes (ii) - Pistachio Cake

Polling day is fast approaching and tomorrow night will be spent chewing our collective fingernails as we wait to hear whose hands our futures will be thrown into for the next four or five years. As promised, here is my second election cake recipe of the week and, working alphabetically, that means The Green Party's next. This pistachio cake also happens to be gluten free, but with no compromises on taste or texture. Here goes green...

Pistachio Cake:
Preheat the oven to 170 C (150 C Fan) and grease and line a 9" round tin.


3 large eggs
8 oz/ 200 g caster sugar
125 ml olive oil (I like to use 100 ml fruity olive oil and top it up with 25 ml of extra virgin)
4 oz/ 100 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
10 oz/ 250 g pistachios, shelled and finely ground
2 oz/ 50 g cornflour
1 tsp of baking powder (gluten free)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange

  • Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy
  • Mix the cooled melted butter and oil together and gradually whisk it in to the egg and sugar mixture.
  • Add the ground pistachios, cornflour and baking powder and whisk again.
  • Pour in the citrus juices and add the zest and stir.
  • Pour the cake batter into your prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of your oven for 50 minutes. The cake should still be under-done in the centre, so an inserted skewer will come out with a little bit of stickiness. The middle of the cake will set on cooling.
  • Place the cake, still in its tin, on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out. Leave to cool completely before transfering to your serving plate.
This cake is lovely just on its own, but  a simple dusting of icing sugar, a scattering of strawberries and a dollop of creme fraiche topped with chopped pistachios makes for a perfect Springtime pudding.

Photo to follow tomorrow...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Election Cakes (i) - Blueberry Cupcakes

The 6th of May is fast approaching and, if you're worth your weight in cake, you will make sure you find a window in your day to pop down to your local church hall, school or library to do your civic duty and VOTE. It'll be a late night for much of the UK, glued, as we will be, to our telly boxes following this year's election results. So what better way to keep your spirits up and your eyelids prised open than with a hearty injection of sugar? In an effort not to be partisan, I will post up recipes for the big 3 parties in alphabetical order over the next couple of days, plus one extra for good measure: Green. I won't go as far as making cakes for UKIP or the BNP because, well, I'm not sure I'd ever be able to think of flavours quite rancid enough.

Election cakes in alphabetical order:

The Conservative Party

Blueberry Cupcakes

I've used dry blueberries for this recipe, but you can use fresh if you'd rather. I tend to prefer reserving fresh blueberries for blueberry muffins, served warm for breakfast - not quite such an ideal late night snack. These cupcakes will last in an airtight container for about a week. If you really must insist on showing the Tories your support, you can top your cakes with swirls of vanilla buttercream dyed blue.

Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line a 12 hole muffin tray with deep cupcake papers.


for the cake

8 oz/ 200 g caster sugar
8 oz/ 200 g soft, unsalted butter
5 oz/125 g self raising flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 oz/ 75 g ground almonds
4 eggs
A generous splash of vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
A pinch of salt
3 oz/ 75 g dried blueberries
The juice of half an orange

for the vanilla buttercream

4 oz/ 100 g soft, unsalted butter
8 oz/ 200 g icing sugar, sifted
A generous splash of vanilla extract
A splash of milk if needed


for the cakes

Soak the blueberries in a bowl with the fresh orange juice in a small bowl to plump up while preparing the rest of the cake batter.

Place all the ingredients apart from the soaking blueberries in a mixing bowl and whisk everything together until fully combined and fluffy, if the mixture is very stiff, add a little of the orange juice from the blueberries and whisk again.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the blueberries from the juice and fold them into the cupcake mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake cases and place on the middle shelf of you oven and bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Once baked, place the tin on a wire rack for a few minutes before removing the cakes from the tin. Leave the cupcakes on the wire rack to cool completely before icing.

for the buttercream

Beat the butter until really soft.

Sift over half of the icing sugar and whisk again.

Sift over the remaining icing sugar, add the vanilla extract and whisk again for a good couple of minutes.

If the buttercream is still too stiff, add a drop of milk to slacken the mixture and whisk again.

I am having difficulty posting a picture up at the moment for some reason, so picture to follow...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Why Things Go Wrong

Sometimes, even for the most experienced of bakers, things go wrong. Don't panic, it doesn't mean they'll always go wrong. Please don't let it put you off reaching for your pinny, it doesn't mean you can't bake just because your cake sank in the middle. Roll up your sleeves and try again and, whatever you do, don't let a few baking mishaps push you into the chemically-enhanced grasp of supermarket cakes. As long as you have a few basic ingredients knocking about in your cupboards, it can be just as quick to make a cake yourself as popping to the shops, and you won't even have to step out of your slippers to do it. I've put together a list in the hope that if you understand why things might have gone wrong in the first place, it will hopefully be easier to avoid more baking disasters in the future. But first, ovens. It's essential that you know your oven. For fan ovens, always remember to reduce the temperature slightly. Some ovens are like kilns and others seem to be much hotter on one side than the other. If you know what your oven is like, you can adjust temperatures and rituals accordingly. Reduce the temperature by 10 degrees or so for a very hot oven or turn the cake round halfway through cooking for ovens with hot spots. And lastly, it really is important to always preheat your oven to the required temperature before popping your cake in. So here goes the list, I hope it helps...
  1. A BURNT TOP AND A WOBBLY MIDDLE: This is usually due to your oven being too hot, but it can also be due to a too slack mixture. For very damp cakes, such as cakes that include fresh fruit (apples, plums, etc), the cooking times often need to be increased and the temperature of your oven reduced. The way to combat this is usually as simple as placing a piece of baking parchment or foil over the top of the cake for the second half of the cooking time.
  2. A SUNKEN MIDDLE: This can be caused by a few different factors. Too much baking powder,  under baking or over-beating (causing over-aeration) can all cause sinking, but most usually it is caused by opening the oven door too quickly. Try to avoid opening the oven door before 15 minutes is up (unless the recipe's cooking time requires less overall cooking than that), so that the oven temperature can remain stable and your cake, in turn, can hopefully remain stable too. Altitude can also affect how a cake rises, but for those of us based in the UK, it's not something we have to worry about.
  3. A PEAK AND A CRACK: Sometimes cakes peak on top and then crack, this is usually due to the temperature of your oven being too hot or (for non-fan assisted ovens) if the cake has been placed too high up. If your cake is placed on too high a shelf, it forms a crust too quickly, the raising agents continue working, the cake continues to rise and cracks its crusted top. Try reducing the temperature by 20 degrees and always place your cakes on the middle shelf, or lower for particularly large or tall cakes.
  4. BREADY CAKE: Everyone wants their sponge cakes to be light and fluffy, but everyone has tasted a sponge that is heavy enough to do some damage if thrown at someone's head. This is down to overbeating which overworks the gluten in the flour and gives the cake a bready texture. I know it can be dull, especially when a recipe calls for a large amount of flour or cocoa, but it really is worth sifting, so you won't have to beat the mixture to within an inch of its life just to get the lumps out. It's also worth checking the use by dates on self raising flour and raising agents. People often have bags of flour at the back of the cupboard that are months or even years out of date. Checking the date becomes particularly tricky for those that like to decant their flours in other containers, so it's worth making the effort to attach a label with their best before dates. Raising agents stop working after a while and out of date self raising flour becomes inactive. All flours can become stale and are very susceptible to picking up odours from other foods, so never keep your flour in the same place as anything with a pong - onions, garlic, chilli, herbs, spices, etc. Another rather nasty potential hazard for old flour is weevils, which you will certainly want to avoid.
  5. WON'T RISE: When cakes don't rise it is because insufficient or no raising agents have been added, the dlour or raising agents used are too old, therefore inactive (see above), the mixture is too stiff (you can slacken mixture by adding a drop of milk), or overbeaten so that all the air has been knocked out. The temperature of your oven may play a part here too as cakes won't rise if your oven is too cool.
  6. DRY: I have a massive aversion to dry cakes. The pleasure of cake eating is lost to me when it is too dry and although icing can do something to mask the insult, it will still feel like a disappointing waste of calories. Dry cakes can be blamed on too much baking powder, over cooking or when the cooled cake is not packed immediately or if it is stored in a container which is not properly airtight.
  7. RUNNY WHITES: Egg whites are funny old things. If you whisk them into stiff peaks and then carry on whisking for long enough afterwards, they turn back into runny liquid. If you whisk them and leave them laying about for too long before using them they also turn back into runny liquid. In both cases you will never be able to whisk them back into peaks. If egg whites get even the tiniest bit of fat in them, they will never fluff up, however long you whisk them for. This is why you have to avoid getting any yolk in with the whites. Egg yolks are the fat of the egg and the whites are the protein. Their fat content is the reason why, until fairly recently, people thought eggs were bad for you due to their cholesterol and fat content, but as we now know these fats are essential healthy fats, we can throw caution to the wind and eat them with gluttonous abandon. To avoid getting fat in your whites, make sure you are very careful not to get any traces of yolk in with the whites and make sure the bowl you use is completely clean and oil free. You can wipe half a lemon round the inside of the bowl first to remove any traces of oil if you happen to have one on hand and another good tip is to add a pinch of salt to the whites before whisking, as it becomes almost impossible to overbeat them. I can't pretend to understand the reason for this, but all I know is that it works and that's good enough for me.