Meringue Kisses Cake

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Baby A turned 18 months recently and while we know that it isn’t technically a birthday, it is an important milestone for babies and parents, plus we like any excuse to make and eat cake! This one has 4 parts – A basic three tier ombre sponge base , raspberry buttercream, white chocolate ganache drip and meringue kisses to top it off.

Making a cake like this was pretty laborious , but so rewarding and we learn so much every time we make a new type of cake- we thought we’d share the recipe and some tips from our trials. Start early (a day or two ahead even ) when you want to make a meringue kisses cake. The kisses can be made a few days in advance and stored in an airtight container.You can make the sponges a day or two ahead and the buttercream at least a day ahead , that way you space out the work – then just assemble the night before on the big day itself. You could make a simple syrup  (this one’s from cakesbakesandcookies.com) to drench the sponge in to keep it from drying out as well.

The meringue kisses are a bit of work and meringues are technically a little difficult (we’re still learning!), but we used this recipe from Bakerella (it’s a Meringue girls’ recipe) which seems to have turned out quite decently, just follow the instructions carefully. Use gel colour if possible instead of liquid to colour the kisses – liquid might alter the consistency of the meringues. We’re planning to try the Italian meringue method soon and will post the outcome.

You’ll find lots of different chocolate ganache recipes for dripping on cakes- some use more cream , more chocolate etc. We wanted something easy to drip but still rich enough in taste , so 2 parts chocolate to 1 part cream seemed to have worked best. We probably could have done a little better with our dripping technique but it’s not too bad for the first time! If you are unsure about how ‘drippy’ you want the ganache to be, just keep a little extra chocolate and cream on hand so you can adjust the consistency, which is fairly easy to do with ganache.

We find that 41/2 -5 cups of buttercream is generally safe amount for a three tier cake. You may have some leftover, but it’s always better to have more than less when it comes to frosting to account for any errors. We flavoured our buttercream with raspberry jam, to give it a nice sweet sour taste and a lovely rosy colour. It also made the buttercream quite sweet on top of the icing sugar , but the proportion of icing sugar to butter is important to give the frosting the stiffness needed to frost so don’t cut down on the icing sugar unless you are confident your frosting will maintain it’s texture with less icing sugar. We also like to chill the bowl that we use to make the buttercream – just to keep the process as cool as possible.

We’ve learnt that it’s also important to work with feel when it comes to buttercream-  add the sugar, milk, jam or any other flavouring slowly- keep whipping and observe the consistency as you go along. Once you reach the desired consistency, stop. If you find later on that it’s not right, you can still add more of what you need and whip again. But you can’t go back once you’ve added too much.

We picked up this tip at a course at culinary school to prevent icing sugar/cream/milk/eggs etc. from flying and splattering all over the place when whipping – if you are using a hand mixer to whip up the buttercream, cover the bowl you are using with clingwrap leaving just a bit of space to insert the hand mixer. Seems pretty simple, but it’s just one of those things we don’t think of doing!

If you have difficulty frosting the traditional way -with an offset spatula, try using a piping bag to pipe on the frosting first, then even out with your bench scraper or icing smoother. With this method, you can skip the crumb coating part too, which we personally find to be a real pain to do! Check out this video to see how it’s done for an ombre cake. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect-messy , naked cakes all the rage now!

Makes one 3 -tier cake

Ingredients

Meringues Kisses

Basic Meringue Kisses Ingredients & Recipe

100g melted chocolate for dipping the kisses (optional)

Coloured rice / balls/starts etc for decorating the kisses (optional)

Sponge Cake (Recipe from 80 Cakes around the world)

340g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature

340g caster sugar

340g self-raising flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

A few drops of gel food colour of your choice

Raspberry buttercream

2 cups unsalted butter , softened at room temperature

4-5 cups icing sugar, finely sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 tablespoons milk

2-3 tablespoons raspberry jam

White chocolate ganache drip

200g white chocolate

100g heavy cream

Special Equipment

2 piping bags with nozzles of different shapes and a coupler ( 1 bag for piping the kisses and another for the piping the buttercream). The coupler will allow you to use the same piping bag for the kisses and just change the nozzle if you want different designs

Three 18 cm sandwich or sponge tins

Offset Spatula & Bench Scraper for frosting

Cake turntable

Silicone mat for the meringue kisses after dipping in chocolate

Method

Meringue Kisses

Start with the meringue kisses , a few days ahead if possible. Once you have the kisses made as per the linked recipe, dip the bases in the cooled melted chocolate and rotate slightly to get the excess chocolate to drip off. Then you can either dip them in the coloured rice directly or lightly sprinkle the bases with the coloured rice. The  set them down on the silicone mat to let the chocolate harden. Store them in an airtight container and in the fridge if you live in a hot or humid environment. 

The Sponge

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Grease and line the tins with parchment paper. Then grease again and flour , dusting off any excess.

Sift flour and baking powder together and keep aside

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer , starting with medium speed and then moving to high, until light and fluffy.Add the eggs, bit by bit, beating well. Fold in the flour and baking powder with a large metal spoon. 

Now the colouring part; add one or two drops of colour into the batter and gently fold in until uniform. Then spoon out a third of the batter into one of the prepared cake tins – set aside. Add another drop or two into the remaining batter and fold again. Then spoon out half of the newly coloured batter into another prepared tin. Do this a third time to get the final sponge. Needless to say, you can add more drops of colour to each batter or do different colours if you like too. Just be careful with the amount you are spooning out into each tin – make them as equal as possible so you get even cakes at the end. 

Level the surfaces of the cake with a spatula and bake for 20-30 minutes until the edges have shrunk away from the sides of the tins and the tops spring back slightly when pressed. Let them cool in the tins , then turn out onto wired racks to cool completely. 

Raspberry Buttercream

Beat the butter on medium speed in a electric mixer or use a hand whisk until creamy.

Add the first 3 cups of sugar gradually, beating on a slower speed. Then beat on medium for another minute or two.

Add the milk and vanilla extract slowly on low speed again and combine well. Now’s the time to check the consistency. If you want it firmer, gradually add the remaining sugar , beating on low speed. Stop when you achieve the desired consistency. 

Then beat in the raspberry jam. Whip everything together until creamy.

Pop the buttercream in the fridge if you don’t plan to frost immediately. Just take it out ahead of time and stir it before using. 

White chocolate ganache drip

Make before using and allow to cool before dripping

Warm the cream in a small pan. Remove it from the heat and stir in the chocolate until completely melted. Set aside to cool. 

Assembling the cake

Place a cake base on the turntable and drop a bit of jam in the centre to stick the sponge on.

Place the first sponge layer on top. Then using the offset spatula, place a big dollop of frosting in the centre of the sponge and smooth out with the spatula. Try to make the layer of buttercream as even as possible. It’s ok if some spills out onto the sides as we will be frosting the outside as well. When frosting, just remember that the spatula should stay on top of the frosting and not touch the cake. This will help to prevent cake crumbs getting mixed in with the buttercream. Just repeat ‘don’t touch the cake’ as you frost- so you don’t forget!

Repeat with the other layers.When you have all the layers in place, use the piping bag method to frost the outside of the cake and even out with the bench scraper.

When your cake is completely frosted, you will need to put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, keeping it on the turntable if possible, to cool before dripping the ganache (I’d like to try this without freezing next time, because I find that freezing tends to dry the sponges out a little). 

When the cake is cold, take it out of the freezer. Using a spoon, drip the ganache, a little at a time all along the edges of the top of cake. Go slow so you can control the drip. Then using the spoon again, fill the centre of top of the cake too, so it’s completely covered. Check out this video to see how it’s done. 

Top with the meringue kisses and pop back in the freezer to allow the chocolate to set. 

Whew! Done! 

Don’t forget to bring the cake to room temperature before eating. 

We’d love to hear your experiences with meringue kisses cakes too, so please share your advice with us!

x Anu & Suba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choux pastry buns

choux-pastry-with-chocolate-cream

We woke up one grey morning and in an effort to brighten the day, decided to try our hands at making choux pastry. It’s a task that seemed really intimidating at first (think Eclairs) but is actually pretty straightforward to make. The ingredients are really simple and most likely things you would already have in your pantry if you bake often. The inside of choux pastry should be airy and moist, not wet and eggy. The great thing about these little puffs is that you can take one out of the oven (close to the time they are done , not before!) and check that they are just right inside. If not, you can keep them in the oven a little longer so they rise and dry out inside. Then leave them to cool a bit and fill with the cream of your choice- we did a simple chocolate whipped cream this time (whipping cream whipped up with a handwhisk and then stirred together with melted chocolate)

This recipe is taken from James Martin’s Sweet. Here are some of his tips for making choux pastry;

  1. Make sure butter , sugar and salt are brought to a boil slowly. The butter should not melt before the water evaporates. I basically just kept the heat very low over a small flame and stirred gently to help the butter dissolve.
  2. Dice the butter small- again to help it melt quicker
  3. Add half a cup of cold water to a preheated tray in the oven before cooking , this will make the texture crispy.
  4. 20 minutes into cooking , open the oven door to let the steam out.

The flavorbender has some great troubleshooting tips too.

Makes 18 medium choux pastry

Prep time : 20 mins      Bake time :

Ingredients

For the choux :

250ml water

100g cold butter diced small

1 tablespoon caster sugar

Pinch salt

150g strong flour

4 eggs

 

Method

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius

Line a baking sheet with silicone paper or use a silicone mat

Place water , butter , sugar and salt in a pan and slowly bring to a boil over low heat. Once the mixture starts to boil, continue to let it boil for one minute.

Then add all the flour in at one go. Keep beating the mixture until it starts to thicken.Depending on the amount of heat, this could happen relatively quickly. The mixture should thicken , be smooth and come away fro the sides of the pan cleanly. This should take a few minutes. Remove the mixture from the pan and place it on the silicone sheet or mat to cool for 5 minutes.

You can use a kitchen mixture for the next step, but we did it by hand- beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure mixture is smooth after each addition. Then continue beating until smooth and shiny,resembling  a thick , smooth custard. If you pick some of the mixture up between your fingers, it should take 3-4 seconds to drip.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a large nozzle (plain or otherwise) with the mixture and pipe out small buns about 2 cm apart. You can smooth out bumps using a wet fingertip (the mixture should not stick to your finger).

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the buns are golden grown. Allow them to cool on a wire rack when done.

When cooled a bit, use a small knife to make a cut at the base of each bun.Insert a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle and filled with filling of your choice. Just pipe the filling into the bun , easy as that!

x Anu & Suba

 

 

 

Wholewheat Pear & Almond Tarts

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It’s been a while since we’ve made tarts and we started missing them this week for some odd reason. So we decided to make some with leftover ripe pears and ground almonds. We picked up this tart crust recipe at the culinary institute and it’s always been successful. We’ve used it for sweet and savoury tarts by just adjusting the amounts of sugar and salt and it’s become one of our go-to recipes now.

To keep your crust crisp, dice and keep the butter in the fridge until you need it. Work quickly to get the dough together- you don’t need to knead it, just bring it all together and let it harden and form up in the fridge during the resting period or your dough may turn out tough. Use only your fingertips to get the dough together , so you transfer less heat to the dough – the idea is to keep it as cold as possible.

If you are using this crust for a savoury recipe, just omit the sugar and add a generous pinch of salt instead.

Makes 4 9cm tarts

Ingredients 

Tart crust 

200g wholewheat flour

100g cold diced butter

20g caster sugar

1  egg beaten

2 tablespoons of ground almonds

1 egg beaten (for eggwash)

Baking beans or uncooked rice (for blind baking)

4 sheets of clingfilm , cut to squares about 10 cm by 10 cm

4 sheets of parchment paper, cut into squares 10 cm by 10 cm

Tart filling

7 medium ripe pears, peeled , cored and diced

50g butter

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsps apricot jam (or any jam you like)

Cinnamon stick

Method

Start with the crust. Place the flour & sugar in a bowl and combine. Using your finger tips, rub in the cubes of butter, sifting the flour and butter through your fingers. Try to work quickly and stop when you get a bread-crumby texture. 

Then add in the beaten egg and stir it through the beradcrumb mixture with a fork. Use your fingers to bring the dough together without kneading. Flatten it into a square (this will make it easier to roll out) and wrap tightly in clingwrap. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

While the dough is resting, make the filling. 

Place the pears, cinnamon stick, butter and sugar in a saucepan over low heat.Allow the pears to cook until soft. Then stir in the jam. Continue to cook until it reaches the consistency you like – we like the pieces really soft but still holding their shape. Also ensure any water in the filling has evaporated before taking it off the heat and allowing it to cool. Add the ground almonds and stir through. You can put it in the fridge to help it cool faster. Pouring very hot or watery filling into the tart cases may cause the filling to seep through , so you want to make sure it’s cool enough. 

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Take the dough out of the fridge and divide into quarters. Roll out one of the quarters to a 1/8 inch thick circle on top of a sheet of clingfilm. Then sliding your hand under the clingfilm, lift up the rolled out circle and place it directly facedown on top of a tart mould. Remove the clingfilm and then push the dough down and into the bottom of the mould. There should be extra dough hanging over the sides of the mould. Then just use your fingers to push the dough down over the edges of the mould cutting it on the edges and removing the excess. 

Dock the dough by poking holes around the the base  of the tart case with a fork. You can use the fork to press down on the edges as well, to create a pattern. Then put it in back in the fridge to set for 20 minutes.Repeat with the other quarters. 

Meanwhile roll out the leftover dough to to top the tarts. You can use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes and place these over the filling or go with the traditional lattice crust. Since we’re not sharing videos yet, take a look at this one to see how to create a lattice crust.

When the 20 minutes are up, take the tarts out of the fridge,egg wash the whole tart, place a square of parchment on the inside and fill the tart with the baking beans or rice. Blind bake in the oven for 7-9 minutes. Then take them out of the oven, remove the beans/rice and parchment and fill with the pears. Top with the shapes you’ve cut out or lattice crust , egg wash and bake again for another 15 minutes until the crust is golden brown. 

Dust with icing sugar before serving. 

x Anu & Suba

 

 

Beetroot & Apple Bread & Butter Pudding 

Here’s a healthy twist on your regular Bread and butter pudding – it’s also a great way to get your little ones to eat beetroot (we know how difficult that can be !)

Bread & butter is a traditional , comforting pudding and this one uses less sugar and more fruit. 

Ingredients

8 slices of bread , lightly buttered ( crusts on or off , we like them on ) 

6 slices of bread cut into triangles , lightly buttered and with a thin layer of any jam ( strawberry , apricot , raspberry …)

6 small pre-cooked beetroots grated 

2 small apples grated 

2 cups of milk 

1 full egg + 1 egg yolk 

3 tbsps of sugar 

1 tsp Vanilla extract 

2 tbsps Creme fraiche ( optional) 

Method 

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius 

Lightly grease an oven proof dish 

Place the 8 slices of bread in the dish, covering the base

Evenly sprinkle over the grated beetroot & apple

In a seperate bowl make the custard by whipping the milk , eggs , sugar , Creme fraiche & vanilla until combined 

Pout the custard over the bread and leave for 10 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the custard 

Use the back of a fork to press down on the soaking bread

Place the triangular slices of bread over the top. You may need to cut the slices to fit or just push down around the corners of the dish 

Bake for 30-40 minutes. 

x Anu & Suba 


Stone Fruit Season: Plums & Cream Polenta Cake

plum & polenta

This cake was inspired by  two things – 1) needing to use a bag of polenta we bought in Switzerland last month for a family dinner but never used and 2) a recent discovery that the maroon and cream livery of the Great Northern Railway’s dining carriage in the 1940s (random fact of the day) came to be affectionately known  as ‘Plum and Spilt Milk’, which sounded like a divine flavour combination! So obviously, we had to make a cake featuring those ingredients. It turned out a real treat with a cuppa tea so we thought we’d share it with all of you.

Serves 8 (big slices) or 10 (medium slices)

Prep Time: 20 mins Baking time: Approx 50-60 minutes

Ingredients

3/4 cup muscovado sugar

1/4 cup caster sugar

1 cup (250g) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup polenta (we used fine polenta)

1 cup  sifted self-raising flour (or plain flour with a tsp of baking powder sifted in)

1/2 cup double cream

3 eggs

a tsp vanilla extract

4 plums

2 tbsps strawberry or current jam

Method

Turn the oven on to 160 degrees c. Ours is an electric fan oven. Grease a round tin and line with baking parchment.

Cut the plums down the middle and twist each half in opposite directions. Slice the half with the stone in half again and twist, same as above – this will help in removing the stone. Cut each quarter into half again so that from each plum, you get 8 slices in total. Set aside.

Next, put both types of sugar together with the butter and beat until creamy. Add one egg at a time and beat till well mixed in. After adding all three eggs, add the double cream and vanilla. Mix well. 

Now add half the flour and half the polenta, fold in. Now, add the other half of both and fold in until well mixed. Careful not to beat the flour and polenta in and don’t mix vigorously either. Just patiently fold it in, we promise that will be worth the effort! 

Pour the batter into your tin and smooth the surface. Now, starting from the edge of the tin, place the plum slices one next to the other, vertically, all around the tin (sneak a quick look at the picture above to see what we mean about the placing – that said, if you place it horizontally, it’ll be fine too!). Keep going till you fill up the whole top of the cake. You may want to choose the plum slices according to how they fit but really, don’t hesitate to squeeze them together or force them into shape! What you want to avoid is pressing the plums in because the cake will rise and you don’t want the plums sinking in when that happens.

Put the tin in the oven, middle shelf, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Put the cake on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes and while that’s happening, zap the jam in the microwave for 10 seconds or put it in a bowl and the bowl in a bath of hot water – basically loosen the jam so you can brush it all over the cake. Brush the cake with the warm jam and leave it to cool completely. 

 

x Anu & Suba

 

The Perfect Picnic : Picnic Setting Ideas

There’s just a month left before the leaves leave their many shades of green behind and start to take on that distinctive carrot soup colour. It’s also looking like it’s going to be the hottest month of the year, at least here in London. So all is not lost if you haven’t yet thrown your glorious summer picnic or BBQ! Check out our earlier ‘perfect picnic’ posts for some ideas on grub and look no further for some tips on how you can add some extra ‘scene-setting love’ to your outdoor party!
Picnic Setting
Photo courtesy of celebrations.com

1. Picnic mat alternatives 

Don’t fret if you don’t have a ‘proper’ mat. Blankets, quilts, tablecloths and even fabric can be more interesting. Nothing says picnic like checkered fabric. If you’re doing your shopping online, instead of searching for ‘tablecloths’ search for fabric instead. It’s cheaper and since it’s a picnic it won’t matter too much of the ends are little frayed and not stitched up. If you’re getting fabric and have some dosh to spare, get two or three colours or complementary prints and line them up side by side.
2. Leather or fabric bound books 
If like us you never throw any books away or you know a cheap little second hand bookshop, then short stacks of 2 or 3 fabric or leather bound books add some vintage elegance and double up as a place to stand a plate or a tumbler of juice when you’re sitting on the grass. Even 6 books will do the trick – remember they can be heavy so don’t cart too many along with you if you’re setting up a distance from your own home.
picnic setting 3
Photo courtesy of blovelyevents.com – they have great party ideas too!
3. Individually packed picnics in DIY brown bags 
Instead of laying all the treats out on the mat, why not pack everyone’s picnic individually? Grab a pack of brown bags, you can decorate each one in a variety of ways. We like to get some paper doilies, apply glue on the back and stick them on or around the bag. You can also stick on dried flowers, use pretty ink stamps or just write your guests names on them and tie them up with pretty ribbon. Then pop in a sandwich, a little tupperware of potato salad, a cupcake or jammy scone wrapped in greaseproof paper and even a cute mini  bottle of prosecco or juice.
4. Cushions
Picnic Setting 2
Photos courtesy of Sadi Moruakgomo (left) & Emma Markezic (right)
If your picnic is in your garden or you have access to wheels (4 would be preferable to 2! Though some amazing folk can balance a lot of stuff on a bike!) grab cushions off your couch and armchair and use them to add a bit of homey-ness to your set up. Paired with cosy blankets or striking fabric, they make the whole idea of sitting on the ground extremely inviting!
picnic setting 4
Photos courtesy of bellacoco.co.uk (left) and prettylittlepartyshop.co.uk (right)
5. Bunting, paper lanterns, fans and Pom poms 
If you can find a spot under a tree with low hanging branches, you’re sorted! String up some bunting, paper fans, lanterns or Pom poms. You can even tie long pieces of ribbon on branches to create a lovely curtain effect or go for a more wispy look by tying long lengths of white or pale coloured ribbon at wider intervals around a few different branches.
6. Fruits and flowers 
picnic settng 5.JPG
Photos courtesy of Lafiaba.sk (left) and theknot.comt (right)
Never to be underestimated for the instant value they bring to any setting. Save up old jam jars, tie ribbon or brown parcel string around the rim and fill them with meadow flowers or seashells if you’re having a beach picnic. Salad Bowls, each piled with peeling oranges, tangerines, apples and peaches make for striking pops of summery colour and double up as easy to eat picnic dessert!
Happy Picnic-ing!
*Do click on the links for the photos we’ve posted. They’re from some really talented folk who have some excellent ideas for making life a little prettier!
x Anu & Suba

Stone Fruit Season: Oven Caramelised Nectarines with Mascarpone, Ricotta & Honey

 

roasted nectarines

Tis’ the season for stone fruits and we pay tribute to them this week, starting with this very quick and easy recipe featuring nectarines. Serve it up as dessert on a warm Summer afternoon or pile it on toast or pancakes for a fast and fancy brunch treat.

Most nectarines are sold slightly underripe because, like most stone fruits, they bruise very easily. So after buying nectarines, let them ripen for a couple of days at room temperature before eating or using them in cooking. If you can’t find nectarines, you can replace them with apricots for this recipe.

caramelised nectarines

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 10-15 mins

Ingredients

6 nectarines

2 tbsps melted butter

4 heaped tbsps brown sugar

125 g mascarpone

125g ricotta

1 vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds (or a tsp of vanilla extract)

Honey, for drizzling

Method

Turn the oven to 180 deg c. Line a baking or roasting tray. 

Cut around the nectarines and twist open. Remove the stone from the middle by carefully cutting it out. If it’s quite ripe, the stone may easily be pulled out. Slice each half of the nectarine into 4 slices. Place these on the baking tray.

Melt the butter and set to the side. Sprinkle the sugar as evenly as possible over the nectarine slices and carefully pour the melted butter over  the slices so that all the nectarines are coated. Place this in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, until the sugar caramelises and the nectarines are lightly browned. They don’t have to brown evenly, all we want is for the nectarines to be coated with the delicious, sticky brown caramel.

While the nectarines are roasting, mix the mascarpone with the ricotta and add the vanilla – either the scraped out seeds or the extract and mix well.

Once the nectarines are done, leave them to cool down and then transfer them to little bowls or plates, dollop the mascarpone and ricotta mix on top and drizzle a teaspoon or tablespoon of honey over  them (depending how sweet you like it!). Alternatively, smear the cheese on a slice of toast or some pancakes or dollop on waffles and arrange the nectarine slices on top and then drizzle with honey. We also sprinkled the tops with lightly toasted poppy seeds but almonds could work really well too!

x Anu & Suba