Wedding Cake

Smitten Kitchen’s wedding cake project was an invaluable aid when I was planning and executing my brother’s wedding cake earlier this year. I had never made a tiered cake before, and Smitten Kitchen was a great source of information for recipes and construction tips.

I used two of the recipes from Smitten Kitchen – the vanilla buttermilk cake for the top tier, and the chocolate butter cake for the bottom tier.

The vanilla buttermilk cake was filled with mango curd, made from canned mango, and the chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache, with Frangelico added to the ganache rather than brandy. Then, after the tiers were stacked together, supported with thick wooden skewers and a cake board, the whole concoction was iced with swiss buttercream icing.

These cake recipes are seriously fantastic – they’re dense, moist and taste amazing. The method of freezing the cake layers, individually wrapped in plastic, for a week prior to decorating the cake works so wonderfully that I don’t think I’ll ever make a celebration cake any other way.

I used the chocolate butter cake recipe to make a cake for my father-in-law’s birthday a few weeks later, using the chocolate ganache to ice the cake (much less forgiving of a clumsy hand than buttercream), and a caramel filling in between each of the layers.

Banana bread with dates

When I cut into this banana bread, still warm and steaming from the oven, and had my first exploratory taste, I decided that this could possibly be the best banana bread I’ve ever made. Some banana breads are too dry, some are too oily, but this banana bread was just, absolutely right.

It’s essentially Nigella’s recipe from How to Eat, with a few substitutions. If you have some overripe bananas, give it a go – you may fall in love just as I did.

ingredients

100g chopped dates
75mls rum
(a leftover bottle I use for cooking as it was declared by the Husband, whom I bought it for, to be the wrong brand)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 small ripe bananas (about 300g without skin), mashed
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp vanilla extract

Put the chopped dates and rum into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and let sit for an hour until the fruit has absorbed the liquid. I left it on the heat for too long and the dates soaked up the rum immediately, which worked fine as well.

Preheat the oven to 170C. Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda and salt into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until well blended. Beat in the eggs and then the bananas. Then stir in the soaked dates, cranberries and vanilla extract.

Add the flour to the butter mixture, one third at a time, stirring well after each addition. Scrape the mixture into a greased and lined loaf tin, and bake at 170C for 1 to 1 and a quarter hours. When it’s ready, a skewer should come out mostly clean. Leave to cool in the tin until you can bear it no longer and cut yourself the first slice.

Mini Raspberry Cheesecakes

I left it way too late in the day to photograph these little cheesecakes (I was too busy eating them), and as a result neither of these photos are really in focus – hence the small size.

I had my zoom lens on the camera, and took the cake out to the back steps so that I could stand above it and get a good shot of the raspberry swirl.  You see that small wedge out of the cake on the left?  That’s because while I was taking the photos, a kookaburra swooped down and took a sampling of the cake.

It didn’t come back for more, so I’m not really sure if I can claim they have a kookaburra seal of approval.  However, they certainly have mine – an incredibly easy recipe, and a meltingly delicious sweet and tangy cheesecake. It’s a delicious magazine recipe from Taste.

ingredients:

10 Oreo biscuits (including filling)
40g unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup frozen raspberries, thawed
2 tbs icing sugar, sifted
375g cream cheese
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 170°C, and if you’re a prepared sort of person, line a muffin tray with paper cases.

Put the Oreos into a food processor and whiz until they’re all broken up into crumbs. Add the melted butter and whiz until all combined. Spoon the mixture into the lined muffin tray, pressing down well to make a good base. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove and let cool.

Mash the raspberries to a pulp with a fork. The original recipe then suggested straining them through a sieve to remove the seeds – I quite like raspberry seeds, so I didn’t bother, and it certainly didn’t detract from the cake. Stir the icing sugar into the raspberry mixture.

Place the cream cheese into a food processor and mix until light and fluffy. Add the caster sugar in a steady stream, continuing to mix until its all combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing away all the while, and then add the vanilla. You’ll probably need to stop the food processor a couple of times to scrape down the sides, and at the end you’ll have a fairly liquid mixture. Pour the cheese mixture over the biscuit bases in the muffin tray.

Put a teaspoonful (or less if you’ve sieved the raspberries) of the raspberry mixture on top of each cake and use a skewer to swirl it through the cheese mixture. Bake for 10-15 minutes until just set, and then let cool completely before pulling off the wrapper to serve.

Lemon & Chocolate Loaf Cake

Man, I love this cake. It’s so lovely and light and moist and generally the bomb – also I think you could substitute nuts or cranberries or… other things for the chocolate and you would get a completely different cake-vibe. Man. How articulate. Recipe is from an old Women’s Weekly cookbook.

ingredients:

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 eggs
90 grams of chopped dark chocolate
1 1/4 cup self-raising flour
1/2 sour cream

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon rind together until it’s all creamy and fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Mix in the chopped chocolate or bits of nuts or dried fruit or whatever you’re in the mood for. Mix in the flour alternately with the sour cream (although I never bother to do it alternately, I just chuck it all in and stir away. Perhaps this cake would be even more marvellous if I bothered alternating). Stir, stir, stir. When it’s all well mixed, pour into a lined loaf tin (yes, line it, this cake needs lining).

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes and test with a skewer. While the cake is still warm and in the tin, top with a mixture of lemon rind and sugar so that it melts a little into the cake. Turn out onto a plate, slice while still warm, and enjoy the lovely lemoniness.

Pink Birthday Cake

For someone who likes both chocolate cake and the colour pink – a chocolate birthday cake with pink icing and pink cream.

I used my usual birthday cake recipe of chocolate fudge cake, and then made the pink icing.

for the icing:

125 g butter
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
pink food colouring

Cream the butter, either by hand or in a food processor, and add the icing sugar and enough water to make a stuff icing (I didn’t actually measure the water, the tablespoons are a rough estimate). Pour in about ten drops of pink food colouring and mix in – if you want a brighter colour, add more food colouring (although you then may have to add more sugar). You want a nice creamy icing that’s going to be easy to spread over the cake.

for the middle:

cream
pink food colouring
berry jam
punnet of strawberries

Whip the cream, and when it’s firm, add enough as much pink food colouring as you want. Slice the strawberries.

To assemble, decide which of the cakes is going to be the bottom layer, and spread it with jam. Follow it up by spreading it thickly with the pink cream, and then adding the sliced strawberries, placing them evenly across.

Gently squish the second cake on top, and begin smoothing the icing over with a spatula. Don’t try and get it smooth, just somewhat evenly distributed across the top and down the sides. Clean the spatula, dip it in hot water, and quickly smooth across the cake to even out the icing and create a smooth surface.

Decorate with pink sprinkles and pink & white icing flowers.

I think this probably the smartest looking cake I’ve ever managed – normally, my decoration leans towards slapdash, and I must confess this is the first time I bothered to smooth out icing – I was very pleased with the results.

(The colour is a bit whacky in the photo below – makes the pink look a little orange.)

Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake

This is another wonderful Nigella Lawson chocolate cake recipe – this one’s from the “Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame” chapter in Feast. It’s a dense, yet surprisingly light, loaf cake – not too light, however, and it goes wonderfully with cream. It’s a sweet chocolate cake, and you could make it sweeter by using milk, or perhaps even white, chocolate chips instead of dark. It’s an extremely simple recipe – it’s designed to be made in a blender, although I beat it together by hand. Once it’s cooked, you pour over some chocolate syrup, and then when cold, grate over some chocolate sprinkles for a rather elegant loaf cake. I served it for morning tea, and it was extremely popular – afternoon tea might be more appropriate though. As with most Nigella recipes, it’s rather rich.

200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
50g cocoa
275g caster sugar
175g butter
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
80ml sour cream
125ml boiling water
175g chocolate chips

for the syrup:
1 tsp cocoa
125ml water
100g caster sugar
25g dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease and line a loaf tin (21 x 11cm and 7.5cm deep).

Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into a food processor, and blitzs until it’s a smooth, satiny brown batter. Process again while pouring the boiling water slowly into the mixture. Turn off the processor, and stir in the chocolate chips.

(If you’re not using a food process, cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs, followed by the dry ingredients, then the sour cream and vanilla, then beat in the water.)

Pour the batter into the loaf tin, and bake for an hour. When ready, the loaf will be risen and split down the middle, and a skewer should come out fairly clean.

Just before the cake comes out of the oven, put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan, and boil for five minutes. What you want is a reduced liquid, a syrup.

When you’ve taken the cake out of the oven, pierce a few times with a skewer, and pour the syrup as evenly as possible over the cake. Let the cake become completely cold, then slip it out of its tin, removing the paper, and place it on your serving plate. Get your chocolate, and slice thin slivers off the block with a heavy knife, until you’ve got enough to cover the top of the cake. If required, spoon a little extra syrup so that the chocolate will stick to the surface.

And there you have it. Delicious in thick slices with cream or yoghurt.

Gateau Lawrence

This flourless chocolate cake is from a recipe book by Joanne Harris called French Kitchen, which helpfully includes an entire chapter on chocolate, including the chilli hot chocolate referred to in Chocolat. It’s extremely dense and heavy, a sticky feast of a cake, and as you can see from the above picture, very soft. The lines of my wire rack cut into the cake, and the middle fell out and had to be squished in again. I iced it to make it look a little nicer, but it would be just as lovely without icing. Rather than ground almonds, I used ground hazelnuts, which give the cake a much nuttier flavour.

180g dark chocolate
175g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
200g ground almonds
4 eggs, separated

Heat the oven to 150C. Line a 25cm cake tin with baking paper.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Cream together the butter and sugar until soft and creamy. Add the ground almonds, egg yolks and melted chocolate, and beat until evenly blended. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, add to the cake mixture and quickly fold in.

Pour into cake tin, and bake for 35 minutes. A light crust will form on the top and the middle should still be a little squishy. Leave to cool a little before carefully removing from tin.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

This is a Nigella Lawson recipe, from Feast. I was a bit hesitant about it – I don’t like beer, and I think Guinness is quite revolting. And beer and chocolate just sounds wrong. But the boyfriend often has Guinness in the fridge, so I stole one to try this cake. (It was the last one too, much to his irritation.) Nigella says that the cake’s “magnificent in its damp blackness” with a “resonant, ferrous tang”. After looking up “ferrous” (which means ‘of or pertaining to iron’, if you’re similarly ignorant), I have to agree. I’m going to relate Nigella’s cooking temperatures and times here and not what I did, because not only did I ended up cooking the cake in two tins, not having one large enough for the recipe. The icing imitates the foam on a pint of Guinness very successfully – I was very pleased with its looks, and even more so with the taste. A nicely adult chocolate cake.

250ml Guinness
250g butter (1 cup)
75g cocoa (a rounded 1/2 cup)
400g caster sugar (2 cups)
140ml sour cream (
I used plain yoghurt)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275g plain flour (2 1/4 cups)
2 1/2 teaspoons bicarb soda

for the icing:
300g cream cheese (I used 250g which was plenty)
150g icing sugar (1 cup)
125ml cream

Preheat the oven to 180C, and grease and line (yes! lining is essential) a 23 centimetre springform tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan, and add the sliced butter. Heat until the butter is melted, and remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla, then pour into the saucepan. Finally, beat in the flour and bicarb.

Pour the batter into the greased and lined tin, and bake for 45 mins to an hour. Leave to get completely cool in the tin, as it’s quite a damp cake.

For the icing, beat the icing sugar and cream cheese together. Add the cream, and beat again until it’s a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake until it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake

This is a Nigella Lawson recipe from How To Be a Domestic Goddess, and I’ve been a little hesitant about trying it, because it looks so moist and sticky, and as Nigella and I have vastly different ovens, I worried about being able to tell if it was cooked. However, a craving for chocolate cake forced me to give it a try, and experimenting with oven temperatures turned out quite well. I think it was a little overcooked, as you can see from the paler brown near the crust, and I was lazy in adding the flour, which resulted in lumps. However, the result was still beautiful – a plain, loaf cake, as Nigella describes it, but beautifully moist, and considering the amount of sugar in it, not too sweet. It’s just beautifully rich and chocolatey, and perfect with icecream or cream, as a dessert (but also in thick slices for afternoon tea).

225g soft unsalted butter (1 cup and 3 tsp)
375g dark muscovado sugar (2 cups)
(I used brown)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
(I used essence)
100g best dark chocolate, melted
200g plain flour (1 3/4 cups)
1 tsp bicarb soda
250ml boiling water (1 cup)

Nigella suggests preheating the oven to 190C, baking the finished batter for 30 minutes, turning the oven down to 170C, and baking for another 15 minutes. I have a slow oven, so I preheated to 210C, baked for 40 minutes, turned down to 190C, and baked for 20 minutes. I think my temperatures were good, but I’d probably cut 5-10 minutes off the time.

Grease and completely line a loaf tin.

Cream the butter and sugar together. I stuffed up here in attempted to slightly soften my butter, and instead completely melted it. I think this made a bit of a difference to my batter, which may also effect the cooking time. Add the eggs and vanilla to the creamed butter and sugar, and beat well.

Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but not overbeat. Add the bicarb to the flour, and add, alternately spoon by spoon with the boiling water, until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter. Don’t be alarmed if the batter is very liquid, and you think it’ll never cook. It will. And really, take time in adding the flour – lumps are annoying.

Pour the batter into your lined loaf tin.

Bake according to Nigella’s instructions (30 minutes at 190C, 15 minutes at 170C), or mine (35 minutes at 210C, 15-20 minutes at 190C). The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so there should be a little mixture on a testing skewer.

Leave the cake for a couple of hours to cool completely inside the tin. It’s intended to sink in the middle, although mine didn’t, due to said overcooking. It’s still delicious with the overcooking, I just don’t think it’s quite what Nigella intended. Turn out, slice, and eat.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

This chocolate cake recipe is my basic, birthday cake recipe that I generally use. It’s simple and easy, and despite using cocoa powder rather than melted chocolate, it really is delicious fudgy. I made a chocolate ganache for the first time to go with it, and while it made the cake very darkly chocolatey, I think I almost prefer the sweetness of chocolate icing to go with the fudginess of the cake.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
2/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 tsp vinegar)
1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb soda
berry jam

for chocolate ganache:
100g dark chocolate
1 cup cream

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Grease and line two 20cm cake tins.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla essence.

Blend the cocoa with the hot water, then stir into the butter mixture.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarb, if you like sifting. I usually just add the baking powder to the top of the cup of flour. Add the flour to the chocolate mixture alternately with the buttermilk, stirring briskly after each addition.

Pour the cake mixture evenly between the two cake tins, and bake for 30 minutes.

While the cakes are cooling, melt the chocolate and cream together, and let cool. I tried to beat mine a little to thicken the cream, but I don’t think it made any difference.

When the ganache is fairly cool, place one cake on a serving plate. Spread it thickly with jam – I used a delicious mulberry jam, but raspberry would be good as well. Pour a little ganache on top of the jam, and spread it over the cake. Place the other cake on top of the first, and settle it carefully – it may slide a little over the ganache. Pour the remaining ganache over the top of the cake, until it covers the top and sides (and is pooling a little on the plate), and put the cake immediately into the fridge.

If you serve it about an hour later, the ganache will be set, and the cake still slightly warm. Gorgeous.