Thursday, 23 October 2014

Halloween Cupcakes

Happy Halloween! I love celebrating Halloween and have decorated both my home and office already. It's such a fun time of year and a great opportunity to get creative with baking. I love the look of these cupcakes, although I did struggle with the recipes I followed. I got a book called 'A Zombie Ate My Cupcake' for my birthday and used a few recipes out of it to make the different elements of the cupcakes. My sugar glass went a bit wrong, I found the cherry 'blood' sauce to be to jelly like, and the sponge was quite dense. I'll go through what I did anyway as they did taste good!

I started with the sugar glass. First I covered a baking tray in foil and brushed it all over with oil.

In a large pan I heated up 500ml water, 785g granulated sugar, 250ml liquid glucose and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar. I let the mixture boil until it reached 300F.

I think my thermometer is slightly off as the sugar slightly caramelised and went golden. It is meant to stay clear! I also think you need two baking trays for this as the sugar was very thick. Pour it in and leave to cool for a couple of hours. When I bashed it up into shards it was much too thick for one single shard in the cupcake, so I used several smaller ones instead.

To make the sponge I first mixed 60g butter, I used Stork, and 140g caster sugar together. I added 1 large egg and mixed in. Then I added 30g cocoa powder, 1/2 vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and some Sugarflair Extra Red food colouring. After that I added 120ml buttermilk and 225g plain flour. Finally 1/2 tsp cider vinegar and 1/2 bicarbonate of soda.

It was a very thick mixture and not the kind of cake batter I'm used to seeing. I spooned it into 12 muffin cases.

 I baked on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 15 minutes.

To make the cherry sauce I gently heated 125g mashed up tinned black cherries, 50g caster sugar, 120ml juice from the cherries, 1/2 tsp lime juice and 1 tbsp cornflour.

 I brought it to the boil and let it bubble for about 5 minutes until thick. I then sieved it.

As the cherry sauce was so jelly like, I decided to core the cupcakes and use it as a filling!

To decorate the clawed cupcakes (an idea I saw on Pinterest!) I rolled out some white icing and cut out cupcake sized circles. I used a little bit of buttercream to help it stick and placed it over the cupcake sponge. I used a knife to make rough scratches in the icing. Then I dipped a cocktail stick in red food colouring and dragged it along the scratches.

For the broken glass cupcakes I made some buttercream with 80g butter, 160g icing sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. I piped it on with a star nozzle, stabbed the cake with some of the sugar glass shards and drizzle over some shop bought strawberry sauce I had in the cupboard.

To decorate the brain cupcakes I made some buttercream with 80g butter, 160g icing sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and some pink food colouring. I smoothed it over the cupcake then using a plain circular nozzle I pipe a line down the middle and squiggly bits down each side.

Despite me having a bit of trouble, or 'tricks' with the recipes I used, I think the final result looks really spooky and fun! They also tasted good. Everyone at work loved them and they all disappeared pretty quickly! I am entering them into myself and Cakeyboi's monthly challenge Treat Petite where this month's theme is 'Trick or Treat'.

I am also linking up to Simply Food's 'Let's Cook For Halloween'.

And to Choclette's We Should Cocoa challenge, this month hosted by Honey & Dough, where the theme is Halloween.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Photography Workshop with Currys

I was kindly invited along to a photography workshop recently on behalf of Currys. Seen as my camera and photography knowledge is at a beginner's level I decided it definitely couldn't hurt to take a lesson! I don't even own a 'proper' camera, mostly because I wouldn't know what to do with one, so I borrowed my Stepdad's Nikon D60 and headed to Manchester Photographic, located in the Northern Quarter area of the city centre.

The teacher Chris, started by giving us a brief talking to about how we held our cameras and the correct stance to have. Have your feet firmly planted on the ground and about shoulder length apart to strengthen your balance. When holding the camera you should hold the lens and the side. It's important to keep the lens as steady as possible, if you don't have a tripod, be the tripod.

We learnt that the three most important things to master in photography are aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Shutter speed is simply the time in which the lens is open for. I got the cool picture above of Chris jumping by adjusting my shutter speed.

Aperture is all about focus. If you've ever seen a photo where the main subject is crystal clear and the background is blurry - that is done using the aperture settings on the camera. Slightly confusingly, a 'wide aperture' means the subject is less is focus. It's called 'wide' because the lens is open wider. Aperture is connected to shutter speed because if the lens is open wider, it lets more light in, so the shutter speed needs to be shorter. If the aperture is smaller, then the shutter speed would be longer. It's all about balance!

ISO means the international standard to the sensitivity of light of the camera's digital sensor. No I don't really understand that either! ISO can cause 'grain' on photos (very good example of this on the photo above!), so all you need to know is that Chris recommended an ISO of 100 on a clear sunny day, and 400/600 for a cloudy day. Sorted.

We headed off to the Manchester Food & Drink Festival to take some photos with out newly learned skills. And what happened to me at this point... my battery died! So apart from the hurridly snapped photos above of Manchester Town Hall, I wasn't able to take any photos on the day. I am saving up for a fancy camera so hopefully you will see much improved photos from me very soon. If you'd like to see some of the fab photos the other bloggers took on the day (they are certainly worth a look!) please check out the blogs below. I hope the tips will help you with your photography too!


Monday, 13 October 2014

Croissants: GBBO The Final

The final episode of series five of The Great British Bake Off started by summarising some of the notable moments from the series. Norman's lavender meringue, Luis amazing sugar work and of course Iain's Baked Alaska disaster! I felt so tense at the start as it really was such a close competition. I had no idea who would win as they are all so talented. Richard has won star baker five times (a show record), Nancy has years of baking experience behind her and Luis is such an imaginative and creative baker.

For the signature challenge they were asked to make two different types of viennoiserie, which can include things like croissaints, pain au chocolats and brioche. Paul said it is extremely difficult to master viennoiserie. Luis made Apple, Walnut, Raisin & Cheese Chaussons, and Rapsberry & White Chocolatea Pain Au Chocolat.

Nancy made Almond & Raspberry Croissaints, and Lemon and Apple Kites. She used freeze dried raspberry powder instead of fresh fruit as it the moisture from the fruit can affect the bake. Richard made Pain Au Lait, and Pain Au Chocolat with Pear. He used creamed butter as a shortcut to laminating his dough, but Paul suspected this may make his Pain Au Lait too bread like. None of them had a perfect judging result, with Paul and Mary finding issues with everyone's pastries.

I loved this week's technical challenge. Perfect for the final in my eyes as it really is about being a master of the basics. They were asked to make 12 mini scones, 12 mini victoria sponges and 12 mini tart au citrons. Earlier in the week I had been wondering to myself what the technical would be and I thought that it would be interesting if they were asked to make something like a white loaf of bread, but do it perfectly. I was so excited that my prediction came sort of true!

There were no instructions for the bakers to follow, they just had to use their existing knowledge. The hardest part was that they only had 2 hours to make everything. This was a very intense challenge to watch! Richard came third, he had never made a tart au citron before and his lemon filling ended up as lemon scrambled egg, his jam was also very runny. Luis came second, he also had trouble with his tart au citron, the pastry was too thick and he didnt have time to pipe the chocolate writing on top. Nancy won the challenge, with the judges only complaint being that she didn't pipe the cream in her victoria sponges. They loved her tart au citrons.

A spectactular, enormous and eleborate pièce montée was the final showstopper challenge. A pièce montée is basically cake architecture. It's an edible scuplture made from cake, sugar work, choux pastry and petit fours. The bakers could use any flavours they wanted, but had to construct their pièce montée into a design. Paul said that this was the ultimate patisserie challenge as it had to be vast and intricate. Both judges wanted absolute perfection.

Richard made a ginger sponge hill with a croquembouche windmill on top and almond brittle sails. Each bakers got a short segment on their background, Richard is a 4th generation builder who built his family home. He worked in a high street cake shop as a youngster and when I found out his wife and one of his daughters is ginger, as a fellow ginger myself, I immediately loved him more! The judges weren't sure about the bright colours he used for his icing, and his almond brittle had started to 'flop'. They said the cake had fantastic flavour and his choux were 'first class'.

Nancy made a four layer cake, with a croquembouche platform for a windmill made out of ginger and orange biscuits with red dyed caramel sails. There were also mini shortbread petit fours on the cake and the sails of the windmill moved! Nancy's background showed how determined she is. In her 40s she went back to university and got a masters, and when she got into training dogs she ended up at Crufts. She also has eight adorable grandchildren. The judges thought her pièce montée was a highly skilled bake, with first rate shortbread biscuit, good flavours, a beautiful and light sponge, and good biscuit.

Luis made a tribute to Poynton, which is his home town and has a mining history. He made a two tone sponge cake, a biscuit mining wheel with a choux rope, wheat shaped caramel decoration and mint macarons. As well as baking, Luis performs in his local ukelele club. He has Spanish parents who influenced his love of food. The judges thought his pièce montée was a very clever design and a piece of art. It had a very nice flavour and striking two tonemsponge, but the chocolate one was dry and the italian meringue lacked flavour, however they said his chocolate biscuit was beautiful. Luis is so adorable, he looked so happy when he took his bake back to his bench!

And the winner is... Nancy! Paul said she nailed the final and Mary called her a perfectionist. I had no idea at the start who would win, unfortunately Richard didn't do very well so I knew it would be either Luis or Nancy towards the end of the episode. I am pleased for her and I am excited to see what her and all the other bakers get up to now the series has ended.

I decided to make crossaints for my final GBBO challenge bake. They make puff pastry a lot on the show and I've never made it from scratch before so I thought it was about time I gave it a go. It is a long process so I started the day before as the dough has to chill over night once the layers have been made.

To make the dough I mixed together 300g strong white flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 30g caster sugar, 2 1/2 tsp dried yeast and some warm water. Add enough warm water to make a soft dough, I used about 100ml. I kneaded it for 10 minutes, then put it into a bowl covered with cling film and chilled it in the fridge for 1 hour.

I bashed up and flattened a 250g block of butter between two sheets greaseproof paper using a rolling pin.

I rolled out the pastry into a long rectangle and placed the squashed butter in the middle.

I folded the pastry around the butter like an envelope, wrapped it in cling film and chilled in the fridge for 1 hour.

I rolled out the dough again, folded it again, and chilled it for 1 hour again. I did this three times in total, then left it in the fridge overnight. As I said, it's a long process!

The next day I got it out of the fridge and it had risen somewhat overnight.

I cut the dough in half and it was lovely to see all the layers that had built up!

I rolled out the first half of the dough into a long rectangle. The dough was very stretchy and sprung back on itself a lot.

I cut it into three squares, then each square into triangles making 6 triangles.

I tried both rolling it into crescent shapes and rolling it straight. The crescent shapes did not look as good and did not bake well. I'd definitely recommend the straight ones if you make these!

I brushed them with beaten egg, then baked them on 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7 for 10 minutes, then turned it down to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5 and baked for a further 5 minutes.

I filled mine with jam, butter was definitely not required as they were super buttery! My boyfriend loved them and feasted well for a Sunday morning brunch. I was really happy that they worked and turned out so well, I would have liked the bake to be a bit more even and the rolls a little neater, but that's just the perfectionist in me. Puff pastry is time consuming from scratch so it's not something I'll do often, but definitely a nice treat for a special occassion like a birthday breakfast for example.