From One Extreme To Another

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My family, like any, have contrasting dietary views and phases which makes baking a single item to please opposing teams (healthy vs. all chocolate everything) near on impossible. At the moment my Dad happens to be on a ‘health kick’ which eliminates extreme quantities of fat and sugar, whereas my brothers are on a growth spurt/ eat-everything-in-sight-the-unhealthier-the-better  phase. As I am sure you can imagine, these food ideals don’t really correlate, so today I made a bake geared towards each ‘requirement’. Pictured above are some rocky road cupcakes I concocted with some store cupboard items; they are made up of a moist chocolate hazelnut sponge, topped with chocolate butter cream and wedges of homemade rocky road, cranberries and marshmallows… four have disappeared since my brother’s return from college… I can’t imagine where they’ve got to. Below are my healthy nut granola bars. With some simple substitutions, I have taken a basic flapjack recipe and rejected the bad stuff. These contain flaxseed, chia seeds ( a new superfood), almonds, cranberries, raisins, peanut butter, honey and rolled oats- in other words, they are packed with protein, healthy fats and vitamins.

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The Tea Cake Challenge

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Recently I’ve been stuck for baking challenges (what a difficult life I lead), but today I remembered a certain Great British Bake Off technical which left even the best bakers unstuck when, on a hot summer’s day, they were faced with melting and setting chocolate around handmade digestive biscuits and lightly whipped marshmallow; on remembering their struggle, I had my challenge for my day off work sorted.

Starting with the tempered chocolate, I feverishly begun the tea cake task, measuring the temperature exactly then leaving it to cool before lining silicone molds with two layers. Having left the chocolate to set, the digestives were the next element to tend to- as easy as they are to make, they are equally easy to overcook (luckily most of mine survived un-charred) which was an unexpected hurdle in the process . After coating the cooled biscuits in chocolate, I started on the marshmallow which is actually quite straight forward. Just throw syrup, egg whites, sugar and salt into a bowl and whisk for 10 minutes over a high heat and voila! After each section of the bake had been completed it was just a case of piecing the puzzle together. The marshmallow was piped into the chocolate shells and the biscuits sealed onto the bottoms with remaining chocolate.

I have to say, I am quite proud of my attempts… that said, I didn’t have a time limit, a heat wave and a great deal of pressure to contend with… just a hungry teenage brother urging me to finish.

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Do you remember the Shire, Mr Frodo?

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My boyfriend and I share an unhealthy obsession with Lord of the Rings, so it seemed the perfect theme to apply to his 20th birthday cake. I opted for a Hobbit Hole design and whilst I had plenty of ambitious ideas, I couldn’t help thinking (ever the optimist) that the end result was likely to resemble Mordor or, worse, a demolition site as opposed to a rolling grass mound complete with plant pots and carved wooden doors…

This said, I surprised myself with the result and the reception it received wasn’t too bad either (lets just say had this been Bilbo’s house, he would’ve been made homeless within an hour of its reveal). In other words, if you want guaranteed compliments, provide people with ganache, chocolate cake, buttercream, sugarpaste and nerdy cake aesthetics- it’s a winning combination.

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The Yellow Peril

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Earlier this week I was commissioned to create a fun novelty cake in the shape of a JCB tractor for a construction worker’s 50th birthday. Having never made a sugarpaste covered cake before and with that being the only possible method of creating a tractor to good effect, I was not particularly filled with confidence when I embarked upon this bake. Half way through the cake and with only the yellow base on, my confidence entirely diminished due to a lopsided sponge (yes-the worst happened…!?) and I had one of my special little baking spats (this includes cursing for approximately 15 minutes, pacing and not tending to the task at hand). Having got over my minor attack of perfectionism, I continued with the order, hoping that details would transform it into the object my customer had asked for; luckily (although only at the last minute) the vehicle form came together in the end and I think it’s been a success! I’ll leave you to decide if you agree.

 

Posh Carrot Cake

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Yesterday was my Grandads Birthday so I decided to make a decidedly ‘grown up’ version of his favourite- carrot cake. Creating such an elaborate design doesn’t have to take hours and cost a small fortune though; for this creation I simply used a few store cupboard staples and transformed them! The sponge itself is my own carrot and walnut cake recipe to which I’ve added ginger and lemon to give it a kick. The icing is my usual cream cheese concoction- on top of this is where I’ve got a bit creative. After covering the entire cake with the cream cheese mixture, I finely chopped some walnuts and pressed them into the sides then formed some lines in the remaining icing with a palette knife.

Caster sugar was my weapon of choice for the top decoration. After melting it into spun sugar, I quickly whipped the liquid around the end of a pastry brush, waited for it to solidify and was left with sugary spirals which I think look quite effective. The central decorations are caramel dipped hazelnuts. Why don’t you experiment with sugar and jazz up one of  your favourite bakes!

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Chocolate Eclairs

 

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Having built up a wide cake baking repotoire over the past couple of years, today I decided it was time I challenged myself to something I am a little less familiar with- patisserie. As a chocolate-obsessed kind of eater, eclairs seemed like the perfect place to start. Eclairs are made up of a complicated crisp choux pastry filled with sweet vanilla cream and topped with milk chocolate; the difficulty in making these treats comes with forming a perfect pastry (but not over cooked) shell to hold the filling. Having said that, for a first attempt these look pretty close to what I envisaged, and taste wise… well, you can’t go far wrong with chocolate, pastry and cream!

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Blueberry and Banana Muffins

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I combined a few muffin recipes to create these delicious treats! Packed full of blueberries and mashed banana, these muffins are ideal for a healthy pudding or even a satisfying breakfast. I’ve topped them with a cinnamon streusel crumble for extra crunch and grated the zest of a lemon into the mix to add even more flavour. The key to any muffin recipe is not to over mix- you want to bring the dry and wet together until it is only just combined. I usually allow it to sit for about half an hour so bubbles form before baking too to make them extra light and fluffy. Why don’t you create your own recipes today, don’t be afraid of experimenting!

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50th Birthday Cake

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When I embarked on making this cake I was skeptical about whether or not my ambitious idea of two different cakes baked with varied frostings, flavourings and colours adorned with hand made chocolate roses would materialise… I had images of wilting roses, mutant shapes and dry sponges on my (forever anxious) mind during baking, so I am relieved with the actual result.

The ’5′ shaped cake is a rich chocolate sponge filled with milk chocolate ganache and iced with dark chocolate ganache. The ’0′ is made up of a nutty carrot cake which is filled and covered with cream cheese frosting. Both cakes are decorated with hand made roses- on the ’5′ with white chocolate roses and on the ’0′ with milk chocolate. Having never used molding chocolate before I would certainly recommend it- I prefer it to sugar paste as I find the results a bit more modern and less ‘old-fashioned-wedding-cake’.

Now comes the challenge of transportation… my least favourite part of baking for parties! A heart-in-mouth journey awaits…

 

Not Bad For a First Timer

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They’re not the perfect rounds you’d see on the streets of Paris, but for a first attempt I am quite pleased with these macaroons. With raspberry filling and vanilla meringue they’re light and delicious mouthfuls which are incredibly moreish; so much so that they were demolished within a couple of hours! In the background you might notice some slightly less attractive chocolate macaroons- they were just as tasty but who wants to look at uneven and wonky creations (not me!) ?

So if it’s a patisserie challenge you’re after, you will need 125g ground almonds, 175g icing sugar, 3 egg whites and 75g caster sugar (and any additional flavourings you fancy).

The key to baking success with macaroons is taking note of the method and sticking to the recipe. Firstly you will need to whizz together the almonds and icing sugar into a fine powder. In a separate bowl whisk up your egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the caster sugar and mix until thick. It is at this stage that you can divide the meringue between different bowls and add flavourings or colours. You will then need to add the almond mix to the meringue and fold together. Spoon this into a piping bag and pipe even circles onto baking sheets then leave to form a skin for at least 20 minutes (this is important as it creates that smooth top characteristic of macaroons). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes at 160 then leave to cool and fill with buttercream or ganache.

Your macaroons should be crisp on the outside but chewy in the middle. Good luck and happy baking!

Everyday Bakes

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The result of not having a decent camera to photograph my university bakes coupled with my aversion to mobile uploads has resulted in JUSTNICESTUFF experiencing a certain lack of posts in recent weeks, so I figured now was the time to make an exception to my no phone-photo rule  and update you on my baking. Pictured here are six of my favourite March creations (which seem to share the theme of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate).

Starting from the top left is my novelty chocolate birthday cake decorated with three different ganaches; it’s supposed to be a raccoon (in relation to a house joke… has anyone seen that Friends episode?.. ‘this raccoon came in’… No? Never mind). Top right is the three layer carrot, walnut and ginger cake I made last night topped with cream cheese frosting. On the second row we have a cinnamon swirl with homemade pastry and white chocolate chip muffins. On the bottom row are my triple chocolate shortbreads alongside the ultimate chocolate cake- no calories spared. If you’re after any of these recipes, just ask and I will deliver!