Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tiramisu Cupcakes

Another year over and a new one just begun...............

I've been baking for years and years, even when I thought it was not cool for someone in her 20's to prefer to bake a batch of scones than play drinking games (I was never cool, even back then).  Something kicked in when I hit 30 and I realised that I didn't care if the guy I'd just started dating knew that my idea of a great Saturday night was perfecting choux pastry - he'd just have to deal with it!

I started blogging in October 2011, for no reasons other than I love to bake, I love to write, I love keeping track of recipes that work for me, and I love sharing the recipes that work for me with anyone who's interested.  Already I'm hooked on blogging although I didn't realise it would be so difficult to take good food photos and to find time to bake and blog about all the things that I would love to bake and blog about.  I am in awe of all of the people behind all the blogs I follow because they make it look much easier than it actually is.  So, just now this blog is a work in progress but stick with me as I hope to get better at it as I go along.

Here's to 2012, the year when I learn how to take the perfect food photo!  Until then, I'll keep practising by making Tiramisu Cupcakes.

Happy New Year


I can't even begin to tell you how delicious these little beauties are.  Sponge partially soaked in coffee, topped with mascarpone cream, then more coffee soaked sponge and more mascarpone cream.  If you like tiramisu, you should try these.  They look like regular vanilla or white chocolate cupcakes until you bite into one.  Please please try them and let me know what you think.

This recipe is inspired by The Hummingbird "Cake Days" although I've changed it quite a bit to suit the ingredients I had in the cupboard today.  The Boston Cream Cupcakes are similar to these and the post includes more photos.

Makes 12 cupcakes


For the sponge
110g butter softened
110g granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
90g self raising flour
75g plain flour
120ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the soaking syrup
150ml strong coffee
1 tbsp granulated sugar

For the filling and frosting
200g mascarpone cream
25ml strong coffee
60g icing sugar
Cocoa powder for dusting

Line a muffin tin with paper cases and preheat the oven to 180C.
In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Combine the flours and add in 4 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, beating well after each addition.
Spoon the batter into the paper cases til they are about 2/3 full. Bake for about 20-22 mins until the tops are golden.
Remove cupcakes from tin and allow to cool while you make the soaking syrup.
Pour the coffee into a saucepan and stir in the sugar.  Bring to the boil and allow the liquid to reduce to about half , then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, make the frosting.  Beat the mascarpone, coffee and icing sugar lightly together until just combined.
When the cupcakes have cooled, use a sharp knife to cut a piece out of the centre of each cupcake, about 2cm in diametre and 3cm deep, reserving the scooped out pieces of sponge.  Pour about 1 teaspoon of the soaking syrup over each cut out piece of sponge and pour another teaspoon into the hollow of each cupcake.  Fill each hollow with the mascarpone cream then place the cut out piece of sponge back on top of the hole covering the filling.
Lastly, frost the cupcakes with the remaining mascarpone cream and dust lightly with cocoa powder.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Boston Cream Cupcakes

1. Cut down on chocolate
2. Get rid of tummy weight so that I don't look 5 months pregnant
3. Shave legs more often - even when it's wintertime
4. Say "I love you" more

Why bother with New Years resolutions.  By February 1st plans of lifestyles being overhauled have been thrown by the wayside for another year as we continue to wear trousers (must shave legs) and punish ourselves for eating another slice of chocolate cake. 

The only New Years resolution I have this year is to concentrate better and not try to do 3 things at once , especially when I don't do any of those 3 things properly.  I gave this resolution a test run yesterday when I made my own custard for these Boston Cream Cupcakes.  In my world, making custard FROM SCRATCH is pretty big so I closed the kitchen door, turned the radio (and the kids) off and concentrated on what I was doing.  As it turned out, making custard wasn't difficult at all.  Why have I been avoiding it all these years? 

Two things to say about these cupcakes:
1. Don't fill the cases any more than 2/3 full with batter.  You'll be filling the baked and cooled cupcakes with custard, they will end up being quite tall so you will need to start off with buns that are not very tall;
2. Homemade custard is very pale in colour (totally different to the shop bought powdered stuff) so don't expect a huge contrast between the colour of your sponge and the colour of the custard.

I've used my own sponge recipe which makes 12 cupcakes (it's a Vanilla Birthday Cake recipe and if you double the quantities, you will have 2x23cm sponge cakes).  The custard and frosting are taken from The Hummingbird Bakery "Cake Days".

Makes 12 cupcakes


For the sponge
110g butter softened
110g granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
90g self raising flour
75g plain flour
120ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling
250ml milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolk
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour

For the frosting
200g icing sugar
50g cocoa powder
80g butter, softened
20ml milk

Line a muffin tin with paper cases and preheat the oven to 180C.
In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Combine the flours and add in 4 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla, beating well after each addition.
Spoon the batter into the paper cases til they are about 2/3 full.  Bake for about 20-22 mins until the tops are golden.
Remove cupcakes from tin and allow to cool completely before icing.

While the cupcakes are cooking, make the filling.  Pour the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Meanwhile whisk the remaining ingredients together by hand in a bowl until smooth and well combined.
Once the milk is boiling, remove from the heat and pour 4-5 tablespoons into the egg yolk mixture to loosen it, then return the mixture to the saucepan of hot milk, stirring to incorporate.
Return the saucepan to the heat and bring to the boil, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Boil for at least 1 minute and once thickened tip the custard into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming, then leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whisk all ingredients (except the milk) together on a medium speed until sandy in texture.  Gradually pour in the milk, then increase the speed and whisk til light and fluffy.
Using a sharp knife, make a hole in the centre of each cupcake, about 2cm in diametre and 3cm deep, reserving the scooped out pieces of sponge.  Spoon the custard into the hole of each cake then replace the lid, trimming it if necessary.
Divide the chocolate frosting between each cupcake and smooth the tops with a palette knife.




Friday, 23 December 2011

Cranberry, Rum and White Chocolate Cookies

1. Christmas Presents - Check

2. Enough bottles of wine to last us 'til Easter - Check

3. Turkey and Ham for the Big Day - Check

4. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire - Check

5. Jack Frost nipping at my nose - Check

5. Christmas Baking - ...............................

All you bloggers have been busy little elves over the past few weeks putting the rest of us to shame with your Gingerbread Houses, Christmas Fruit Cakes, Christmas Pudding, Yule Logs.  I've looked at them all and if the truth be told, I may have salivated over some of them.  But I haven't baked anything with a Christmas theme - Christmas baking doesn't go down so well in our house so I would be the one scoffing the lot.   Granted, I would do it gladly but my rotund middle wouldn't thank me for it!

To keep everyone happy, Christmas baking this year will be a Baileys Cheesecake, Tiramisu (can that even be classed as baking?), Nigella's Puddini (Christmas pudding and melted chocolate rolled into truffle sized balls) and these Choc Chip cookies.  After that, I feel no guilt in saying that I'm putting my feet up and digging into the tin of Roses.

To make these cookies a little bit special, I've soaked the fruit in a few tablespoons of rum but I've drained most of it out so don't worry about getting an alcohol kick - the taste is extremely subtle as I drain off most of the alcohol.  If you'd prefer, just leave out the rum altogether and I guarantee you these cookies will still taste amazing.

Adapted from Nigella Lawsons "Feast"

Makes 30 cookies

2 tablespoons dark rum
75g dried cranberries
140g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
75g rolled oats
125g butter, softened
175g soft brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g pecans, roughly chopped
140g white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the cranberries in a small bowl and add the rum.  Set aside for at least an hour, stirring every now and again so that a little bit of rum hits each cranberry.
Combine the flour, baking powder and oats and set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat again.  Beat in the flour mixture then fold in the chocolate chips and the pecans.
Drain the rum from the cranberries and fold them into the mixture.
With the dough in the mixing bowl, leave it in the fridge to set for 10-15 mins.
Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls with your hands and place them on a lined baking sheet.  Then squish the dough balls down with a fork.
Bake for 15 mins after which they should be golden at the edges.  Allow to cool slightly on the baking tray for 5 mins before they cool fully on a wire rack.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Carrot, Cinnamon and Sultana Scones

Maybe today I'll tackle the spare bedroom and get rid of boxes of rubbish.....................

Maybe today I'll be able to fit into my favourite skirt...........................

Maybe today I'll spend time putting make-up and nice clothes on.........................

Maybe today I'll learn what Gravity means (does anybody really know?)...........................

Maybe today I'll bake something Christmasy................................Maybe tomorrow.

The recipe below is from a beautiful book called The Mixing Book which is a collaboration of favourite recipes from residents at Our Ladys Hospice, Dublin.  I've added some cinnamon to the original recipe, which I think is needed to give it a lift, but other than that it's unchanged.  Just like in carrot cake, you don't actually taste the carrot, this is just a lovely subtley spiced scone recipe.  It's still a sweet scone so a little bit of butter (homemade, of course) suits it better than cheese and chutney, although if cheese and chutney is your thing, fire away!

Carrot, Cinnamon and Sultana Scones from The Mixing Bowl

225g plain flour
pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
50g butter
50g sultanas
1 medium carrot, grated
150ml / 200ml milk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1 beaten egg, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Mix the flour, salt and baking powder and rub in the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix quickly together with your fingertips until the mixture comes together.  It's very important not to knead the dough, just handle it with your fingertips until it comes together, then STOP and turn it out on to a floured surface.
Press down the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick and cut into rounds.  Place the rounds on a floured baking tray.  Brush the tops lightly with beaten egg.
Bake for 20-25 mins or until golden brown.
Makes 8 small scones or 6 larger ones.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Virtually Fat Free Malted Chocolate Cake with "Forget The Diet" Icing

Dear Santa,
Thanks so much for the present you brought me last year – the baby that I asked for “magically” arrived in Oct.  So well done on sorting out that one for me.
This year I would love some time please.  Yep, that’s it, plain and simple, no wrapping paper required, just some more time added to each day.  Time to get back into running again.  Time to bake what I want to bake as opposed to something that can be quickly bunged in the oven with a sigh and a “sure, it’ll do”.  Time to spend with my wonderful husband doing things other than taking care of “business”, i.e. the rearing of 3 kids that sees a lot of our conversations interspersed with phrases such as “keeping the show on the road”, “heads above water”, “God, I need sleep” (me), “you can’t leave me with the 3 of them” (him).
So anyway big guy, do your best, I’m counting on you.  I’ve made this cake just for you cos I know you’ll come up trumps again this year (no pressure!).

This cake is adapted from a Nigella recipe.  The malted chocolate powder gives it a lovely taste that's not as rich as your average chocolate cake, so perfect for a kids party. 

Virtually Fat Free Chocolate Cake with "Forget The Diet" Icing


For the cake
150g soft brown sugar
100g granulated sugar
3 large eggs
175ml milk
1 tbsp butter softened
2 tbsp malt chocolate powder (I used Milo, but Nigella uses Horlicks)
175g plain flour
25g cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing
250g icing sugar
1 tsp cocoa
45g malt chocolate drink (again, Milo or Horlicks)
125g butter softened
2 tbsp boiling water
1 x Flake bar or 1 pack of Maltesers or whatever you want to use to decorate the cake

Preheat the oven to 170C.  Butter and line two 20cm loose bottomed cake tins with baking parchment.
Whisk together the sugars and eggs until light and frothy.  Heat the milk, butter and chocolate powder in a saucepan until the butter melts and it is hot but not boiling.
Beat the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs and sugar mixture, then fold in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.
Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake in the oven for 25 mins or until they spring back when pressed gently.
Allow to cool in the tins slightly before cooling completely on a wire rack.

To make the icing, in a food processor blitz together the icing sugar, cocoa and Milo / Horlicks to remove all lumps.  Add the butter and process again.  With the motor running, add the boiling water down the funnel and process until you have a smooth buttercream.
Sandwich the cold sponges with half the buttercream, then ice the top with what is left.  Stud the edges with pieces of Flake / Maltesers.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cranberry, Coconut and Lime Cake

It's the one time of the year when everyone has a spring in their step.  Thoughts of "recession", "breakdown of the EU" and "austerity measures" that have followed us around like a bad smell over the past 11 months of the year are brushed under the carpet for a few weeks - January 1st is time enough to have to deal with these mindnumbingly depressing subjects.  We're all happy to sing along to Christmas songs in the supermarket, smile at a stranger on the street (not in a creepy way!) and say "Happy Christmas" to staff in shops as they gift wrap that last minute present that you're still not 100% sure about - best to hang on to the receipt just in case his eyes don't light up quite as you'd expect.

As it's the third week in December, Christmas has definitely arrived.  It's time I baked something a little bit Christmasy.  To ease myself slowly into the Christmas baking season, I saw half price cranberries in the supermarket - bingo, that sealed the deal.  I started off with this recipe on Baking Bites website but adapted it quite a bit.  This is such a lovely teatime cake, the lime and coconut combination goes so well with the tartiness of the cranberries.  Just to make it a little bit special I mixed some white rum with a few tablespoons of lime juice and poured it over the warm cake to keep it moist and to add a very subtle kick to it.  I would safely say that this is one of the nicest "plain" cakes I have tasted in a long time.  It's moist, it's sweet n' sour and the lime, coconut, rum combo is delicious.  I'm well chuffed with this creation!

Cranberry, Coconut and Lime Cake, inspired by Baking Bites

220g plain flour
375g sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
lime juice from 5 limes
1 tbsp lime zest
3 tbsp canola oil
2 large eggs
3 tbsp milk
130g fresh or frozen (unthawed) cranberries
50g desiccated coconut, plus an additional handful to sprinkle on top
2 tbsp white rum

Preheat oven to 180C and lightly grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin.
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk and eggs.  Add in lime juice, lime zest from 4 of the 5 limes, oil, eggs and milk and whisk until just combined.
Use a spatula to stir in in cranberries and desiccated coconut, then pour out the batter into prepared tin.  Sprinkle a handful of desiccated coconut on the top of the cake.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
Mix together the juice of the remaining lime and the rum.  While the cake is still warm, use a skewer to insert holes and pour the mixture over.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Homemade Butter

On seeing the title of this post, I know you're all thinking one of the following:
1. that I live in a mud hut and fashion my clothes from the skin of squirrels or
2. that I make butter all the time, just like I make my own puff pastry, knit my own jumpers and darn my own socks.

Wrong on all counts!  To be honest, I was a little reluctant to post this recipe as it doesn't fall under the category of "baking" and it's a bit of a random (and possibly odd!) post but here goes.  I was in a bookshop in town the other day looking for a cookery book for a friend who is leaving work.  I sat down in the bookshop with Darina Allen's "Forgotten Skills of Cooking" and leafed through it (actually, I did what I always do with cookery books in book shops: I took out a notebook and pen and secretly jotted down recipes that I wanted to try at home, while making sure I didn't make eye contact with any of the bookshop staff, Shhhhhhhhhhh!).  I saw a recipe for butter which had only one ingredient.  This is a shameful thing to say but I actually didn't know that butter was made from just whisking cream until the buttermilk separates from the milk solids (please don't judge me).  In the book, Darina says that making butter is extremely simple and she can't understand why more people don't make their own on a regular basis.  Reading that was almost as if Darina was challenging me to try making butter so I quickly took note of how much cream I'd need and scurried out of the bookshop before I started to look suspicious to the security men.

On the economics of making your own butter, it's less expensive to buy it in the shop but you get such a sense of achievement from having made something yourself that goes well beyond the money aspect.  But just so you know, I bought a 500ml tub of cream costing €2.40.  This made about 200g of butter which would cost €1 in a shop (450g block of butter costs €2.20) and 250ml of buttermilk, which would cost about €0.25 (1 litre of buttermilk costs €1). 

Homemade Butter from Darina Allen "Forgotten Skills of Cooking".

500ml double cream
¼ tsp salt for every 100g of butter - salt preserves the butter and will keep it fresh for 2-3 weeks.  Without the salt, the butter will only remain fresh for a few days. Note: I used table salt.

Whisk the cream in an electric mixer for 10-15 mins (if you try to do this by hand, your arm will most definitely fall off).  It will change texture from being thickly whipped cream to where the buttermilk separates from the butter and sloshes around the bowl.  Turn the mixture into a clean sieve and drain the buttermilk from it.  This buttermilk can be used to make brown bread, muffins, pancakes etc.  Return the butter in the sieve back into the mixer and whisk again for 30 seconds to remove more buttermilk.  Turn out into the sieve as before. 
Fill a bowl with very cold water and use your hands to knead the butter and force as much buttermilk out of the butter (the buttermilk will sour the butter so it needs to be removed).  Drain the water from the bowl and repeat this process two further times until the water runs clear.  Make sure the water in the bowl is very cold as you don't want your warm hands to melt the butter.
Wrap the butter in greaseproof paper and store in the fridge.  It also freezes well.
If you wish to add salt you will need ¼ teaspoon of plain salt for every 110g (4oz) of butter. Before shaping the butter, spread it out in a thin layer and sprinkle evenly with salt. Mix thoroughly.

The photos below show the various stages of the whisking process.  With my Kitchen Aid on medium speed it took about 13 mins to get the cream whisked to the final stage.

Drain the buttermilk from the butter

Now all you need to do is shape it

Are you better at shaping butter?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Guinness Brown Bread

I've decided, people are genuinely lovely.  It might be a bit of a sweeping statement, but in general, people are thoughtful, good natured and pretty decent.  Like the guy who pushed my car the other night when it stalled on me in the middle of the road, or the 3 old men who helped me in the Tesco car park when I couldn't get my car started (re-occurence of car problems was not my fault despite what my husband thinks!), or the woman who gave me €1 to put into the parking metre in town when I was short and was rushing to make a doctors appointment (she offered, I accepted). 

I've been thinking about this quite a lot over the last few weeks and I have a theory.  Most of us rush around in the evenings or at the weekend doing chores, buying groceries etc.  It's not that we're selfish or thoughless, it's just that we don't have time to be selfless or thoughtful.  Now that I'm on maternity leave from work, my weekend chores have become weekday chores and the people I'm coming across are probably retired, unemployed, students or stay at home Mums.  Regardless of who they are, they seem to be less rushed, less stressed and have more time to look out for others.  Their generousity has restored my faith in human nature.

What does that have to do with Guinness Brown Bread.  Absolutely nothing except that I came home from town with a spring in my step the other day and decided to bake something.

I noticed a recipe for Guinness Brown Bread the other day that caught my attention. The raising agent is baking soda so there's no need to knead (ha, ha!) and it's a quick bread to get into the oven. It tastes rich with no actual taste of the Guinness coming through when baked. It's real wintry bread and the only way I can describe it is that it's the bread equivalent of gingerbread, without the spices and with much less sugar.  I tried it first with some plum jam but I think it works better with chutney and cheese or with a bowl of soup.

Guinness Brown Bread adapted from odlums website

450g Coarse Wholemeal Flour
2 level tsp baking soda
25g Pinhead Oatmeal (if you don't have this, you could use the same quantity of porridge oats and a tbsp of sunflower seeds to add a little bit of crunch)
4 tbsp soft brown sugar
50g butter / margarine
1 tbsp treacle
400ml Guinness
1 tbsp each of seasame seeds and linseeds (or whatever seeds you have)

Preheat the oven to 190C. Grease a 900g / 2 lb loaf tin.
Put the butter and treacle into a saucepan over a low heat and allow the butter to melt. Meanwhile put the flour, pinhead oatmeal, baking soda and sugar into a bowl.
When the butter has melted take off the heat, add the Guinness and stir.
Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix well.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake for 50 mins or until the bread has a hollow sound when tapped underneath (the bread in the picture was in the oven for 60 mins).
Wrap in a clean tea towel and allow to cool.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Tomato Soup Cake

I caught a glimpse of myself as I walked past a mirror in our house the other day. Wowsa - but not in a good way! It was a glimpse of the greasy haired, no make-up, thoroughly exhausted, dark circles under eyes person I've become. To be honest, it was a bit of a shock and it was the dark circles and bags under my eyes that really shocked me. It's amazing what lack of sleep will do to you. Other than ensure that you find it difficult to carry out even the most simple of daily tasks, it gives your face a look that screams I NEED A MAKE-OVER BUT BEFORE THAT, I NEED 8 HOURS SLEEP, PREFERABLY UNBROKEN. The baby is 5 weeks old now so I still have another few months of sleepless nights but in an effort to be "glass half full", every night of broken sleep brings us closer to being capable of staying awake to watch the end of X Factor - although by all accounts, I've not missed much this series!

My husband came home from work the other day to tell me that someone from the office had brought in Tomato Soup Cake which he said was delicious. I had never heard of this before so I turned to Google for confirmation that it even existed (you should never believe a man!). Apparently Tomato Soup Cake is extremely popular in the southern US states. It's similar to a carrot cake as it has quite a lot of spices and you would never know that the "secret" ingredient is tomato soup. But it's spicier than carrot cake and not at all as sweet.

To boost my energy levels (that was my excuse anyway!), I decided to give this recipe a go yesterday. I have to say this cake is absolutely delicious and it goes incredibly well with the cream cheese icing. If you like, you can add some walnuts or raisins to the mixture to make it even more like a carrot cake.

I've butchered quite a few recipes so I don't think I should reference any of them!

200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
60g butter

270g sugar
2 large eggs
1 can Condensed Cream of Tomato Soup (mine was 300g can)

200g cream cheese
60g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
400g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 5 minutes on medium-high setting. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each for 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with soup, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat well after each addition for 1 minute.

Pour into two 8-inch round layer tins which have been greased and lined on the bottom with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in tins, then remove to wire rack to cool thoroughly, 20 to 30 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese, vanilla and butter together then gradually add the icing sugar until smooth.