Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Cola Cupcakes (Gluten Free)

Although I do not have to eat gluten free flour for dietary reasons, I have heard a lot of good things about alternative flours and wanted to try them out in my baking. I am experienced in using regular flour to make some delicious treats, however it is difficult for most people's bodies to process. We all know that bloated feeling you get after too many carbs! So I decided to try the alternative flours out and see how it worked...

Recently my local Tesco have started selling coconut and almond flours. Coconut flour is high in fibre which will make you feel fuller for longer, it also contains iron and vitamin C. Almond flour is rich in vitamin E and has a high protein content. Both are of course naturally gluten free. I combined them in this recipe as it is usually best to blend alternative flours together to get the best results.

I decided to flavour these cupcakes with cola to fit in with this month's Treat Petite theme of 'Childhood Memories' as cola bottles were my absolute favourite sweet growing up, and I still enjoy them now! I found this bottle of flavouring in Sainsbury's.

I started by whisking together 3 eggs, 400ml sour cream, 3 tsp cola flavouring, 4 tbsp soy milk (you can use regular milk if you wish), and 300g caster sugar. I whisked it well by hand for about a minute until it frothed.

I sieved together 110g coconut flour and 95g almond flour, along with 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda.

I added the flour to the wet mixture until it formed a batter. It wasn't as smooth as a regular flour batter. I put it into cupcake cases. This mixture made about 18 large cupcakes.

I baked them on 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for about 25 minutes. It's a bit more difficult to tell when they are done because they don't spring back when you press them. They also came out a lot paler than regular too. I used a very thin skewer to test them.

I iced the cupcakes with cola icing which was a mixture of 200g butter, 400g icing sugar and 4 tsp cola flavouring. And topped them with a fizzy cola bottle sweet. For extra fizz, you could sprinkle some popping candy over the icing too!

The cupcakes baked well and had a spongey texture, they tasted really nice too! A friend said they reminded him of Indian sweets. They didn't have the same spring as regular sponge, which I assume is because of the lack of gluten, and they broke apart a lot easier. I took them to a party and got lots of good comments, my friend's niece loved them so they pass the kid taste test! Overall I think I definitely need a lot more practice with alternative flours, but I'm going to continue experimenting as the health benefits are so worthwhile. Let me know if you have used them before and have any tips!

For more gluten and dairy free recipes check out Tombola's collection of recipes, featuring these cupcakes!

I am entering them into myself and Cakeyboi's blogging challenge Treat Petite with this month's theme of 'Childhood Memories' as cola bottle were my favourite sweets growing up.

I am also linking up with Lucy from Supergolden Bakes 'Cook Blog Share' link party.

And Elizabeth Kitchen Diary's No Waste Food Challenge, this month hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy, because I used up some sour cream in my fridge that was going to go out of date.

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Cola Cupcakes (Gluten Free)
  • 3 Eggs
  • 400ml Sour cream
  • 300g Caster sugar
  • 7 tsp Cola flavouring
  • 4 tbsp Soy milk
  • 110g Coconut flour
  • 95g Almond flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
  • 400g Icing sugar
  • 18 Fizzy cola bottle sweets
  • 200g Butter
Whisk together the eggs, sour cream, 3 tsp of the cola flavouring, soy milk, and caster sugar. Whisk well by hand for about a minute until it frothesSieve together the coconut flour and almond flour, along with the baking powder and bicarbonate of sodaAdd the flour to the wet mixture until it forms a batter. Put it into cupcake casesBake them on 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for about 25 minutesMake and icing by mixing the butter, icing sugar and 4 tsp of the cola flavouring. Pipe onto the cupcakes then add a fizzy cola bottle sweet

Friday, 13 June 2014

Fruit Strudel with Homemade Filo Pastry

I've always said that making filo pastry from scratch is absolute madness and a pursuit only to be undertaken if you are a Great British Bake Off contestant. However seceretly I have been harbouring a craving to make it myself. Just to see what it was like, out of curiosity more than anything. Now I live with my boyfriend I have so much more time at weekends (we used to live in different cities) so I have time for big baking projects like this. So I did it! Here's what happened...

I decided to make a strudel as this is one of the most well known filo bakes so I thought it was a good place to begin. I started making the filo pastry by sieving 250g plain flour into a bowl. In a seperate bowl I beat one egg with 125ml water, 1/2 tsp lemon juice and a pinch of salt. The recipe told me to put the flour on the work surface (hence the photo above) and pour the egg mixture into it. This is a bad idea. I do not recommend it as it is stupidly messy. Just mix it in a bowl until a dough forms.

The dough will be quite wet, but knead it on a floured surface until it smooths out. This takes about 10 minutes. I oiled my hands to stop it sticking to them and found this quite effective.

I covered my dining table with an old, but clean, bed sheet. You could also use a tablecloth. You may get butter or fruit juice on it so don't use your best linen. Then I floured it evenly and well.

I rolled out the dough as much as I could with a rolling pin, then covered it with a damp tea towel for 15 minutes. I used more flour and kept the dough moving so it wouldn't stick to the sheet.

Then I started stretching! I pulled and stretched the dough gently, letting it stretch with its own weight. It wasn't as hard as I imagined as it is naturally a very stretch dough. It did tear several times but I was expecting that so I wasn't too concerned. It was hard to keep the edges thin and they stayed thicker all the way around.

After brushing melted butter all over the dough, I sprinkled it with a mixture of 100g soft light brown sugar, the zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp cinnamon.

I then sprinkled it with one punnet of blueberries, one punnet of raspberries and 3 bramley apples chopped into berry sized pieces. Using the bed sheet I rolled up the strudel gently and slowly.

I put it on a baking sheet and left it overnight in the fridge. The next day a lot of juice had released from the fruit, I mopped it up but I was concerned about how thin the pastry looked on top, how soggy it was on the bottom and how many holes there were in it all over.

So I made more! I used half of the quantity and it stretched a lot better this time and I was much more careful about not making holes.

I re-covered the top and bottom with pieces of the new pastry. It wasn't the neatest but I felt more confident that it wouldn't fall apart when baking. If I hadn't left it overnight, I probably wouldn't have done this. I brushed it all over with melted butter to make it nice and golden when it baked.

I baked it on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 35 minutes. The fruit released a lot more juice, so I transferred it to a wire rack (with a tray underneath) to cool. You can of course serve it straight away, or let it cool then warm up later. I thought it tasted better hot.

I sliced it up and served it with custard (not homemade, come on... I'd done enough!) I was pleased with how well it had baked despite being left overnight, the filo was beautifully golden, layered nicely and there was a good proportion of fruit. In some areas like the ends there was too much pastry, but if you're tucking it in to seal it you can't really avoid this. I'd definitely add more spices if I make it again, but you could taste the cinnamon. It all got eaten up and I got some good comments from colleagues and family. Overall I was really proud of myself and it felt good to overcome this baking challenge!

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Fruit Strudel with Homemade Filo Pastry
  • 250g Plain flour
  • 1 Egg
  • 125ml Water
  • 1 Lemon
  • A pinch of Salt
  • 25g Butter, melted
  • 100g Soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 3 Bramley apples
  • 250g Fresh raspberries
  • 250g Blueberries
Start by making the filo pastry, sieve the plain flour into a bowl. In a seperate bowl beat the egg with the water, 1/2 tsp lemon juice and salt, then mix with the flourKnead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes. Oil your hands to stop it sticking to themCover a dining table with an old, but clean, bed sheet or tablecloth. Flour it evenly and wellRoll out the dough as much as you can with a rolling pin, then cover it with a damp tea towel for 15 minutesPull and stretch the dough gently, letting it stretch with its own weightAfter brushing melted butter all over the dough, I sprinkled it with a mixture of the soft light brown sugar, the zest of the lemon and the cinnamonSprinkle the blueberries, raspberries and chopped apples over the pastry. Using the bed sheet, roll up the strudel gently and slowlyPut it on a baking sheet and bake it on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 35 minutes

Monday, 9 June 2014

Brownie Bottom Vanilla Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce

I've recently moved in with my boyfriend and despite it being a rented property, I feel more at home than I have in several years. One of the best parts of having our own place is the freedom to have people over whenever we want and cook awesome meals. Last Sunday we had my dad and Stepmum over for a gigantic Sunday lunch. My boyfriend was in charge of the meal, and I made desserts. I saw a brownie bottom cheesecake on Pinterest and I was like 'hell yeah!' so I decided to make one. A rich chocolately brownie layer needs a light cheesecake on top, this cheesecake is very light and almost mousse like which is the perfect companion. The caramel sauce is very rich and you only need a little drizzled over, but wow is it tasty!

I lined a springform tin with foil and greaseproof paper. If you are using a springform or loose bottomed tin, line it really well as this is going in a water bath later. I didn't line mine enough and some water got through, but I managed to dry it out enough afterwards, although it did make the brownie a little bit more moist than I would have preferred!

I started with the brownie base and I used my go to brownie recipe, which I made two thirds of the quantity of. You can find the recipe in my Speculoos Topped Chocolate Brownie post. I omitted the chocolate chips.

While the brownies were baking on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes, I made the cheesecake topping by first mixing together 575g full fat cream cheese, 3 egg yolks, 135g caster sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Mix well and make sure there are no lumps.

In my food mixer I beat the whites from the 3 eggs until stiff and then folded them into the cream cheese mixture.

I took the brownie out of the oven and smoothed the cheesecake mixture on top. I placed the tin into a larger tin filled with water to create a water bath or bain marie. This stops the brownie from over cooking while the cheesecake bakes.

I put it back in the oven and baked it for 40 minutes on the same temperature (180C/350F/Gas Mark 4). I let it cool fully to room temperature before putting in the fridge overnight. You can eat it straight away of course, but I made mine the day before.

To make the caramel sauce I found a great recipe on The Guardian. I started by heating 150g caster sugar in a pan until golden brown.

I took it off the heat and stirred in 75g butter, then 150g light brown sugar and 75g golden syrup, then 200ml double cream.

I put it back on the heat and let it simmer for 4 minutes. I took it off the heat and let it settle for 1 minute, then poured it into a jug and left it too cool completely. It'll thicken up nicely.

When serving the cheesecake, drizzle over some caramel sauce before tucking in! This is a really delicious twist on a standard cheesecake and is so light and really moreish.

I am linking this recipe up to Cook Blog Share over at Supergolden Bakes.

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Brownie Bottom Vanilla Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce
  • 225g Butter
  • 550g Caster sugar
  • 5 Eggs
  • 3 1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 55g Cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp Baking Powder
  • 80g Plain flour
  • 575g Cream cheese
  • A pinch of Salt
  • 150g Light brown sugar
  • 75g Golden syrup
  • 200ml Double cream
To make the brownie base, melt the butter on a low heat. Transfer it to a mixing bowl, add 265g of the caster sugar and mix until fully combinedBeat in 2 of the eggs, one at time, and 2 tsp of the vanilla extractFold in the cocoa powder, baking powder, plain flour and saltPour the mixture into a springform tin fully lined with foilBake on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the cheesecake topping by mixing together the full fat cream cheese, 3 of the egg yolks, 135g of the caster sugar and 1 1/2 tsp of the vanilla extractIn a food mixer beat the whites from the 3 eggs until stiff and then fold them into the cream cheese mixtureSmooth the cheesecake mixture on top of the brownie bottom. Place the tin into a larger tray filled with water to create a water bath or bain marieBake it for 40 minutes on the same temperature (180C/350F/Gas Mark 4). Let it cool fully to room temperature before putting in the fridge To make the caramel sauce heat 150g of the caster sugar in a pan until golden brownTake it off the heat and stir in 75g of the butter, then the light brown sugar and golden syrup, then the double creamPut it back on the heat and let it simmer for 4 minutes. Take it off the heat and leave it too cool completely and thicken up

Friday, 6 June 2014


Seen as the name of my blog is The Baking Explorer, I do try to keep the content of my blog purely baking related. However, when I got invited to an event celebrating Manchester and where I got to make and drink cocktails... well I wasn't exactly going to turn it down was I?! So last week I went to The Copthorne Hotel on Salford Quays in Manchester for an event called 'Toast Of The Town'. I really love cocktails and making them myself too. I'm no expert, but I like to play around and try different liquors. Robin from In The Spirit was the cocktail expert of the night and told us that a cocktail has 3 essential elements: the base, the body and the perfume. So for example let's look at a Cosmopolitan. The base is the main alcohol in the cocktail, so the vodka. The body is the ingredient that adds to the flavour of the drink but does not take away from the base - it brings the drink together, so this would be the cranberry juice. The perfume is the smallest element of the drink but it adds flavour and scent, so this would be the orange peel. I have a book called The Ultimate Bar Book which I really recommend for all the cocktail knowledge and recipes you'll ever need!

We started the night with some delicious canapes - king prawns wrapped in crispy noodles, goats cheese and pickled beetroot, and a duck and plum tart. Yum yum! They were all really good. I am not a huge beetroot fan, but pickled it is really delicious and crispy.

We split into groups of four and headed to our cocktail station! Robin guided us through making four classic cocktails.

We started with a Kentucky Stormy, which is a twist on a Dark & Stormy, made with Rebel Yell Whiskey, fresh limes and ginger beer. Really refreshing and a great tangy sour flavour. I couldn't find a recipe for this anywhere, but you can follow a Dark & Stormy recipe and use whiskey instead.

Next we made a Bramble with Hammer London Gin, fresh lemon, sugar syrup, club soda and creme de mure (blackberry liquor). This was a sweeter cocktail, very fruity and fresh. Full recipe here.

Third was a Mojito made with fresh mint leaves, fresh lime juice, Flor de Cana rum, sugar syrup and club soda. Such a classic drink, very refreshing and perfect for summer! Full recipe here.

Finally was my personal favourite, the Cosmopolitan. Made with fresh lime juice, Russian Standard vodka, cranberry juice and orange peel. What can I say, I just love Cosmopolitans! Full recipe here.

After the cocktail lesson we got to make our own! It was a competition to win a night in a Millenium Hotel so the stakes were high! The cocktail had to represent Manchester so I made a 'Stumble'. It was a mixture of the Bramble and the Kentucky Stormy, with a splash of Angostura Bitters. Manchester is a real mix of cultures so I thought it was an appropriate recipe!

Stumble recipe
3 or 4 lime wedges squeezed into the glass
Double shot of rum
15ml triple sec (orange liquor)
Dash of sugar syrup
Splash of Angostura Bitters
Crushed ice
Drizzle of Creme de Mure
Garnish with blackberry and lime wedge

Warning: this is strong stuff! You can top it with soda water to balance out if needed.

Sadly I didn't win, but I also made a Beejito with Charlie from Gin Fuelled Bluestocking which was pretty good! It was a Mojito with honey added to it, and it's pictured above in the centre along with Charlie's Manchester Tart cocktail on the right. I had a really fun night and have since become even more obsessed with cocktails! I am drinking a Mojito as I write this and I went out at the weekend and bought a large variety of spirits, syrup and juices to experiment with. I've already made a couple and some punch too. It's good fun and I'm looking forward to the weekend already to make more!

You can read about the winner of the cocktail competition here.