Thursday, 21 July 2016

Chocolate Brownie and Meringue Cake

May and June were BUSY this year.  I took on a lot of extra days of work so it was almost like working full time again.  Good thing really since, come August, that is exactly what I am doing!  That job interview I mentioned way back in March/April? The one I thought I did terrible on and came out of crying?  Turns out I actually did great and am now a permanently contracted, full time teacher with Fife Council.  Once again, there were issues with paperwork and references and the like but everything should be sorted now and I will have a class again.  I am so excited!  Planning has therefore been taking up a lot of my free time.  I am making up a whole bunch of maths resources for myself at the moment.  Hence a lack of blog activity. 

There hasn't been a lack of baking mind you.  I have baked quite a few things in the last couple of months but have generally not been 100% happy with them.  So obviously they weren't going up on here.  The people I made them for loved them.  They always do.  But I am a perfectionist.  There's one cake I was very proud of that you guys never got to see because I hate the photos I took.  They were just awful.

But now it's the holidays and I have a lot of free time on my hands, I can get back to some regular baking for a bit.  

My main audience still remains the Hubby's RPG group in Dundee.  They are supposed to be giving me requests or ideas but they're not that great at it.  I get a lot of the same, safe things suggested and that's no fun.  Chocolate is a popular one so I keep looking for ways to make chocolate cake a bit different.  This time around I decided to include meringue.  I liked the recipe I found that cooked it as part of the layers.  It looked very effective.  I did change out the filling though.  One of the party doesn't like cream or fruit and the original had raspberries and cream in it.  I asked the Hubby if he would prefer chocolate buttercream or marshmallow fluff.  He went with the latter.

It was a good call.  I've never made chocolate marshmallow fluff before so just had a bit of a guess and added cocoa powder at the stage I would usually include vanilla extract.  It worked REALLY well.  I am not a big fan of adding cocoa powder to things.  I find it too bitter.  Marshmallow fluff is so sweet though that it balances it out beautifully.  It was so yummy I was licking the remains out the bowl.

It ended up being a very pretty cake so I was happy about that.  I was worried the brownie would be dry but it wasn't.  The meringue was perfect and didn't taste of eggs like the last time I made it.  And, as I said, the marshmallow fluff was fantastic!  Very much enjoyed by all.

Recipe - adapted from Miranda Gore Brown via BBC Food
Makes 1 x 9inch cake

  • 200g/7oz dark chocolate
  • 200g/7oz butter
  • 250g/8.75oz icing sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 115g/4oz plain flour 
  • 4 egg whites
  • 200g/7oz caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar  
Marshmallow Filling - adapted from Bake Me I'm Yours... Sweet Bitesize Bakes
  • 1 large egg white
  • 125g/4.5oz caster sugar
  • 25g/0.75oz golden syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 100g/3.5oz dark chocolate
  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gask Mark 5 and grease and line two 23cm/9inch round cake pans.
  2. Start with the brownie base.  Melt 180g/6.25oz of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of gently simmering water.  Chop up the remaining 20g/0.75oz and set aside.
  3. Beat the butter and icing sugar together in a large bowl until pale and creamy.
  4. Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well combined.
  5. Add the flour a little at a time and beat in until the mixture is smooth.
  6. Fold the melted chocolate into the mixture until it is evenly combined and then fold in the chopped chocolate.
  7. Split the mixture between the prepared cake tins and bake for 10-12 minutes.  The top of the brownie will have just started to solidify.  Set tins aside and allow to cool slightly.  Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3.
  8. Make the meringue by whisking the cream of tartar together with the egg whites until soft peaks form.
  9. Slowly whisk in the sugar until the meringue is smooth and glossy.
  10. Divide the meringue in half and spoon it over the brownie bases.
  11. Bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the meringue is just starting to turn golden brown.
  12. Set aside to cool completely in the tins.
  13. To make the filling, put a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
  14. Place everything except the cocoa powder in the bowl.
  15. Whilst it is heating, stir with an electric whisk for several minutes (about 10) until you get shiny soft peaks.
  16. Remove from the heat and whisk for another two minutes to thicken it up.  
  17. Sift in the cocoa powder and whisk in too.
  18. Allow to cool.
  19. Chop 50g/1.5oz of the dark chocolate into small pieces and fold into the cooled marshmallow fluff.
  20. Carefully remove one of the cake layers from its tin and place it meringue-side-down on a plate.
  21. Cover with the marshmallow filling, leaving a slight gap around the edge.
  22. Remove the other layer and place it meringue-side-up on top of the filling.
  23. Melt the remaining dark chocolate and drizzle over the top of the cake.  Allow to set.    

Monday, 9 May 2016

Irn Bru Cupcakes


For those of you that don't know, I'm not a native of Scotland.  I grew up in Merry Old England.  I just came up here for university because they had an awesome programming course that would also let me study Japanese.  However, I met the guy who would eventually become my husband and so, after a couple of years commuting back and forth over 500 miles I came up one summer and then never really left.  I'm grateful I have such lovely in-laws, since I was living in their house for 9 months without officially asking.  Not that I didn't offer to pay rent but I was told having their son back home was probably more expensive than having me there too since he ate way more than I did.  Anyway, whilst I didn't know I would end up up here, I couldn't be happier.  I love Scotland.
One thing I've learnt though, since living here, and especially since starting work as a teacher, is that Scotland is a country that is very proud of its heritage.  Every year (usually the beginning because of Burns' Night) at school we dedicate some topic time to some cultural aspect of the country.  There will also likely be a ceilidh (so we all teach dance in PE at this time) and indulging in some traditionally Scottish food.  At primary school, that often translates to shortbread (because a lot of kids will refuse haggis) and that classic Scottish drink: Irn Bru.  

If you've not heard of Irn Bru, it is a luminous orange fizzy drink with a distinctive blue label.  It tastes of...well, I don't know.  If I ask anyone they struggle to explain.  I've seen people on the Internet say it tastes like bubblegum with a hint of ginger.  I've also seen other people on the Internet heatedly disagree with this assessment.  Someone described it as 'an orange drink without tasting like oranges'.  I have personally not drunk it.  I'm incredibly picky about drinks, especially fizzy ones.  I can tell you it smells ridiculously sweet.  Almost sickeningly so and I find that off-putting.  A lot of people like it though.  And it's oh-so popular in its native Scotland.

These cupcakes came about at a request from the Hubby's roleplay group.  If I don't have anything I particularly want to try out, I take suggestions for flavours.  Irn Bru was quite an interesting notion.  I've made cakes with cola before, as well as a couple of biscuits, so the principle would be quite similar.  However, I didn't have a syrup I could use for flavouring (although apparently the SodaStream Highland Fizz syrup is like Irn Bru) so I ended up making my own.  I've heard about boiling a drink down to a concentrated syrup but I'd never tried it before.  For the most part, it is quite easy, but I learnt that you have to be careful not to boil it too far.  If you remove a bit too much water from the syrup it will become a sugar solution that will harden as it cools.  You don't want it to do that because it is impossible to mix into your batter.  Believe me.  When your syrup cools, it should stay a syrup.  My first syrup was a disaster and I only realised after I made a second.  My third syrup was perfect.

I ended up with 3 syrups because I made two batches of cakes on two different Fridays.  During my first attempt I made 2 batches of syrup because I only bought 1ltr of Irn Bru and it wasn't enough for the cakes and the buttercream, especially because it hardened.  However, my main problem with the first batch came about when cooking them.  These cakes rise quite a bit and despite putting what I thought wasn't much in each case, they spilled up over the top and made a mess.  They tasted great and were wonderfully soft, but they looked ugly.  I was annoyed but send them anyway with the intent to make them again the next week so I could make them look prettier and take pictures for the blog.  As you can see, that batch came out really nice.  I had a couple overflow but most rose juuuuuust to the top of the case.  Perfect.

They went down well.  You have to eat cake and buttercream together to get the full effect of the Irn Bru flavour.  It's subtler in the sponge but there's a big kick in the buttercream.  And for the sake of aesthetics, baking them in blue cases and adding blue sprinkles gives a nice nod to the bottles.    

Recipe - adapted from Baking With Granny
Makes 15

Irn Bru Syrup:
  • 2ltr Irn Bru (must be full sugar, not diet)
  1. Put the Irn Bru into a large saucepan and set over a medium heat. 
  2. Bring to a boil and then allow it to simmer until the amount of liquid in the saucepan has reduced to about 200ml (this can take a couple of hours).  It will take on a syrupy consistency.  (Be careful not to boil it beyond this point, otherwise it will harden up when cooled, rather than staying a syrup).
  3. Transfer to a jug and leave to cool.  It will thicken slightly as it does so.   
  • 240g/8.5oz plain flour
  • 200g/7oz caster sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 80g/3oz butter
  • 200ml/7fl.oz milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml/3.5fl.oz Irn Bru syrup 
  • Orange food colouring (optional)
  • 400g/14oz icing sugar (plus extra just in case)
  • 100g/3.5oz butter
  • 4-5 tbsp Irn Bru syrup
  • Orange food colouring (optional)
  • Blue sprinkles (optional) 
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and line two muffin trays with 15 muffin cases. 
  2. Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl.
  3. Add the butter and beat together until the mixture takes on a sandy appearance.
  4. Mix in half the milk.
  5. Whisk the eggs and Irn Bru syrup into the remaining milk and then gradually add the the mixture, beating until just incorporated.  Do not overmix.
  6. Fill the muffin cases just under 2/3 full and then bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  
  7. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.   
  8. Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and then beat in the butter.
  9. When the butter starts to come together, start adding your Irn Bru syrup a tablespoon at a time. 
  10. Mix until buttercream has a light, fluffy consistency.
  11. If you want a more intense flavour, add more syrup but you may need to add more icing sugar to compensate so it doesn't turn runny.  Add orange food colouring at this point for a deeper colour.
  12. If using, decorate with blue sprinkles.   

Monday, 2 May 2016

Easter Lemon Pavlova

I love spring.  It is possibly my favourite time of year (although autumn is a very close second).  I just love the sunshine without it being too hot; I like that most of the bugs are still asleep; that there are daffodils and tulips and crocuses everywhere; the colours; and that all my favourite Easter chocolates are available to buy!  It just makes me so happy.

Okay, so spring in Scotland isn't entirely like that.  This last week we had several days where it alternated between sunshine and hail every 30 minutes.  We even got snow the other day.  Not really what you would expect at the end of April.  Well, that's not true.  Did you know it has snowed more times on Easter Monday than on Christmas Day in the UK?  So if Easter had fallen this week we would be continuing that trend.  However, it fell early this year (which made for a more bearable spring term at school) towards the end of March.  It was a lovely week.  Lots of sunshine, although there was the occasional early April shower.

As is becoming a bit of a tradition, the mother-in-law hosted an Easter lunch (which was also a last-time-we-see-you-before-we-go-on-holiday-for-10-days meal - they went away, not us).  I was in charge of dessert!  I love that.  I knew I wanted something light and happy looking.  I wanted to steer clear of chocolate cake because that is heavy and dark and not really suited to spring.  I wanted spring colours and flavours!  Lemon is definitely a spring flavour in my mind.  Spring colour too.  My sister had suggested a lemon drizzle cake (because that's her favourite sort of cake) but I ended up finding something I liked better: lemon pavlova.  It looked fancy, would be sweet and tangy and would be light...if I could do it.

Those of you that have stuck with this blog the last few years know that meringue is one of my nemeses when it comes to baking (ganache being the other).  I understand the principle of how it goes together and the cooking process but it has so often gone wrong.  I have been trying to practise it more.  Lack of this on the blog shows it is generally not very successful, though it is getting better.  I think I've got a handle on both Swiss and Italian meringue by now.  It's just been the French kind that still gives me trouble.  But I am nothing if not persistent.  I was going to give it a shot.  It was Mary Berry after all and there was a good chance she would not lead me astray.

And for the most part, this is true.  My meringue actually turned out really well.  It tasted AMAZING (sorry but I am going to boast about that because I don't get to say that about meringue too often).  It was crisp on the outside but so so soft and fluffy inside.  Dare I say, it was perfect?  The only thing that went wrong is that I broke a little bit of it when I was trying to see if it would come away from the paper (you can see the slightly collapsed side in the picture above).  I was beyond pleased.  Unfortunately, it does not mean I have finally mastered the elusive meringue.  Last week I tried making a meringue roulade and it collapsed on me, having clearly been undercooked and tasted like eggs. Bleh!

High off my successful meringue, I was hopeful going into the filling.  However, my luck started to run out here.  I ended up attempting it twice, and twice it did not turn out quite right.  For some reason, this lemon curd recipe would not thicken for me and I ended up with an awful lot.  And when I added it to my cream, everything just turned to liquid.  I tried firming it up in the fridge but to no avail.  In the end, I used what I had.  The meringue was reasonably well sealed so most of the filling stayed in.  It did set after an hour or so.  And it tasted great!  I was left with a fair bit of it though.  However, I realised it didn't need to go to waste as it was basically a custard ice cream mix so I threw it in the ice cream maker and the the Hubby has been happily devouring it since.

So despite a few hiccups, this turned out really well.  And it is DELICIOUS.  As I said, the meringue is crispy on the outside but beautifully soft inside.  The tangy lemon balances the sweet meringue perfectly and it is so easy to eat.  There were 5 of us at the meal and we ate the whole thing.  Yum yum!

Recipe - adapted from Mary Berry via BBC Food

Candied Lemon Peel
  • 100g/3.5oz caster sugar, plus extra for covering
  • Zest of 4 lemons cut into long strips
  • 6 egg whites
  • 350g/12oz caster sugar
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
Lemon Curd Filling:
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 350g/12oz caster sugar
  • Juice of 4 lemons
  • 225g/8oz butter
  • 450ml/0.75pints double cream
  •  24 chocolate mini eggs
  1. Make the candied peel first as it needs time to set.  Put 100ml/3.5fl.oz of water into a saucepan along with the caster sugar.
  2. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. 
  3. Add the strips of lemon zest to the pan and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture turns syrupy.
  4. Drain the lemon zest and then lay out on a tray that has been lined with parchment and then coat in more sugar.  Leave to dry in a warm place for a couple of hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3, lay a piece of baking parchment on a tray and draw a 25cm/10inch circle on it.
  6. Put the egg whites into the bowl and whisk on the highest speed of a hand whisk or stand mixer until they are stiff.  Then add generous teaspoons of sugar until the mixture is stiff, shiny and stands in peaks.
  7. Mix the vinegar and cornflour together until smooth and then stir it into the meringue.
  8. Spread half of the mixture inside the circle you drew on the paper.  Put the rest in a piping bag fitted with a rose nozzle and pipe 8 nests around the edge of the circle.  Make sure there are no gaps in between or the filling could leak out later.
  9. Put the meringue in the oven and turn down the heat to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.  Bake for 1.5-2 hours, or until the meringue comes easily away from the paper.  It will be a pale creamy colour and may crack a bit but don't worry.
  10. Turn the oven off but leave the meringue inside to get cold.
  11.  Meanwhile, make the lemon curd by putting the egg yolks, lemon juice and sugar into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water and whisking.
  12. Gradually add the butter, still whisking, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat and leave to cool (It will thicken more as it cools).
  13.  Whisk the double cream into soft peaks then swirl the cooled lemon curd through it. (Try not to overmix it or it will turn runny).
  14. Spoon the filling into the base of the meringue and into each of the meringue nests. (If you end up with more filling than you need, you can put the rest into an ice cream maker to make lemon ice cream).
  15. Decorate by putting 3 mini eggs in each nest and then sprinkling the candied lemon on top.