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!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Charity Bake #1 - Three layer Victoria sponge

Hi everyone,
Well here I am with my first charity bake .... I thought I would start simple with a classic Victoria sponge but with a bit of a twist ... I decided to make three layers instead of two, and to fill it with both raspberry jam (bottom layer) and lemon curd (top layer), with buttercream.

Three layer Victoria sponge

For the sponge
300g self-raising flour (* see Tip)
300g butter, softened
300g caster sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
Raspberry jam
Lemon curd

For the buttercream
100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract

Tip: weigh your eggs, and then use exactly the same weight for each of your flour, butter and sugar. My 5 eggs weighed exactly 300g - adjust your own weights slightly to corresond with your eggs.

3 * 8 inch loose-bottomed sandwich tins (I recently bought mine from Wilkinsons - well reviewed, and so cheap you don't feel bad about buying three!!)

1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 160°C fan.
2. Place the butter in bowl and beat until light and fluffy.
3. Add the sugar and beat until well combined and fluffy.
4. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla extract, and beat until combined.
5. Fold in the sifted flour a little at the time and beat until just combined. Do not overbeat.
6. Lightly fold in the milk until just combined. mixture should drop easily from the spoon / beater.
7. Lightly grease three 8 inch loose bottomed sandwich tins, and spoon the mixture evenly into them.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, until the tops are golden and spring back when pressed, and the cake is shrinking from the side of the tin. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.
9. Leave to cool in the cake tin for approx 10 minutes., then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
10. Meanwhile make the buttercream by besting the softened butter until pale and fluffy, then beating in the sifted icing sugar a lttle at a time. Beat for several minutes to make the mixture light and fluffy. If it is too stff add a little milk.
11. When the cakes are completely cold, sandwich together with the buttercream, jam and lemon curd. Sprinkle a little sifted icing sugar on top.

This is only the second Victoria sponge I have ever made, and the first with my new stand mixer. Although I was careful not to overbeat the mixture when adding the flour, the sponges did not rise as well as my previous hand mixed effort - I guess I need to get full used to my new mixer over time. Also the edges of the sponge were slightly crisp where they had touched the sides of the cake tin so I did cut them off.

Overall the sponges didn't rise completely evenly which is often a problem with Victoria sponges, but as they were not very tall I couldn't really cut them to level them, so the final effort is a bit wonky!

Finally, I spread the jam first followed by the buttercream ... this meant it was impossible to spread the buttercream thinly without making a mess ... so I think I somewhat over filled the cake.  I'm pretty sure it tastes ok though ... I definitely need to work on the aesthetics as the year progresses! Hey ho, It's all a learning experience! 

That's all for today. Hope my colleagues will eat it in a good cause!

Amount raised - £11.00

My colleagues have been really positive about my new venture, with several supportive emails received :-) Several colleagues also praised the cake, saying it tasted "lovely". Yippee! I was clearly over-worrying about the cake looking a bit untidy .. but i will still be trying to improve as the year goes on!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

My first baked cheesecake - tastes better than it looks!!

I love cheesecake, but before I started my baking adventures it would never have occurred to me to make one! I decided that it was time to rectify this oversight, so I was determined to have a go this weekend.

I didn't have a suitable cake tin, and debated whether to by a springform cake tin or one of Lakeland's non-stick "pushpans" which are supposed to be leakproof so can be used in a water bath without wrapping in foil. After quite a bit of deliberation I decided to purchase  20cm and 23cm pushpans, and I was ready to go!

Blueberry Ripple Cheesecake

Taken from: Step-by-Step Baking, by Caroline Bretherton

Serves: 8

50g (1.75 oz) unsalted butter
125g (4.5 oz) digestive biscuits
150g (5.5 oz) blueberries
150g (5.5 oz) caster sugar, plus 3 tbsp extra
400g (14oz) cream cheese
250g (9oz) mascarpone cheese
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp plain flour, sifted

20cm (8inch) springform cake tin or Lakeland non-stick pushpan
Food processor with blade attachment

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas 4. Grease the base and sides of cake tin.
2. Put the biscuits into a food bag and crush with a rolling pin to make fine crumbs.

3. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then add the biscuit crumbs and stir until they are coated in butter.
4. Remove from the heat and press the crumbs into the base of the tin, pushing them down with the back of a spoon.

5. Put the blueberries and 3 tbsp of sugar into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Boil in a small pan and then simmer for 3-5 minutes until thickened and jammy. Set aside.

6. Place the remaining sugar plus the rest of the ingredients into mixer and beat until smooth and well combined.

7. Spoon the mixture onto the biscuit base and smooth the top with a palette knife.

8. Drizzle over the blueberry compote and swirl with a metal skewer.

9. Boil a kettle and place the cake tin in a water bath using a deep sided dish. Note: if using a springform cake tin wrap it in tin foil to stop leakage - this isn't necessary with a pushpan as they are leakproof.

10. Bake for 40 minutes until set but a bit wobbly. Turn off the oven and wedge the door open.
11. After an hour remove cake from oven and remove sides from tin. Slide a cake lifter or fish slices between the base of the cake and the tin, and slide onto a serving plate. Allow to cool completely before serving.

I found my  cheesecake pushed out easily from the pushpan. However I did take the precaution of testing it in a water-bath before use and it DID leak the first time: I had to try again ensuring I had pushed the base down very firmly inside the pan.

I had to bake this in my second (non-fan) oven as the timing overlapped with cooking the dinner in the main fan oven. Due to the size of the oven it wasn't so easy to keep an eye on, and when I took it out after 40 minutes the top was burnt!! Hence the final picture doesn't look great (but I did say at the outset this was a "warts and all" blog!!).

After cooling for an hour in the oven with the door open the cheesecake wasn't very well set and was pretty difficult to slide off the base of the cake tin, resulting in some cracking - think I need a bit more practice with that!!  I also realized afterwards that I had forgotten my 2 tbsp of flour - not sure what difference that made as most of the cheesecake recipes in my cookbook didn't have any flour in them!!

Despite my tribulations I'm happy to report that it did taste excellent despite the over-browned top - light and fluffy :-)   I guess next time I will bake in my fan oven, and I may also try one or two different combos of recipe and temperature. Hopefully next time I post a pic it will be rather prettier!

That's all for now.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Winter Warmer

Up to now all my baking efforts have been focused on sweet treats; but with the cold days, and after the Christmas sugar rush I fancied trying out something savoury. I saw this yummy looking recipe for red pepper & goats' cheese muffins in a leaflet I got inside the newpaper, and made them yesterday as thought they would be the perfect thing with soup on a cold winter lunchtime. It's also my first attempt at a Paul Hollywood recipe!!

Red Pepper & Goats' Cheese Muffins

Taken from: Daily Mail leaflet adapted from The Great British  Bake Off: Everyday by Linda Collister (with recipes by Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood).

Makes:12 (so they say .... I made 10 :-) )

135g (4.75 oz) log style goats' cheese, crumbled into approx 1cm chunks
1 medium red pepper - cored, seeded and cut into 1cm chunks
300g (10.5 oz) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I omitted this as I didn't have any, and used black pepper instead)
1 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil or parsley (I used parsley)
225ml (8 fl oz) buttermilk, at room temperature
1 medium egg, at room temperature
100ml (3.5 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil.

Tip: If you don't have any buttermilk (I don't and don't know where to get it) you can make your own by adding 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar to 225ml of milk, beat slightly to combine, and leave for 10-15 minutes to curdle.

12 hole muffin tin, lined with paper muffin cases.

1. Pre-heat oven to 190°C/170°C fan/Gas Mark 5.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped basil or parsley, red pepper and goats' cheese and stir thoroughly using a wooden spoon.
3. Lightly beat the buttermilk with the egg and olive oil in a measuring jug just to mix, then pour into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined (I did my best to "fold" this in).

4.Spoon into the paper cases evenly.

5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes until muffins are golden brown and feel just firm when pressed in the centre.

6. Leave to cool in the tray for 2 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature the same or next day. Once cold, store in an airtight container.

This recipe really was very easy to make. The hardest bit was getting the paper muffin cases to behave themselves while I spooned the mixture into them ... they seem to move about a lot more than normal cupcake cases,and I did slop a bit of mixture onto the points of the cases ... but it didn't affect the taste ;-).

Being a fairly novice baker still, I was nervous of not having to beat the mixture to make it light and fluffy as I do with cakes; but I guess this is because it is made with oil rather than butter.

Originally I baked these for 25 minutes and they did seem to be done; but in hindsight I think they were still fractionally undercooked. I was in a real rush to try them and ate one with my soup while still very warm ... it stuck quite badly to the paper, crumbled and seemed a teeny bit greasy and undercooked. As they were still hot I popped them back in the oven for 3 more minutes and then let them cool completely ... when I ate a room temperature one today it was much better ... no sticking to the paper case or crumbling, and the texture seemed much better.

I do wonder though whether I might experiment with different oils when I get a bit more confident  ...  I have used a light vegetable oil (rapeseed oil) for making carrot cakes and might have a go with that. I'm also thinking about trying a version with sundried tomatoes and olives as I think that would lend a nice tang ... watch this space!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Testing ... testing ... look what Santa brought me!

I think that either I must have been a very good girl all year during 2013, or otherwise Santa  brought me more than I deserve ... cos I looked under the tree on Christmas morning and found this ...

... which on closer inspection turned out to be this ...

... and all these ...

(brand new flexi-beater tool, K-beater and dough hook)

(Balloon whisk)

Woo hoo!!!

OK, so Santa was given some very specific hints, not to mention a steer to the best shop in which to load up his sleigh lol!! But I really was beyond delighted to receive this Kenwood KMix mixer, and must also thank my darling husband for giving Santa a hand to get it down the chimney!!

I also feel I rather got a bargain from John Lewis ... this machine was being advertised as having three tools but came with four, including a new flexi-beater for soft mixtures such as sponges or buttercream. It is now being advertised as having four tools but has gone up by a whopping £45 since Christmas !! I'm sure this will reignite the debate about Kenwood KMix versus Kitchenaid Artisan, as the Artisan has now come down in price so the price gap between the two has narrowed considerably!

Despite the fact that most people are rather "caked out" right now following from the Christmas festivities, I just HAD to test out this cutie before any more time had gone by .... So I decided to start with a simple vanilla cupcake recipe, with just a slight twist :-)

Vanilla surprise cupcakes

Makes 12 medium size cupcakes (increase quantities in proportion to make more ... I used a 4 egg mixture to make 15 cupcakes)

Taken from The Cupcake - Love Food (with some adaptations)

170g (6oz) softened butter
170g (6oz) caster sugar
170g (6oz) self-raising flour
3 eggs (medium), lightly beaten
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tbsp milk
Approx. 6 teaspoons seedless raspberry jam (or whatever filling you prefer)

For the icing:
150g (5 1/2 oz) softened unsalted butter
280g (10oz) icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk

12 hole muffin pan
Cupcake corer (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 180°C /160°C fan / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
2. Put the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat until very pale, light and fluffy. I did this using my K-beater ... OMG it was so exciting starting up the machine for the first time!

3. Gradually add the beaten eggs, beating thoroughly after each addition, then beat in the vanilla extract.
4. Add the sieved flour and gently fold into the  mixture. This is where I was able to use the KMix's specialist  "fold" function - it whirrs around gently then pauses, then whirrs gently some more - absolutely brilliant to watch :-)
5. Add the milk and fold in gently as above. The mixture should be smooth and drop easily from the spoon / mixer beater.
6. Spoon mixture into cases, filling each one approx 2/3 full. Be careful not to overfill them.
7. Bake in pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, until cupcakes are risen, golden, and a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean.
8. Cool in tray for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

9. Meanwhile, make vanilla buttercream icing - place butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat until very soft and pale. I did this using the KMix's new flexi-beater.

10. Gradually sift in the icing sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat thoroughly to make the icing fluffy and light.  Add the milk and beat in to give a softer consistency for piping.
11. When the cupcakes are completely cool, cut out a small well from the top of each one using a sharp knife or cupcake corer. Sample the offcuts in the interests of research!!

12. Spoon approx half a teaspoon of jam into each cupcake. Tip: I found this easiest using my Lakeland slimline measuring spoons ... even though I'm fairly cack-handed the jam didn't slop outside the wells as it would have done with a normal sized spoon!

13. Spread or pipe the buttercream onto each cupcake, and decorate as desired. I decorated mine with pastel coloured sugar strands and some edible rice paper butterflies ... simple but quite pretty, I think!

... and here's a closeup of the finished article.

The original recipe for these cupcakes stated that  a 2-egg mixture (with 4oz of butter, sugar and flour) would make 12 cupcakes. the first time I ever made them I was amazed to find that the mixture only made 7!! I have since realized that I was using large cupcake cases .. but even with medium cases you really need a "3 egg" mixture to make 12 ... 2 eggs would only make 12 VERY SMALL fairy cakes. I think it would be helpful if recipe books gave more of a clue to beginners about what size of cupcake case they should  be using, as it also affects the cooking time Now I tend to use a 3 egg mixture to make 12 medium size cases (baking for approx 18 minutes), and a 4-egg mixture to make 12 large cupcakes (baking for approx 20-21 minutes). 

I was quite nervous about trying out my new Kenwood KMix but it all seemed to go pretty smoothly. I was careful to try all the attachments in the mixer first to ensure they would fit, and I also fitted the splashguard which proved to be an absolute godsend when mixing icing sugar as I no longer had a cloud of it all over the kitchen!! The one downside is that you can't really sift straight into the KMix's own bowl as a sieve won't fit over the bowl when the tools are attached; so you need to sift in advance and then either tip into the bowl with the head raised, or spoon in through the "hatch" in the splashguard cover. Both attachments I used worked very well though, with minimal scraping down of the bowl required.

The one thing I still haven't got the hang of (after approx 3 attempts now) is getting my buttercream the correct consistency for piping ... I know you are just supposed to add more icing sugar, but I feel a bit gross if I add too much!! I think I still need to work on that one!

Anyhoo, at the end of all this I assembled some darling little boxes that I had picked up from Poundland, and took most of my cakes to work to give out as Happy New Year treats. 

The cute boxes actually received more comments than the cakes inside them lol!

That's all for now.

Update 15/1 - I have just found a fab baking blog called Dollybakes, with a Calendar Cakes challenge - I think I'm ok to enter this into the January Calendar Cakes challenge so here we go!  :-)

Calendar Cakes Challenge


Friday, 3 January 2014

Fabulous festive fudge

All is quiet on the baking front at the moment, and is likely to remain so for a little while as I think most people are still working through their Christmas cake, chocs etc.. etc ..  So I thought I would share with you my festive Baileys fudge - I had never made any until approx. two weeks ago, but I made 4 batches before Christmas to give as treats to various colleagues, friends and family. It really is incredibly easy, and everyone seemed to love it as several people have already asked me for the recipe!

Baileys Christmas Fudge

Based on Nestle Ultimate Fudge recipe on their website, + tips from The Pink Whisk - How To Make Fudge.

Makes approx 64 squares.

450g demerara sugar
1 can (397g) Carnation condensed milk
115g butter
150ml milk
Baileys (optional - I used approx 60ml but that is up to your discretion!)

Large saucepan (minimum 20cm)
Lakeland thermospatula or sugar thermomenter
20cm loose-bottomed square cake tin (link is to the one I bought one from Lakeland especially for this purpose)

1. Lob all of the ingredients apart from the Baileys into a LARGE pan (any smaller than 20cm and it will boil over); give an initial stir so no dry sugar remains on the bottom of the pan, then heat on a low heat stirring constantly until all the ingredients have dissolved. Stirring is the most important bit - if the sugar burns it will add dark flecks to the fudge.

2. Turn up the heat and stir continuouslyuntil the mixture has boiled and then continue until either
  • if you have a thermometer it reaches 116°C, OR
  • if you don't, a teaspoon full of mixture dropped into cold water forms a ball which you can handle and doesn't fall apart ("soft ball stage").
This should take 10-15 minutes of continuous stirring, and will bubble well to the top of a large pan.

3. If adding ingredients such as vanilla extract, raisins or nuts etc. do it at the end of step 2. I added approx. 60ml of Baileys, but added it halfway through step 2 as i was worried it would affect the consistency if added later.
4. Remove pan from the heat and leave to cool for a moment, then pour into a large heatproof bowl. beat for 5-10 minutes until thickened to a soft fudge consistency.
5. Have a 20cm square cake tin ready, lined with baking parchment. ladle the mixture into the tin, smooth the top with a spatula and leave to cool at room temperature (not in the fridge) for a couple of hours.

6. Cut up and enjoy :-) 


It is really critical to have a big enough pan - I used a 20cm saucepan (the largest I own) and could not have made any bigger quantity than the recipe states - hence I ended up making 4 batches!!

I had never needed a thermometer before, and treated myself to a thermospatula from Lakeland ... this was just soooo easy to use!!

My only comment would be that my hand did get quite hot holding the spatula in such a way as to not obscure the readout panel; so for later batches I did use a one handed oven mitt.

The original recipe stated that after boiling to 116°C the mixture should be beaten for 10 minutes - I found that 5 minutes was enough, and longer would have broken my hand mixer!! Also if it is beaten for too long it turns out crumbly ... great if that is your preference but I really wanted creamy fudge - 5-6 minutes of beating will achieve that.

I made my fudge into festive treat bags - 1 batch will make etiher 4 medium treat bags of approx 15-16 pieces each, or 3 larger treat bags of 20-21 pieces each (depending on how much you sample while bagging it up!!)

That's all for today ... hope you enjoy it.