Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Christmas Cupcakes and Chocolate Reindeers (Treat Petite Entry!)

Readers, due to the madness of the festive season, it’s been near enough impossible to find the time to blog. But I’ve been spreading Christmas cheer recently… making festive gifts for the office.

I started my first batch of festive cupcakes using a standard vanilla sponge (can’t go wrong, recipe below) and then varying the toppings.

I made a series of red buttercream frosting cakes first and finished them with home-made chocolate reindeer.  The reindeer were really easy to make using two colours of Wilton Candy Melts and milk chocolate.  Firstly, I laid down the coloured candies using a fine paint brush to mark out the eyes and mouth.

I then let the colours set in the fridge, before pouring in the melted chocolate and letting the reindeers fully set in the fridge for several hours.  I used a silicone mould purchased at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham last month. The reindeer shapes then popped out of the mould really easily. They were a great talking point at our group Christmas Jumper Dinner!
Reindeers straight from the mould

Here comes Santa Claus... on a vintage saucer.

The finished article

Happy Holidays!

The second batch of Christmas cupcakes was produced for my colleagues. This time I went all out making Christmas trees. These were a bit of a challenge and I have to admit that some of my trees were more alpine like than others, but overall, they went down a treat.  I piped each one in green.  The biggest challenge was trying to bring the colour up… no matter how much colouring I used; they remained more mint green than tree green.  I then decorated each with coloured sugared balls and finished off with a chocolate star on top of the tree.  I used a selection of Dr Oetker chocolate stars and also their coloured candy balls.
Ready to be bagged up and given to colleagues!
Oh Christmas Tree.. Cupcake
So, these are really easy to recreate at home.  Here’s the fail safe recipe I use, taken from a magazine called Baked and Delicious (from Issue 1)

Basic Cupcake Recipe  

Ingredients-makes 12 cupcakes
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
125g self raising flour, sifted
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons milk (I use semi skimmed)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Approximate ingredients to pipe 12 cakes
125g unsalted butter
400g icing sugar
Food colouring of your choice.
1 x disposable piping bag
1 x Wilton 1M nozzle (my favourite)

  1. Preheat oven to 190c/Fan 170c/Gas 5, then fill a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. In a large bowl, cream softened butter and caster sugar.  I use an electric mixer for this part. Cream until light and fluffy.
  3. Whisk in beaten eggs a little at a time and a teaspoon of flour with each addition.  This helps to stop the mix curdling.
  4. Once all eggs are added, use a metal spoon and fold in remaining flour.  Add the milk and vanilla extract.  The mix should have a dropping consistency.
  5. Spoon the mix evenly into the 12 cases and put the tray in the oven.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden in colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  7. Remove from tray and cool on a wire rack.
Buttercream Method
  1. Beat the butter until smooth and slowly add in the icing sugar, creaming into the mix as you go.  Add a little vanilla extract if you wish.  I tend to taste as I go, to make sure it’s not too buttery.  You can add more icing sugar, to your taste, but make sure it’s still smooth enough to be piped (not too thick)
  2. Add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract if you like. This also loosens the mixture.
  3. Add your colouring of choice and mix to combine fully.
  4. Spoon the mix into a disposable piping bag, fitted with a nozzle. 
  5. Make sure cakes are cool, then pipe swirls over each cake, in an upwards movement, to create the tree shape.
  6. Decorate with further cake décor if required.
  7. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for a couple of days

 Claire’s Tips

  • Make sure you buy unsalted butter, or the cakes will taste odd!
  • If your butter is too hard, grate into a bowl.  It makes it easier to cream and soften.
  • Be careful with food colouring – too much can leave an unpleasant aftertaste.
  • Don’t be afraid of store bought decorations.  They are a simple way to make your cakes look beautiful.
  • Buy disposable piping bags in bulk online if you pipe a lot.  It’s much easier to bin them at the end, than trying to clean them!

Treat Petite

I am entering my cupcakes into Stuart and Kat’s baking challenge Treat Petite this month, hosted by Cakey Boi, with the theme Happy Holidays!  Kat will host on alternate months at: The Baking Explorer.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Chocolate Banana Muffins


Winter has most definitely arrived.  Minus 2 degrees this evening and we even saw some snow today! Following on from the Florida trip, I’m still struggling to adjust to the cold. So, it’s definitely time to start the winter bakes.

I’m quite exited for the festive season and have some Christmas cakes and bakes being planned to pop on the blog in due course.

But firstly, I’ve been evoking memories of summer camping.  A few of us went up to the Scottish Highlands in the summer, for a wigwam weekend (ok, so glamping more than camping…) and indulged in the classic chocolate banana wrapped in tinfoil combo in the fire pit.

I’ve been longing to recreate this combo since we got back from the trip and try and work it into a recipe.  So here we go.  A classic chocolate banana muffin.

A really easy recipe which I adapted from Mumsnet

Chocolate Banana Muffins 


225 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150 g soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
125 ml vegetable oil
2 large eggs
60 g chocolate chips
250 g bananas, ripe and mashed with a fork
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Cream the eggs, vegetable oil and sugar together in a bowl.
  3. Add flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder until well combined.
  4. Mash up the banana in separate bowl. Stir in the mashed banana and the chocolate chips.
    Mash banana in a separate bowl 
    Adding the chocolate chips
  5. Split the mixture evenly between 12 muffin cases and bake for 30-40 minutes.
    Muffins set for the oven
  6. If desired sprinkle a little brown sugar on top of each muffin towards the end of baking, for extra crunch on top!
  7. Muffins are ready when golden brown and skewer inserted comes out clean.
    Straight from the oven!
  8. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

All 12 may not have made it to the cooling rack...

Claire’s Tips

  • Don’t bother to sieve the flour as the mix should look lumpy and uneven.
  • Regular value vegetable oil will do the job – no need to buy expensive brands.
  • Keep the muffins in an airtight tin for up to 3 days.  After this, they start to become soggy, soft and cake like. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Easy Cheeky Chocolate Brownies

Readers, I know that I’m the first person to say that baking from a packet is cheating.  But before you close the browser window, allow me to continue…

…Whilst fundamentally, I still believe it’s cheating and doesn’t test your kitchen skills to the limit, the packet cake mix may have introduced a whole new generation of kids (and big kids) to the joys of placing ingredients in an oven, waiting an hour and watching a magical dish appear. 

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a mum or grandma or dad or granddad who can pass on their cooking and baking skills.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

So, putting my morals aside, off I trotted to the kitchen with my Pillsbury Funfetti Brownie Mix, gifted to me by Mr WhatClaireBaked’s Mum.  

I apologise for the delay in writing this.  The range was designed for Halloween, but as I only returned to the UK at the end of October, baking was delayed and these became Bonfire Brownies instead.

The whole process was ridiculously simple.  Oven on at 180c, grease an ovenproof glass dish.  Tip the packet ingredients into a bowl.  Add sunflower oil, 2 eggs and a little water.  Mix 50 strokes and pour into the dish. Take the packet of sugar sprinkle topping (may have made MrWhatClaireBaked hyper… all part of the fun) and sprinkle over the mix.  Door open, in oven, shut door, bake for around 50 minutes.

Ingredients in the bowl ready to mix

50 strokes later!

And yes, I’ll eat my hat.  The whole kitchen slowly filled with a delicious chocolate aroma.  The brownies emerged almost an hour later in all their chocolate glory, deliciously moist, gooey and ideal for sharing.   The tray was so big, I had lots to give out to family and friends, who had no idea how I’d managed to make the brownies. I didn’t tell them until afterwards, that I’d cheated slightly…
Fresh from the oven 
So there we have it.  Enough brownies to feed the 500, mission completed in around an hour and a house that smelt like chocolate.  All in all: a success.
Spot the crunchy top and gooey centre! 
Close up
 So, spare a thought for the person who says: “Oh, it was a packet mix.”  Yes, it may not be a Mary Berry special.  Yes, you may not be challenging your inner Paul Hollywood.  But, if it’s got that person baking and into the kitchen, surely that’s a good thing?  Being able to create something from nothing instils a little confidence in that person.  Who knows, it might just be the starting point for a Great British Bake Off application.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the supermarket home baking aisle, perusing the various boxes…

Find out more about Pillsbury Baking by clicking here

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Great Florida Food Fest

Dear readers,

Things have been quiet on the blog front this month, as I’ve barely been in the UK.  I spent a week doing all things food over in Cologne, then had a two week break to Florida with Mr WhatClaireBaked and his family.

Having just made it back to home soil, I’ve not yet had a chance to create anything, but am looking forward to road testing a Pillsbury Halloween Brownie kit that I was given as a gift, when we were away.  It’s not exactly technical baking, but could be fun!

Halloween Brownies by Pillsbury
Image Source:

I wanted to dedicate my latest post, not to baking, but to eating…. As I’ve done enough of it recently.  From handmade pasta served with truffles in Cologne, to good ol’ American Mac n Cheese in Florida, I’ve eaten it all recently.

Cologne - delicious hand-made pasta served with truffle and truffle oil
One of the highlights from my trip to Florida, was a little arty café we found, on International Drive.  I swear, it was one of those random moments where we pulled up in the car to play pirate mini golf, like mature adults, the sign caught our eyes, we were in need of lunch, so we stepped in.

Café Tu Tu Tango is like nowhere I’ve ever been in before.  It plays host to local Floridian artists who use the café like a studio, then are invited to sell their work.

Not only were we captivated by the café’s Mediterranean tapas style menu, we were overjoyed to see so much modern art adorning the walls.  The whole place was covered, top to bottom, in a sea of colour.  You could have it all… from tiny square canvases, to wall covering paintings.  From monochrome, to works of only primary colours, it was an interior stylist’s heaven.

The café describes itself as: “CAFÉ TU TU TANGO evokes a time when artists found inspiration and community in sharing food, drink and philosophy with one another. The bohemian lifestyle fashioned life as a grand celebration, a feast of the senses to be shared and treasured. Together, artists found kinship over meals shared on appetizer-sized plates, over drink, music, and conversation.

One of the things that truly makes CAFÉ TU TU TANGO unique is our menu. Not only do we serve up creative fare that captures exotic flavors from around the world, but we do so in small, appetizer-sized portions that were meant to be shared. Choose an array of dishes for your table, and let the party enjoy them communally. Experience a spectrum of the world's most tantalizing tastes together. Savor both the food and the company. This is what life is all about.” 

That alone sold the café to me… before I saw the open view kitchen.  Food Heaven!

 Before I move onto the food, seeing as write a food blog, I can confirm that we were so taken by a colourful painting of a dinosaur by Su Daitch that we left with it.  Yep, and we carried it onto the plane and back to Scotland.  The dino is destined for our dining room, simply because we want it to be a talking point over dinner.  And it’s cute (photo to follow, when Daddy WhatClaireBaked, attends to hanging it!!)

My other love in America, is the free refill culture.  It’ s hot outside, you get dehydrated and want to drink more.  Hallelujah, the café provided these too! We could enjoy a drink, whilst perusing the art, and during lunch, they just kept coming.

But back to food.  We ordered thee dishes to share:  a spinach and feta dip, served with crisp baked naan bread, then Cajun chicken egg rolls, followed by Argentinean steak kebabs, served with an orange sauce.

I can confirm that all three dishes were utterly delicious.  We really loved the steak, cooked medium to our liking and tenderised perfectly. Between the two of us, three dishes were more than ample for lunchtime, although there were loads of others worth trying.  Our bill came to $35 dollars, which we felt was great for the portion sizes and the quality of foods we received.  I’d absolutely recommend the café to anyone doing a Disney/Florida vacation.

Cajun Chicken Egg Rolls - served in a cute wire basket!

Argentinian Steak Kebabs 

As all of my readers know, I have a soft spot for desserts. Especially when chocolate and ice cream gets involved.  I wanted to share a few photos of the desserts we had at Disney. 

Numero uno… a rather large and tasty chocolate brownie sundae.  My tip – buy one and share between two.  No matter how much you love chocolate, you’ll never finish it!  We enjoyed this at the 50's Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  An epic experience in itself, for anyone who loves a little bit of retro in their life.

Chocolate Brownie Dessert - delicious!!!

Close up - spot the Mickey Mouse shaped sprinkles on the top!
Number 2… my very own creation, from Chef Mickey’s restaurant at Disney's Contemporary Resport.  Yes folks, I found my inner child.  Whippy ice cream machine…. Check.  Unlimited chocolate beans to top… Check.  And to finish, Mickey Mouse created using chocolate buttons,  chocolate mousse and an Oreo Cookie.  I’d recommend dinner at Chef Mickey’s to any family (young or old).  We enjoyed our meet and greet sessions with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck possibly even more than the youngsters did!

Mickey Mouse on top of my ice cream!!!

Arriving at Chef Mickey's

Donald Duck poses for a photo at our table!
All in all, a great trip and next month, I promise I’ll return to baking. Hopefully you've enjoyed something a little different in this post. 


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Butterfly Birthday Cake

Post number two... finally.   Sorry there's been a bit of a delay. The last few weeks have disappeared before my eyes.

My latest bake was a classic birthday cake. Gorgeous vanilla sponge, sandwiched with lashings of buttercream filling and Mackays Strawberry Preserve with Champagne on top.  I also used this to glaze the cake before icing (heat for 20 secs in microwave and paste on with a pastry brush).   

I originally bough two 10in springform tins for my cakes, but discovered that with a small family, the cake ends up too big to be finished.  I downsized to a couple of 8in loose bottomed tins purchased at Morrisons and they've so far delivered on all occasions. 

Creating the filling

Getting the ingredients prepped before starting!

I'd be lying if I said I used a family recipe handed through the generations.  It's not.  It's James Martin's Victoria Sponge recipe for BBC Good Food, which you can find here.

I always make sure my cakes are properly cooled before I start to assemble them.  Taking your time is key! 

I am a big fan of Renshaw coloured icing for my cakes. It's easy to work with and comes in so many amazing colours.  I chose purple for my base colour.  Rolled it out to fit the cake, trimmed, then finished with an icing polisher from Hobbycraft.  These things are a godsend to get your nail marks and blemishes out of the icing! I also used a rotating  icing turntable which is perfect for small cakes.  It allows you to check everything is neat before trimming and check for any short pieces of icing. 

I kept the decoration simple.  Purple all over, then used a daisy cutter, to cut out individual daisies from hot pink icing.  I used white gel icing to dot the middle of each daisy. 

Cutting out the daisies 
 I covered the whole of the top of the cake with the pink daisies, for a really striking effect.  Then finished with wafer butterflies, a hot pink bow and using some of the leftover purple icing, decorated the board with them!  Ta daaaaaaa...

The finished cake!
It may have taken over 3 hours to pull together, but I was delighted with the finished cake.  Mr WhatClaireBaked's Mum was the recipient and couldn't quite believe I'd pulled off something like that home baking. 

I've learned though, if you're not gifted, keep designs simple.   Use the tools that are available to make your life easier and don't be frightened to buy additional ready made decor for a really professional finish.

I hope all my readers like this cake - stay tuned for the next baking installment...

Friday, 2 August 2013

Welcome to What Claire Baked


So after a few months of pondering, researching, baking up madness in the kitchen and contending with a house move, I've made the call to start a baking blog. 

I've blogged before, when I was self employed, but never really understood the whole concept of blogging, until I got involved in work project and thought "I could do this for myself!"

So here were are.  Welcome to What Claire Baked.   I'll aim to post as often as I can and keep you up to date on my latest baking exploits. 

I know it's soooooooo 2012, but cupcakes are kind of my thing. I've tried to get over my love for these tasty little cases of gorgeousness, but I just can't.  I'm sorry.   My love affair started at the Magnolia Bakery in New York in 2009, during the Carrie years, and it's never left me. I also enjoy making the odd birthday cake and I plan to challenge myself to make new and challenging bakes in the future. 

I'll keep you all posted on the challenges which lie ahead and the difficult questions that I face daily... Sugarpaste or fondant flowers?! 

Claire x