About my baking challenge

I discovered the joy of baking for the first time ever in 2013, shortly after my dear mum passed away from cancer. During 2014 I tried to bring these two things together in a positive way , have fun and raise some money for Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield where my mum passed away. Throughout the year I tried out new techniques and recipes from time to time ... and then sold some of my bakes for charity in my workplace. Since then I have continued to bake with some ups and downs .. and this blog charts my baking experiences, good and bad!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Nigella's chocolate Guinness cake + Baileys cream cheese frosting

I recall a colleague making a chocolate Guinness cake at a previous work event and it generated a lot of interest; so I decided to have a go at baking one for my charity cake sale a couple of weeks ago. 

I Googled around for a recipe and found this one by Nigella which seemed to have got rave reviews ... Nigella also describes it on her blog as "magnificent in its dark majesty", which sounded pretty tempting to me.

I made the cake exactly according to Nigella's recipe, but I adjusted the frosting slightly as I wanted to incorporate Baileys, and I also wanted a classic cream cheese frosting (whereas Nigella's includes cream - some reviewers said it was a bit runny).

Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake (with Pauline's Baileys cream cheese frosting)

From Nigella's website - also featured in Feast

250 ml Guinness
250g unsalted butter
75g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
142 ml sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the frosting:
300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
A good glug of Baileys

1 * 9" (23cm) springform or loose-bottomed cake tin.

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/ 160C (fan)/Gas mark 4; and grease and line the cake tin.
2. Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan, add the butter and heat until the butter melts.

3. Then whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl and then pour in to the butter mixture. Finally whisk in the flour and bicarb of soda.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 45-60 minutes.

5. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

6. Whip the cream cheese until smooth, then beat in the sieved icing sugar. Add the Baileys to taste and beat until light and frothy. Spread over the top of the cold cake.

This cake was easy to make, but I didn't get on too well with beating everything together in the pan - I actually transferred my beery mixture into my K Mix stand mixer bowl before beating in the rest of the ingredients. I also found that it needed a good hour to bake.

I changed the icing and have to admit that it went rather runny so didn't look the best ... though that is not the reason why there is no picture of the iced cake. As the icing was dairy I took it to work in a cool bag to spread on the cake immediately before serving in my cake sale ... and people were queueing up to sample a slice so I never got chance to take a photo!  I never got to taste this cake at all, but the feedback was very complimentary with one colleague describing it as "exceptional", so it appears to have turned out alright!


Friday, 12 December 2014

Christmas isn't Christmas without ... Terry's Chocolate Orange Cake

Almost everyone loves a Terry's chocolate orange at Christmas, so I decided to incorporate one into my pre-Christmas charity cake sale.  This cake went down an absolute storm at my cake sale, to the extent I could be tempted to start up a new sideline :-)

I love the idea of chocolate orange cake and have previously made one with orange buttercream; but this time I decided to go for chocolate orange sponge filled with orange curd with cointreau, and also filled and topped with chocolate orange ganache.

The main problem with chocolate orange baking is the scarce availability of orange flavoured dark chocolate ... most available makes eg. Lindt are filled with crunchy orange pieces rather than suffused with orange flavouring. Terry's chocolate orange is definitely the way to go; but the dark ones are only available in the shops in the run up to Christmas, and even then are not that easy to find. In my opinion milk chocolate would be too sweet in combination with orange for baking ...lovely for eating, but when it comes to frosting a cake dark is definitely required! So if anyone from Terry's reads this ... PLEASE make your dark chocolate oranges available all year round - they are fab both for baking and eating!!

Anyhoo I hunted around and did manage to find some supplies (in Superdrug and Wilko of all places), so I was on my way.

Terry's Chocolate Orange Cake with cointreau

Adapted from Mary Berry's Very Best Chocolate & Orange Cake in Delicious Magazine

100g unsalted butter, softened
50g cocoa powder
90 ml boiling water
3 large eggs
4 tbsp milk
175g self-raising flour, sifted
1 rounded tsp baking powder
300g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange

For the filling and icing:
150g dark Terry's chocolate orange, broken into small pieces
150ml double cream
Several tbsp of orange curd (I used Welsh Roots orange curd with cointreau)

2 * 8" (20cm) round cake tins,greased and with the bases lined with baking parchment.

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/160 C (fan)/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line the baking tins.
2. Measure the cocoa and boiling water into a large bowl and mix to a paste. Add the rest of the cake ingredients and beat again until combined.
3. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared cake tins. bake in the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes until the sponges are well risen and shrinking away from the sides of the tins.
4. Leave in the tins for approx 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
5. To make the chocolate ganache, put the chocolate and cream into a heat-proof bowl, then stand over a pan of simmering water for about 10 minutes, stirring until the chocolate is melted (don't let the bowl touch the water in the pan). Set aside to cool until it thickens to a spreading consistency.
6. Spread the top of one songe thinly with orange curd, then spread with slightly less than half the chocolate ganache. Place the second sponge on top then spread with the remaining ganache. Use a palette knife to swirl the icing evenly.
7. You can add more grated Terry's chocolate orange, or alternatively orange Matchmakers or any chocolate decorations on top. (I didn't bother with this last step as I wanted to keep my costs down while baking for charity).

This was easy to make and was extremely popular ... I never managed to grab a slice for myself as it all went extremely quickly. In fact several people mentioned to me after the event that they were disappointed to have missed out on it, so clearly it fired my colleagues' imaginations! The best I managed was to hoover up a few crumbs off the plate, and a friend took pity and gave me a small forkful from her slice ... on that limited basis  I thought it tasted pretty good.

I am now thinking I may try making some mini versions using my Lakeland mini-Victoria sandwich tin!

I would like to enter this into the following challenges:

Casa Costello

Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cranberry and white chocolate cupcakes

Whilst putting together my "menu" for my charity bake sale last week, I decided that I wanted a couple of different flavours of cupcakes as they are easy to bake in larger batches (to raise more money!! :-) ). I was really tempted by this recipe I saw on the Hummingbird Bakery blog as it seemed nice and Christmassy, and at the same time allowed me to offer a different flavour from the predominantly chocolate cakes in my repertoire.

I made a slight adjustment to the frosting recipe, but that was primarily for a practical reason as I had some "leftover" white chocolate ganache (see below!)

Cranberry and White Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Blog

For the cake:
70g unsalted butter, softened
210g plain flour
250g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder (the recipe said 1tbsp but I was bit nervous of that!!)
1/2 tsp salt
210 ml milk
2 large eggs
60g dried cranberries
1 tsp grated orange zest

For the frosting: (this differs a bit from the Hummingbird recipe)
2-3 tbsp white chocolate ganache
300g icing sugar, sifted
160g unsalted butter, softened

2 * 12 hole deep muffin tins

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150 C(fan)/Gas Mark 3, and line the muffin tins with cupcake cases. The recipe says it makes 12-16 based on using large American-style muffin cases. I wanted to use Christmas style cases and only had medium ones - my mixture made 21 of these in the end!
2. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt together using a hand-held or free standing mixer until they form a crumb-like consistency.
3. Whisk together the eggs and milk in a separate jug.
4. Gradually pour half the liquid into the crumb mixture with the mixer on low speed and mix thoroughly until combined. Then turn up the mixer to medium and beat until batter is smooth and thick with no lumps. Then turn down the mixer speed and gradually add the rest of the liquid, continuing to beat until the batter is smooth and combined.
5. Add the cranberries and orange zest, and mix until evenly distributed.
6. Spoon batter into prepared cases, filling each one approx. two-thirds full.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back when lightly touched.  Leave the cakes to cool for a few minutes in the tin, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.
8. Beat the butter for the frosting until light and whippy, then gradually add in the icing sugar, beating until smooth. Add in the white chocolate ganache (or melted chocolate - approx 60g), then turn up the mixer to high speed and beat until light and fluffy.
9. When the cupcakes are completely cold, smooth a generous amount of frosting onto each one and smooth with a palette knife. Decorate each cupcake with a dried cranberry and sprinkle with a little orange zest.

I have always previously made cupcakes using a Victoria sandwich-type recipe, so this was quite different both in the proportions of ingredients and the method of combining. I was a little nervous, but it seemed to work really well. The cupcakes baked really evenly, and rose evenly to give a nice rounded appearance but not too much of a "dome", so they were also easy to decorate.

Personally I though the amount of icing sugar in the original recipe (500g) was a bit excessive so I toned this down, and instead of using melted chocolate I used some chocolate ganache (50% white chocolate, 50% double cream). This was simply because I had originally intended to decorate these with white chocolate ganache, but when I made it it was quite "yellow" in colour and very runny, so I thought I'd better revert to buttercream ... and incorporate the white chocolate flavour so as not to waste it all!!

Overall I was very pleased with these cupcakes - one of them had its wrapper tear in the tin so it was the only cake from my whole charity bake which I kept  back to taste and didn't sell ... I frosted it and then my husband and I split it between us.  The sponge was very light and soft and the flavour yummy .. clearly some of my colleagues agreed as they soon got snapped up!

I would like to enter these Christmas treats into the following challenges:

(hosted this month by Kat at The Baking Explorer, and alternately by Stuart at Cakeyboi)

AlphaBakes (December) - X is for Xmas
(hosted this month by Caroline Makes and alternately by The More Than Occasional  Baker)

Love Cake (December) - December Delights
(hosted by JibberJabber UK)

That's all for today.


Saturday, 29 November 2014

Charity Cake Sale

I started the year with the intention of holding occasional sales of single cakes at work to give me the incentive to bake new things and raise money for my mum's charity at the same time. Things started well back in January, but from March onwards I got  embroiled in a very demanding project at work with long working hours, so thinks have kinda fallen by the wayside!

A few of my lovely colleagues had mentioned that they missed my cakes, so I decided to make up for lost time by having a proper cake sale  before the end of the year ... and this week was the ideal opportunity before everyone gets into the Christmas festivities and can't face any more eating :-) So I took two days' leave from work to bake, and held a pre-Christmas Cake cake sale across two floors in my office at Warrington Borough Council on Thursday.

Treats on offer included a mixture of previously baked cakes and new recipes, promoted as follows:

Santa's Tipple
(Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys cream cheese frosting)

Tropical Christmas
(Passionfruit and White Chocolate sponge)

Terry's Chocolate Orange Cake

Cranberry and White Chocolate Cupcakes

Lemon Drizzle Traybake

Christmas Sparkle Cupcakes
(vanilla cupcakes with raspberry filling, pink vanilla buttercream and sparkle lustre)

Oops no picture!!

I sent an email around to my colleagues on several floors in the office, but I was a bit apprehensive as to whether the sale would be a success. I was absolutely amazed though ... I got stuck in traffic so only arrived to set up just before the advertised start time, and people were already waiting!! 

You may notice that there are no photos of the actual charity sale table, as my brilliant colleagues were so eager to sample the cakes that the table was surrounded straight away, and I never got chance to take any pics!! In fact I never even got a pic of my iced Guinness cake as I iced it from a chilled container immediately before putting on the table, and it was soon gone!

I could never have anticipated such success - everything was gone in just over an hour, raising a grand total of


I rounded this up to £110 (+£27.50 gift aid) to give a grand total of


So a big thanks to all my colleagues at Warrington Borough Council for making it such a success, and for the kind comments I received about the cakes - they seemed particularly to enjoy the Terry's chocolate orange cake!!

It was quite hard work, and I don't think I've ever done so much washing up in my life, but it was really worth it. My dad was really proud when I told him how much I had raised for the hospice where mum passed away, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Back soon with one or two of the recipes ...


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Winter warmer - gingerbread & Guinness bundt with salted caramel drizzle

Hi everyone,
With the falling of the leaves and bonfire night upon us, my thoughts turned to warming winter cakes ... and I saw a fabulous recipe on Kat's  Baking Explorer blog for a "Bonfire Cake"  - gingerbread and Guinness bundt cake with salted caramel icing, loosely adapted from Chow.

I'd never made gingerbread cake or caramel icing before, nor indeed any recipe involving dark brown sugar and treacle ... so I felt inspired to give it a go and take it to work for my colleagues. I was a bit late for bonfire night, but took it into work a few days later .... only just got round to writing it up now! I kind of did a hybrid, with Kat's cake but with a more drizzly icing as per Chow.

Gingerbread & Guinness Bundt with Salted Caramel Drizzle Icing

Taken from The Baking Explorer and Chow

For the cake:
255g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinammon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
165g dark brown sugar
170ml vegetable oil
3 large eggs, beaten
340g black treacle
250ml Guinness

For the salted caramel drizzle:
57g butter
165g dark brown sugar
175ml double cream
2t sp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt

Bundt tin - I used my Lakeland fluted cake ring tin.

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/Gas mark 4.
2. Grease and flour your tin, or (as I did) brush with Cake Release.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the Guinness, treacle, dark brown sugar, vegetable oil and eggs.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt - add to the wet ingredients and beat together until combined (don't overmix).
5. Pour mixture into the prepared tin until level, and bake in pre-heated oven for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

7. Let the cake cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

8. Make the salted caramel by melting the butter in a pan, then add the sugar and cream - keep stirring and let the sauce bubble for about 5 minutes. Then add the vanilla extract and salt. Pour into a heatproof bowl (or even better a jug) to cool.

9. When the icing and cake are both cool, pour the icing over the cake so it drizzles down the sides.

 This cake was very easy to make, made the house smell great, and looked good when it was done. The cake was also very soft and moist, and a beautiful colour. However I would have to be honest and say I found the flavour of it to be very strong and quite bitter due to the amount of treacle used, and some of my colleagues said the same... in fact my husband commented that whilst the cake had obviously turned out as it should, he didn't really like it. The biggest fans were those colleagues who are die hard gingerbread fans - clearly it's a matter of personal taste.

These reactions led me to do a bit of googling, and I found that this particular recipe was very heavy on the dark treacle compared to many ... never having used treacle in a recipe before I didn't really know what to expect!! However I didn't feel downhearted - the cake did turn out right in terms of the recipe, and it gave me a few learning points about how to use ingredients ... so next time I may try a gingerbread cake with a mixture of treacle and golden syrup, or perhaps light brown sugar ... here's to the next experiment!!

I would like to enter this effort into a few baking challenges, namely:

November's Teatime Treats hosted by The Hedge Combers and Lavender and Lovage - Bonfire Night

Lavender and Lovage Tea Time Treats

November's Love Cake challenge - In With A Bang!

Love Cake logo

November's Baking With Spirit at Cake of the Week - Warming

That's all for today - 'til next time.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Pink champagne and strawberry salvage cake

The 3rd birthday party event for the Warrington CCC had a theme of cocktails and mocktails .... so I set  my brain to work to find a suitable recipe. My first port of call had to be the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook - where else?? ... and I was soon tempted by the pink champagne anniversary cake.  I am a bit limited when attending an event as I have to go straight from work as i live some distance away; so I can't bake anything that requires all day refrigeration such as cream cheese frosting. Sadly this was one of the few cakes in the book without an accompanying photograph but I didn't let that put me off, and I was quite excited by the prospect of my bake.

What can I tell you?? This cake turned into the mother of all salvage jobs ... everything that could possibly go wrong did, and I don't really know why. In the end I also adapted the cake from the original recipe - partly due to time constraints, and also as I felt it would end up far too sweet. So here is my adaptation, with notes on the issues I encountered as a fairly inexperienced baker ....

Pink Champagne & Strawberry Cake

Based on recipe in the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs
250g self raising flour
Red food colouring
2-3 tbsp milk
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Champagne syrup:
85g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
120ml pink champagne / cava

Champagne buttercream:
225g butter, softened
450g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp pink champagne/cava

Strawberry jam for filling

1 * 18cm (7") loose bottomed cake tin

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Grease and line cake tin.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, and add a tablespoon of flour with the final egg to help prevent curdling.
4. Stir in the red flood colouring to make the mixture a delicate shade of pink.
5. Sift in the remaining flour and fold gently to combine.
6. Stir in the milk until you reach dropping consistency, then add the lemon zest.
7. Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread evenly. Bake for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
8. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
9. Make the champagne soaking syrup - combine he sugar, vanilla and 175ml water in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. When the syrup is warm, stir in the pink champagne, then remove from the heat and set aside.
10. When the cake is cool, pour 100-150 ml of the champagne syrup over the cake and leave to soak for a couple of hours.
11. Make the champagne buttercream - beat the butter and icing sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and champagne and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
12. To assemble the cake, cut into three layers (I used my wire cutter to ensure it was even). Spread one layer with jam and buttercream, then cover with the second cake layer. Repeat the  rpocess, then place the final cake layer on top.
13. Using a  palette knife, cover the top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of buttercream to form the "crumb coat".  Leave to chill in the fridge for about an hour, until firm and set. Then use the remaining buttercream to cover the top and sides again.

Everything seemed to go to plan during the preparation of the sponge ... it was only when it got into the oven that things started to go a bit awry. It had struck me that the oven temperature was quite high .. but the cake rose massively and became very "domed"; and was rather burnt on the sides but not yet done in the middle (Could this be due to only greasing the sides of the tin rather than lining with baking parchment??).

When the cake was eventually cooked through (I did turn the oven down a bit to calm the process down), after letting it cool a little I cut off the burnt sides with a sharp knife - this was the beginning of my next set of problems as it left the cake a tad unstable and crumbly.

I have never soaked a cake in syrup before; and after I had made the champagne syrup I was rather wary seeing how liquid it was - surely it would make the whole cake soggy?? Thus I poured over a bit less than the recipe suggested; but my main problem came with the fact that I only had enough time to let it soak for barely 2 hours .... when I came to cut the cake to fill it, it started to REALLY crumble!!! I had already decided to forgo the white chocolate ganache in the original recipe and replace it with some nice sticky strawberry jam (champagne and strawberries ....) but decided it would have the added advantage of helping to really stick the cake together!  Even so, by the time I had added my "crumb coat" of  buttercream the whole thing looked a shambles!! At this point I was seriously considering not attending the CCC event at all!!

However it is surprising how it can be patched up when it has firmed up in the fridge for an hour ... at this point I was able to fill all the gaps and cover it reasonably successfully. My problems still weren't quite over though ... due to the crumbliness I had to make a little extra  buttercream to plug a couple of holes .. and it turned out a slightly different shade to the rest!! ... so then I had to eke it out VERY THINLY to cover the whole cake!!

In the end, although the finished look could hardly be described as professional, it didn't look too bad .... I felt able to actually take it along to the CCC birthday event.

I was still of the opinion that it would fall to bits when sliced .. but surprisingly it held together reasonable well, and it tasted really delicious. I took the leftovers to work the next day and my colleagues wolfed them down, so something must have gone right!!

So I guess the lesson there is never give up on a cake wreck - salvage is always possible!!

I would like to enter this for this week's Bake of The Week hosted by Casa Costello

Casa Costello

and #CookBlogShare hosted by Lucy at Supergoldenbakes



Sunday, 5 October 2014

CCC Warrington 3rd Birthday - Cocktails & Mocktails

The Warrington branch of the Clandestine Cake Club held its third birthday party on Tuesday 30th September, with a theme of Cocktails and Mocktails.

The event was organised by our lovely leader Helen Rimmer, and was held at the fabulous Dingle Farm in Appleton - a wonderful olde worlde tea room, artists' studio and farm shop. The ladies there looked after us all brilliantly, serving drinks in the most gorgeous vintage china, which really set the tone for the occasion.

It is only the second time I have attended a meeting of the CCC but I was really looking forward to it; as I was sure everyone would push the boat out and make a real effort for the club's third birthday .... and I certainly wasn't disappointed!! There were somewhere in the region of 15 stunning cakes of every description spread over 2 tables - it was difficult to keep track of exactly how many and what was what, as more seemed to keep appearing (and in the whirl of admiration and cake cutting some of the labels went awry!!), but they included

  • 3 strawberry daquiri cakes
  • Amaretto bundt
  • Banana daquiri cake
  • Pimms layer cake
  • Irish Coffee Liqueur cake
  • B52 cake
  • Chocolate, almond & rum cake
  • Pink champagne and strawberry cake
  • Pina Colada cake
  • Chocolate whiskey cake
  • Fruit cooler cake

(sorry for any I have missed!!)

All I can say is wow what a selection!! Everyone seemed to have a great time tucking into samples and chatting whilst sipping their tea from vintage china ... I took along a friend as a guest and she also really enjoyed it.  It's  just a pity there were just tooo many to sample them all!!

(most of the following pictures taken by Helen Rimmer for the CCC  blog, as I took loads of my own but due to low light conditions they didn't come out!)





Thanks to Helen and to the Dingle Farm ladies plus all the bakers for such a wonderful evening.