Blueberry and white chocolate sponge puddings (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 6)

PIcture a bit out of focus, but here's a ring of the finished puddings, on a matching plate!

This week on the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) saw the contestants having to bake puddings. In my dialect of English, ‘pudding’ refers to anything that you eat after your main course of a meal, whether it be a traditional sponge pudding, a cake, a chocolate bar, or even a yoghurt or a piece of fruit. Others may think of this as ‘dessert’ or ‘afters’ or something else. For the GBBO, pudding definitely referred to traditional puddings – the first bake was the contestants’ own choice of sponge puddings (two varieties of six individual puddings), the second was a ‘Queen of Puddings’ (not my thing as it contains custard, yuk!), and the third was a Strudel. The second and third looked extremely hard to make, especially the pastry for the Strudel, which had to be rolled out to be paper thin. I decided to stick with what I know best for this week, and make some sponge puddings. I used to make proper puddings quite a bit when Tom and I were first together (the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?!), but recently I haven’t make them, particularly since being pregnant (both times) and not wanting anything too sweet and stodgy.

The blueberries and white chocolate chunks seemed to settle more towards the bottom when cooking, so they came out on top, and this created a kind of saucy bit on the top. I was going to make a separate chocolate sauce, but the 'topping' was enough in itself and I didn't think it needed it. You could serve with custard, if you like the stuff (which I don't!)

With that in mind, I went for a relatively light and not too sweet option. I used margarine instead of butter, so the consistency was light and fluffy. The blueberries were quite tart, and that blended well with the sweetness of the white chocolate, so neither flavour overpowered the other and it was a good balance of sweetness. I love the colour that blueberries give to cakes and puddings – more of a purple than a blue, to my eyes at least, and it gives an otherwise plain-looking sponge a ripple of bright colour running through it. Here’s the recipe if you fancy giving it a go – it’s very easy!

A good view of the 'topping' on the right-hand pudding!

Ingredients

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g blueberries
  • 100g white chocolate, cut into chunks

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan)
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl.
  3. Beat in the eggs until the mixture is smooth and not lumpy in texture.
  4. Add the flour and stir until well combined.
  5. Add the blueberries and white chocolate, and stir until evenly distributed, but don’t over-mix the mixture.
  6. Spoon the mixture into 6 individual pudding basins, so they are about two thirds full.
  7. Place the basins into a large ovenproof dish, like a roasting tin. Add cold water to the roasting tin so that the basins are sitting in a bath of water (in techie baking speak this is called a ‘Bain Marie’, and it means that as the water heats up in the oven, the steam produced helps keep the puddings moist).
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  9. Leave to cool, and then remove from the basins. Eat as fresh as possible, but can be heated up in the microwave if eaten later.

    Waiting for them to cool before turning them out and revealing the lovely colours and flavours 🙂

Plum and almond upside-down cake (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 1)

A slice of freshly baked plum and almond upside-down cake 🙂 Tom asked me if he needed to eat it whilst standing upside down.... I guess if you like cream with your cake, this would be a good choice, especially whilst still warm (I'm not a big fan of cream with cakes).

Our decision to no longer have a TV originated in the fact that after Andrew was born, we found that we were never watching live TV. We were never able to sit down at exactly the time when programmes were on, so would download them on iPlayer and watch them when we had chance. This also meant we could stop them mid-way through and carry on watching at a later time if we didn’t have a whole hour to watch a programme of that length. What has this got to do with cake though? Well, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the few programmes that I’ve ever set to series download on iPlayer (the only other ones I can think of have been Outnumbered and Have I Got News For You). I did it last year, and would sit and watch the episodes whilst feeding Andrew, as he would generally feed and sleep on and off pretty much most of the afternoon back then. This year, series 3 of GBBO has just started with episode 1 broadcast in the week just gone. We watched half of it it a day later, and the other half 2 days later, on iPlayer. I’m thinking that each week I may need to avoid twitter until I’ve watched the episode from that week, because there are bound to be spoilers with the number of people hash-tagging #GBBO!

Anyway, this first episode was all about cake. Contestants had to follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Rum Baba (which always makes me think of a family joke: ‘Rum Baba what ain’t got no rum’ …. a select few readers will know what on earth I’m going on about there. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry, it’s not really worth the effort of explaining – you had to be there apparently), and they also had to bake a cake with a hidden design when it was cut into. This last bake was amazing – they all came up with some ingenious ideas. If I had more time and energy, I’d have a go at something like that myself, but for now I thought I’d take some inspiration from the first thing they had to bake, which was an upside-down cake. The concept is as follows: you place fruit at the bottom of a cake tin, pour over a sponge mixture, bake, and when it’s cool, turn it over so that the fruit comes out on the top.

Upside-down cakes always make me think back to Home Economics (isn’t it called Food Tech these days?!) lessons, because one of the earliest memories of them that I have is baking a pineapple upside-down cake. It was pretty easy really – I’d already had quite a lot of baking experience by the time I was 11. Since then I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind to bake one again, I guess because I thought they were a bit old-fashioned, not particularly the ‘in’ thing these days to bake. But seeing what the contestants came up with, I realised that it didn’t have to be the classic pineapple rings from a tin, with glace cherries in the middle of the rings, and a simple plain sponge. The contestants baked all sorts of variations on this theme, with various fruits, flavours of sponge and finishing touches. This inspired me to think beyond the Home Ec. memory, and use a flavour combination that I love.

And that’s how we get to ‘plum and almond upside-down cake’. I think this fruit and flavour of sponge work really well together, and I love them both on their own too. Plums are just coming into season now as well, so they have great flavour and are nicely priced in the shops. The sponge is a basic three-egg plain sponge, with half the flour (self-raising) replaced by ground almonds and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus almond essence instead of vanilla essence. The almonds make it denser than an ordinary light and airy sponge, but I really like this texture, more like a Bakewell tart than a Victoria sponge. I’m not sure whether Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would approve of the denser texture, but the main thing is I like it and my other tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) do too! That’s the thing I don’t get about baking or general food competitions like GBBO – flavours and textures are very subjective things, so how can they be judged by just 2 people?

As well as the fruit and sponge, an upside-down cake traditionally has a caramel topping that you line the tin with before putting the fruit in. I distinctly remember from my Home Ec. lesson that the recipe we had to follow had golden syrup instead – I remember because I’m sure that was the first time I learnt that heating your spoon in a cup of boiling water before putting it the syrup tin meant that it ran off the spoon better. For the plum and almond take on the theme, I decided to use honey instead, because it’s as easy as golden syrup (i.e. I didn’t have to make a separate caramel sauce) but I love the taste and think it goes well with the other flavours in the cake, plus I’m not a massive fan of golden syrup and often tend to replace it with honey in recipes.

If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe. It’s a pretty easy one, and is a bit more unusual than a classic sponge cake. Have you ever made an upside-down cake? I’d love to hear of other flavour combinations and variations on this theme.

Close up - nice golden, crispy edge, squidgy plums just inside, then smooth and moist sponge in the middle - great combination.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • about 5 medium plums, halved and stones removed
  • 170g margarine
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 85g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare the tin: line a medium-sized springform cake tin with greaseproof paper, and place on a baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks out).

    Tin lined with greaseproof paper, ready to be filled! Just need to put it on a baking tray (forgot to take a picture of that!)
  2. Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
  3. Place the half plums flat side down around the edge of the tin.

    Honey and plums - when I turned the baked cake over and took the greaseproof paper off, I was glad that I'd put the plums around the outside only, because they became very squidgy with the baking and lost their structure, but it worked out well around the edge as opposed to if I'd have put them in the middle, which I suspect would have caused the cake to collapse a bit!
  4. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  6. Mix in the ground almonds, flour, almond essence and baking powder until well combined.
  7. Pour the mixture into the tin, spreading it over the plums until they are all covered and the surface of the mixture is flat and even.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and springy to touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check it’s baked through: if it comes out clean, it’s ready, if not, put it back in for a few minutes at a time until it passes this skewer test!

    Just out of the oven, cooling, before I turned it over
  9. Leave to cool fully.
  10. Release the spring on the tin and carefully pull the paper away from the sides of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the tin, and quickly turn it over, making sure you hold onto the tin and plate at the same time, until the cake comes away from the tin and ends up on the plate – the plums now facing upwards on the top.
  11. Store in an airtight container, or it would freeze well too, if it’s not eaten too soon 😉

    Upside down (but actually this is how it's supposed to be)

Team-GB-inspired Olympics cupcakes

Red, white and blue - Team-GB-inspired cupcakes

From what I’ve heard, the Olympics have started! As we don’t have a TV, we didn’t watch the opening ceremony live, and I haven’t got round to downloading it on iPlayer and watching it yet. This is the first time since we got rid of our TV that I kind of miss it, but given how much we’re saving on the licence fee, I’m not too bothered overall. We just don’t seem to get time to sit down and watch TV, except the odd DVD here and there. Although I didn’t watch the opening ceremony, I did feel like I was watching, because of all the tweeting and facebooking that was going on about it. To be honest, I’m a bit miffed about not getting tickets to anything I wanted to see in the Olympics, despite trying in the first and second round to get them. I would have loved to watch any of the swimming events, or anything going on in the aquatic centre, but I didn’t get any tickets in our (limited) price-range budget. It’s such a shame that I didn’t get to watch the one sport I really love when it was here, live in this country, not far from where we’re living, at the Olympics.

But I’ll stop whinging now. One day I’ll go and swim in the Olympic pool myself, just like I did in Sydney after the Olympics there. That will be a great day, one which I’m already looking forward to! Even though I’m perhaps not as involved in the Olympic atmosphere as I would like to be, that didn’t stop me getting in the mood for some Olympics-inspired baking. I had some (OK, lots of) Union Jack cupcake cases left over from the Jubilee celebrations in June, so thought it would be a good opportunity to use some more and get into the Olympic spirit by making some Team-GB-inspired red, white and blue cupcakes. Of course the cases are red, white and blue, but I also went for red and blue sponge (half of each in each cupcake), plus white icing and the three colours in hundreds and thousands. The red sponge came out red, but the blue wasn’t very strong (I’ve found this before with natural food colourings these days, particularly blue), so that bit of the sponge looks more like the usual creamy colour but a bit darker. Still, it’s a nice overall effect with half the sponge one colour and half another colour, even if it’s not amazingly blue like I intended. They taste lovely, which is the main thing. Tom and I sat eating an Olympics cupcake each yesterday evening, whilst Rebecca Adlington was winning bronze in the 400m freestyle in the Olympic pool (so I found out later on the internet). If you’d like to bake something to go with your Olympics watching, the recipe is below.

Half red, half 'blue' sponge (I really can't see any hint of blue in this picture, but the mixture did look blue before it was cooked, honest, even if not amazingly bright)

Ingredients

Blue sponge

  • 60g sugar
  • 60g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • blue food colouring
Red sponge
  • 60g sugar
  • 60g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • red food colouring
Icing
  • 3 heaped tsp icing sugar
  • a few drops of cold water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and place cupcake cases in muffin tins (I made 1 dozen cakes).
  2. Start with the blue sponge, as the colour is lighter than the red, so you can use the same bowl to mix the red in afterwards, because small bits of blue mixture won’t affect the colour of the red mixture, unlike the other way around.
  3. Cream the sugar and margarine in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Add the egg and beat well until smooth.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, vanilla essence and food colouring, and mix until well combined and the colour is evenly spread throughout the mixture. Use enough food colouring to make the mixture as bold as possible in colour.
  6. Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so that each case is about a third full.
  7. Follow the same method from 3. to 6. for the red mixture. When it’s ready, add a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so it sits on top of the blue mixture, and each case is about two thirds full.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden (even though the top is red inside, I found that the crust on top was quite brown, so I could tell when it was cooked as usual).
  9. Let cool out of the muffin tins. Meanwhile make the icing. Mix the icing sugar with a few drops of water and stir until you have a thick paste. Only add a little water at a time – you can always add more but you can’t take it out once it’s in! (You could always add more icing sugar if you put too much water in, but then you could end up with too much icing.)
  10. Put a small blob of icing in the centre on top of each cake. It will probably start to run down to the edges on its own gradually, but if not then spread across the top with the back of a teaspoon.
  11. Sprinkle hundreds and thousands over the icing and carefully shake off any excess.
  12. Leave the icing to set, and then eat the cakes! Store in an airtight container – best eaten within a few days.
One Olympic ring.... of cakes 🙂

Victoria sponge, with a twist

At the weekend we had arranged to meet up with some of my school friends and their families. When we planned this a while ago, we thought a barbecue at one of their houses would be a nice idea for a summer’s Sunday afternoon. As July went on, this looked less and less likely, and there was talk of relocation to a family pub somewhere. However, in the end the sun came out for the weekend, and we managed to have our barbecue. I was put in charge of bringing pudding (more my thing than meat at the best of times, let alone when I’m really not liking the smell of cooking!), so I decided to whip up a quick and easy classic British cake on the Saturday morning before we left to head over to the Midlands.

My choice was the Victoria sponge. You can’t really go too wrong with it, and it’s not too sweet or stodgy, so just what I like at the moment. Once the cake bit of it was baked, I packed the two halves into a tin, as my plan was to do the jam and icing sugar bits the next day at my parents house where we were staying. We had lunch at my parents’ on Saturday, and what should Mum bring out for pudding…. but a Victoria sponge that she’d baked! It was complete with candles for my birthday – a lovely surprise being as I’d almost forgotten about my birthday this year as it’s crept up so quickly with me being so busy. So this weekend became the weekend of Victoria sponges 🙂 Not a bad thing to have two of in my opinion. Mum had in fact put buttercream icing as well as jam in the middle, so not technically a classic Victoria sponge, rather one with a bit of a twist. As the jam she had was quite tart, not too sweet, the buttercream icing was a great complement to it, and I decided to make this addition to my cake for the Sunday too.

What I didn’t plan for was the hot weather on the Sunday! During the three-quarter hour car journey to our friends’ house at lunchtime, the two halves slid apart as the buttercream icing melted slightly and lost its grip on the jam in the sandwiched cake. When we arrived I had to do some patching up, but in the end, after a couple of hours in the cool kitchen, it didn’t look too bad. And it tasted good, that was the main thing!

OK, so not the most attractive cake I've ever baked, nor the most stunning photo of it, but I forgot to take a snap before the car melting incident, so this is how it looked after its cooling off period just before we ate it! The jam and buttercream are a bit messy, the icing sugar has gone into the top of the cake in patches, and the paper plate it's on looks awful. But it still tasted yummy, and that's the point of baking in my opinion.

Ingredients

  • 110g margarine
  • 110g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • jam for the filling
  • for the icing in the middle (optional): 75g margarine and 150g icing sugar
  • icing sugar to dust

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, and grease 2 medium round cake tins with margarine.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla essence and beat well until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour half the mixture into one cake tin and half into the other.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden and springy to touch.
  7. Let cool and remove from tins.
  8. Once cool, spread jam generously over one of the circles of cake.
  9. Mix the margarine and icing sugar for the icing together until you have a smooth paste. Spread the icing over the other cake, the one without the jam.
  10. Put the side with the jam onto the side with the icing to make a sandwich.
  11. Dust the top with icing sugar to finish.
  12. Store in cool place, especially if the weather is hotter than you’re used to!! Preferably just eat it though 🙂

Jubilee butterfly cakes (complete with cherry on top!)

When I saw some Union Jack cupcake cases in Asda a few weeks ago, I thought I just had to buy them, even though baking was not one of my favourite activities back then. It’s still not as enjoyable as it was, but if I do it first thing in the morning, it seems the nausea is not so bad that I can’t face it. The thought of not baking something red, white and blue for the Jubilee made me feel even more sad than feeling sick, so I decided to go for it and bake something classic with a bit of a twist.

Wheat-full version

One of my favourite quick and easy recipes to whip up when we’ve got no treats in is the good old butterfly or fairy cake (whichever term you prefer – I generally use butterfly cake, but I’ve seen more fairy cakes recently). A simple vanilla sponge, hollowed out and filled with buttercream icing, and the hollowed-out sponge used to create the signature ‘wings’ that make it the butterfly cake. For the Jubilee I decided to add some colour by making blue buttercream icing, and, for the cherry on top of the cake, put a cherry on top of the cakes! This adds a deep red and I guess looks a bit like the butterfly actually has a body not just wings.

Wheat-free version (less risen but still pretty!)

The further twist in this royal culinary adventure is that I decided to make one batch of wheat-free sponge, and one batch of wheat-full sponge. My mum-in-law is wheat intolerant, and being as my parents-in-law are with us this weekend, I didn’t want her to miss out on the festive treats. I know wheat free flour is not perfect for making this kind of cake, even the self-raising stuff you can buy – it tends to come out quite stodgy and nowhere near as light as the wheaty stuff that makes such lovely light sponge. But I thought I’d give it a try, and use some Dove’s Organic wheat-free self-raising flour. Handily there was a recipe for fairy cakes on the back of the bag, and it was more or less the same as my usual quick sponge recipe with wheat flour, except it said to add some milk which I don’t usually include. Here’s my recipe…

Ingredients

  • 100g margarine
  • 100g sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour (wheat-free or wheat-full)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • few drops vanilla essence
  • (for wheat-free only: 3 tbsp milk)

To decorate:

  • 120g margarine
  • 180g icing sugar
  • blue food colouring
  • some fresh cherries, half and stoned

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (fan) and place cupcake cases into some muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until nice and fluffy. (Tip: if you’re making one batch of wheat-free and one batch of wheat-full, do the wheat-free first in the clean bowl and then you can use the same bowl without washing for the wheat-full. The other way round wouldn’t work 😉 )
  3. Beat in the egg thoroughly, and add the vanilla essence. (Add the milk at this point for the wheat-free option.)
  4. Add the flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases, and fill to about two thirds full. The first difference between the wheat-free and wheat-full batches that I noticed was how runny the wheat-free mixture was when I put it into the cases. This is interesting because the only difference was a few tablespoons of milk, so I don’t know whether it’s just down to this, or whether the flour mixes in differently in some way.
    Wheat-free batter - much runnier than the wheaty mixture

    Wheat-full mixture - less runny and 'batter' like than the wheat-free stuff
  6. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the cakes are slightly golden on top. Test they are cooked through by spearing the centre with a skewer – if it comes out clean they are done.
    Wheat-full - more risen than the wheat-free

    Wheat-free - less well risen than the wheat-full
  7. Leave to cool.
  8. Meanwhile, make the icing. Cream the margarine and icing sugar together in a bowl until smooth. Add food colouring and mix until it looks blue enough all through.
  9. Transfer to a piping bag with a star-shaped nozzle.
  10. Using a small sharp knife, cut a circle out of the top of each cake, going about half-way down into the cake. Remove this circle and cut it in half.
  11. Pipe a generous amount of icing into the well of each cake, filling the well and spreading out on to the top of the cake.
  12. Place the two halves of the removed circle at an angle onto the icing to look like two wings.
  13. Finally, the cherry on the top of the cake is….. a (half) cherry on the top of each cake! (placed in between the two half circles)

    Cherry in the middle of two wings
  14. Store in an airtight container, preferably in the fridge if it’s warm (probably not a problem this bank holiday weekend!)

Overall I’m very pleased with how they turned out, especially the wheat-free sponge. It is of course stodgier than and tastes a bit different from the wheaty sponge, but still perfectly edible and not bad for a cake that is classically so light. The worst part is actually the icing, because it was very runny, I suspect because I had to add lots of food colouring for it to really look blue! (Ah this didn’t happen back in the day when colourings were all E-numbers, not like the natural stuff that’s the only thing available these days 😉 ) So when I piped it ended up spreading out further than I intended. The first batch I iced were the wheat-free ones, and between doing these and the wheaty ones, I put the icing in the freezer for half an hour to try and thicken it up. This worked pretty well, so at least half of the wheaty ones turned out better, though the more I held the piping bag, the more the icing got runny again, so the later ones weren’t as good again. Anyway, this is probably me being a perfectionist. The main thing is they taste good! Have you baked or cooked anything special for the Jubilee? Has anyone else used these Union Jack cupcakes? Have a great long weekend!

Runny icing on a wheat-free cake, but still looks yummy!