A student's guide to baking

Posts tagged ‘Chocolate’

Choux Pastry Buns

Strawberry and orange cream choux buns

Ingredients (makes 18):

  • 120ml water
  • 40g butter
  • 60g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 orange, zest
  • 150g strawberries

Recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 220ºC and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  • In a saucepan, heat the butter and water together over a medium heat until the butter melts. Bring the mixture to the boil before immediately removing from the heat.
  • Add in the flour when you take the mixture off the heat and stir vigorously and continuously with a wooden spoon until it forms a soft ball. Cook over a low heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from the heat once more and leave the mixture to cool. Add the eggs, beating each one in fully without adding the next, to create a shiny and smooth paste.
  • Using a piping bag, pipe the pastry into 3.5cm wide discs.
  • Bake at 220ºC for 8 minutes and then at 180ºC for 8 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the pastry inside with door ajar for a further 5 minutes.
  • Once the choux pastry has finished in the oven, take the buns out and leave them on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Whip the cream until it starts to thicken and hold its shape a little. At this point, add in the orange zest and then continue whipping the cream until it forms stiff peaks.
  • Garnish the tops with halved strawberries.

Despite the fact that neither of us had ever made choux pastry before, my girlfriend Ele and I decided one afternoon to have a go at making chocolate éclairs. Sadly we didn’t quite get it right the first time and the pastry didn’t rise as much as it should, so we ended up with éclair buns that were a bit thinner and wider than they ought to have been. We covered them in chocolate ganache and cream regardless and they still tasted just as good.

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Choux pastry isn’t too complicated when it comes to the ingredients, so we decided to have another go, which yielded more successful results. Having already used a lot of the chocolate we’d planned on turning into the ganache, we changed tactics and decided to make a more simpler choux pastry bun and use some of the fruit I had instead.

It’s a fairly simple recipe, and a good one for starting off with choux pastry, as it doesn’t require quite the same structural integrity and perfect appearance that you have with an éclair. It’s also one that you can easily tailor to whatever fruit you prefer or just happen to have in the kitchen at the time. Using lighter summer fruit flavours tends to work better with the gentleness of the choux pastry, so I’d recommend at least sticking to that to begin with.

The sadly less than perfect chocolate éclairs.

The sadly less than perfect chocolate éclairs.

Carnation Cupcakes

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Ingredients (makes 36 total, 12 of each colour):

White:

The cake:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 lemon, zest

The icing:

  • 125g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice

Pink:

The cake:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 12 squares of dark chocolate
  • 12 raspberries

The icing:

  • 125g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 12 raspberries

Red:

The cake:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

The icing:

  • 125g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Red food dye/colouring

Carnation cupcakes 2

Recipe:

  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC and line 3 muffin tins with cupcake cases. If you don’t have 3 trays, you can make them one colour at a time, remembering to wash and dry the tray after each round.

Each of these cupcakes starts with the same basic recipe:

  • Mix together the butter and caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and sieve in the flour. Add the milk and stir until the mixture is smooth and consistent.
  • For the white cupcake, stir in the lemon zest until it’s evenly spread throughout the mixture. Split the mixture between the cupcake cases.
  • For the pink cupcake, sieve in the cocoa powder after adding the flour. Fill each cupcake case half full with the mixture, then place a square of chocolate and a raspberry in the middle of each before pouring the remaining mixture on top.
  • For the red cupcake, add in the vanilla essence before dividing the mixture between the cases.
  • All of the cakes should be baked for 15-18 minutes at 180ºC. Remember to use the knife test to check before removing them from the oven. If you don’t have room in the oven for all 3 colours at once or are only using 1 muffin tray, place them in the centre of the oven to bake.
  • When the cakes are done, remove them from the oven and leave them to cool.

Set a timer so that you don’t lose track of time, and then you can start making the icings. Again, the icing for each different cake starts with the same basic recipe:

  • Beat butter until soft. Sieve in the icing sugar and mix together until the buttercream is pale and forms stiff peaks. As you’re going to be piping and you want the design to hold it’s shape, continue beating the mixture until it’s stiff and holds its shape well.
  • For the white icing, stir in the lemon juice and beat thoroughly.
  • For the pink icing, add in the raspberries and beat thoroughly. The mixture should turn a light pink colour.
  • For the red icing, add in the red food dye or colouring, following the instructions as to how much to use. The icing should turn a bright red colour.
  • Leave the icing to cool in the fridge briefly whilst you’re waiting for the cakes to cool.
  • Once the cakes are cool, you can start icing. Do make sure that the cakes are at room temperature before you begin, or else the icing will melt and start to run.
  • Use a piping bag with a cross-headed nozzle, preferable with one point being slightly longer than the others. Pipe small circular ‘petals’ in a clockwise direction, spiralling inwards to the centre.
  • Once the cakes are iced, leave them in the fridge to allow the icing to set fully.

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One of the many Oxford traditions when it comes to exams is wearing a carnation to mark your progression through your exam period. You start with a white carnation for your first exam, then a pink carnation for all of your middle exams, and you finish with a red one to mark your final exam. It’s a popular tradition in Oxford in May and June, and it’s rather lovely when you get congratulations on the street from people who see you wearing your red carnation.

Part of the tradition is that someone else has to buy your carnations for you, as its apparently bad luck to buy them for yourself. In some ways though, it’s just nice to find flowers in your pigeon hole when you’re otherwise surrounded by revision, even if those flowers do remind you of the upcoming ordeal.

In addition to the carnations, many people also give each other chocolate and sweets as kind little gestures around this time. To those of you worrying about the state of pre-exam nutrition, most colleges also offer a Fruit for Finalists scheme, where you can also get fruit rather than living off a diet of Dairy Milk and Lindt. I particularly like this culture of giving and gestures of goodwill around the time of exams, so I came up with these carnation cupcakes as a way to combine both aspects.

When it came to posting the cakes to various people’s pigeon holes, I put each set into resealable airtight sandwich bags to stop them from drying out, and I wrote a little note, wishing them good luck for their exams and explaining what the flavours were in each cake.

Naturally of course, I couldn’t just do vanilla cupcakes with different coloured icing on top, so I decided to have different flavours for each cupcake. I’ve always been a fan of lemon flavours in cake, and it also lent itself well to keeping the colour a light creamy white, so I went with that the for the first one.

As I’ve mentioned in my melt-in-the-middle chocolate and raspberry cupcakes, I really liked the concept as a cake in itself, and using the raspberries helped not only to create a contrast with the dark chocolate and lighten the taste, but also to create a naturally pink icing for the cake. I also liked the added ‘middleness’ of the cake, in that there was a nice surprise in the middle with the melted chocolate and raspberry as an extra boost, as well as it being the middle cake and carnation of the three. I decided to keep the final cupcake simple, sticking with a reliable vanilla cupcake, and using food dye to achieve the red colour.

Another advantage of using vanilla for the last one is that it would last better than the other two cakes, as there wasn’t any fresh fruit in the cake. As someone who had to have 2 pink carnation flowers to last them through the exam period in first year because the first one was in danger of withering before I reached the final exam, I was aware that exams can end up being spread over some time, and I wanted people to still have the option of eating each cake as they donned the matching coloured carnation.

For those of you who may be wondering what I did about my own carnations and arguably more importantly, my exams, I thankfully didn’t have any. At undergraduate level, the arts subjects only have exams at the end of the first year and at the end of the final year, so I spent last term as I did any other: writing essays, doing translations, and reading. However, many of my friends had exams, whether they were 2nd year science subject exams, first year Prelims or fourth year linguist Finals, so I spent a lot of last term baking these too!

Carnation cupcakes

Coffee Cream Éclairs

Coffee cream éclairs

Ingredients (makes 12):

Choux pastry:

  • 120ml water
  • 40g butter
  • 60g plain flour
  • 2 eggs

Coffee cream filling:

  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp finely ground coffee

Chocolate ganache icing:

  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 40g dark chocolate, in small pieces

Recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 220ºC and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  • In a saucepan, heat the butter and water together over a medium heat until the butter melts. Bring the mixture to the boil before immediately removing from the heat.
  • Add in the flour when you take the mixture off the heat and stir vigorously and continuously with a wooden spoon until it forms a soft ball. Cook over a low heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from the heat once more and leave the mixture to cool. Add the eggs, beating each one in fully without adding the next, to create a shiny and smooth paste.
  • Using a piping bag with a 2cm nozzle, pipe the pastry into 15cm long logs, leaving about 3cm between each.
  • Bake at 220ºC for 8 minutes, and then at 180ºC for 10 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the pastry inside with the door ajar for a further 5 minutes.
  • Once the choux pastry has finished in the oven, take the buns out and leave them on a wire rack to cool completely.
The choux pastry buns before adding the cream and chocolate ganache.

The choux pastry buns before adding the cream and chocolate ganache.

Whilst you’re waiting for the buns to cool, you can make the filling and icing:

  • To make the glaze, heat the milk and chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave on a medium setting for 20 seconds.
  • Remove from the microwave and stir the mixture gently until the chocolate melts to form a ganache. Leave the mixture to cool in the fridge until needed.
  • To make the filling, beat the cream with the icing sugar, vanilla extract and ground coffee until stiff peaks form. Store in the fridge until needed.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut a horizontal slit down one side of the cooled éclair buns. Fill the buns with the coffee cream and spread the chocolate icing over the top.
  • Place the buns in the fridge to allow the icing to set.

(Recipe adapted from: http://wholesome-cook.com/2014/07/17/coffee-cream-eclairs-and-the-only-choux-pastry-recipe-youll-ever-need/)

When chatting to Becky, one of my closest friends, a couple of months ago, we realised that despite having spoken about our respective baking endeavours on many an occasion, we’d never actually baked together. We’d shared ideas, recipes and tips, but we figured it was about time that we made something together rather than just talk about it. Given that I’m now out of the country on my Year Abroad, and I’m not going to be spending much time in the UK for the next 12 months or so, we settled on a date.

And so we baked. We’d spent some time deliberating over what we wanted to make, eventually settling on éclairs because Becky had never worked with choux pastry before, and I wanted to have a go at éclairs! (Plus they’d be easier to divide up afterwards.)

We did the usual things one does when baking: getting flour all over the hob, coating the walls in icing sugar, eating any remaining mixture that was sadly left unused at the bottom of the bowls… (I see you with your judging eyes, don’t pretend you don’t do it too.) We even ended up making a bit too much of the coffee cream filling, so once we’d finished baking, we treated ourselves to some chocolate-infused coffee with the leftover cream added for good measure and an éclair each.

I particularly enjoyed baking with Becky, because it sort of brought things full circle for me. She and another good friend from home, Charlotte, were the ones who about this time last year kept telling me to watch The Great British Bake Off until I finally caved into the pressure and agreed to watch the first episode of the new series. Looking back, I’m very glad I did. Since then, I’ve become hooked on the show and been inspired to start baking, much to the delight of my family and friends. One year later, and here I am!

Melt-in-the-middle Chocolate and Raspberry Cupcakes

Melt-in-the-middle chocolate and raspberry cupcakes

Ingredients (makes 12):

The cake:

  • 35g butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 130g plain flour
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of sode
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 185ml milk
  • 12 squares dark chocolate

The frosting:

  • 170g butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 500g fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a muffin tray with 12 cupcake cases.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs and stir in the vanilla.
  • Sieve in the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.
  • Pour in the milk and mix well.
  • Half fill the cupcake cases and then put one square of chocolate on top. Top up the cupcakes with the remaining mixture, being careful not to overfill the cases, as they’ll rise in the oven.
  • Bake for around 15 minutes, or until they pass the knife test.
  • Once the cakes have finished baking, remove them from the oven and leave them to cool on a wire rack.

Whilst they’re in the oven, you can make a start on the frosting:

  • Beat the butter in a mixing bowl until soft.
  • Sieve in the icing sugar and mix carefully and thoroughly until peaks start to form.
  • Add in the vanilla extract and the raspberries, saving some for decoration. I tend to go for 2 raspberries per cupcake, so put 24 to one side, and mix in the rest with the buttercream.
  • Using either a palette knife or a piping bag, apply the icing to the top of the cooled cakes.

(Recipes from: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/24811/chocolate-melt-cupcakes.aspx (cake) and http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/dark-chocolate-cupcakes-with-raspberry-buttercream-frosting/ (frosting))

IMG_5975

My girlfriend, Ele, is another avid baker, so when she ended up getting a lot of raspberries on offer at the end of the market one day, using them to make some form of cake seemed the most logical thing for us to do.

One of my flatmates from last year, Jennifer, regularly made melt-in-the-middle chocolate muffins during term, so naturally I was eager to try the idea too.

The result of these two ideas was therefore what you see here: melt-in-the-middle chocolate cupcakes with a hearty topping of raspberry buttercream icing. I was so taken by it, in fact, that I ended up using the idea for my Carnation cupcakes.

Normally I bake for an occasion, or at least I find an occasion to bake a certain recipe that I want to try, but that wasn’t really the case here. Instead, this was baking for necessity, in order to try and use up some of the raspberries quickly. It did prove useful in that I got to have a go at making melt-in-the-middle cupcakes and get an idea for the kind of consistency I wanted, but even so, there wasn’t a particular occasion that the cakes were intended for. As you’d expect though, we weren’t short of people to help us eat them.

They say that money can’t buy you happiness, but money can buy ingredients with which you can bake. If baking doesn’t make you happy, then I’m not sure what will. One of my main plans for meeting new people and making new friends when I’m on my Year Abroad next year is genuinely to bake and bribe people into being my friends through the use of baked goods. You may laugh at me from your moral high ground, but when the cakes come out of the oven and are just sitting ready on the side, there are few who can resist. Me included.

Earth Cake

Earth cake

Ingredients:

Inner layer – Vanilla sponge:

  • 120g butter
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

Middle layer – Lemon sponge:

  • 180g butter
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 180g self-raising flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 lemon, zest

Outer layer – Chocolate orange sponge:

  • 240g butter
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 240g self-raising flour
  • 120g cocoa powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 1 large orange, zest

Icing:

  • 500g fondant icing
  • Green food dye or colouring
  • Blue food dye or colouring
  • Icing sugar for rolling

TOTAL INGREDIENTS:

  • 540g butter
  • 540g caster sugar
  • 540g self-raising flour
  • 9 eggs
  • 9 tbsp (135ml) milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 lemon, zest
  • 120g cocoa powder
  • 1 large orange, zest
  • 500g fondant icing
  • Green and blue food dye or colouring
  • Icing sugar for rolling
All the ingredients, ready to go! (I was also making religieuses and brownies on the same day, hence the obscene number of eggs amongst other things)

All the ingredients, ready to go! (I was also making religieuses and brownies on the same day, hence the obscene number of eggs amongst other things.)

Pull up a chair and put the kettle on; we’re in for a long ride. With a combined baking time of 3 hours, plus time for preparing the mixture and icing the finished cake, you’re going to be in the kitchen for a while…

As the seemingly never-ending list of ingredients suggests, this is probably the most complex thing I’ve baked so far. Essentially, it’s three layers of cake, covered with fondant icing. To help you along the way, I took photos of the various things so that you should have an idea of how your baking should look before you get to the end.

A few words of warning before you begin: for this recipe, you’re going to need 3 hemisphere tins or pyrex bowls of different sizes, such that you can fit one inside the other to get the layered effect. The structure of this cake works by baking each layer into the next one, thereby removing the need for any form of adhesive to hold the whole cake together.

To try and make things a bit easier, I altered the recipe for each cake so that all was required was making up the same basic cake recipe and then adding the flavour as appropriate. Feel free to change the flavourings, but bear in mind that you want the inner layer to have a more runny texture initially, as it’ll be baked 3 times in total. If you do change the type of cake you’re using, then the baking times may also be different. In case you’re unsure about whether a layer is baked, leave it in for a little longer. In this case, it’s far better to have a slightly over-baked cake, as you’ll have to trim the layers, but once you remove the cake from the oven, it stops baking and putting it back in may not be enough to save it. The best thing I can recommend with this is to keep a close eye on the oven as you near the end of the recommended baking time to see when it’s done.

Recipe:

  • Start by preheating your oven to 160ºC, and grease the smallest bowl or tin.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until the mixture is pale and stiff.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the texture is smooth, and then sieve in the flour.
  • Pour in the milk and mix.
  • Add in the vanilla essence.
  • Transfer the mixture into your greased smallest bowl or tin and bake for about 45 minutes.
The first layer pre-oven baking.

The first layer pre-oven baking.

While that’s baking, you can get started on the next layer, but bear in mind that you have to wait for the first layer to have finished baking and cooled before you can put the next one in the oven.

You can make up the next layers when the first is baking and put them in the fridge to cool whilst you’re waiting.

You can make up the next layers when the first is baking and put them in the fridge to cool whilst you’re waiting.

  • As before, cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until the mixture is pale and stiff.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the texture is smooth, and then sieve in the flour.
  • Pour in the milk and mix.
  • Add in the lemon zest and beat to ensure an even distribution throughout the mixture.
  • Transfer the mixture to the your greased middle-sized bowl or tin.
  • Once the first layer is baked, remove it from the bowl and leave it to cool. When it’s cool enough to the touch, check that the bottom is round and unbroken, using a sharp knife to shape it if needs be.
  • Once it’s smooth, press it into the centre of your middle layer mixture, and bake for 60 minutes.
The second layer, with the first already-baked layer in it.

The second layer, with the first already-baked layer in it.

The first two layers cooling upside down. The inner layer will rise as the next layer bakes, but you can make it even at the end.

The first two layers cooling upside down. The inner layer will rise as the next layer bakes, but you can make it even at the end.

The next thing to do is make the final, outer layer of cake:

  • As you’ll probably have gathered by now, follow the same plan as before: cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until the mixture is pale and stiff.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the texture is smooth, and then sieve in the flour.
  • Sieve in the cocoa powder, and then pour in the milk and mix.
  • Add in the orange zest and beat to ensure an even distribution throughout the mixture.
  • Transfer the mixture to the your greased largest bowl or tin.
  • Once the middle layer is baked, remove it from the bowl and leave it to cool. When it’s cool enough to the touch, check that the bottom is round and unbroken, using a sharp knife to shape it if needs be.
  • Once it’s smooth, press it into the centre of your outer layer mixture, and bake for 75 minutes.
  • When that’s finished, remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool. You can now turn off the oven at last.
  • Once the cake is cool, use a sharp serrated knife, such as a bread knife, to flatten the top of your cake carefully. Turn the cake upside down so that the layers are facing down and unseen, and leave to one side.
All three layers of baked cake. As previously suggested, this does have a tendency to mushroom as each successive layer rises from beneath the previous cooked cake.

All three layers of baked cake. As previously suggested, this does have a tendency to mushroom as each successive layer rises from beneath the previous cooked cake.

However, with the use of a sharp knife, you can create a flat base for your cake.

However, with the use of a sharp knife, you can create a flat base for your cake.

For the icing and assembly:

  • Dust a surface with icing sugar and, using a rolling pin, roll out your fondant icing.
  • Split the icing roughly in half, and put one half to one side for now.
  • To the remaining icing, apply your blue food dye or colouring. The quantities of this will depend on the substance you’re using. I used strong food dye, so a pea-sized amount was plenty to give the icing a bright colour. If in down, remember the mantra of all one-way processes such as baking and painting: less is best. You can always add more afterwards, but you can’t take out the colour once it’s mixed in.
You want your icing to have a bright and consistent colour, especially for the blue for the sea.

You want your icing to have a bright and consistent colour, especially for the blue for the sea.

  • Roll out the icing again until you have a large circular piece of blue icing.
  • Your cake should now have completed cooled, so transfer the blue icing to it, draping it over the rolling pin to help carry it.
  • Make sure that the icing completely covers the cake on all sides with no tears, and use a sharp knife to trim the sides.
  • Apply the green food dye or colouring to your remaining icing, and roll it out.
  • Using a sharp knife, carve it into the shape of the landmass(es) of your choice. I would highly recommend having a map or image to work from here.
  • Once you’ve got your green icing cut to shape, apply it to the cake, being careful not to rip it in the process.
A finished slice. I appreciate that the inner layer is rather difficult to see, given that it’s almost the same colour as the middle layer, but I promise you, it was there!

A finished slice. I appreciate that the inner layer is rather difficult to see, given that it’s almost the same colour as the middle layer, but I promise you, it was there!

Congratulations, you’re finished!

(Inspired by http://cakecrumbs.me/2013/05/24/commission-earth-structural-layer-cake/)

As I mentioned earlier, it’s far better to risk over-baking the layers on this one. Unfortunately, I learnt that lesson the hard way… On the plus side, you can eat it like a pudding with custard, except that it’s with cake mix instead!

As I mentioned earlier, it’s far better to risk over-baking the layers on this one. Unfortunately, I learnt that lesson the hard way… On the plus side, you can eat it like a pudding with custard, except that it’s with cake mix instead!

Be warned; this may look baked on the outside, but pyrex bowls are much slower to cook the inside of a cake than metal tins.

Be warned; this may look baked on the outside, but pyrex bowls are much slower to cook the inside of a cake than metal tins.

I saw this idea on the Internet somewhere quite some time ago and was immediately taken by it. One of my close friends and flatmates from last year, Kesia, studies Earth Sciences, so naturally my first thought when I saw this was to make it for her for some occasion. Unfortunately, her birthday is in August, so doing it as a birthday cake would have required considerable planning and organisation.

When I came across this recipe, I had only just started baking, and so I decided to leave it for when I had a bit more expertise in the kitchen and could make a decent attempt at such a complex cake! Thankfully, the two timing requirements came together in the form of a post-exams celebration for Kesia, as she had exams at the end of last year, whereas, being a languages student at Oxford, I didn’t, so I had more time to focus on baking rather than revising.

I had mentioned to Kesia that it would be good to have some sort of celebration for her at the end of her exam period, especially as she was going to miss the last night of term because of a field trip. I’d said that I’d make something for the occasion, so she was expecting baking of some kind, but I’d managed to keep the idea itself a secret from her until it was unveiled.

I decided to do a map of Europe for a couple of reasons: firstly, because it would be fairly easy and hopefully recognisable, despite my less than gallery-worthy art skills. I also decided to go with a European theme, because it was the last day that Kesia was going to be in Oxford with Tess (another close friend and flatmate) and I before we went left for our Year Abroad next year.

I did also make brownies for the celebration, and so as a joke, I presented her with those initially, claiming that they were like a tray of soil, but baked. Being the wonderfully kind person she is, she was very grateful, so I did have to say that I was in fact joking, and then brought out the main cake. Few words were exchanged and many were speechless, but the noises of appreciation and amazement as we were cutting and eating the cake seemed to be a sign of positive feedback!

Religieuses

P1090104

Ingredients (makes 8):

Choux pastry:

  • 60g butter
  • 150ml water
  • 75g plain flour
  • 2 eggs

Crème pâtissière:

  • 500ml full-fat milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 20g cornflour
  • 25g plain flour

Chocolate ganache:

  • 150ml double cream
  • 200g plain chocolate, pieces

Collar cream:

  • 150ml double cream

Recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 220ºC. On a piece of baking paper, draw eight circles 5cm wide and eight circles 2.5cm wide, and use it to line a baking tray
  • In a saucepan, heat the butter and water together over a medium heat until the butter melts. Bring the mixture to the boil before immediately removing from the heat.
  • Add in the flour when you take the mixture off the heat and stir vigorously and continuously with a wooden spoon until it forms a soft ball. Cook over a low heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from the heat once more and leave the mixture to cool. Add the eggs, beating each one in fully before adding the next, to create a shiny and smooth paste.
  • Spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a 1.5cm nozzle and pipe round discs onto the baking tray in the marked circle. Dampen your finger and gentle smoothen the top of each disc.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes at 220ºC, then reduce the temperature to 190ºC and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove the choux pastry buns from the oven and pierce each with a skewer to allow the steam and heat to escape. Turn the oven off and put the choux buns back in for 4-5 minutes to dry. Remove once more from the oven and leave them to cool.

For the crème pâtissière:

  • Add the milk and vanilla seeds to a saucepan and gradually bring to the boil. Once the mixture has started to boil, remove from the heat and leave it to cool for 30 seconds.
  • Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together until pale, then add in the cornflour and plain flour to the mixture. Combine with the vanilla-flavoured milk and whisk continuously.
  • Bring the mixture back to the boil over a medium heat whilst continuing to whisk and cook for 1 minute.
  • Pour the crème pâtissière into a bowl and cover it with cling film, as doing so will prevent it from forming a skin. Put the bowl in the fridge to cool.

For the chocolate ganache icing:

  • Bring the double to a boil in small pan, and then remove from the heat.
  • Add in the chocolate and stir consistently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is shiny.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and leave in the fridge to cool until the ganache is thick but still spreadable.

For the cream collar:

  • Whip the double cream in a bowl until peaks start to form.

To assemble the religieuse:

  • Spoon the crème pâtissière into a piping bag with a long thin nozzle, and use it to fill the buns.
  • With a teaspoon, gently spread the chocolate ganache over the top of each bun, using the ganache to help keep the smaller bun on top of the larger.
  • Spoon the cream for the collar into a piping bag with a star shaped nozzle. Pipe a collar of cream around the joining point between the two buns.

(Recipe adapted from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/religieuse_46431)

Now, I must be honest with you here and tell you that when I first tried to make these, my crème pâtissière really didn’t work as I’d hoped. As you can see, the mixture was far too thin, as the milk I was using had too high a water content and too low a fat content. I have since learnt the error of my ways. One of the things I also took from the experience was that with some things, no amount of whisking is going to make them thick enough to resemble cream in any form, and you’ll just end up with a vanilla-flavoured milk substance that refuses to change texture.

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Please don’t tell Mary Berry!

I was first introduced to religieuses, as with many baked goods, through The Great British Bake Off, and I loved the concept. As a long-time lover of profiteroles, the idea of stacking them seemed like genius. I will admit, the fact that the name is French may have also been a contributing factor in my love for these delicacies, especially because of the wonderful attempts at pronouncing the name made by the various GBBO contestants and presenters.

The French name, for the finished good as well as the choux pastry and crème pâtissière, made this recipe a clear forerunner when it came to deciding what to bake for a French tea party. (Yes, French tea party. I’ll explain.) Once the words ‘tea party’ had been mentioned, I naturally felt an obligation to don my apron and bake something for the occasion. Hence the French connection to religieuses.

At the end of my second year studying French and German at Oxford, our French language tutor offered to host our final class in her flat nearby. Given that it was the end of the year and we were preparing to go off on our Years Abroad, our only task was to produce a hilariously bad translation of a pop song, which we then read to each other at said tea party. I appreciate that to those of you who don’t have much to do with translation this may not sound like the most fun experience ever, but when you’ve made some pretty creative but ultimately wrong word choices and produced horrific contortions of both English and French, laughing at deliberately bad attempts is somewhat therapeutic.

To aid in our therapy therefore, our tutor very kindly provided us with a miniature feast. She made brownies, banana cake and flapjack for us, so with the religieuses as well we were rather spoilt for choice! What these photos do lack sadly is some sense of perspective, but know that these nuns were rather large. Thankfully the other French students at my college came along at the end to help us out with the cornucopia we’d found ourselves with.

Religieuses

Chocolate Sponge with Raspberry Buttercream filling

Chocolate sponge with raspberry buttercream filling

Ingredients:

The cake:

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 120g cocoa powder
  • 200g plain chocolate, broken into pieces – add to mix after pouring into cake tins

The icing:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 250g butter
  • 12 raspberries

This recipe is a variation on the recipe I used for the pink carnation cupcake, where the main difference is just the larger quantities.

  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
  • Cream together 250g butter and the caster sugar.
  • Once done, add in the eggs before sieving in the flour.
  • Pour in 4 tbsp of milk to help give the cake a lighter texture and taste, and thoroughly mix to create a smooth consistency before adding in the cocoa powder. With 120g of cocoa powder, this cake is chocolatey without being too much, but feel free to add extra for a darker, richer taste.
  • Split the mixture evenly between two greased 10” cake tins and make sure the mix has spread and is level on top.
  • Next press the chunks of chocolate gently into the top of the mixture. As you can see above, I just broke a bar of chocolate into individual pieces, but vary the size as you wish.
  • Put the cake tins into the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

While that’s baking you can make a start on the icing.

  • Soften the butter by mixing it briefly before sieving in the icing sugar whilst continuing to mix. As always when using icing sugar, mix slowly and gently to avoid covering yourself and your kitchen in a sweet white layer of powder.
  • Once you’ve got a nice stiff buttercream, pop in the raspberries and mix again until it’s smooth and not too runny. The raspberries will colour the buttercream a nice strong pink colour and you’ll find small bits of raspberries in with it to vary the texture.

Once the cake is baked, take it out of the oven and leave it out to cool. When it’s cool to the touch, take one layer and spread a thick layer of the buttercream over it, and then gently lay the other layer over the top. If you’ve only put the pieces of chocolate into one of the layers, I’d recommend having that layer on top for the sake of appearances, but it’s up to you.

(See my carnation cupcakes recipe for the inspiration)

 

As I said earlier, I got the idea for this from the pink carnation cupcakes I did with this flavour combination. However, transforming a recipe from one for cupcakes to one for sponge cakes isn’t just a case of increasing the quantities. I did spend some time wondering about what to do with the melt-in-the-middle idea, as that was one of my favourite parts of the pink carnation cupcake. I ended up deciding to leave it in as part of the cake, and so put the pieces of chocolate into the top of the cake mix. Although it did pose some slight difficulties when it came to cutting the cake, I made sure to space them out, so they acted as handy slice markers.

The joy of a sponge cake though is that it is easier to share with an indefinite number of people, whereas you can’t really do much if you make 12 cupcakes and find out that 13 people want one. Just as with the gin drizzle cake and a few other recipe I’ll be posting shortly, this was a recipe I did for the Lichfield Festival, and so it was gluten-free again. Given that my previous attempt at a gluten-free sponge cake didn’t rise well, I threw in an extra teaspoon of baking powder for good measure, as well as making plenty of cake mix, so thankfully it worked out rather well. Also, a word as to the slightly odd pre-cutting of the cake: my cake box, complete with convenient carry handle, was designed for 8” sponges rather than 10”, so my cakes tend not to fit rather easily. Hence why I cut it in two and offset the halves so that they’d fit. Well it’s only going to be cut up further when people start eating it.

By far my favourite part about this recipe though, is the buttercream filling. As many of my close friends who’ve seen me baking before will tell you, I am rather partial to buttercream icing. This is no exception. If anything, I love this even more because of the extra flavour and texture. If you’re wondering, I most definitely didn’t make a bit too much so that there’d be some left over for me to eat just by itself. No, of course not, that would be ridiculous…