Advent Calendar Day 2: Christmas Cake

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This year I thought I’d risk making a new Christmas Cake recipe and only time will tell if it’s any good….

I was gifted Darina Allen’s Christmas book last Christmas and having spent a couple of weeks in Ballymaloe this year, I thought it was only right that I try the cake! I also had the crazy idea of swapping the whiskey for some of the Madeira that I brought back from holidays in the summer….

Darina Allen’s Christmas Cake
225g butter
225g soft-brown sugar
6 organic free-range eggs
285g flour
1 tsp mixed spice
65 ml Irish whiskey (or Madeira)
340g best-quality sultanas
340g best-quality currants
340g best-quality raisins
110g real glacé cherries
110g homemade candied peel
55g ground almonds
55g whole almonds
Rind of 1 organic unwaxed lemon
Rind of 1 organic unwaxed orange
2 small  apples, grated

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Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23 cm) round tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them out. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the Madeira and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F

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Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and a pinch of salt and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently, but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Lay a sheet of brown paper over the top. Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160C/325F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer — it should come out completely clean, 3-3½ hours in total. Pour the rest of the Madeira over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

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Next day remove from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper, but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required….

Melissa xx

Advent Calendar Day 1: Research

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Can you believe it’s been two months since I last wrote a blog post? Sorry.

I’m working too hard; long hours, day in, day out… every day. I am enjoying the new job (most of the time), but it leaves me little time to bake or blog. It’s heart breaking because I feel that my life is running away from me.

Anyway… It’s December 1st and for the third year in a row, I’m going to try and bring you my Advent calendar to mark the 24 day run up to Christmas. Who needs chocolate behind a little window when you can have recipes and fun behind every post!

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I’ve started flicking through my Christmas cook book collection for ideas and inspiration. I’ve also looked back over last year’s posts to remind myself of some great recipes.

I’d forgotten all about Sharon Hearne-Smith’s No Bake Baking book. Last year I made her flash florentines and substituted some of the fruit and nuts with others, as she suggested.

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Ingredients:
50g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g soft brown light sugar
50g creme fraiche
1 piece of stem ginger, finely chopped
150g nuts (I used almonds and hazelnuts)
100g cranberries
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g chocolate

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I melted the butter in a medium pan over a low heat. I added the sugars and turned up the heat, stirring for 5 minutes until smooth and gooey.

Then I carefully stired in the creme fraiche, stirring over a high heat until the sugars dissolved and the mixture thickened.

I removed the mixture from the heat and stired in the fruit, ginger, nuts, bicarb and vanilla.

I dropped the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, flattening into discs and left them to cool in the fridge.

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Once the florentines were set, I melted the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water. I allowed the chocolate to cool before spreading the back of each florentine with chocolate, popping it back on the tray and back in the fridge.

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Melissa xx

Lemony Cupcakes

I’m still in my cupcake phase and I still don’t know where it came from. For years I was very against cupcakes- they’re just jazzed up versions of old fashion fairy cakes! I loved fairy cakes growing up; little cakes with chocolate chips or sultanas in…. With a blob of runny white icing running down the paper case. Delicious! So why make fancy versions, that were inevitably too sweet with way too much icing on top?

Maybe I just decided that life is too short to worry about such complicated matters, cake is still cake after all!

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Lemon Cupcakes
125 g butter, softened
200 g caster sugar
3 eggs
150 ml milk
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla
300 g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the icing
Rind of 2 lemons
1 tbsp lemon juice
175 g butter, softened
600 g icing sugar, sifted
1 bottle of Dr Oetker Violet Crystals

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Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Line a 12-cup muffin tray with paper cases. I actually got 18 out of the mixture.

Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl for a few seconds just until mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter mixture, beating all the time.

Beat in the milk and lemon juice, followed by the vanilla, then sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and fold in gently to combine.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases, filling each case about two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until well risen, lightly golden in colour and springy to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Finally mix up all the buttercream ingredients and pop into a piping bag, pipe onto cupcakes and finish off with a sprinkle of Dr Oetker’s violet crystals.

By the way, I was a little confused when the guys from Finish emailed to asked if they could send me

1x Finish Salt
1x Finish Powerball Quantam Max
1x Finish Rinse Aid
1x Finish Dishwasher Cleaner

Why? I’m a home baker that blogs about cupcakes, I’m not WHICH? magazine! Then I realised that I do bung all my bowls and utensils straight into the dishwasher once my cakes are in the oven. So I thought I’d give it a bash. Dr Doolittle read the instructions and filled the various dishwasher compartments with the various cleaners.

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I was genuinely shocked at how good the Finish Dishwasher tablets was! We normally buy own brand dishwasher tablets and am used to the dishes coming out washed. I couldn’t believe how sparkling and shiny the pots and pans were AND how clean the inside of the dishwasher was too! Who would have thought?!

Off to bake more and therefore wash more!

Melissa xx

Happy Birthday Me!

I’m another year older and for the first time, I actually feel wiser! I’ve done so much over the last year, started and new job AND started researching for my dream of having my own teashop.  No doubt the next year of my life will be just as busy and exciting. Whatever happens, I can guarantee that there’ll be cake along the way!

So what better way to celebrate than by making my own birthday cake.

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Chocolate Celebration Cake

Ingredients:
200g good-quality plain chocolate, chopped
200g butter
100ml water
125g self-raising flour
125g plain four
25g cocoa powder
200g light muscovado sugar
200g golden caster sugar
3 free-range eggs
75ml/2½fl oz crème fraîche

For the vanilla buttercream icing:
100g unsalted butter, softened
200g icing sugar
vanilla
milk, to loosen

For the topping:
200g dark chocolate
100g butter
40ml tblsp water
1 punnet of strawberries

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Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line two 8in sandwich tins.

Melt the chocolate, butter and water together in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, sift the flours and cocoa powder into a bowl and mix in the muscovado and caster sugar.

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Beat the eggs and crème fraîche together in a separate bowl, then beat in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour mixture until smooth.

Divide the cake batter between the tins and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch.

Meanwhile, for the vanilla buttercream, beat the butter in a bowl until soft, then gradually beat in the icing sugar. Add the vanilla  and add a few drops of milk if the mixture is a little stiff.

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For the ganache I used the recipe on the back of the Dr Oetker Extra Dark Chocolate pack.

Put 200g chopped Dr. Oetker 90% Chocolate into a heatproof bowl with 100g unsalted butter and 40ml water. Put over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted. Remove from the water and cool for about 20 minutes to thicken.

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Put a cake on a wire rack over a large plate. Spoon ganache over the top, letting it run down the sides. Tap the wire rack to smooth the surface.

Finally, I covered the top of the cake with a punnet of fresh strawberries.

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I’ve been spoilt rotten with cards, presents and flowers. I’m truly blessed.

Melissa xx

Cupcakes galore!

The last few weeks have been cupcake crazy, so this post is a look back at all the wonderful goodies that were produced!

Last weekend I made a gorgeous box of lemon meringue and strawberry purée cupcakes.  They were AMAZING! They were the nicest cupcakes I’ve ever had; nice and light with a not-to-sweet icing.

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Strawberry Purée Cupcakes
Based on Rachel Allen’s recipe from ‘Cake’

125 g butter, softened
200 g caster sugar
3 eggs
150 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
300 g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the icing
150 g fresh strawberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
175 g butter, softened
600 g icing sugar, sifted

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Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Line a 12-cup muffin tray with paper cases. I actually got 18 out of the mixture.

Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl for a few seconds just until mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter mixture, beating all the time.

Beat in the milk, followed by the vanilla extract, then sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and fold in gently to combine.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases, filling each case about two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until well risen, lightly golden in colour and springy to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

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For the icing: Place the strawberries and lemon juice in a food processor and whiz for about a minute to purée them. Push through a sieve into a bowl, then set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and icing sugar until combined, then gradually add the fruit purée, beating slowly.

Pipe the icing onto the cakes and decorate each cake with half a strawberry.

In mid August I made these scrumptious sparkling chocolate cupcakes for my Godson’s birthday. Find the basic sponge recipe here.

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Finally, I made these gorgeous girly strawberry-in-the-middle cupcakes using Dr Oetker Easy Swirl Pink Cupcake Icing and Heart Marshmallows!

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Right, I’m off to start planning cupcakes for my own birthday…. 6 days to go! Before I go, I’m bringing these goodies over to Fiesta Friday

Melissa xx

Apple and Blackberry Oaty Muffins

Sometimes I do try to bake a little cleaner, I don’t always use tonnes of sugar and chocolate! These little Apple and Blackberry Oat Muffins are based on an a Rachel Allen recipe in which she uses apples and sugar to make a fresh apple sauce.

400 apple sauce- puréed apples in a jar!
100ml Sunflower Oil
75g Porridge Oats
225g Plain Flour (sifted)
3tsp Baking Powder
36 Blackberries

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Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and line a 12-cup muffin tray with paper cases. Pour the apple puree into a bowl and stir in the oil and oats. Sift in the flour and baking pour and fold gently.

Divide the mixture between the muffin cases and place three or four blackberries on top of each muffin.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and lightly springy to the touch. Cool in the tin for five minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool.

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So they didn’t rise very much and the texture was a bit odd but otherwise they were delicious!

Melissa xx

White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake

It’s been a whole month since I last wrote or posted anything.

Life has been extremely busy.

The new job is taking up my time- far too much of my time, if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I love it but I seem to have abandoned everything else. That’s not ok. So, sitting at the kitchen table, with a cuppa and a pile of books… I’m back!

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August was bonkers. We had lots of visitors, so in between work I managed to do a bit of baking. I wish I had time to bake more often. I find myself commuting to work dreaming of baking. Life is so hard!!!

One of the quick, easy recipes I used this summer was from the Cooks Academy in Dublin. Their White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake has been a favourite recipe at the school for the last ten years. It’s the perfect dessert for entertaining and thanks to Tim, Vanessa and Darina I pulled it off!

White Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake

Ingredients:
180g ginger nut biscuits
50g butter, melted
400g cream cheese
60g caster sugar
½ lemon, zested, and juiced
300g good quality white chocolate, chopped
300ml fresh cream, stiffly whipped
250g fresh raspberries

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Method:
Crush the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, until they resemble breadcrumbs.  Stir the melted butter thoroughly into the biscuits.  Press into the base of a greased 20cm tin and chill in the fridge for 10 mins until the base is slightly hardened. 

Using an electric whisk, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest and juice, until smooth.  

Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.  Once melted, slowly pour the chocolate into the beaten ingredients, whisking as you do so.  Fold in the whipped cream. 

To assemble the cheesecake, scatter half the raspberries over the biscuit base and pour half the cream filling over.  Repeat with the remaining raspberries and filling and level the top with the back of a spoon.  Leave to chill in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

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If you fancy doing a short course at the Cooks Academy too, they are offering 20% off on their website until Friday 4th September.

Melissa xx