Monday, 30 September 2013

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

This month I got the opportunity to think outside the 'birthday box', since I wanted to make a cake for my friend Messner's birthday, and he ain't a sugarpaste kinda guy. It was also a rather big birthday, and since I spend so much of my time making up recipes as I go along, I thought I'd make a special effort to actually follow a real recipe. And had it not been for a minor shortage of ground almonds in my cupboard, I'd have managed it.

He's a big fan of rhubarb (who isn't?!) so that seemed an obvious place to start, and I found a great-sounding recipe in my BBC Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes book.

It's a little involved, but the end result is magnificent, and you should really give it a go!

Here's the original BBC Good Food recipe (together with my very minor necessary amendment).

Rhubarb and Orange Cake

350g/12oz prepared rhubarb, cut into 4cm lengths
200g/8oz golden caster sugar
finely grated zest and juice of half an orange
140g/5oz butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp baking powder
85g/3oz self raising flour
100g/4oz ground almonds
(I only had 75g/3oz ground almonds and it turned out fine!)

For the topping
25g/1oz butter, melted
25g/1oz light muscovado sugar
finely grated zest of half an orange
50g/2oz slivered almonds
icing sugar, for dusting (I totally forgot to do this)

1. Mix the rhubarb with 50g/2oz of the caster sugar and the orange zest. Leave for one hour, stirring a couple of times.

2. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celcius/gas mark 5/. Butter and line the base of a deep 9inch round cake tin. Cream thebutter and remaining caster sugar. Add the eggs, baking powder, flour and ground almonds. Beat gently, but don't overmix.

3. Stir in the orange, juice, spoon into the tin and level. Drain the rhubarb and spoon over the top. Bake for 25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, combine the butter, sugar, zest and almonds.

5. Reduce the oven to 180 degrees Celcius/gas mark 4. Sprinkle the topping over the cake and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes or until firm.

6. Cool in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack.

7. Dust with icing sugar (or don't!), and serve warm with whipped cream, or just on its own with a cup of tea. Yum!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Simplicity defined - customisable cupcakes

I love a good cupcake. It's amazing when you have a tiny package of sugary perfection with unexpected treats hidden inside and lashings of frosting on the outside. It puts me in mind of a sucrose-loaded wonderland where all your diabetic dreams can come true.
But I also love an easy ride, and sometimes there's just not time to faff around with complicated recipes. At these times, I return to a trusted favourite - standard cupcakes 'like Granny used to make'. This was back in the days of pounds and ounces, which makes the recipe super easy to remember. In ounces, it's
The same of everything, and half as many eggs.
This simple mantra is a revelatory truth in the kitchen.
e.g. 2oz each of Sugar, butter and self raising flour, plus one egg.
It's easy to multiply up, and it's also very easy to customise. So here are some ideas and examples...

Classic cupcakes
2oz (55g) unsalted butter
2oz (55g) sugar
2oz (55g) self raising flour
1 free range egg, beaten
1. Cream together butter and sugar.
2. Stir in the egg.
3. Fold in the flour.
4. Divide the mixture between 9 cupcake cases and bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4.
Customise those bad boys!
You want a classic chocolate cupcake? Remove a dessert spoon of the flour, and replace with two dessert spoons of cocoa powder.
You prefer a bit of chocolate fudge? Replace the caster sugar with muscovado sugar. And while you're at it, why not cut up some small chocolates, and plonk a lump of each into the centre of each cake!
Vanilla's more up your street? Well, be my guest and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to your batter! Hell, if you're fancy, you can even scrape the seeds our of a vanilla pod instead and add those.
Want something delicate and fluffy - go for golden caster sugar instead of the standard stuff!
Fancy a bit of fruit? Stir a spoonful of berries or jam through your batter before spooning it into the cupcake cases! Or stir in half the juice and the grated zest of an orange, lemon or lime (save the rest of the juice to make up a simple icing with icing sugar).
Get decorating
Batman cupcakes
Go for a simple icing of icing sugar and water, or icing sugar with fruit juice (and colouring for a bit of a change). Whilst it's wet, you can add whatever jellies or sprinkles you fancy.
Add a thin layer of melted chocolate - super simple! And why not chuck on some mini eggs for giggles?! Another variant of this is to melt Mars bars in a bain-marie, and spread the resulting fudgey gloop over the top of your cupcakes. Yum.
Load it up with a fancy ganache or a simple buttercream (see here) or if you're feeling lazy, you could always try a shop-bought frosting - though I have to admit when I tried Betty Crocker's chocolate fudge, I was pretty darn disappointed. You can use custom-made (non-edible) decorations for super-speedy decorating.
Get creative with sugarpaste - the key to effective sugarpaste tops is to simplify ideas to their component parts and that way you'll have really eye-catching designs. I made some chocolate fudge cupcakes for a friend's recent Batman-themed birthday party, and based the tops on the motifs and costumes of some of the characters from the comics.

Batman cupcake
Robin cupcake
Joker cupcake

Harvey Dent/Twoface cupcake

Poison Ivy cupcake
Harley Quinn cupcake