Monday 30 January 2012

Italian language and cookery class

Ciao! Mi chiamo Caroline. Come ti chiami?

Last week I took an Italian language and cookery class that I bought through a Groupon offer. The class was taught by the lovely Raffaela, who taught us some Italian words and phrases while we made ciambellone, ciambelline al vino and tiramisu.

There were 8 of us in the class and we sat around a long wooden table with Raffaela at the head. When I have taken cookery classes before, every person had their own workstation or section of the table, their own ingredients and made their own dish. Admittedly they have been corporate jollies and cost a lot more than this class, but I was a bit disappointed to find that Raffaela did all the weighing and measuring. She would pass around the mixing bowl so we would take it in turns to stir while counting to ten in Italian. She also got four different people to each crack one egg, and a couple of people had a chance to use the whisk. For someone who couldn't cook at all it would probably have been fine, but I have made tiramisu several times before and found it a bit strange that the only part I got to do this time was dipping a couple of sponge fingers in cold coffee.

Having said that it was quite interesting and a nice way to spend a Monday night!

First we made ciambellone, which is simply a cake made in a ring shape. It's traditionaly made at Easter as it uses ingredients that are not permitted in the Lent fasting period.

400g sugar
4 eggs
400g plain flour
2.5 tbsp baking powder (yes, you read that right)
300ml milk
100g butter, softened
zest of 1 lemon
icing sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Mix sugar, eggs and butter in a bowl and mix with an electric mixer or by hand. Add lemon zest. Slowly add the milk while stirring with a wooden spoon. Add baking powder and mix. Sift in the flour and fold in.
Grease a ring-shaped cake mould then sprinkle some flour in it. Pour the mixture into the mould and cook for 40 mins. Best enjoyed served warm!

While the cake was in the oven, we made ciambelline al vino - a type of biscotti that uses red wine for flavouring. The name is similar to the ciambellone, above, because they are also ring shaped. They are traditionally eaten along with a glass of wine - with the biscotti actually dipped into the wine! Here they are before they went in the oven.

Ciambelline al vino

100ml red wine
250g plain flour plus extra for kneading
100g granulated sugar
100ml sunflower oil
1 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Pour wine, sugar and oil into a bowl and mix. Add butter and flour to make a dough. Sprinkle your work surface with flour and knead the dough for five minutes. Leave dough to rest for 30 mins wrapped in clingfilm.
Grease a baking tray. Roll out small pieces of the dough between your hands to make a snake shape. Press the two ends together to make a ring. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the biscuits.

Finally we made tiramisu. We made the topping in the same group manner (i.e. my only input was to give it a quick stir), but we each dipped our own sponge fingers and had a small tin foil tray to make our own portion to take home. I won't repeat the recipe here as there are plenty available online and it really is pretty straightforward. Here's my finished product!

Sunday 29 January 2012

Lemon tart with vanilla mascarpone

My parents came to my house for Christmas year and I didn't want a shop-bought dessert for a special occasion. My dad doesn't like chocolate so I decided a lemon tart would be a good end to Christmas dinner - not too heavy, but still indulgent.

I have loads of recipe books but I was thinking about this at work when I didn't have access to any of them, so decided to see if I could find a good recipe online. And this is what I came up with:

Apparently it's also a low-cost "frugal" recipe, which always helps!

I also wanted the chance to use a lovely pie dish my boyfriend's mum had given me for Christmas the year before. It's quite big, and there were only three of us for Christmas dinner so I knew the tart would be a lot bigger than we needed, but we managed to eat it all over the next couple of days :-)

The recipe actually recommended using shop-bought pastry, which was nice as I may well have cheated and done it anyway! Usually when I buy Jus-Roll pastry it comes in a block that you have to roll out, but this actually came in a long thin packet and all you had to do was unroll it - no rolling-pin required! And it was almost exactly the right size for my pie dish.

As you will see from the recipe if you click on the link, it is pretty easy to make the pie filling. Which is good as I was making it on Christmas Eve, just a few hours before my parents arrived, and I was also cooking a ham and making cupcakes at the same time - literally swapping between bowls and taking one thing out of the oven and putting another thing straight in! In retrospect it's probably surprising I didn't get the recipes mixed up and accidentally put the crushed oreos for the cupcake into the lemon pie mixture or something!

When the pie came out of the oven, some areas on the top had gone a little browner than others, but otherwise it turned out great. I made the mascarpone vanilla cream from the recipe to serve with it, but as always substituted vanilla flavouring for fresh vanilla. I then sprinkled edible yellow glitter over the top of the tart to serve.

I've also decided to enter this into Frugal Food Fridays from Fuss Free Flavours, as it's a low cost recipe :-)

Thursday 26 January 2012

Launching a new baking challenge - AlphaBakes

Welcome to AlphaBakes, a new blogging challenge which will be hosted on alternate months by Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and Caroline from Caroline Makes. This will be a monthly challenge where the aim is to bake with an ingredient that starts with the random alphabet letter chosen for that month. We debated about working through the alphabet in sequence but it's much more fun having a random letter which will keep us all on our toes. We won't repeat the same letter unless we have been through all of them! By then we will hopefully have come up with some new ideas (we already have a few knocking about).

We will be using a random letter generator to ensure fairness :) 

For now, please do join in and indulge your creative side. Most bakers like a challenge and it would be interesting to see what everyone comes up with for the same letter. In case the idea is not clear, I'll give you some examples..... 
'A' can be apples, apricots or Anzac cookies 
'B' can be banana, bread or a bumblebee cake
'C' can be coconut, cheesecake or a chocolate caramel cupcake
 .... the possibilities are endless!

Each challenge will start on the 1st of every month and finish by the 25th of every month. A round up will be posted on the host blog by the 1st of the next month. 

Now on to the rules which you MUST comply with

1. Post your recipe on your blog and link it to The More than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes, stating the relevant month's host. If you do not have a blog, email us a picture and a brief description of your entry which we will  include in the round-up at the end of the month. 

2. You can use your own recipe or someone else's recipe. The recipe can be sweet, savoury or a mixture!  Anything goes as long as the random letter is predominantly featured in the recipe as one of the main ingredients or flavours or in the name of the bake itself (i .e . not as a garnish , or using 'flour' for the letter F!)  You can also republish old posts/recipes but you must include the information for this challenge as stated in these rules. 

3. Add the logo to your post and add 'alphabakes' as a label to your post. 

4. Email your entries to by midnight (GMT) 25th of each month. Please include: 
  • Your name (that you want included in the round up or we will use the name of your blog)
  • Your blog post URL
  • Recipe title
  • Photo of recipe (to be included in the round up)
5. You can submit as many entries as you like.

6. You do not have to participate every month to join in.

7. You may submit your entry to other challenges as long as it complies with their rules.

8. If you use twitter, please use the tag #alphabakes and mention @bakingaddict and @Caroline_Makes. We will retweet all those that we see. 

9. Have fun! :) 

The March 2012 letter was M and the round up is here
The Feb 2012 letter was L and the roundup is here

Sunday 22 January 2012

Chocolate Beetroot Fudge Cake - a healthy chocolate cake?

Many of the other baking blogs I read – and people I follow on Twitter- run baking challenges on their websites. The idea is, they set a challenge every month and you bake something that fits the theme, or uses the ingredient they specify, and send them your recipe and a photo.
I think it’s a great idea, as you get to feel part of a baking community, there’s a little bit of a competitive element, and you try making things you may not otherwise have done – and get some really good ideas from other people!
BakingAddict and I have decided to start our own baking challenge so watch this space for some more information before the end of the month! I have never actually entered a baking challenge on anyone else’s site before so I thought it was about time I did.

One that I really like is We Should Cocoa – the idea is that you make something with chocolate and whichever ingredient they choose each month. January’s challenge was hosted by Chele of Chocolate Teapot and the challenge was to make something health conscious, but still involving chocolate.
This suited me perfectly as there is a recipe I had been wanting to try for a while as I was really curious what it would taste like, but I wasn’t sure I would like it – so I didn’t want to make it when I was having people round or making someone’s birthday cake! I’m not really that brave when it comes to trying new things….
A couple of years ago there was a programme on Channel 4 called “Cook Yourself Thin”, which had four female cooks giving recipes a healthy twist. I got the accompanying recipe book – I think I actually won it in a competition – and was always intrigued by Harry Eastwood’s Chocolate and beetroot fudge cake.
I also came across this Simple and In Season blog event on Fabulicious Food, which is general cooking rather than baking, with the aim of using a seasonal ingredient every month. According to Google, beetroot is actually in season in January – so what better excuse to try out this cake and enter it in not one but two blogging challenges at the same time?

So without further ado, here is the recipe that I adapted slightly, as I realised half way though the recipe that I didn’t have any ground almonds, and I always use vanilla flavouring rather than the much more expensive vanilla essence that is recommended.
Chocolate Beetroot Fudge Cake - Adapted from Cook Yourself Thin
·        250g dark chocolate
·        3 eggs
·        250g light muscovado sugar
·        1 tbsp vanilla flavouring
·        2 tbsp maple syrup
·        2 tbsp clear honey
·        40g self-raising flour
·        100g plain flour
·        ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
·        ¼ tsp salt
·        25g cocoa powder
·        250g raw beetroot, peeled and finely grated
·        100ml strong black coffee
·        30ml sunflower oil
For the topping
·        150g dark chocolate
·        3 tbsp strong black coffee
·        1 tsp vanilla flavouring
·        3 tbsp clear honey
1.    Preheat oven to 160ºC (fan-assisted 140ºC). Spray a loose-bottomed cake tin (I think mine is 8 inches but I’m never sure!) with sunflower oil or grease the tin.
2.    Melt chocolate in a microwave (you could also do it in a bain-marie).

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, the vanilla, the maple syrup and the honey for three minutes with an electric hand whisk until pale and quite fluffy.

4.    Gently fold in the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cocoa.

5.    Grate the beetroot then using some kitchen paper, dab it gently to remove some of the excess moisture. Fold in the beetroot, cooled chocolate, coffee and oil  until thoroughly mixed together.

6.    Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook in the middle of the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes. After that cover the cake with foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

7.    To make the fudge topping, melt the chocolate then add the coffee and the vanilla.

8.    Add the honey and gently mix in.

9.    Set aside to cool for 15 minutes before icing the cake. When the cake itself has cooled, cut the cake through the middle and ice it in the centre and on the top.

10.    Decorate the top with whatever you fancy. As the cake batter took on a distinctly pink hue (even though the cooked cake is chocolate coloured) and it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, I was in a romantic sort of mood, so I used little heart shaped sprinkles.

When I sliced into the cake, I found the inside was very moist, while the edges and the base were a little difficult to cut - I think my oven is a little out sometimes and it may have ended up a little overcooked. It made it quite hard to cut a neat slice!

The real test for me though was whether you can actually taste the beetroot in the cake. Did I mention I hate beetroot?! That was mainly why I hadn't tried to make this cake before! But I figured that since carrot cake doesn't really taste of carrots, this might be the same... and I think it's lovely! You can't really taste the beetroot at all - there is perhaps a hint of something in this cake, but that may be because I used dark chocolate which is more bitter, when I normally prefer to cook with milk chocolate (even if a recipe specifies plain!). The overriding taste is actually chocolate fudge - so I doubt this cake is exactly "healthy", but it's definitely a more health conscious way of making a chocolate cake, and using a vegetable that is in season! I wonder if thise counts as one of my five a day?!

Chocolate Truffles

I decided to make some chocolate truffles to put in little gift bags at Christmas along with the gingerbread people from the previous post. I'd never made truffles before but it looked pretty easy.

I decided to adapt a recipe I found on the BBC Good Food website. All you need is:
280g dark chocolate
284ml pot double cream
50g butter
Flavourings: I used orange juice and a sample size bottle of Biscotti Baileys. You only need a tablespoon or so of each
Coatings: I used cocoa powder, icing sugar and chocolate flakes (actually hot chocolate from Hotel Chocolat, that is more like flakes than powder).

Break up the chocolate into squares. Put the cream and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter melts and the cream reaches simmering point. Remove from heat, then pour over the chocolate. Stir the chocolate and cream together until you have a smooth mixture.

That's the basic recipe! What I did next was divide the three mixture into three bowls. I left one plain, added some orange juice to another and a little bit of Baileys to the third. Leave them to cool in the fridge.

I then placed my three coatings in different bowls - cocoa powder, icing sugar and chocolate flakes.

The easiest way to make truffles would be to use a melon baller to get a nice smooth ball. I don't have one however, so I used a combination of a spoon and my hands to roll the chocolate mixture into balls. I dipped each one into a different coating.

Then I put a selection into a little bag and tied it with ribbon. I also added a label (not shown in photo) describing the three flavours. I did find that these needed to be kept in the fridge or they melted very quickly!

Friday 13 January 2012

Christmas gingerbread men... and santas... and cows!

Last Christmas my friend BakingAddict gave me this book, "Dress your gingerbread". It has a standard gingerbread recipe at the beginning, then loads of designs to decorate your gingerbread as different characters and animals, as you can see on the front cover.

I wanted to make some edible gifts at Christmas and decided gingerbread men were fairly festive, quick to make and would keep better than other things I could have baked. I also wanted to make the cow as my boyfriend's last name is pronounced 'cow' (though it's spelled differently). And while he's probably had a lifetime of cow-related jokes and novelty gifts, it's a new one for me, and I'm quite enjoying it!

I used a recipe for the gingerbread from the BBC Good Food website but had to adapt it slightly as I only realised half way through the recipe that I had run out of golden syrup - so I used a mixture of runny honey and black treacle instead!

So I made some gingerbread people and got stuck in decorating. It was more fiddly than I'd expected (aren't these things always?!) and as I wanted to use up odds and ends of icing, some of it wasn't as soft as it could have been, which made rolling out the sugarpaste a little tricky at times.


First of all I made some penguins: I spread a little buttercream on the gingerbread, and covered it with black roll-out icing. I used the same gingerbread cutter I'd used for the biscuit to cut out the icing so it would be the same size and shape. I made the white circle on the front and the beak from roll-out icing as well.

Next I decided to have a go at santa. Again I spread buttercream over the biscuit, so the roll-out icing would stick. I piped chocolate buttercream to make a belt, buttons and to mark the end of his trousers, and I used white icing for his sleeves and beard, and also made a little hat. He looks a little bit evil but I was baking about three things at once on Christmas Eve with my parents due to arrive any minute, so things were a little bit rushed!

And here we have a herd of cows. These were my favourite and quite easy to make. Again cover the gingerbread with a little buttercream and then place a piece of white sugarpaste on top to cover the whole biscuit. The black spots are just roll out icing placed quite haphazardly (at this point the black sugarpaste I was using was quite dry, as the packet had been open a while. Random question: what's the best way to store sugarpaste once it's been opened?). I happened to have a small amount of brown sugarpaste left as well, so used that to make the cow's face, and piped eyes and a mouth on in black. I also rolled a small piece of brown sugarpaste and bent it slightly to look like a pair of horns.

I packaged up a few of these and some other gingerbread that I had iced plain and put them in little bags as Christmas gifts - and I had quite a few spare gingerbread people that I didn't ice that I enjoyed myself :-)


Monday 9 January 2012

A busy day

I had a busy day of card making a few months ago. It's rare that I have a free weekend but there was a Saturday when I had nothing to do and my boyfriend was busy, so I decided to spend a few hours in the afternoon making cards. I also had loads of birthdays - something like eight in the next two months - and wanted to get a head start!

The cards use a selection of embellishments - I particularly like the big yellow flower on the card at the bottom, and the birdcage - which was actually a picture cut out of a clothing catalogue (that used particularly thick paper for its pages) to make a card for a friend whose new married name is Bird.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Scrabble name picture

Earlier this year I needed to get a birthday present for twin boys who were celebrating their first birthday. I have never bought presents for babies or children before, so had no idea what to get, and as I hadn't known them that long I didn't know what toys and games they had already.

Furthermore their parents are my boyfriend's brother and his wife, who I had only got to know a few months previously, so I wanted to make a good impression! One of my favourite websites is, which features gifts that you can't buy in high street stores. Most things are handmade, which justifies their price, but they are still quite expensive. I kept coming back to one particular item which I really liked: a framed picture with a word or name spelled out in scrabble letters. I thought it would be a lot cheaper to make myself, and couldn't be that hard, so I gave it a go!

First I worked out which letters I would need and went on Ebay; several people sell spare scrabble tiles and you can specify which letters you need. It would have been cheaper to buy a whole scrabble set if I'd been able to pick one up in a charity shop or a car boot sale, but I wasn't able to do that, so I bought them from Ebay.

Getting a frame wasn't as easy as I had thought either, as it needed to be quite large to accommodate all the names, but also quite deep so the glass would fit over the scrabble tiles. I ended up buying a frame over the internet that was more expensive than I would have liked, but it was the only one I could find that was the right size - and it was still a LOT less expensive than buying the ready-made gift! I used some 12x12 scrapbooking paper as the background that I already had at home.
Here are the pieces before assembly.....

.... and the finished product!
I was really pleased with it and hopefully the recipients were too. I liked it so much I might actually have to make one for myself!