Thursday, 26 January 2012

Berry muffins


What spurred me on to make these here muffins? A near-disaster ending in almost-mutilation! Not to myself, I hasten to add. The other day my lovely friend N was blending ingredients for a butter chicken recipe using a stick blender, and accidentally whizzed her left thumb into the mix while trying to prise out a cashew nut from the blades. Aaaaaaarrrrgh. Thankfully, she has now been stitched back together again, and retains her thumb but sadly not her fingernail. I thought only one thing could bring a smile to her face. Muffins! Yes!!!!

For years I have searched high and low for a muffin recipe that would replicate those ones you get in upmarket cafes – basically, soft and juicy on the inside, crisp on the top with a bit of crunch, with a satisfying overhang over the muffin case. I never seemed to be able to make them that way, the muffins I made always had something slightly earnest about them…but then I found this recipe by Donna Hay. Donna Hay is a bit like an Australian Martha Stewart, but younger and trendier. She lives in a world of tasteful decor and food styling (she is, after all, a food stylist first and foremost, a cook second), and strikes me as the kind of woman who would take your head off if you DARED to be messy in her kitchen. In the series ‘Fast, Fresh, Simple’, currently airing on the Good Food channel, she serenely puts together recipes in the kitchen of her gorgeous magazine-spread of a lofty beach house that looks out onto the ocean, and her kitchen is white, white, white. Her gaze seems to X-Ray its way right through you, via the screen.  Check out ‘Donna’s Diary’ – yikes...I would be terrified to be one of her kitchen interns, for sure…

Anyway, any muffin recipe from the Hay style factory was bound to be perfect, accurate and good-looking. And it was! Plus, very easy and quick to make.

I have tweaked it a little bit and added a mix of frozen berries, plus lemon zest.

Based on Donna Hay’s Blueberry Muffin recipe

Makes 12 large muffins

You will need:

375 g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
200 g golden caster sugar
125 ml vegetable oil
1 egg
Zest of 1 lemon
125 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g mixed berries (blueberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants etc – Sainsbury’s do a great ‘Forest Fruits’ in their freezer section)
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Place the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, egg, milk, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Pour this wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon until just combined – do not worry if the mixture seems fairly solid and almost dry. Add the blueberries and mix gently to combine.

Spoon the mixture into paper muffin cases placed into a 12-hole (125ml per hole) muffin tray (I use an ice cream scoop to measure it out which makes it really easy) and then sprinkle the top of each muffin with a dusting of granulated sugar. Bake for 30 – 35 mins until golden on top, and a skewer poked into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Remove each muffin from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.



Thursday, 19 January 2012

Anatomy of a wedding cake


I have recently completed a terrifying task – making a wedding cake for my good friends C and M. There was no way I could not take the bait – after all, C made my wedding cake four years ago: a towering edifice in deepest darkest chocolate, decorated with chocolate leaves. It was dangerously delicious, and I wolfed down about 16 slices on the day (I was never the bride who lost weight for her wedding)! Poor C had a total nightmare making the chocolate ganache icing, dispatching her ex boyfriend in his car to drive the length and breadth of the Kentish countryside on a quest for dark chocolate to make a second batch when the first failed. I still feel mortified about that…

Anyway, when C recently got engaged to M, I was incredibly flattered to be asked to make their wedding cake. If not a bit flipping scared. I had never made one in my life – and all my cakes come out of the oven slightly uneven and looking rustic. I am strictly a home baker. But am quite stubborn and like a challenge…

C wanted a lemon cake, so in November I made three different types of lemon sponge, ranging from a ridiculously buttery french lemon ‘Quatre Quarts’ cake, to a BBC Good Food lemon wedding cake, and then, the winner, an Annie Bell ‘Rich Lemon Curd Sponge’, from her book ‘Gorgeous Cakes’. C borrowed a massive tin from a chef friend for the bottom tier, and I made a final test cake over Christmas, because my oven has a mind of its own and I was terrified that such a large cake would never cook properly.

The sponge was to be filled with lemon curd and iced with lemony cream cheese frosting, so I used Nigel Slater’s lemon curd recipe and used C’s frosting recipe pimped up with some lemon. So, four test cakes later, this is how the final process went last week…with a little help from some ‘how to’ videos!

The big, bad-ass bottom layer:




Putting lemon curd into the middle of a big, gorgeous lemony cakey sandwich:




The bottom layer with its undercoat of frosting (to enable the top layer of frosting to go on smoothly):



Ta-daaaa! Complete with marzipan ducks (made bleary eyed at 1am the morning before the wedding, their heads held onto their bodies with cotton bud sticks):



I pressed flaked almonds onto the edges of the cakes and stuck fresh roses into the gaps between the sponges:


The big moment when C and M cut the cake (I almost couldn’t watch, was terrified that the cake would disintegrate or that it would topple):



Cake dissected, ready to eat:




And now, the recipes:

Cake, based on Rich Lemon Curd Sponge recipe by Annie Bell: (this will make a 20cm cake – NOT a massive wedding cake!)

225g unsalted butter, diced
225g golden granulated sugar
225g self-raising flour
2 tsps baking powder
4 medium organic eggs
50ml double cream
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsps dark rum (I used Havana Club)

Juice of one lemon
50g golden granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 170C fan/190C/gas mark 5 adn butter a 20cm cake tin 9cm deep with a removeable base. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and cream together. Transfer the mixture to the cake tin, smooth the surface and bake for 50-55 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a bowl, stirring evenly to distribute it, then spoon over the top of the cake. Leave it to cool, allowing the juice to sink into the sponge.

Lemon curd filling, based on recipe by Nigel Slater:

Zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons
150g sugar
100g unsalted butter cut into cubes
3 organic eggs and 1 egg yolk

Put the lemon zest, juice, butter and sugar into a heatproof bowl set over a simmering pan of water – make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir from time to time until everything is melted. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and egg yolk with a fork, then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the mixture cook over the simmering water, using a whisk to stir regularly, for between 10 and 15 minutes, until it thickens up like custard. Take off the heat and let cool down. As it cools, give it an occasional stir with the whisk. (If you can wait that long, it will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge)

Cream cheese frosting, recipe by C:

150g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar
225g full fat cream cheese
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsps vanilla extract

Cream the butter and icing sugar together with an electric whisk. Then add the cream cheese and mix together. Finally, add the vanilla extract, lemon juice and zest.

To ice the cake, first do a thin layer of cream cheese frosting and chill the cake in the fridge. Then add another layer of frosting, spreading around with a palette knife. Decorate with flaked almonds.


YUM! Congrats to C and M who make the most amazing couple. I proper welled up at their wedding, it was just amazing…aaaaah you guys!