Sunday, 23 November 2014

Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Fluff

I have so many cookery books now that I tend to only buy ones or ask for them as a gift if there is a specific reason - either a brand or chef I like, such as the Hummingbird Bakery, the Great British Bake Off or Nigella - or because they are focused on a specific type of cooking, e.g. vegan desserts as I have a vegan friend I like to bake for. So the fact that I bought a random cupcake book in The Works was quite unusual, but I just couldn't resist.

The Works has very competitive prices - often better than Amazon, and there are plenty of books I want there at the moment that cost just three or four pounds. This one - called Make, Bake, Cupcake - was £5.99, reduced from £14, and it was just such a pretty book with some very inventive recipes. I'm sure I will be baking more of them at a later date!

When I first flicked through, I mentally bookmarked one for hot chocolate cupcakes, because I have a set of cupcake moulds that look like cup and saucers, and I thought this would work perfectly for that recipe. It had slipped my mind until I saw my Alphabakes co-host Ros, aka The More Than Occasional Baker, had made some hot chocolate cupcakes from a different recipe as her entry for Alphabakes, as the letter this month is H. So I decided to dig out the recipe I had been planning to use and make them today; they are a quick and easy bake for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

At least, they were easy because I didn't follow the whole recipe; the book explains how to use white chocolate to use an edible case for the cake which is a brilliant idea, but I wanted to use my cup and saucer moulds. Also, the cakes in the book are topped with chocolate ganache, but I wanted to use my marshmallow fluff (thanks to Ros for reminding me) that I received in my latest Degustabox.

Here's what I did.

To make six large cupcakes, you need:
60g self-raising flour
40g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
60g softened butter or margarine
100g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla flavouring
1 egg
4 tbsp. Carnation Cooking Crème (also in my last Degustabox) or 4 tbsp. milk
to decorate:
6 tbsp. marshmallow fluff
mini marshmallows (optional)

Preheat oven to 175C.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until light and fluffy.

Add half the flour and the cocoa powder and the Cooking Crème or milk, and fold in. Then fold in the rest of the flour.

Spoon the mixture into six cupcake cups. I only had three of the cup and saucer moulds - there were four in a box but I think one got thrown away after a party as someone thought it was rubbish. I also bought these cute baking cases at the Cake and Bake Show; they look like little cups or pots.

Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool, top with marshmallow fluff and a marshmallow.


 These cupcakes are really chocolately and light and fluffy, and definitely remind me of drinking a cup of hot chocolate!


 I'm sending these to Alphabakes, which this month is hosted by Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Why Are Food Start Ups So Popular?

It’s fair to say that the UK hasn’t always had the best reputation when it comes to food. However, over recent years the nation has witnessed something of a culinary renaissance. Now, Britain boasts many of the world’s best restaurants and most highly renowned chefs, and it offers a tantalising array of cuisines.

One of the hottest trends at the moment is food pop ups. These temporary eateries are springing up in towns and cities across the country, to the delight of discerning diners. If you’re in search of these contemporary restaurants, you’ll need to keep your ears and eyes open. Blink and they’re gone. Luckily, it’s possible to get the lowdown on these novel venues by visiting websites such as Squaremeal. There, you can find information concerning all manner of dining establishments.

 Meanwhile, here are just some of the reasons why people are flocking to pop ups in their droves.

Something different and exciting

One of the major draws of these temporary restaurants is the fact that they offer something different and exciting. Often, they’re advertised at the last minute and in unconventional ways. In some cases, a matter of days before the opening, word goes out via social media. This helps to create an air of secrecy and exclusivity that punters can’t get enough of.

 Menus are frequently kept top secret until the 11th hour too, and venues have included everything from disused hospitals to ballrooms and alleyways.

 Lower prices

Another reason why foodies can’t get enough of pop ups is the low prices they often boast. OK, so we’re not talking dirt cheap. After all, the dishes on offer can be high-end. However, compared with equivalent quality meals in conventional restaurants, they can be much more affordable.

 Great food

Some of the country’s best chefs are showcasing their skills in these short-term establishments. These talented individuals are keen to connect with different audiences and to show their food off to people who may not otherwise experience it. Also, pop ups give cooks a chance to try out different styles and to be more experimental in their approach.

This can all translate into tasty treats for hungry diners, who get to sample delicious, innovative culinary creations from uber talented chefs.

Given the popularity of these restaurants, you’ll need to be quick off the mark if you want to reserve tables at them. Some last for a few weeks or longer, but others are around for a matter of days.

This is a sponsored post

Friday, 21 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Moo Grill, Aldgate, London

We nearly didn’t make it to Moo Grill. It was my colleague Jo’s leaving do, and somehow she’d got it into her head that I am a vegetarian. I’m about as far removed from vegetarianism as you can get so it was quite a bizarre mistake to make. She decided to go to Dishoom, a posh Indian restaurant in Shoreditch, as it had a lot of vegetarian options, but when she was unable to get a booking, spent quite some time searching around for another suitable venue and settled on Mexican. A passing comment about how it would be good for vegetarians, and my polite response along the lines of ‘that’s nice’, made something twig and minutes later an email went out informing the group that because I’m not vegetarian after all, we can go to the restaurant that Jo actually wanted all along – a steakhouse.
It was a mid-week evening so fairly quiet in the restaurant, and we were their last customers – the staff didn’t seem to mind that we were still there at 10pm and in fact service all night was very pleasant and patient, with the waitress not seeming to mind a large group who had had a few drinks taking a long time to order. The restaurant is very small, seating only 30 (though they have three other locations around London). The outside is unprepossessing, with a large red sign and a small doorway nestled between two shop fronts, but inside it has a cosy, even romantic rustic feel with a wood bar and exposed brick walls. The menu is quite colourful and doesn’t suggest this is a particularly posh restaurant – but London has plenty of upmarket, very expensive steakhouses and there is definitely a place for a lower price bracket steak, done well (rather than well done). And this is just that.
The chain is Argentinian, where they know their steak, and starters and desserts also have an Argentinian feel. For example, chorizo or empanadas to start, and flan casero (crème caramel), panqueque (pancakes) or Don Pedro, ice cream with a shot of liqueur. A large part of the main menu consists of gourmet sandwiches – I thought it a shame they didn’t have a separate lunch and dinner menu, but then again, some people might want a sandwich at lunch time while their dining companion wants a steak. There are also dishes including pizza, chicken Milanese, or an aubergine dish for vegetarians (it’s lucky I’m not a vegetarian, as it would have been that or a sandwich or salad). However, everyone in our group went for the steak.
The steak is sold by the 100g, with a 200g minimum – though you can’t have half portions eg 250g. I wasn’t really sure what constituted a decent sized steak so ordered 300g of sirloin, at £7.95 per 100g. It was a fairly substantial steak and some people who had ordered 200g regretted their choice – though with the side orders and starters we had plenty of food. I tried empanadas to start, sharing a ham and cheese and a beef pastry with Jo – at only £2.10/£2.30 they are a bargain, as one makes a decent sized starter and they tasted delicious, particularly the ham and cheese. The steak was cooked to my liking and was very good; the chimichurri mayo with the fries was a nice touch though you do pay an extra £2 for the privilege (ordinary mayo and ketchup are free). None of us made it as far as dessert, perhaps due also to the bottles of very decent red wine we polished off during our meal.
Moo Grill is a little off the main route, about half way between Liverpool Street and Aldgate stations, and it’s nothing fancy – but it has an authentic feel and is worth a visit.



Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Pink Ombre Wedding Cake and How To Make Pink Sugar Flowers

pink three tier wedding cake
Pink three-tier wedding cake
- How to make a pink wedding cake
- How to make a pink ombre cake with each layer a different shade of pink
- How to make realistic sugar flowers
- How to decorate a pink cake
- Can you freeze cake
..... all these questions will be answered in this post!
This cake was a real labour of love so I think deserves a big blog post. It isn't actually a wedding cake but I think would work very well as one, perhaps with another one or two layers. I made it for a bake sale at work that was raising money for Breast Cancer - the charity with the pink ribbon campaign, so the theme was pink. The bake sale was meant to be a 'bake off', judged by a senior member of staff with a prize provided by a local business, but for various reasons the competitive element was cancelled. I wish I'd known that in advance as I might not have spent so much time and money on making this cake! Even so I'm very proud of it, it helped raise a good amount of money for charity and it's great to be able to share this cake and how I went about making it with you all.
To begin with I made the sugar flowers; as I was making them from flower paste they were intended to harden and I knew I could make them at the weekend (the bake sale was on Thursday and I knew I wouldn't have time during the week).
I bought various things after watching a sugar flower demonstration at Cake International two years ago that I still hadn't used so it was about time! Here you can see an Iris petal cutter which I used to cut out some large petals from Renshaw's pink flower paste.


Here are stamens and florist tape - the only non-edible part of the flowers.

I also had two smaller Iris petal cutters which I used for the inner petals. Take a few stamen and bind them together with the florist tape then take your first petal and wrap it around the stamens, quite tightly at the bottom but more open at the top. Start with a smaller petal and place a few of these around the stamen, overlapping each one.

Then add a couple of the bigger petals and curve them outwards at the edges. I placed them on this drying rest; they dry hard quite quickly. Keep whatever flower paste you are not using covered up.

I made three of these, but in the end could only fit two on the cake.

I also used this blossom flower cutter to make some smaller flowers to cascade down the side of the cake. I've explained in more detail how to use the cutter and embosser on this post on wedding cupcakes.

I made a whole pile of these and left them to dry.

As for the cake: I wanted to make each layer of cake a different shade of pink so I thought it was important to use a simple sponge recipe. I went for a 6/6/6 cake - that is, 6oz of flour, 6oz caster sugar and 6 oz butter, and 3 eggs. The sponge turned out really well, very light and tasty.

I made several quantities of this cake mixture and used more for the first few layers as I was using a bigger cake tin; so in total I made three batches of this cake mixture but it wasn't evenly used across the three tiers of the cake. I didn't make a note of exactly what quantities I used for each cake unfortunately!

I used Sugarflair pink colourpaste for three of the layers and fuchsia for the fourth. I added a tiny amount of the pink to the cake mixture and spread a very thin layer on the bottom of a greased 10-inch cake tin, and baked that in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.

I then added a little more of the same pink food colouring to the cake mixture left in the bowl and repeated the procedure. I did that one more time with the pink (I think at this point I had to make more cake mixture) and then finally I used fuchsia for the last layer.

You can really see the difference in shades when they came out of the oven! My three-tier cooling rack came in very handy.

 For the final tier I made a very small cake in a 5-inch cake tin and did a marble effect, combining a spoonful of pink cake mixture with a spoonful of plain until the tin was filled.

As I knew I was going to be too busy in the days leading up to the bake sale, there was only one thing for it: I was going to have to freeze the cake. I looked up how to do this on the internet and discovered that you can't really freeze frosting but the actual sponge cake should be fine. Wrap each layer in clingfilm and carefully place in the freezer.

I would never been able to do this with the freezer in my last house as it was quite small, and had drawers which wouldn't have been wide enough for the biggest layer of cake. But when we bought the new house we treated ourselves to an American-style freezer (partly as my boyfriend wanted the ice dispenser but two months later it still hasn't been connected to the plumbing!). One real advantage is that the shelves are very deep so I had no problem sliding my layers of cake into the freezer. And rest assured the cake tasted absolutely fine when it came out of the freezer!

So the night before the bake sale I assembled the cake. I made a simple buttercream which I coloured pink and spread it very thinly between each layer of the cake.

I had to level off one layer of cake as it wasn't quite flat but otherwise the layers were all relatively uniform, and definitely came out in different shades of pink!

I was limited by having to carry this in my cake carry case to work so I made the bottom tier four layers thick and then covered it in pink fondant from Renshaw.

The next tier was two layers but the layers were thicker. The final cake on top didn't come out of the tin very well and left a chunk of itself behind which is why the top looks quite uneven.

I thought that covering the whole cake in pink was a bit much, plus I had some specific decorations in mind, so I covered the middle layer in white fondant.

I bought these printed sugar paper decorations from Culpitt after seeing their stand at the Cake and Bake Show. They are really easy to use - pre-cut circles you just pop out of the page. They are edible and the circles were a variety of sizes and patterns which I thought would look nice around the side of the cake, on the white layer. I also bought some pink ribbon from the same website to put around the pink layers.

So finishing the cake was quite easy. I didn't bother using dowels between the tiers - I never have done, though some people say it's essential. I'm doing a wedding cake course next year so hopefully I will find out more!

After covering each tier of the cake separately, I placed one on top of the other, securing with some buttercream in between. I wrapped the ribbon around the top and bottom layers and secured with some edible glue, and stuck the sugar paper circles around the white layer, again with edible glue. I placed two of the large sugar flowers on top and secured them with royal icing, and used royal icing to stick on the smaller flowers so they would look like they were cascading down the side of the cake. I was really pleased with the final result!

There aren't many blog challenges this month that I can share this cake with, which is a shame, as it doesn't fit any of the themes. But I can send it to Cook Blog Share, hosted by Lucy at Supergoldenbakes. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Polo 24 Hour Bar, Liverpool Street, London

Polo bar by night
A 24-hour café does not normally conjure up images of good food. Late night kebabs, or somewhere to wait at three in the morning for the bus to the airport, perhaps. So it’s probably a good thing that the first time I went to Polo bar opposite Liverpool Street station that I didn’t notice its slightly dubious credentials. We went for breakfast – once every three months, I have to be in the office shockingly early, getting in a car around the time that a lot of Londoners are still out drinking. By the time 9am rolls around, we have several hours work under our belts and are in need of caffeine and a cooked breakfast. Before I joined, Polo bar was the regular venue for this team breakfast (possibly as it’s very close to our office); since I’ve been here however, I have been gently encouraging my colleagues to try other venues – and not just so I can write a review. I’m on a hunt for the best breakfast in the area.
Since my first breakfast at Polo, where I had a slightly disappointing sausage sandwich (nice bread, not enough sausage), I’ve been back for lunch, dinner and for evening drinks (not all on the same day). It’s the lunch that I’ve decided to review.
But first the café itself. It doesn’t look much from the outside – a small entrance, a huge sign declaring it to be a 24 hour establishment (how on earth did I miss seeing that the first time?) and a lot of white tiles on the wall as you enter which is vaguely reminiscent of either a toilet, or a tube station. It is deceptively big, with three floors, and some quirky touches like retro signs. Perhaps they were current rather than retro when they were put up – Polo bar has been here since 1953, “before rock ‘n’ roll was even cool”, its website proclaims. It had a makeover/refurbishment earlier this year.
The breakfast – possibly the main event – is served 24/7 and includes some tasty-sounding options such as eggs royale (poached eggs with smoked salmon and spinach) as well as favourites like the full English and a breakfast bap. Its pancakes were voted London’s best by the Evening Standard. If you’re going for lunch – and don’t want breakfast for lunch – there are six burger options with lots of additional toppings, sandwiches, and more filling choices like fish and chips, chicken in a basket and a couple of salads – nothing fancy, no ideas above its station, but traditional British café fare with a modern twist. I ordered the fish finger sandwich, which came on a bloomer (£5.50), with cheesy bacon chips as a side.
Unfortunately, having been spoiled by the hanger fries (with cheese, onions and burger sauce) at the nearby Diner in Spitalfields, I was expecting a lot. Whereas the Diner fries were covered in melted cheese more akin to a cheese sauce (even if quite yellow and artificial in colour, it was heaven),  Polo’s cheesy chips had cheese melted over them which had then cooled and congealed, so it was hard to separate the chips and I ended up peeling cheese off them. When you do eat the chips with the cheese on they are quite dry and rather than adding anything I think the cheese actually detracted from the fries. Which was a shame, as the fish finger sandwich was really good.
After writing this review I also went for drinks that turned into dinner as well; I had 'chicken in a chicken basket' which I thought was a typo, but the chicken pieces came in a wire chicken basket - the kind you store eggs in! It was very crispy and a little too well done for my liking but the chips - sans cheese this time - were fine. It's not somewhere I would make a point of coming for dinner but if you are here for drinks the food is fine.
I’m unlikely to be here at 3am so can’t vouch for what the ambience or service is like in the middle of the night but this is a friendly, low-key place and a nice change from chain cafes up and down the street.



Monday, 17 November 2014

Meal Planning Monday 2014 - Week 47

Monday - I'm at a choir rehearsal so my boyfriend will go to his mum's

Tuesday - curry with leftover chicken from roast

Wednesday-  schnitzel - I was trying to get sauerkraut but can't believe Lidl didn't have any! (I've just come back from Vienna, home of the Wiener schnitzel!)

Thursday - Out at a talk by Nigella Lawson who I am really looking forward to meeting

Friday - something from the freezer like sausage and chips or burgers

Saturday - I was meant to be out at a choir rehearsal all day and seeing a friend in the evening but I'm not going any more. Our choir concert is next week but I am now going into hospital to have my wisdom teeth out so I won't be able to sing :-( So there is no point me spending all day at the rehearsal any more either. Instead I think my boyfriend and I will go out to dinner and to see the Hunger Games film at the cinema, and for lunch I will do his favourite, a bacon sandwich.

Sunday lunch - TBA, I might see if the friend I was meant to visit yesterday can come round for lunch and as she's vegan I will need to find a suitable recipe.

dinner - Slimming World chicken chasseur with Dijon mustard mash

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme Pudding

I seem to have had barely five minutes to sit still since moving into our new house at the end of August; we still haven't finished decorating or unpacking! I suddenly realised I hadn't so much as thought about what to make for Alphabakes, the blog challenge that I created with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker. She is hosting the challenge this month and has chosen the letter H.

While I'd love to browse through my 100+ cookery books, time is not on my side this month and I do have a huge bag of ingredients beginning with H to use up... my boyfriend's mum went to America in September and brought me back several bags of Hershey's kisses. So I decided I had better use that as my H ingredient and find a recipe that would fit!

I've made a few things with Hershey's kisses before that all turned out pretty well. My boyfriend particularly likes the Cookies 'n' Creme flavour, though they are not my favourite, but I thought they might work well in a dessert. I found this recipe for Cookies 'n' Crème Pudding on the Hershey's website. It was a little runnier than I would have liked but still firm enough to be eaten with a spoon and it tasted very creamy and chocolatey. My boyfriend particularly enjoyed it!
You can find the recipe here.

 Unwrap precisely 28 Hershey's Kisses

 Bringing the corn flour, sugar, salt and milk to the boil

After stirring in the egg yolks and returning to the boil then adding the butter and Hershey's kisses and stirring until melted you then pour into serving glasses.

This recipe makes four small portions or two large ones.

I'm sending this to Alphabakes, the blog challenge I created with Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker. She is hosting this month and has chosen the letter H.

I'm also sending this to Treat Petite, the challenge hosted by Stuart at Cakeyboi and Kat of the Baking Explorer, as their theme is Thanksgiving and saying thank you. As these use American candy I think they would be a lovely treat for the end of Thanksgiving dinner.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Chocolate, Toffee and Pear Mug Cake and Fruit Bow Review

The Dot Com Gift Shop is one of my favourite online retailers as they have such a broad range of gifts and so many of them are themed around cooking, baking and kitchenware - I have a few gifts earmarked to purchase this Christmas!

They recently sent me a fruit bowl to review, that I think would make a great Christmas gift. It comes in two parts but it's very easy to screw on the base - you don't even need a screwdriver. It's a large bowl so would be good for people with families or who eat a lot of fruit - though it's also a good way to encourage people to get their five a day!

I love the design; the white wire work would fit in almost any kitchen décor and it looks both modern and a bit vintage at the same time, if such a thing is possible! It costs £19.95 which I think is a good price for the size and quality.

I filled my fruit bowl as soon as I received it, leaving me to wonder afterwards what to do with all the fruit! I recently came across a lovely little cookery book called Mug Cakes by Mima Sinclair - I knew you could make cakes in a microwave as I remembered a girl called Kate doing it at university as we didn't have an oven in halls - and a while back I made my own chocolate mug cake. It never occurred to me there could be a whole book of recipes dedicated to microwaving cakes in a mug or that so many flavours and ingredients would work!

I love pears and bought a few for my fruit bowl so when I saw a recipe for chocolate, ginger and pear cake in a mug I decided to try it. I changed it though as I left out the ginger and added toffee sauce instead; the original recipes uses both ground and stem ginger but I had all the other ingredients in the house and liked the idea of just throwing the cake together from what I had. I also used milk chocolate instead of plain which I think gave a more fudgy taste. So this is what I did:

You need:
1 tbsp. softened butter
20g milk chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 an egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. semi-skimmed milk
2 tbsp. caster sugar
2 tbsp. self-raising flour
pinch of salt
1 ripe pear, peeled
1 tbsp. toffee sauce

You need to make sure your mug is big enough - the recipe book recommends a 350ml mug. The easiest way to check is to fill a measuring jug with water, pour it into the mug and you will see if it holds 350ml!

Place the butter and chocolate in the mug and microwave for 10-20 seconds until melted.

Add the egg and milk and beat together with a fork.

Add the sugar, flour and salt and mix carefully with the fork until smooth.

Slice the base off the pear so it will sit in the mug and press down gently so it is in the middle of the cake mixture.

Microwave for between 1.5 and 2 minutes depending on the power of your microwave (2 mins for 700 watts, 1 min 50 seconds for 800 watt, 1 min 40 for 900 watt etc). Leave to cool before you eat! To serve, spoon a little toffee sauce over the top - I used a jar of ready made toffee sauce I found in Lidl or you could use the squeezy toffee sauce you can buy to go over ice cream, or Carnation caramel, or make your own.

I wasn't expecting  much from a cake made in a mug in a microwave but this was amazing. The cake was just the right consistency and the pear softened beautifully; the flavours worked well together and this is definitely something I would make again.


I'm sending this to Cook Blog Share, hosted by Lucy at Supergoldenbakes.