Pear, hazelnut & chocolate cakes (GF)

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It has been a long year since I last posted on Pippa Bakes – sincere apologies to my avid followers, all two of you. Complaints on a postcard to my old landlord, because my last London rental came with the baker’s worst nightmare: a terrible, terrible oven. It was gas, the temperature varied by ten degrees from corner to corner and it took an hour to even vaguely reach temperature. Thankfully, I have now left that flat and it’s Terrible Oven for pastures new and considerably better equipped.

I have spent the past blog-less year writing a list of flavour combinations, and this one appeared twice, so it won by default. Individual cakes have such an elegance and delicacy; I like to think these wouldn’t look out of place in an Ottolenghi deli window. Here, the sponges are gluten-free (chocolate and hazelnut), baked with pieces of pear, and topped with hazelnut chocolate Italian meringue buttercream – a light foil to the slightly dense, rich sponge – and decorated with praline and pear crisps. This recipe has lots of steps, but not many ingredients, which is just the way I like it. Techniques such as making caramel, meringue buttercream and forming quenelles may sound intimidating, but I promise they are far simpler than they seem (and incur far fewer disasters in real life than on Bake Off).

A note on equipment: you will need a sugar thermometer, a standalone mixer, a food processor and a 12-hole dessert pan, mini-sandwich or cakelette tin – they’re often called different things but are all the same thing. I use this Lakeland 12 Hole Loose-Bottomed Mini Sandwich Tin. A friand tin would also do, though give a slightly different shape, or alternatively, skip the tin-buttering skip and make them in a muffin tin in cake cases.

For the sponge
160g blanched hazelnuts
2 ripe conference pears
160g butter, plus extra for greasing
160g dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated
160g caster sugar

For the praline, praline dust and chocolate praline paste
140g blanched  hazelnuts
200g caster sugar
60g dark chocolate

For the Italian meringue buttercream
40ml water
150g caster sugar
1 teaspoon golden syrup
1 egg white
200g unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons chocolate praline paste (see above)

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Method
Grease the cake tin with butter. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan and place both lots of hazelnuts (300g total) on a baking tray. Toast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, removing when they are golden. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C fan. Transfer 160g to a food processor and blitz until you have a fine flour. Be careful not to over-process, as the oils in the nuts will eventually produce a paste. Roughly chop the remaining 140g of hazelnuts and set aside.

Slice the pears in half width-ways, separating them into the narrow tops and bulbous bottoms. Set the tops aside. Peel and core the bottoms, then roughly chop into 2-3cm pieces. Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate over a bain-marie or in the microwave. Set aside to cool. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until creamy and light. Add the butter-chocolate mixture and the ground hazelnuts and fold to combine.

In the bowl of a standalone mixer, whisk the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Stir a tablespoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then add the chocolate mixture to the egg whites in two lots, folding carefully together to combine while retaining as much air as possible.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin until each recess is two-thirds full, then press three pieces of chopped pear into the top of each. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until risen and a cocktail stick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tin and leave to cool.

While the cakes are baking, make the brittle. Ready a sheet of baking paper. Place the caster sugar in a thick-bottomed pan and heat over a low heat. Swirl the pan as the sugar melts to incorporate it all, but don’t stir. Once all the sugar has dissolved, continue to heat until it turns a dark copper colour, then stir in the toasted, skinned hazelnuts (140g). Working quickly, pour the mixture on to the baking paper and leave to cool.

Once the brittle has hardened, snap off 12 shards from around the edge to decorate the cakes and set aside. Roughly break the rest into a food processor and blitz until you have a fine dust. Remove a tablespoon for decoration, then continue to blitz until the oils come out of the nuts and a paste begins to form. To make the chocolate hazelnut paste, add the melted chocolate and blitz again until combined and as smooth as possible (it will still have some crunch).

Having removed the cakes from the oven, reduce the temperature to 120°C fan. Line the baking tray you used to roast the nuts with the sheet of baking paper from the brittle. Slice the pear tops you set aside earlier into thin (2mm) rounds; no need to peel. Space them out on the tray and bake for an hour, turning halfway through. Turn off the oven and remove the pear rounds to crisp up further as they cool.

Finally, make the Italian meringue buttercream. Put the water, sugar and golden syrup in a nonstick pan and fit with a sugar thermometer. Gently heat to make a syrup, stopping when it reaches 240°F. Meanwhile, whisk the egg white in the bowl of a standalone mixer until it holds soft peaks.

Remove the syrup from the heat and, with the whisk still going, pour into the beaten egg white in a slow, steady stream. Once it’s all in, leave the mixer going until the mixture is at room temperature – you can test it by feeling the sides of the bowl – and you have a smooth, glossy meringue. It may take 5-10 minutes.

Next, still whisking, add the butter a few cubes at a time. It may look like it is curdling, but carry on beating – I promise it will come back together! Finally, add two tablespoons of the chocolate praline paste (or more to taste) and beat to combine. You are now ready to assemble.

Form a quenelle of buttercream (pass a tablespoon of the buttercream back and forth between two identical spoons until it forms a smooth, even oval, slightly pointed at each end, as demonstrated here) and place it off-centre on each cake. Sprinkle a little praline dust over the top, then add a praline shard and a couple of pear crisps, as pictured.

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Salted Caramel & Popcorn Cupcakes

IMG_0211A cupcake with caramel as the central ingredient runs the risk of being on too sickly for even the most seasoned cupcake eater (ie, me), but paired with a not-too-sweet honey and oil sponge, and a light, airy Italian meringue buttercream, I’d say these are a pretty near-perfect combo. It is perhaps a slightly intimidating recipe as it involves a lot of elements and some intermediate skills, but I have made it as simple to follow as possible. And you don’t become a good baker by playing it safe with a Victoria sponge, eh?

A note on equipment: you will need a sugar thermometer (you can buy a cheap jam-making one for about £8) and – unless you are/are dating a bodybuilder – a standalone mixer: the buttercream takes a good 20 minutes of continuous whisking to come together.

For the sponge
110g margarine
120g clear honey
1 egg
50ml sunflower oil
60g dark brown sugar
170g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
12 cupcake cases (I used muffin wraps)

For the salted caramel
70g caster sugar
4 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons golden syrup
60ml double cream
4 teaspoons butter
Maldon sea salt

For the Italian meringue buttercream
1 egg white, at room temperature
40ml water
150g caster sugar
1 teaspoon golden syrup
235g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1/2 a batch of salted caramel, above

To finish
Salted caramel or toffee popcorn
Maldon sea salt

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan and line a 12-hole cupcake tin with cases. Melt the margarine and honey in the microwave or a bain-marie. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a standalone mixer (or a bowl with an electric hand whisk), beat the egg with the melted margarine and butter. Follow with the oil and sugar and beat together. Finally, add the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix until combined.

Spoon the mixture into your lined cupcake tin and bake for 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the tin and cool on a cooling tray.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the caramel. Place the sugar, water and golden syrup in a nonstick pan. Measure out the cream and butter together in a bowl and warm gently in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute (this will help prevent the melted sugar from seizing when you add the cream and butter). Gently heat the sugar mixture, whisking until the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and leave to darken to a copper colour, then remove from the heat.

Immediately add the butter and cream and whisk together until combined. The mixture will fizz up at first when the cold hits the hot, but stir through it. If the mixture does seize and the sugar hold in clumps, gently heat, stirring the whole time, until it is smooth. Add a pinch of salt (or more to taste) and stir. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool.

While the caramel is cooling, make the buttercream. Place the egg white in the bowl of a standalone mixer and whisk on medium, until it holds soft peaks. While it’s going, place the water, sugar and golden syrup in a nonstick pan and fit with a sugar thermometer.

Gently heat to make a syrup, stopping when it reaches 240°F. Remove from the heat and, with the whisk still going, pour the syrup into the beaten egg white in a slow, steady stream to make a meringue. Once it’s all in, leave the mixer going until the meringue is at room temperature – you can test it by feeling the sides of the bowl. It may take 5-10 minutes.

Next, still whisking, add the butter a few cubes at a time until it is all used up. The meringue may well look like it is curdling, but carry on beating – I promise it will come back together! Finally, weigh out half the salted caramel and beat into the icing.

You are now ready to construct! Spoon the icing into a piping bag fitted with a wide, plain nozzle (about 2cm across, or just cut the end off the piping bag, sans nozzle). Pipe a swirl on top of the cupcakes, drizzle around a teaspoon of the remaining salted caramel over each, decorate with popcorn (I used five pieces per cake), and finish with a light sprinkle of salt.

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Gin & lime cake

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This cake really needs no explanation, because, well, what better things are there in the world than gin and sugar?

A couple of notes on ingredients: if you want to leave out the gin, this also makes a delicious lime alternative to your traditional lemon drizzle – simply skip the syrup step and leave the booze out of the icing. You’ll find juniper berries in the herbs and spices section of big supermarkets, but if you can’t get them, you can leave them out.

Now, without further ado…

For the sponge
2 limes
2 tablespoons milk
10 juniper berries
150g unsalted softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
150g self-raising flour
20g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the syrup
50ml gin
50ml tonic
50g caster sugar
5 juniper berries

For the icing
200g icing sugar
1 tablespoon gin
Extra lime zest to decorate, if wished

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Preheat your oven to 170°C fan and grease and line a loaf tin. Zest the limes, juice them and set aside the juice.

Gently heat the milk in a mug in the microwave (or on the hob) until warm. Lightly crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar then add them to the milk. Set aside to infuse.

Meanwhile, beat the sugar and butter together in the bowl of an electric mixer or with a handheld beater until pale and fluffy. Weight out the dry ingredients and have ready in case the mixture starts to curdle when you add the eggs.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating between every addition. Add a spoon of dry ingredients to bring the batter back together if it begins to curdle (having your butter and eggs both at room temperature before you begin should help prevent it).

Strain the juniper berries out of the milk and discard. Add the milk to the mixture, along with the lime zest. Beat to combine.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, lightly crush the juniper berries for the syrup in a pestle and mortar. Place them and the rest of the ingredients for the drizzle in a nonstick pan and heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for around five minutes until it reduces by about half.

Once the cake is out of the oven, pierce all over with a skewer or knife (to allow the syrup to penetrate more easily). Leave it in the tin. Sieve the syrup to remove the juniper berries and pour it over the sponge, making sure it’s fairly evenly distributed.

Leave the cake to soak and cool in the tin while you prepare the icing. Simply mix together the icing sugar, reserved lime juice and gin until smooth. If it looks too runny, add a little sugar to stiffen it up – the consistency will vary a little depending on how much juice you get out of your limes.

Keeping the cake in the tin, pour the icing over the top and spread evenly over the top. Sprinkle the top with extra lime zest, if wished. Leave to set completely in the tin before removing and peeling off the paper to serve.

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Crunchie Caramel & Chocolate Crown Cake

IMG_7400What a lovely lot of Cs that is. This cake was inspired by the humble Crunchie bar – a firm favourite – for a friend’s birthday. I vamped up my usual chocolate sponge with darker sugar for a slightly moister, fudgier cake, then layered it with caramel sauce, covered it in milk chocolate honey icing and finished it with chunks of Crunchie and a ‘crown’ of gold and silver candles. It’s a beaut.

Ingredients
50g cocoa powder (I find Green & Blacks gives the best colour)
3 eggs
50ml milk
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g margarine
175g soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar

180g caster sugar
120ml double cream
24g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g milk chocolate, ideally Dairy Milk
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g clear honey
50ml milk
500g icing sugar

2 Crunchie bars, cut into 1-2cm pieces (use a sharp, strong knife and stand, putting all your weight behind the blade, to get a clean cut)

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To make the sponge, preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line two 18 inch cake tins. Meanwhile, boil the kettle.

Take one large bowl and add the cocoa powder, then pour 6 tablespoons of just-boiled water and mix until it forms a smooth paste. Add the margarine and beat until smooth.

Then add the rest of the sponge ingredients to the bowl and mix, divide equally between the two cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until a knife into the middle comes out clean.

While the sponges are cooling, make the caramel sauce. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and cook until it melts. Don’t stir it, do swirl the pan gently to help melt all the sugar. Once it’s all melted, continue to cook until it reaches a deep copper colour.

Remove from the heat, then quickly stir in the cream, butter and vanilla extract. It will froth as the cold cream hits the hot sugar, but keep stirring and it will calm down. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

To make the icing, gently melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a bain-marie, then leave to cool slightly. Place the softened butter into the bowl of a standalone mixer (or into a mixing bowl with separate hand mixer) and beat until smooth. Then add the honey, milk and melted chocolate and beat to combine. Lastly, add the icing sugar – a little at a time to minimise icing sugar clouds – and beat for a couple of minutes.

To finish, place one sponge on a plate and spread the top with the caramel. Sandwich with the second layer and leave to set for 15 minutes or so at room temperature to prevent the top from sliding around as you ice it. Spread the icing around the sides and top of the cake with a palette knife. If you find the icing becomes too stiff to work with after a while (as it cools the chocolate will harden, making it more difficult to spread), place a couple of spoonfuls in a separate bowl and microwave to loosen for about 30 seconds, then stir back into the main bowl to loosen it up.

Finish the top in a loose swirl with the palette knife, then top with a ring of Crunchie pieces and candles, if wished.

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Loaf cake, three ways: lemon drizzle, chocolate pecan & banana

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The humble loaf cake is an under-appreciated thing. Quick, simple – hello no icing – and not too fragile to transport in foil on the underground (a very real and pressing concern of mine), they’re not going to qualify as a showstopper anytime soon, but they sure do go down well with a cup of tea. It’s all about priorities.

I’ve got three different recipes for you, all of which can be made in a standard 900g loaf tin. The lemon drizzle is one of my most popular cakes and still manages to keep that lovely citrusy tang which is so often lost in baking; I like to finish it with some cornflower or rose petals as the bright colour makes a beautiful contrast to the yellow of the sponge, but it’s just a frivolity really. My chocolate pecan has a hint of coffee in it to help bring out the depth of flavour in the cocoa powder and is lovely and dense (thanks to a much higher flour-to-egg ratio than the lemon); perfect warm with a dollop of sour cream and a cup of something hot. And lastly, the banana bread – not the prettiest of things, it has to be said, but it is one of the few cakes that I think you can justify eating for breakfast, and for that, it’s my favourite. The riper the bananas the stronger the flavour but you don’t have to wait until they’re black if you don’t have some to hand when the craving strikes; just make sure they’re soft enough to mash easily.

Lemon drizzle

150g unsalted softened butter
150g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
3 lemons
150g granulated sugar

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin. Grate the zest of 2 lemons and juice one of them (keeping the spare fruit for later).

Place the sugar, flours and baking powder in a bowl and mix. Add the butter, eggs, and lemon zest and juice and beat together for as short a time as possible to blend evenly together. With an electric beater, it should take no longer than a minute.

Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Leave it to cool slightly in the tin while you prepare the drizzle. Simply juice the remaining two lemons and mix in the granulated sugar. If you prefer a smoother glaze to the traditional grainy version, give the mixture a few short bursts in the microwave until the sugar dissolves a little.

Pierce the top of your loaf with a knife, roughly every 2cm, stopping just before the bottom of the tin. Pour the drizzle over the top and leave to set in the tin.

Chocolate pecan loaf

200g unsalted softened butter
200g soft light brown sugar
140g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon coffee granules (espresso if possible)
1 tablespoon milk
Around 50g pecans, finely chopped (I use a food processor for this)

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin. Dissolve the coffee granules in one tablespoon of boiling water and stir in the milk. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, weigh out the remaining the dry ingredients.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to bring it back together.

Lastly, add the dry ingredients and the coffee and mix until combined. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and scatter the pecans over the top to cover. Bake for about an hour, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Banana bread

125g unsalted softened butter
175g light muscovado sugar
280g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
125ml of milk
3 bananas, mashed

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Preheat your oven to 180°C fan and grease and line your loaf tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, weigh out the remaining the dry ingredients.

Add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, beating between each addition. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful of the dry ingredients to bring it back together.

Next, add half the milk, followed by half the remaining dry ingredients and beat together. Repeat. Lastly, mix in the mashed bananas and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for about one hour, until it is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. If the top begins to brown too much before the centre is cooked, cover with foil to stop it burning.

For best results, make all three at once at let cake-carnage ensue.

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Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Brownies

IMG_4996“Foodies” will tell you  that salted caramel is too ubiquitous nowadays to be considered trendy. Luckily, we’re not too fussed about trendy — because it still tastes so darn good. I spent a while playing around with my basic brownie recipe to work out the maximum chocolate content and minimum cooking time it could take and still remain a brownie rather than a chocolate-y gooey mess (and thoroughly enjoyed ‘tidying up’ the ones that ended up as the latter). I’ve also added brown sugar for a greater depth of flavour and white chocolate chunks because, well, more chocolate is always a good idea.

The caramel is surprisingly simple, so don’t let it put you off having a go, and looks really beautiful as it sinks in and creates little rivers through the brownie as it bakes. De-licious.

Ingredients

90g caster sugar
60ml double cream
a tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A good pinch of fleur de sel (plus extra for decorating)

200g dark chocolate
175g butter or margarine
200g caster sugar
125g soft light brown sugar
130g plain flour
3 medium eggs
100g white chocolate chunks

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Method

Preheat your oven to 170°C fan and grease and line a square, preferably loose-bottomed 28cm cake tin.

Start by making the caramel. Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over a low heat and cook until it melts. Don’t stir it. Do swirl the pan gently to help melt all the sugar. Once it’s all melted, continue to cook until it reaches a deep copper colour — sort of like a 2p (or 1p!) coin. Watch it like a hawk as it will turn very quickly. Remove from the heat, then stir in the cream, butter, vanilla extract and salt. It will froth as the cold cream hits the hot sugar, but keep stirring and it will calm down. Add more salt to taste, pour into a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.

Now for the brownie. Put the chocolate and margarine in a mixing bowl and melt in the microwave or over a bain-marie. Add the caster and brown sugars to the bowl and stir until it’s well-mixed. Next add the flour and repeat, followed by the eggs. Mix until you’ve got a thick, smooth batter, then add the chocolate chunks, holding back a handful for scattering on the top. Stir until well-distributed then pour into your lined tin.

Drizzle your salted caramel across the surface of the brownie. Don’t worry if it falls in blobs rather than elegant lines, we’ll fix that in a minute. Once it’s all on and roughly evenly distributed, take a sharp knife and drag it across the surface from one side of the tin to the other and back again in a zig zag sort of like the coils on the back of the fridge. Repeat in the other direction. Scatter the remaining chocolate chunks over the top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your brownies.

When they’re done, sprinkle the top with a little more salt and leave to cool in the tin. When it comes to cutting them, a hot knife will make your life a little easier. You may find you need to pop the brownies in the fridge for a while to firm up before attempting it. I suggest you cut them into small squares as they’re quite rich — you can always have two.

This is one of those brilliant bakes which improves over time, too, so leave for 24 hours before tucking in to let the flavours develop and they also freeze really well.

Chocolate Malteser Layer Cake

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This is my most requested recipe by far, and it also happens to be the easiest thing I make, so by sharing this I might be about to lose all my credibility as a baker. But needs must, and you really need to taste this.

It’s also a bit of a cheat because it’s not actually 100% my recipe. The sponge is from HRH Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, and it’s now replaced Delia’s all-in-one (sorry, Delia) as my go-to chocolate cake. It’s beautifully light and fluffy, made with basic store cupboard ingredients and, most importantly, super quick and easy. The thing (and my only contribution) that makes this basic chocolate cake ‘malteser’ is the addition of malted milk powder buttercream. Yep, it’s time to dig out that slightly-solid pot of Horlicks or Ovaltine at the back of your nan’s cupboard; this incredibly retro ingredient is making a very delicious comeback.

Ingredients

50g cocoa powder
3 eggs
50ml milk
175g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g margarine
275g caster sugar

250g unsalted butter, softened
500g icing sugar
35g malted milk powder (you’ll usually find it in the hot drinks section of the supermarket, with the hot chocolate and coffee)
125g good quality milk chocolate, I use Dairy Milk
30g packet of Maltesers

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Method

Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line two 18 inch cake tins. Meanwhile, leave the kettle to boil.

Take one large bowl and add the cocoa powder to the bottom, then pour 6 tablespoons of boiling water on top and mix until it forms a smooth paste. (Don’t be tempted to try it, it looks like it should taste delicious, it doesn’t.)

Add all the rest of the sponge ingredients to the bowl and mix, then divide equally between the two cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes. Turn out the sponges onto a cooling rack and leave until completely (you’ve guessed it) cool. It’s literally that simple. My cake rep ends here.

For the icing, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a bain-marie, then leave to cool slightly.

Place the softened butter into the bowl of a standalone mixer (or into a mixing bowl with separate hand mixer) and beat until soft. Next, add the icing sugar – a little at a time to minimise icing sugar clouds.

Lastly, mix in the malted milk powder and the melted chocolate until well combined.

To assemble, simply spread half the icing on the first layer, sandwich and spread the second half on the top, then decorate with the Maltesers. I like to place them in a ring around the edge as I find them a useful marker for cutting slices (ie. ‘do you want one Malteser or two?’), but feel free to go crazy and decorate however you wish.

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Peanut butter cupcakes

IMG_5072Firstly, friends, my apologies for how long it’s been since I last posted. Most of my cake-energy has been subsumed by writing an absolutely mammoth guide to the 50 best bakeries in London for the Evening Standard. I know, excuses, excuses. It nearly cost me my love of cake (for all you might say my job is great, after the fifth bakery in a day I defy anyone to feel anything but ill) but 3,000+ words later and probably a stone heavier I’m done and recovered. So it’s back to it at Pippa Bakes.

We’re starting with these beauties – peanut butter cupcakes. I love the flavour of peanut butter, but find it too salty and the texture too cloying to actually enjoy out of the tub. Well, while on my cake guide travels, I spent a very pleasant half hour at the Primrose Bakery tucking into a peanut butter cupcake and – a revelatory moment – it was incredible; possibly the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten.

Sadly, there’s no recipe for peanut butter cupcakes in either of the Primrose Bakery cookbooks I own, so I did my best to make it up instead. I started with my basic vanilla sponge cupcake recipe, switched the caster sugar for dark brown because it seemed somehow more suited, and ladled in that peanut butter to taste. Smooth, obviously. They’re finished off with milk chocolate buttercream (with a bit more peanut butter for good measure) and peanut brittle. Not quite as good as Primrose, but near enough.

Ingredients
75g unsalted butter or margarine
180g soft dark brown sugar
3 heaped tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 eggs
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
65ml milk

100g milk chocolate
100g unsalted butter
500g icing sugar
1 dessert spoon peanut butter (or more, to taste)

80g caster sugar
60g unsalted peanuts

Makes  12.

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan and line a cupcake tray with cases.

Cream together the butter/margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the peanut butter and beat again until incorporated.

Weigh out the remaining dry ingredients so they’re ready, then add the eggs one at a time, beating between each. If the mixture begins to curdle, add a spoonful or two of flour to help bring it back together.

Next, beat in a third of the flour, followed by half the milk. Repeat, then finish up with the final third of flour.

Divide equally between your cupcake cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until an inserted knife comes out clean. Leave to cool entirely.

Now to make the peanut brittle so it has time to set. Caramel may defeat Great British Bake Off contestants when they’re under pressure, but in the comfort of your own kitchen it’s really nothing to be frightened of.

First, get out a non-stick baking sheet or piece of greaseproof paper and lay it in a baking tray. Take a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan and place it over a medium heat, then add the sugar and don’t stir. Give the pan an occasional shake as the sugar begins to melt and leave over the heat until it’s all melted, then continue to cook until it reaches a deep copper colour – a bit like a 2p coin. If it starts to smoke, turn down the heat; you don’t want to burn it.

When it’s ready, pour in the peanuts and stir quickly before it begins to set, then pour onto your prepared baking sheet and flatten with the back of the spoon so it’s all one-peanut deep.

Leave to set at room temperature and then use your hands to snap it into small, cupcake-ready pieces.

For the icing, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a bain-marie and set aside to cool. Cream the butter until smooth, then add the icing sugar a bit at a time until well combined and fluffy. Lastly, mix in the milk and melted chocolate and peanut butter, adding more to taste if you wish. Pipe or spread liberally on top and finish each with a piece of brittle.

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The Great British Parkin-Off

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Unless you have some kind of connection with Yorkshire, the likelihood is you have no idea what parkin is. Well, it’s a kind of gingerbread cake made with oatmeal and treacle. It’s moreish and not too sweet, and it’s easy to make. It also happens to be a Bailey-family favourite and is made in the shed-load by my northern lass of a Grandma, Irene, before she visits us in London.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I picked up a copy of Paul Hollywood’s latest book, British Baking, and found a recipe for – you’ve guessed it – Yorkshire Parkin. Well there was nothing for it but to have a little competition between the two. This week, my favourite little sous-chef, chief-taster and fellow parkin-fan, Joe, got in on the action too.

First up, Grandma Bailey. She usually measures this recipe with the same cup every time, but seeing as we don’t have access to that cup (I’m expecting to have it bequeathed to me in her will), she has very kindly converted it into grams for us.

Ingredients
100g margarine
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 tablespoon golden syrup
125g medium oatmeal
125g wholemeal bread flour
90g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
210ml milked, boiled

Method
Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line a roughly 20x20cm cake tin.

Melt the margarine, treacle and syrup in a bowl in the microwave or on the hob. Add the dry ingredients and stir together. Lastly, add the milk and mix. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes.

NB: Parkin is best left to sit, wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil, for 24 hours before eating, to let the flavours mature and to develop that characteristic sticky top.

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A little family joke, spotted on holiday in Barcelona last year

Now, over to Paul…

Ingredients
225g margarine
110g golden syrup
110g black treacle
2 eggs
125ml milk
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
225g dark muscovado sugar
225g medium oatmeal

Method
Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line a roughly 20x20cm cake tin.

Again, melt your margarine, syrup and treacle in the microwave or on the hob.

Lightly beat the eggs into the milk with a fork.

Add the dry ingredients to the melted mixture and stir, followed by the eggs and milk.

Pour into the tin and bake for 45 minutes. Just like Grandma’s parkin, I recommend you leave this to sit for a day or two before tucking in. It may be hard to resist, but it’s definitely worth the wait.

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Grandma Bailey’s, left, and Paul Hollywood’s, right

The verdict? If you like your parkin slightly denser, egg-free and lower in sugar, Grandma Bailey is your girl; it really is the cake of my childhood. On the other hand, Paul’s is lighter textured and has a richer, more adult flavour. At risk of being forever excommunicated from the family, I’m a Paul-convert. By a fraction. Please forgive me Grandma. But, to be honest, you can’t really go far wrong with either; both are delicious – Joe certainly seemed to think so.

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Chocolate Yule Log

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Every year before Christmas my girl friends from school and I celebrate what we have very creatively titled ‘Mini Christmas’, where we eat too much, laugh a lot and open our secret Santa presents. I was on pudding duty, so I went for a festive classic: the chocolate yule log.

This recipe gets repeated year after year in my house and is originally a Delia Smith one, but has morphed a little over the years. It is a fatless and flour-less sponge and relies entirely on eggs as the raising agent. Folding the mixture together requires a little patience, but the result is a beautifully light, moist sponge.

Before dinner last night, a few people requested we save them a piece and I (foolishly, with hindsight) said we would because there was no way we’d eat the whole thing. Needless to say, I was wrong; we ate it all. I wish I could use ‘well, it is Christmas’ as an excuse, but, to be honest, we’d probably have done the same any time of year.

Ingredients

6 eggs
150g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
450ml double cream
150g dark chocolate
Icing sugar, for dusting
50g marzipan, optional

Method

Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and grease and line a 29x18cm tin with greaseproof paper

Separate the egg whites from the yolks and set them aside. Whisk the egg yolks until they thicken slightly, then add the sugar and cocoa powder, beating for a minute or so after each addition.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Take a couple of spoons of the egg whites and fold into the chocolate mixture. This helps loosen the mixture up a little before you add the rest; it’s better to knock the air out of a small amount of egg whites at this stage than all of them in the next.

Next, add the rest of the egg whites to the mix and gently fold together until smooth. This will take a few minutes. Pour into the lined tray, holding the bowl close to the surface so as not to knock too much air out on impact. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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Leave it to cool in the tin; it will shrink away from the sides and fall slightly. I like to pre-roll the sponge to loosen it up a little so it rolls easier with the cream. Lay a piece of greaseproof paper, a little larger than the tin, on the work surface and dust it with a little icing sugar. Carefully turn your sponge out onto it, long end towards you, then peel away the piece that lined the tin. Use a knife to score along one of the long edges, about 1cm in, taking care not to cut the whole way through. Then, taking the greaseproof with you, roll it up into a log shape. Leave to rest for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip 300ml of the cream until stiff, adding a little sugar to sweeten if you prefer. Unroll the sponge and spread the cream over the top then re-roll (without the greaseproof inside this time!) Wrap it nice and tightly in cling film and place in the fridge for half an hour, or overnight.

When you’re ready to decorate, gently heat the remaining cream in a pan on the hob until it begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until you have a smooth ganache. Leave to cool for 20 minutes to half an hour until it’s spreadable.

Remove the sponge log from the cling film and place it on your serving dish. At this point you can just leave it as a single piece, but I like to chop off about a third and place it cut-end against the rest of the log at an angle to resemble a branch. Spoon the ganache a bit at a time onto the log and ease down the sides with a palette knife. Once it’s covered, use the end of the knife to scrape wood patterns into the ganache, then clean up the serving dish around the edge with a wet cloth.

At this point, you can just dust with icing sugar and serve, or you can make the marzipan decorations. For this, you’ll require green and red food colouring pastes and a holly leaf veined plunger or if, like me, you don’t have one, get creative with what you do have. Colour a little of the marzipan red and roll it into small balls for the berries, then colour the remainder green, roll out and cut into leaf shapes. You can do it with a knife instead if you don’t have anything else, though it is a little more fiddly. Decorate, dust with icing sugar and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

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