Tuesday, 23 September 2008

I'm In Love

I've told you before how I use food to show affection; in that case, I must love you people very very much. This is The Recipe you've waited all your lives for, The Recipe to end All Recipes; this is what you will want to eat for the rest of your life (probably considerably shortening it in the process; I can't be blamed if you die of vitamin deficiencies or whatever). This is the recipe I make repeatedly at the slightest excuse, and this is the recipe I made on Saturday for a potluck dinner with my friends before we all go our separate ways to university.

But you know, if you wanted to make it, you wouldn't need a momentous occasion like that. After the first time, you get good at making up occasions. You start inviting people round specially and pretending it's a big deal when really you see them every other day/they deliver your post. In my family, we started off making this recipe because it was Christmas, and finished up making it because it was Tuesday.

I've wanted to blog about this cheesecake more or less since Happy Love Strawberry was created (actually, it might have been the reason it was created; I forget) but as it's usually made for a big occasion there's never a chance for decent photos, and I really wanted to do this justice. And then, of course, I got my beautiful Nikon D40, and -- actually, it might have been the reason I got the Nikon D40, too. Hm.

Ohh, look at that texture. That's worth buying £300 worth of camera for.

I can only go on about this cheesecake before so long before you all want to beat my face in with a shovel (er, a surprisingly violent imagination just emerged there) so I will say only this: make this. Make this now. Make this if you want everyone who tastes it to fall in love with you. Make it to celebrate your birthday/Christmas/Easter/wedding/funeral/diabetes diagnosis -- okay, perhaps not that one.

The first person who comments and says 'I made this and I didn't like it...' gets their face beaten in with a shovel. I simply won't believe you.

White Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake
Recipe adapted from The People's Cookbook, as seen in Good Food magazine (July 07).
Serves 12

For the base:
85g (3oz) digestive biscuits, crushed (Americans; graham crackers. I usually use 100g of each for the base cause I like a little bit more)
85g (30z) ginger nut biscuits, crushed
85g (3oz) butter, melted

For the filling:
500g (1lb 2oz) white chocolate, broken into pieces
50g (2oz) butter
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways
500g (1lb 2oz) full fat soft cheese
50g caster sugar
175ml whipping cream
225g punnet fresh raspberries, plus extra to decorate

1. For the base, combine biscuits & butter, then press into the base of a 23cm (9.5") springform tin.

2. For the filling, put the chocolate, butter and vanilla pod in a heatproof bowl and microwave in 20-second bursts to melt it. Allow to cool slightly.

3. In another bowl, mix the soft cheese, sugar and whipping cream til smooth.

4. Remove the vanilla pod from the chocolate mixture and stir the chocolate into the cream. Gently stir in raspberries with a spatula, then spoon on top of the base, smooth carefully, and leave in the fridge to set (8-24 hours).

5. Remove from tin and decorate with raspberries to serve.

I go to uni on Saturday, so blog posts may be sporadic for a while - I'm hoping to get in this month's Daring Baker challenge but time might be against me this week. Bear with me a bit and I'll be back with part two of the sugarcraft flower tutorial soon ^__^.

Also, I made a Flickr account! I'm not sure why. But it makes me feel cool.

Yeah, I ate this. Win.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Sugarcraft Flowers 101: Upsadaisy!

This may not be the sort of thing normal eighteen year olds do on an everyday basis, but when I am not busy drinking, raving and ...voting?... I've always wanted to be able to make those fantastically delicate edible flowers you see adorning professional cakes. You know, the really beautiful tiny ones you can't believe are made of sugarpaste or whatever.

My friend Alex knows this (what, I said she was a good friend. She knows this and she hasn't left me in a skip yet) and as it happens her granny happens to have the aforementioned Mad Skillz. So the other week she invited me round to hers for a sugarpaste flower tutorial (while Alex presumeably went off drinking/raving/voting. Actually I suspect she was making icecream, with the odd interval for coming over and laughing at the 'enraptured' expression on my face).

(For future reference, Alex has two grannies. One is ridiculously posh (I have a pretty posh voice, and next to her I feel like a Cockney rascal), and one has Mad Cake Skillz. Obviously, all the following took place with the latter. The former may feature in the future should I ever need to prepare afternoon tea, or perhaps own a mansion).

I don't claim any experience at all at flower-making; I'm genuinely just relaying Alex's granny's wisdom here. Don't laugh at me if you have loads of decorating experience, kids: this is a from-scratch guide, okay?

This post is being split into two, on grounds of being so epic. This week (bear in mind here I'm never going to be organised to make this weekly): daisies and primroses.

These were the first, and simplest things we made. You will need: a small quantity of sugarpaste (I suspect this has a different name in American. Damned if I know what) - I'd only ever used fondant before -, icing colours (paste/gel), cornflour for dusting (Alex's Granny's Handy Hint: better than icing sugar as it doesn't go sticky when you've got water around. The woman's a genius. Don't tell me you all already use cornflour rather than icing sugar or I'll cry), small or medium blossom cutter (for daisies) and a medium primrose cutter (for primroses, obviously), a ball ended modelling tool for daisies and cone ended for primroses, a small rolling pin, a few sticks of florists' wire, and some sort of foam mat. And possibly some stamen-type things.

Sounds rather complicated. It isn't.

The daisies are hugely simple: you basically roll out a small quantity of dyed sugarpaste (far, far thinner than I expected) then use your blossom cutter to cut lots of small/medium flowers out. Roll over them briefly with the rolling pin again, and then you use the end of your ball-ended modelling tool to just press them into the foam - and when they spring up again they've shaped round it into little semi-circles (top right of the above picture). Cute, no? And dead speedy.

You can then use a little more sugarpaste in a darker or contrasting colour and make tiiiny little versions to go inside, like below. Which, let's face it, wins at life. In the ones below little tiny stamens have been threaded through the daisies to pin the two together. Don't eat the stamens, haha, but they're cute.

If you don't want to use stamens, or you're just putting these on top of a cake and not flinging them around anywhere, or else you just have icing on hand, you could use a little blob of royal icing to go inside these instead. Or (Alex's Granny's Handy Hint #2) a dot of egg white will secure the flower to the stamen. Huzzah!

Do I love how easy these are? Yes I do. Am I sort of obsessed with Alex's Granny? Yes I am. She is my new hero.

Primroses are also pretty simple (I'm saving the more tricksy roses for next time XD). For these, you make a little oblong of yellow sugarpaste (or, you know, it doesn't have to be yellow. Primroses are, but don't feel like I'm limiting you as women or anything. Or men. I'm not limiting men either), and then use a tiiny skewer - I didn't put skewers on the list, did I? I'm sure you've got skewers, or something similar) to flatten the bottom as you rotate it round. There's an ACTION SHOT! of Alex's Granny in action just below. Don't you just love her hands?

Then once your primrose is fine enough, you use the cutter to get the basic shape. You can either pinch the bottom or press it into a little hole - below, Alex's Granny is using a mat with little holes like this one. She's also using the ball-ended modelling tool to give the petals a bit of shape; you can roll the end of your skewer in a triangle along each petal, as well.

Below, you can see the shape this has given the petals. You can then use the cone-ended modelling tool to imprint the middle - you see it's like a little star shape? Don't go too deep or you'll puncture it; it needs to be intact cause you're going to push a little length of florists' wire through the middle. Wet the end of the wire first so it doesn't drop out, and you can press a stamen in after that too, if you want.

That is possibly my favourite picture in the world.

And voila! Primroses and daisies galore!

...Oh, you want to know how to make the roses now? Watch this space.

Hope that was okay: this is a bit of a departure from my regular blog posts, and I'll feel an idiot if everyone's like, 'er, everyone knows how to do this,' or 'this is crap, this way is better..'. Like I said, I have zero experience, so I hope that all made sense.

Can we have a moment of collective love for Alex's Granny as well, please? She now thinks I'm a maniac, admittedly, but you know it was worth it.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Greedy Spice (or: So Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want)

You know how it is. You're in the house on your own, watching DVD boxsets with hair like a flowerpot man and making the most of your day off work, and you decide it's the perfect time to bake something warm and simple while no one's around to interrupt. Like, say, bread. Freshly baked bread; and cause it takes so long with all the rising and proving (are rising and proving the same thing? Whatever) it'll be ready right on time for your family to get back in and devour.

And then you remember that you're horribly lazy and --wait, is this just me? Alright. Then I remembered that I'm horribly lazy and slightly suspicious of yeast .

(I was one of those children who was emotionally scarred when it was explained that yeast was a Living Thing and that when you put it in the oven you Killed It Dead. I mean, emotionally scarred for about ten minutes, until I got hungry and ate a piece of toast.)

If you want to keep your kitchen a massacre-free zone (or you just can't be bothered with kneading, rising or proving (or both?)) this recipe is perfect. And it also means that what could have taken an entire day takes an hour, tops, and that's with fifty minutes baking time during which you can go back to series two of Buffy or brush your hair or something (okay, maybe most people brush their hair more often than I do. I'm told it shouldn't take fifty minutes).

But the main difference between slaving all day over a crusty artisan loaf and just baking a sweet spice bread is that the first one gives you bread at the end of the day.

The second option gives you a soft, honeyed, warm, cinnamon and ginger flavoured loaf. Right now.

Sitting in a house with it all day is probably not the answer if you intend your family to have some.

...But of course, they don't have to know you baked it...

Spice bread
Adapted from http://flagrantedelicia.com/

250 g honey
250 g bread flour
5 g baking powder
100 g dark brown sugar
100 g butter
2 eggs
100ml milk
a pinch of salt
Cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

Pre-heat the oven to 160ÂșC. Grease a 19x9cm (7.5"x3.5") loaf pan and line with parchment paper.

Mix the ingredients together and pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 50 minutes.

Easiest instructions in the world? Yessir. My laziness extends in all directions.

Friday, 5 September 2008

At Last!

A picture-heavy post today, while I get all the pre-Nikon photos out of my system (oh, those childish days of yore!). And yes, this is mostly an excuse to get over-excited over the food from my party, which I'm sure no one is as interested about as I am XD. So let's kick off.

1. Cake balls! And let me point out that Morgana made it look far to easy in this post to do other shapes. My cupcake bites turned out fine, but I struggled to get more ambitious. I did find out I had a previously undiscovered knack for making skulls out of pieces of cake! -- which I'm sure any decent psychologist could draw a conclusion from, haha.

'Chocolate cake covering' is a bit of an unknown entity to me (probably a cross-Atlantic thing) so I had to use actual chocolate; obviously damn expensive in the quantity I needed. I improvised a bit and was a bit stingy in places, and for the red hearts I tried using royal icing, which mostly worked. It did look great and hardened up fine, but one was enough to make your head literally buzz from the sugar rush, heh. I'd cut down the sugar in the cream cheese frosting if I was going to coat with royal icing again.

I do admit I began to doubt that the effort was worth it, right up until my friend Leah grabbed me mid-party brandishing a cupcake bite and announced, 'this is-- this is a FOODGASM, that's what this is!!'. Whaat, I like feedback.

Cake balls recipe here.

2. Jam tarts. With frozen pastry and bought jam, obviously, but I admit I kind of love how simple and cute these are. The heart tarts are made with raspberry jam, and the spades are black cherry.

You don't need a recipe for these, but aren't they adorable?

3. Chequercake. This wasn't for my actual party, but I said I'd tell you how to make it, so here it is. You'll just need one chocolate cake and one regular sponge, and a load of buttercream (I can't remember the proportions I used, but you can improvise that and just make more if you need it).

You'll also need round cookie cutters in various sizes and/or a small plate or bowl to cut around. You use these to cut both cakes into circles, keeping all your cut-out pieces to one side. Then you should be able to slot your alternating colours of cake into each other, like below.

You're going to want to seal these up with a pretty decent amount of frosting, or the cake'll just collapse when it's cut. Do this with both cakes, then slather the top with frosting and put the second, alternate layer on top:

Decorate the cake however you want, and when you cut it it should look like a chessboard (left). I was going to decorate it with chess pieces over the top, but we only have tiny little ones or my dad's enormous marble set, which I thought might punch straight through the cake, haha. Siigh.

4. My favourite last: sugar cookies! Simplest thing ever, use your own favourite recipe &c. &c. ad nauseum. But I spent far too many happy hours playing with these.

My favourite: dalek cookie!

Vvworp, vworp!

Noah's ark?

...This is why you should never eat the food I offer you. There's a high chance I've acted out the plot of several Doctor Who episodes and a couple of biblical tales with them.