Whenever the biscuit stash in our store cupboard reaches critical levels there are normally two obvious options to remedy the situation. Firstly, I can whip out a pre-made refrigerator cookie dough roll from the freezer. Alternatively, if the frozen stock is depleted, I can whip up a quick batch of shortbread.
Justin bought me this vintage wooden biscuit mould a few weeks ago, so it was a great opportunity to use it for the first time to make some shortbread rounds.
We think the mould might be Indian so we’ve added a few spices in homage – cardamom, ginger and vanilla.
The swirl pattern it makes is just beautiful – I needed to sprinkle some polenta into the mould so the dough didn’t stick and it also helped with the definition.
We liked all three flavours. And it has to be said that, if we hadn’t been trying to think of suitable Indian spices for biscuits, we probably would never have tried cardamom shortbread – yet we both thought that it was very successful. I’ll definitely be making these again soon!
It’s elderflower season again – one of the classic smells and tastes of summer!
We see those frothy white flowers growing wild all around and can’t bear to see them going to waste.
We’ve already made a large batch of elderflower cordial which will last us a good few months. In the past, there’s also been elderflower champagne and elderflower cakes too. This week, we decided to try some biscuits – elderflower shortbread to be precise.
There are various methods for incorporating the flowers’ flavour into the biscuit. We experimented with three – using cordial as one of the ingredients, infusing the sugar with elderflower bunches and finally incorporating the tiny petals into the biscuit mix itself.
We found that cordial made the biscuits a bit hard, crystalline and possibly too sweet. The infused sugar runs the risk of lots of creepy crawlies escaping into the sugar (even if you shake carefully) – and the resulting elderflower flavour wasn’t intense enough for us. The last technique worked best for us – by quite a long way actually, so that would be our recommendation. The resulting shortbread was moist and crumbly with a wonderful distinctive flavour – give them a go before those flowers disappear!
As far as I could tell from the photos I’d seen, most red velvet cakes adhere to certain rules; layers, cream cheese frosting and a propensity towards flamboyance!
I need to point out, I used the Rowntree cocoa that I already happened to have in the store cupboard. It was Dutch processed, meaning that during production, it has been ‘alkalised’ to give it a smoother flavour. I could tell by looking at it that it had been processed because it’s quite dark brown. Unprocessed cocoa is often referred to as cacao and is much lighter in colour.
Unprocessed cocoa is called for in the recipe (although it’s not absolutely necessary) as all kinds of alchemy are involved in the making of the cake! The cocoa, buttermilk, baking soda and vinegar all commingle to produce the most moist, light, heavenly cake you’ve ever tasted – with the brightest, reddest crumb!
Now that I’ve got the Dutched versus un-Dutched details out of the way, let’s get on to the business of cake-making!
As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of science involved in making red velvet so the order in which the ingredients get added really makes a difference.
The buttermilk and the vinegar add acidity to the mix producing a bubbly chemical reaction with the alkaline baking powder and helping make the red colour really bright.
The eggs are separated and the egg whites whipped into peaks and folded in gently at the end to add even more lightness to the sponge.
I think I mentioned previously that big cakes are just too much for just the two of us (even with me being a greedy cake eater!). So, instead of making a 4-tiered cake, I made a large 2-tier and a smaller 2-tier cake, giving one of the cakes away to friends.
I wanted to use both my newly-acquired accessories in this recipe, so I thought I’d use the pastry cutters to make red, heart-shaped shortbread biscuits to adorn the cake.
I love cream cheese frosting, especially on carrot cake. Next time though, I’ll tweak the recipe so the mixture is firmer and less runny.
It’s delicious either way, but when it’s firmer you’re able to pipe the frosting on the top and have a thicker layer of it in the middle.
The resulting cake was so MASSIVE, we didn’t have a big enough plate to hold it!
I think I remained very restrained with my cake embellishments – I was considering red edible glitter, hundreds & thousands… in the end, I just studded it with a few little chocolate beans.
I’m really happy with my first attempt and can’t wait to have another go!
H is for Home Harbinger http://hisforhomeblog.com/
Sweet potato cake
For the cake
350g plain flour
¼tsp ground cloves
2tsp ground cinnamon
1¼tsp ground ginger
½tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
350g sweet potatoes, peeled & grated (about 3 small potatoes)
235ml vegetable oil
300g soft brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
100g chopped walnuts
For the frosting
225g cream cheese
115g butter, softened
175g icing sugar
½tsp vanilla extract
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For the cake
Preheat the oven to 175ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4 and grease a pair of 23cm/9-inch circular loose-bottomed cake tins
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together the flour with the ground spices, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and salt
In a large mixing bowl, add the grated sweet potato, vegetable oil and sugar and combine
In a measuring jug lightly whisk the eggs before adding the vanilla extract. Stir to mix in
Stir in the egg mixture to the sweet potato in 3 batches, stirring well after each addition
Carefully fold the flour mixture into the sweet potato mixture
Add the chopped walnuts and stir in so they're well dispersed through the batter
Pour the batter equally between the two cake tins before baking for 20 minutes in the centre of the oven
After the 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas mark 2 and cook for a further 10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake come out clean
Allow to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before taking the cakes out of their tins
Allow to cool completely (at least another hour). Make the frosting.
For the frosting
Mix the cream cheese and softened butter until there are no lumps
Add the vanilla essence and icing sugar (sieve the sugar first if there are any lumps) and mix thoroughly. Cover with clingfilm and store in the fridge until the cakes have cooled and are ready to frost
Once cooled, turn one of the cakes over so that the top is face down on a serving plate. Cover the top generously with frosting.
Place the second cake on the first, with the top facing up. Cover the top generously with frosting. Serve. The cake will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge.
H is for Home Harbinger http://hisforhomeblog.com/
This nutty millionaire’s shortbread tastes SO much better than any I’ve ever bought from a shop. I happened to have bags of whole almonds and hazelnuts in the larder, but it would be equally as good if you made it using pecans, Brazil nuts or walnuts. Cashew butter instead of peanut in the shortbread could be a good alternative to try too!
100g/3½oz mixed nuts (I used ½ & ½ hazelnuts and almonds)
125g/4oz plain dark chocolate
To make the caramel topping, put the unopened tin in a heavy-based saucepan and completely cover with water. Cover the saucepan with its lid and boil for about 1½ hours, topping up the water level if needed.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350F/Gas mark 4, 10 minutes before baking.
Sift in the cornflour and plain flour and mix to form a smooth dough
Using the back of a dessert spoon, press the mixture evenly into the lined cake tin and prick all over with a fork
Bake for 20 minutes or until just turning golden brown
Put the nuts on to a baking tray and toast them in the oven for 10-15 minutes
Remove the shortbread from the oven and set aside on a wire rack
Remove the nuts from the oven and wrap them in a clean tea towel. Rub the nuts together to remove most of the skins (especially if you're using hazelnuts or 'red skinned' peanuts)
Reserve 9 of the nuts, roughly chop the remainder and sprinkle them evenly across the shortbread
Open the tin of boiled condensed milk (if the contents are quite rigid you can soften it by warming slightly in a saucepan on the stove or decant into a microwaveable container and heat for 20-30 seconds). Pour the caramel over the nuts and spread evenly. Refrigerate while you prepare the chocolate
Break up the chocolate into pieces and put them into a heat-proof bowl
Using a saucepan small enough not to allow the bowl to touch the bottom, fill the bowl with just enough water so that it doesn't come into contact with the base of the bowl
Simmer the saucepan of water until the chocolate has just melted
Pour the chocolate evenly over the top of the caramel
Place the whole nuts on top of the chocolate, one for each portion
Allow to set before slicing into squares & serving
You can parboil the tinned condensed milk in advance and the caramel can be stored for months & months before use. I always have a few cans of 'cooked' condensed milk stored in our larder.