Thursday, 30 January 2014

Burns Night Themed Chocolate Cupcakes

Well readers, I’ve been getting bake-a-licious again.   Last weekend was a fundraiser for a local children’s cancer charity, which I closely support.  So I offered up six boxes of my finest (!) cupcakes for the tombola. As a side point, I’d like to add that the event was in aid of TCCL and that over £2,000 was raised on the night, so I guess the cakes must have been ok!!!

I’m normally a vanilla kind of girl (no sniggering at the back please…) and I’ve found a foolproof recipe for vanilla cupcakes, which I’ve posted here.  It’s never let me down so far, so I’ve stuck with it.

However, seeing as I planned to gift these cakes, I figured I better make an attempt to impress the crowd and roll out a chocolate cupcake recipe.  Thank you so much to the lovely person at All Recipes UK, who posted this fab recipe, which you will find here.

I made some minor adjustments, relating to temperature and cooking time, according to my oven, which I’ve noted below, but pretty much worked with the original recipe, which was fantastic.

I ended up making a batch of vanilla and a batch of chocolate (just in case one went wrong) but ended up with 30 edible cakes, which I boxed up and gifted.

I used my usual buttercream recipe (it’s here) but also adapted it to create a chocolate version which I’ve posted below.  Oh and to finish, used some printed rice paper Scottish motifs which I got online.  

I may not be “Chieftan of the puddin’ race” – Scottish joke – look it up – but I may have ended up the “Chieftan of the Chocolate Cake” this time round.  New title perhaps?!

And today's hints and tips...
  • Don't underestimate the power of a hand mixer when making buttercream.  Softened butter + mixer = easy to cream!  Be cautious when adding icing sugar to start - you may end up with snowstorm.
  • Keep an eye on your cakes in the oven - it's not always easy to see when chocolate cake mix is burning
  • Use the chocolate recipe as a basis for a chocolate birthday cake - just scale up according to your tin size, keeping everything in proportion. 

Chocolate Cupcakes adapted from All Recipes 

Makes 18 cakes (in large cases)
Cake Ingredients
60g Cadbury Bourneville cocoa powder
7 dessert spoons boiling hot water
175g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
120g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs

Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients
Approximate ingredients to pipe 18 cakes
100g unsalted butter
280g icing sugar
100g good quality chocolate
1 x disposable piping bag
1 x Wilton 1M nozzle (my favourite)

Cake Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 200c/ Fan 180c / Gas Mark 4. Line 2 - 12 hole bun trays with colourful cupcake cases.
  2. Sift the cocoa into a large bowl; add 7 dessert spoons of boiling water and mix into a thick chocolate syrup, adding more water if you need to. Add the softened butter, sugar, self-raising flour, baking powder and eggs. Mix with electric beaters until smooth and evenly mixed.

    Seriously fluffy mixture! Possibly my best batter ever!
  3. Spoon ½ dessert spoons of the mixture into the paper cases, filling them 3/4 full. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the sponge mixture has risen and the cupcakes spring back when you touch them. Insert a metal skewer – if it comes out clean, cakes are ready.
  4. Remove from the oven; cool on a wire rack before decorating.

Chocolate Buttercream Method
  1. Melt 100g of good quality chocolate in a glass bowl, over a pan of barely simmering water, ensuring the water does not touch the bowl.
  2. Stir until melted, then remove from heat and do not use until it’s no longer hot to the touch.
  3. Beat the butter until smooth, using an electric mixer and slowly add in the icing sugar, creaming into the mix as you go, using the mixer.  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).
  4. Pour in the cooled, melted chocolate and using your mixer, combine all ingredients together, until you have a smooth chocolate buttercream. If the mixture is too thick, add a splash of milk, to loosen it.
  5. Spoon the mix into a disposable piping bag, fitted with a nozzle. 
  6. Make sure cakes are cool, then pipe swirls over each cake, in a circular motion.
  7. Decorate with further cake d├ęcor if required.
  8. Pop in an airtight container (or eat immediately)
Vanilla and blue buttercream icing

All ready to box up (sorry - not the best styled photo!)

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Baking Gingerbread Men

 So readers, I’m more of a cake maker than a biscuit baker, I discovered this weekend.

I took a notion for Gingerbread Men on Saturday and decided to give them a go.  “How hard can it be?” I said to myself.  Turns out more difficult than I envisaged… 

I used a BBC Good Food recipe, which I think would have worked no problem if I’d had a bigger food processor – my little one couldn’t handle the amount of crumb I was trying to make.  I had to stop halfway and go back to the hand done method. 

Then, my dough was soft, I rolled it too thick… put the gingerbread men too close together… and ended up with obese gingerbread people.  

At least it was a learning curve. Some ended up more like Gingerbread Cookie People, which according to Mr What Claire Baked were really tasty, but just not the look I was going for.

Anyway, next time, I’ll do the following…
  1. Make my biscuit crumb by hand
  2. Use a little less golden syrup so the mixture isn’t so wet
  3. Use a little more flour to set the dough
  4. Roll the dough thinner to make more of a biscuit
  5. Spread the gingerbread men out further on the tray

Gingerbread Men

You can view the recipe here: or view my recipe breakdown below.

350g/12oz plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125g/4½oz butter
175g/6oz light soft brown sugar
1 free-range egg
4 tbsp golden syrup
Writing Icing to decorate

Lay out all your ingredients before starting. Spot the small food processor.


1. Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon and pour into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and blend until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.  If you don’t have a food processor, use your hands to bring the butter and flour until it’s breadcrumbs and then mix in the flour.
Prepping the dry ingredients

2.Lightly beat the egg and golden syrup together, add to the food processor (or bowl) and pulse/stir until the mixture clumps together. Tip the dough out, knead briefly until smooth, wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Dough prepped and ready to be wrapped in Clingfilm
3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line several baking trays with greaseproof paper.

4. Roll the dough out to a 0.5cm/¼in thickness on a lightly floured surface. Using person shaped cutters, cut out the gingerbread men shapes and place on the baking tray, leaving a good gap between them.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden-brown. Leave on the tray for 10 minutes and then move to a wire rack to finish cooling. When cooled decorate with the writing icing and give each one its own personality.

One of the more successful people!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Caramel Apple Crumble with Home Made Caramel Sauce

Readers, as we are now into the throws of yucky January I simply cannot resist a comforting, warming, British dessert at the weekend.  Yes folks, its time for the humble apple crumble.

I'm also entering this recipe into #recipeoftheweek hosted over at A Mummy Too

Delicious, simple to make and there’s only really four main ingredients...  

...Well unless you deal with requests from Mr What Claire Baked.  Ever since Florida, he has been obsessed with caramel sauce dips for apples.  We picked some up in Walmart and brought them home with us.  Supplies are since long eaten, so it was time to take matters into my own hands.  This wasn’t any apple crumble, this was going to be caramel apple crumble.

A tip – make your caramel sauce first, let it cool in a bowl, then add it to the recipe.

Readers take note – sugar and heat are a difficult combo.  I used the wet method -using sugar and water -which in theory is meant to be easier than dry (sugar only), but I still took two attempts.  Round 1 – I waited a little too long for a golden caramel colour and ended up with chocolate brown burnt sugar. I even managed to disintegrate the bin bag from the heat of my molten liquid.  Definitely not edible…
Gone too far - see burning around the edges!
Round two was much more successful – reduced the heat, had a little patience (in the words of Take That) and ended up with a pale caramel mixture which was ideal for sauce.
Caramel sauce success
So here goes…

Claire’s Caramel Apple Crumble with Home Made Caramel Sauce

Caramel Sauce

I adapted Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found here and did half quantities
(there’s still some left, so this serves three, plus extra)


125g caster sugar
6 dessert spoons water
85ml double cream
25g butter


  1. Tip sugar into heavy based saucepan and add 6 dessert spoons water.  Stir to mix.
  2. Place pan over a low to medium heat and do not stir. Watch for sugar melting and swirl pan if necessary.
  3. Turn up the heat to medium and keep a close eye on the sugar as it boils.
  4. When the mix starts to turn from clear bubbling to a pale gold, take off the heat and carefully stir in the butter and cream. 
  5. Stir until smooth and combined, then transfer to a heat proof dish to cool.

Claire’s Caramel Apple Crumble

Ingredients - serves 3

4 apples (I used Royal Gala which were left in the fridge)
100g caster sugar
150g plain flour (again for gluten free – switch to gluten free flour)
75g butter
Your home made caramel sauce
Ground cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 if you are planning to cook the crumble right away.
  2. Fill a pan with water and a squeeze of lemon juice (I like to keep a bottle of lemon juice in the fridge for times like these). Peel and core your apples, then cut into chunks and place in the pan to stop them browning.
    Apples in pan with lemon juice and water to prevent browning
  3. Drain the water from the pan and add half the caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water, then place on the hob, with the lid on, at a medium heat.
    Ready to go on the hob
  4. Keep checking and stirring the pan and once the apples are beginning to soften, add a pinch of ground cinnamon (if this is to your taste).
  5. Stir in 3 teaspoons of your caramel sauce towards the end of cooking and cook through, stirring regularly until combined.
  6. Remove apples from heat and transfer to an oven proof dish.  Pour on a little more of your sauce if desired.
    In oven proof dish, ready for crumble
  7. Whilst cooling, make your crumble by adding the flour and cubed butter to a bowl. Rub both together with your hands until large breadcrumbs are made.  Then, stir in the remaining sugar and mix well.
    Crumble ready to go on top of the apples
  8. Pour the crumble evenly over the apples and bake for 25-30 minutes.
    One fully assembled crumble
  9. Remove from oven and serve with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.
    And serve!

Claire’s Tips

  • You can make both parts of the crumble in advance.  Just cool the filling before you reheat with the topping. The topping can be made in advance and stored in a bowl with cling film covering, in the fridge. (Bring back to room temp before cooking).
  • Try a tablespoon of brown sugar in your topping for a little extra crunch.
  • Try adding some raspberries to the filling, when in season, for a more tart flavour, as this recipe is quite sweet.
  • The filling would also be good for an apple pie – scale up accordingly. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Home-Made Sun Dried Tomato & Black Olive Bread

Readers, it’s officially all over for another year.  Roasted chestnuts have been consumed, yuletide carols were sung by many choirs and folks may well have dressed up like Eskimos… but who are we to stop them?

We took the decorations down today, so the house is looking rather bare, I have to say. 

Like previous years, I had great intentions of making baked goodies as gifts, but time just didn’t permit.  AGAIN.  My last post Christmas Cupcakes does show what I managed, which was a step forward from 2012. I did however, have time to make some loaves of bread for our festive dining. 

I am a sucker for home made bread. I can’t see past it.  The stress relief from kneading dough, the smell of the bake… it’s my favourite.  It may be carbolicious (great new word!) but at least I know my own bread isn’t packed with preservatives or any other nasties.

I’ve made bread from packs before, but never from scratch.  So this was a first attempt.  The recipe made two loaves – the first we enjoyed on Christmas Eve with baked Camembert.  The second accompanied home-made prawn cocktail for Christmas dinner with the leftovers being put out for our Boxing Day buffet. 

Bread making is a time consuming process, but it's well worth the effort as the end result is delicious and has such a depth of flavour, compared with mass made counterparts. 

This recipe came from our local paper, The Courier, who had a pull out Love Baking series in autumn 2013.   I’ve made some small adaptations, to suit our tastes, which is the recipe below.

Sun Dried Tomato and Black Olive Bread

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

400g Plain Flour (I just use supermarket own brand) plus extra to dust
1 teaspoon salt
1 sachet dried yeast (available in most supermarkets)
1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried thyme, or fresh if available (chopped)
200ml lukewarm water
4 tablespoons olive oil plus extra to brush loaves
80g black olives, stoned and sliced or chopped to your liking
100g sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1 egg yolk (beaten)


  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, then stir in yeast, sugar and thyme. 
  2. Make a well in the centre of the bowl and pour in the water and olive oil. Stir to mix with a wooden spoon until dough comes together.
  3. Knead in bowl with hands until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
  4. Turn out onto a mat or clean worktop.  Use a little olive oil on the mat and your hands, before starting to knead.
  5. Knead in the chopped olives and sun dried tomatoes and knead for a further 5 minutes. Dough should be smooth and elastic.
  6. Brush a clean bowl with olive oil. Shape dough into a bowl.  Cover the bowl with a hot damp tea towel and leave dough to rise in a warm place for around 1h 30 mins, or until the dough has doubled in size.
    Ready to be covered with a damp tea towel
  7. Dust a baking sheet with flour.  Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto a mat/worktop. Cut the dough in half.
  8. Using oiled hands, shape each half into an oval shape.  Place on the dusted baking sheet and recover with a damp tea towel. Leave to rise for an additional 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat your oven to 200◦C/400◦F/Fan 180◦C/ Gas 6.  Uncover dough and make three shallow diagonal cuts in the top of each loaf.  Brush each loaf with beaten egg yolk.
  10. Place tray in preheated oven and bake for around 40 minutes until golden brown.  Loaves are cooked when tapped on base with knuckles and a hollow sound is produced.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
    Ready to serve

    Close up - a decent first attempt!

 Claire’s Tips

  • These loaves don’t contain preservatives, so keep in an airtight container and eat within a couple of days.
  • Those on a gluten free diet, could try this recipe substituting the listed ingredients for gluten free variants. 
  • Using olive oil rather than flour on your hands helps to keep the dough moist. However, if it gets too wet, just add a sprinkle of flour to your hands and mat, then keep kneading.
  • Ideal served with baked cheeses, home-made soup or in the bread basket at a dinner party.

 P.S. – Here’s a great use for a round loaf, from a recent trip to Budapest.  Why serve your soup in a ceramic bowl, when you can serve it from an edible one?  Goulash Soup was enjoyed at a festive market, where we ate the contents, then ate the lid, then ate the bowl. No waste and no pesky dishes!!!!

Goulash soup in Budapest at the Christmas Market