Florentines

Naked Florentines

Naked Florentines

Florentines

Florentines

For Christmas 2014 I didn’t have a lot of baking planned but wanted to try a couple of new recipes. There have been a few Florentine recipes being posted recently and I do like the look of them! So I decided to give them a try… My dad is pretty difficult to buy gifts for so this Christmas he got a hamper of goodies, mainly shop bought foods as I worried that he won’t get round to eating homemade foods with all the extra treats that are around during the Christmas holidays!

My dad has to control his intake of sugar and fat intake as diabetes and heart problems run in the family. He likes to snack in between meals but isn’t a fan of chocolate. These Florentines seemed like an ideal addition to his hamper since they are mostly made of store-cupboard ingredients, so can sit around for a little longer in a hamper. Although they are made of sugar, a little goes a long way and the use of dried fruits adds lots of natural sweetness too.

I came across this useful article where the writer did all the hard work of trying out several Florentine recipes and came up with the ideal one. Who am I to go look a gift horse in the mouth? I did change make some changes to the ingredients for the recipe to adapt to the dried fruits that I had to hand. I also decided to skip the chocolate coating, hence the ‘naked’ Florentines!

Florentines

Naked Florentines

Ingredients:

  • 45g Butter
  • 60g Demerara sugar
  • 100g Dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 50g Soft dried figs, roughly chopped
  • 60g Blanched almond slivers
  • 15g Plain flour
  • Pinch Salt
  • 1 tbs Double cream

Method:

  • Heat oven to 180 degrees C and line a large baking tray with grease-proof paper
  • In a small saucepan melt the butter and sugar on a low heat, set to one side
  • In the meantime combine all the dried fruits and nuts in a bowl and toss in the flour
  • Stir the double cream and salt into the melted butter then add the fruit and nut mixture
  • Spoon 1 tsp blobs of the mixture onto the prepared baking tray and flatten as much as possible and leaving enough space around each round for spreading when baking
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, mine took 10 minutes and were already very brown on the edges! Allow to cool completely in the tin otherwise they will fall apart
  • Store in an air tight container for up to 5 days
Florentines

Florentines

 Apologies for the poor quality of the photos but you get the idea! 🙂

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Spanish Orange and Almond Cake Caramel top

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake (Gluten Free and Dairy Free): Clandestine Cake Club meet No. 2

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake with Almond Praline

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake with Almond Praline

I have previously written about the Clandestine Cake Club of which I am a proud member. The mission statement for the CCC is: Bake, Eat and Talk about Cake, so you can see where this post is going… 🙂

The last time I attended a CCC event, I took the Pistachio, Cardamom and Yoghurt Cake and the theme was ‘nouveaux’ -trying out a new recipe or using a new cook book or cake tin etc. This event theme was: ‘the Great British Bake Off! The ultimate baking-together experience. Whether you choose a recipe from one of the winners or something that was featured on the programme, even if you want to recreate the tent in cake, the choice is yours.’

I have to admit that I didn’t actually go with the theme as I forgot all about it! 🙂 The idea was to spend two hours baking a cake that could then be shared with fellow bakers and their friends/family later on. I loved the idea of spending the afternoon baking with people who love cake as much as I do, sharing tips and learning from each other. This is also one of the main reasons I write a food blog! 🙂

So that takes me to the inspiration for my cake. Wendy at Chez Chloe wrote about this recipe for Orange and Almond Cake, and I was absolutely hooked on the simplicity of the recipe!  The recipe if gluten free and dairy free (if you skip the caramel top!) Check out Wendy’s post for a simple step-by-step guide on how to prepare this cake.

With only having 2 hours to bake and decorate a cake, I wanted to go with something very simple but delivers on flavour too. The idea for the additional almond caramel top came from a pear and almond cake that I’ve had in a local coffee shop called ‘Teacup’. I generally love caramel and thought it would be a nice decorative feature that doesn’t rely on the cake being cooled before it can be added on.

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake

So here is how it was done:

Step one: Prepare the cake as Wendy suggests- I used one less egg and an 18″ round loose bottom cake tin. However this meant that the cake took a lot longer to bake, so I would suggest a 23″ round tin.

Step two: While the cake is baking make a basic caramel by simmering 125g butter, 125g butter, 50ml milk and 1/2 tsp sea salt in a saucepan until it is smooth and a deep caramel colour. Mix in 150g toasted almond flakes.

Step three: When the cake is cooked through, pour all the almond caramel mix on top of the cake and bake for another 10 minutes.

Almond Caramel Topping

Almond Caramel Topping

The cake should be served slightly warm, with a little cream if that takes your fancy! I think we could have done with letting it cool a little before cutting into it, however the extra baking time and hungry cake fans meant that this just wasn’t an option! 😀

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake Caramel top

Spanish Orange and Almond Cake Caramel top

The cake was super moist and the slightly bitter caramel topping did a great job of seeping into the top of the cake to create a lovely balance of flavours. Check out Helena’s official write up of the event!

I cannot finish this post without mentioning the amazing Sean from ‘Cook Manchester’ who provide fully equipped professional kitchen hire for small businesses. I had a good chat with Sean about his business and the kinds of people who have used the facilities. He’s a really inspiring guy who is passionate about  food and helping others to realise their dreams of starting their own food business. Please check out the website and share with friends who may be interested in finding out more about the facilities.

Bake-Along at Cook Manchester

Bake-Along at Cook Manchester

 

CCC-Bake Along

CCC-Bake Along

 

Caramel Profiteroles: A stab at French patisserie

Caramel Profiteroles

Caramel Profiteroles: My attempt at recreating 

 

On a recent break to Nice in the south of France, I had the most delicious profiterole dessert from a local patisserie that was open until 10pm! Imagine if such an amazing thing existed in my home town?! I’d never have an emergency dessert baking moment again… Oh to dream!

So while in France, it’s obligatory to eat as much from the local patisseries as possible,from breakfast croissants to afternoon treats after a long day of sightseeing. Well that’s what I think anyway!

Caramel Profiteroles from Nice, France

This is a photo of the Caramel Profiteroles I had in Nice, France- doesn’t it look so perfect and delicious?

So as you can see this dessert was amazing and I haven’t seen it available anywhere since. The choux pastry was crisp and the creme patissiere not too sweet. The burnt caramel offset the cream perfectly and I was so sad to eat the last mouthful! Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to go back and get another one as we left the next morning. So I have recreated it in my own kitchen as part of the Mother’s Day lunch for my family!

Caramel Profiteroles

Caramel Profiteroles

 

I have to admit that I don’t have a recipe to share as I kind of made it up as I went along, starting from a basic choux pastry mix and filling the profiteroles with creme patissiere. But here is a similar one if you want to give it a go yourself!

When working with the caramel, be very careful as I managed to burn my middle finger and a thumb on the burning hot sugar! Blisters alert! 😦

With only a photo of the original dessert on my phone to go by, I made a stab at reconstructing the dessert to look the same. The base is a disk of choux pastry that I had to squash down as it puffed up then I used some of the caramel to ‘glue’ three creme patissiere filled profiteroles onto the base. I decided that easiest way to do the profiteroles was to fill them first that dip them into the caramel, hence the burning of fingers as they were heavy and kept falling in! I topped the freshly whipped cream with some flaked almonds that I toasted then ground.

Caramel Profiteroles

Caramel Profiteroles- home made

 

I think I managed to capture the general essence of the dessert, not as neat I wanted but it was OK for a first attempt. Unfortunately I was pressed for time so was unable to take step-by-step photos. Maybe I’ll attempt this again and take photos next time! 🙂

 

 

Candied Nuts

 

Spiced Candied Nuts

Spiced Candied Nuts

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about candied nuts on blogs recently and have really wanted to try them out! I saw them at the German Christmas markets but they were very expensive, being sold by weight, so I stayed well clear…

Tammela Platts shared in her blog ‘Wherever I am, you are there also’ a recipe for ‘Candied Almonds’ which I just had to try out as the recipe is very simple and I like the idea of separating them into little food gift bags…

However my plans of Christmas baking this weekend have been scuppered by a disaster at home involving a leaking toilet and waking up to pools of water in the living room on Saturday morning. After a stressful 24 hours of having no water in the house, I finally got back on track and settled down to baking some tasty treats to celebrate the holiday season.

Spiced Candied Nuts

Spiced Candied Nuts

The only problem I had was that the caramel stuck a little to the grease proof paper that I lined the baking tray with, so next time I will use baking paper (I’ve run out after lots of baking recently!).

I would highly recommend this recipe! The balance of sweet, salty and spice are perfect and the nuts are so yummy! It takes a lot of willpower to stop eating them and portion them up for gifts. I also used a bag of mixed nuts that I had in the cupboard which contained hazelnuts, brazils, peanuts, almonds and pecans. My favourites are the hazelnuts so I’m slowly picking them all out for myself…

Thanks Tammela! I think I will making many more batches of these beauties in the coming weeks… 🙂

Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Truffle Celebration Cake

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Truffles

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Truffles

This celebration cake was baked in honour of a friend and colleague who is moving on to a new challenging role with another equally deserving charity. We had planned a surprise party for her in the office and as always a centre piece cake would be there. We have another colleague who is always asked to make the special celebration cakes as she is wonderful at sugar craft and can model the most amazing figures, making the most jaw dropping cakes that are tailored to the lucky person it is intended for. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to help out this time so I was asked to make the cake instead. What a daunting task! I like to bake but only as a hobby and I’ve found baking under pressure to be so stressful!

I thought for days about what kind of cake to make. I wasn’t even going to attempt any kind of sugar craft as I have never done anything like it before and I wasn’t about to start now! I was also putting extra pressure on myself because I really want this cake to look delicious and inviting, maybe even a little glamorous?! No pressure! 🙂

The Cake

After a lot of too-ing and fro-ing I settled on a basic chocolate fudge cake recipe that I had scribbled down off a friend’s mum. She had made their wedding cake using this recipe and it was absolutely delicious! I remember going back for a second slice because it was the tastiest wedding cake I had ever had and it was home made! The original recipe uses fresh cream and black cherry jam for the filling, so being a ‘black forest’ cake fan it was obviously going to be a winner for me!

This is the basic recipe for two thin 20 cm round cakes:

Ingredients

  • 175 grams Self Raising Flour
  • 2 tbs Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 150 grams Caster Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 150ml Sunflower Oil
  • 150ml Milk
  • 2 tbs Golden Syrup

Method

  • Beat all ingredients together
  • Bake in two sandwich tins at 170 degrees C for 25 minutes

You can’t get much simpler than that right!

The challenge I had was to up-size the recipe for a 30 cm cake tin and have two layers. So I figured that I would double the recipe and see how it turns out. Luckily the recipe worked well all baked in 1 cake tin but I needed to bake it for about 40 minutes in total. I decided that the cake didn’t rise enough to make a two layer cake, so decided to do another batch. I decided upon cutting both cakes in half but only using 3 tiers as 4 was just too high! So with the additional layer I cut it up using a round mould and have put them in the freezer for future mini cake adventures…

Salted Caramel Truffle Cake

Salted Caramel Truffle Cake

The Frosting

As I am going through a stage of experimentation with salted caramel, I decided that this grown-ups party would be the right time to use salted caramel to the max! So I found a few salted caramel butter cream recipes and settled on this Banana Cake with Salted Caramel recipe for inspiration. Mainly because the cake in the picture looked similar to what I wanted to achieve so I figured that I could stick to the proportions of ingredients and have enough to frost the whole cake. It is also a fairly easy recipe to follow.

After watching the sugar syrup boil for ages, I figured that the recipe could be adapted a little to have less water so this stage need not take so long, but would this then affect the quantity of caramel? I decided that this is something to experiment with another time… As I only had unsalted butter, I added a teaspoon of sea salt to the caramel along with the cream to give it the signature taste.

I struggled a little with this recipe as it tells you to ‘Beat the cooled caramel cream using an electric beater until fluffy’, warning that ‘his step takes a while, so be patient’. So I kept the mixer beating the caramel and nothing happened… 15 minutes later I gave up and just started adding the butter. The frosting was actually very runny so I decided to add another half block of butter to the bowl and some icing sugar too the thicken it up and it seemed to work. I also put the frosting into the fridge to harden a little as it was still fairly runny.

This frosting is ideal for people who like buttercream but find it a little too sweet. The caramel flavour is very strong and is a great choice for grown-ups. I also like the natural caramel colour of the frosting as a lot of buttercream recipes require artificial colourings to make them a look nice, so all in all this recipe is another keeper!

 

Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

The Decoration

Looking on the world wide web for inspiration on how to decorate this cake I decided to make some Salted Caramel Truffles to go on top. For a previous cake I had made profiteroles but I wasn’t too happy with the finishing look, and making these profiteroles was only going to add to my stress levels! The Salted Caramel Truffles were ideal as I could also use the recipe for making Christmas food gifts if they turned out OK.

So after frosting the layers of the cake and decorating the top with truffles and drizzles of left over caramel sauce, the cake was complete! I am slightly disappointed that you can see some of the cake crumb in the frosting, I must have over-baked it so must keep an eye on this next time. As I’m not very good at being precise and ‘pretty’ isn’t really my style, I went for the ‘messy look’. I think I got away with it!

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Truffles

Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Truffles

The Verdict

I’m pretty happy with the final product. I got lots of compliments and people even took extra slices home, always a good sign! From the little that was left of the cake, I could tell it was well appreciated! I’ve finally been able to get the cake to slice evenly thanks to a new kitchen gadget I picked up from a local shop but similar to this Amazon product. It only cost me £3 and gives such a perfect professional finish! The cake itself was moist and light, while the frosting wasn’t too sweet. I even had some left over truffles to enjoy too!

A winner all round… 🙂

Salted Caramel Truffles

Salted Caramel Truffles with Salted Caramel Drizzle and Sea Salt Flakes

Salted Caramel Truffles with Salted Caramel Drizzle and Sea Salt Flakes

Making this recipe was also the first time for me to make caramel from melting sugar down in a pan so I was being extra cautious in case I burnt it. However after the first try I’ve realised how easy it is an how yummy too so all my friends and family should not be surprised if everything they get from my this year contains some form of salted caramel! 🙂

Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

Salted Caramel Chocolate Truffles

I’m in love with salted caramel at the moment and this recipe for Salted Caramel Truffles looked too good to pass up! I was looking for inspiration on Christmas food gifts that are fairly simple to do as this year I don’t have as much time as I’d like to dedicate to gift baking. I was also looking for interesting ways to decorate a chocolate and salted caramel cake so these are perfect!I think the last time I tried to make truffles was when I was about 14 years old in a food technology class in high school. Thinking back, I can’t say I was particularly keen on baking cakes back then. I remember enjoying the class though, which is a positive because I have very sparse memories of my school years! Obviously very uneventful…

After rolling the truffles in some cocoa powder I drizzled them with some left over salted caramel sauce and then sprinkled a little sea salt flakes on top to give the idea of what flavour is inside. A bit messy, but not bad for a first attempt!

I had to put these truffles into mini cupcake cases as they were twice the size of my petite four cases, so that gives you an indication of how huge they are! However my excuse is that I need them to go on top of a pretty huge cake so little ones would just not do.

The Taste Test

Obviously one had to be tasted for quality control (and to make sure they didn’t  ruin the final cake!) and I have to say  that they are delicious! The caramel gives the truffle a slightly chewy texture so it isn’t just pure rich chocolate that melts in your mouth. The salted caramel taste comes through but only very lightly. It helps to cut through the bitter chocolate making them very moreish… This recipe is a keeper!

Gluten Free: Pear, Caramel, and Cardamom Upside Down Cake

Pear, caramel and cardamom cake

Pear, Caramel and Cardamom Upside Down Cake

Pear, Caramel and Cardamom cake

It’s coming to the end of the pear season in England. I love pears but only when they are firm and crunchy. Looking over at the fruit bowl brimming with over ripening Conference pears I was trying to think of something simple to do with them. I found this recipe for a French Pear, Almond and Cardamom Cake that sounded delicious! I like the use of cardamom in desserts as it adds a nice background note to often very sweet South Asian and Middle Eastern desserts. I also like the use of almond flour in this recipe as I am trying to cut down on eating refined wheat flour but without cutting down on the amount of cake I can eat! 🙂

I have used a recipe for coconut caramel in a Coconut Caramel Slice recipe and have used this caramel recipe for several recipes since. The left overs from the last batch of caramel slices was in the freezer ready for another use so I decided to use it in this pear cake too.

I also found that the cake batter from the original recipe was not enough as I was using a round loose bottom cake tin rather than a small loaf pan so I have increased some of the ingredients to compensate. This is the recipe I’ve used:

Ingredients

  • 200g of ground almonds
  • 2 ripe pears
  • 100g of butter
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • about 10 pods of cardamom (ground)
  • 3 medium free range eggs

Instructions:

  • slice up pears and layer onto the bottom of cake tin
  • pour over the caramel sauce
  • cream butter and sugar, add ground cardamom and eggs then mix before adding ground almonds and mix well
  • pour cake batter on top of pears and caramel and spread evenly
  • Bake at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes
  • Allow to cool slightly in the tin then upturn onto a dish so it is the right way up
  • Serve with cream/ice cream/custard

I’m fairly happy with the results. The cake was very moist and rich and the individual flavours really held their own! I think next time I’ll put the pears on top of the caramel so they look more caramelised. The cardamom flavour was a lovely addition, if anything I would add more cardamom and reduce the sugar in the cake batter to compensate for the sweet caramel sauce! Yum!

Pear, Caramel and Cardamom cake

Pear, Caramel and Cardamom cake

When one recipe inspires another: Coconut Caramel Slice

Coconut Caramel Slice

Coconut and Salted Caramel Slice

 

Home baking has recently seen a revival. My friends, colleagues and family know all about my cake obsession, and I have held many an afternoon tea or baked an experimental cake to share in the office the next day. I had to stop when people complained that they were putting on weight from eating all my cakes! I bake less these days but still enjoy dabbling once in a while. ‘Afternoon tea’ is quintessentially British but now fashionable the world over. I recently had an ‘Asian Afternoon’ tea where finger sandwiches were replaced by a variety of sushi. A perfect example of Asian fusion cuisine!

An earlier experiment with banana gyoza resulted in having left over coconut caramel  that was a little sickly sweet so, I wanted to try it with a little sea salt to take the edge off the sweetness. A quick on-line search of ‘coconut caramel’ and the first recipe that came up was this one! Coconut caramel slice. I’ve adapted this recipe slightly by using the coconut caramel (with a couple of pinches of sea salt flakes added) and adding a drizzle of dark chocolate on top to introduce a contrast in tastes. I’ve also increased the amount of dessicated coconut in the top layer to 200 grams and added another egg. I found that the amount in the recipe was not enough to fully cover the ‘cake’, and I also wanted to use up what was left of packet before I started on another baking adventure ‘just to use up left overs’!

Looking at the recipe, I realised it was very similar to a coconut macaroon recipe I used when baking a gluten free treat to take to a friend’s house as a treat. This Coconut Slice recipe is a very simple recipe, similar to an Almond Slice. Except the ground almond is swapped for dessicated coconut and raspberry jam in the place of caramel. I made Almond Slices a few months ago and they turned out amazingly well for my first attempt. I really like tray bakes. They are simple to make and these layered recipes are always very pretty, looking like you have put more effort in than you really have!

At work we regularly hold bake sales to raise money for the charity I work for. I usually make cupcakes which go down well but I steer clear of eating them as I find the buttercream far too sweet. I think these Coconut caramel and Almond slices will be on the menu for the next bake sale. This way I can enjoy a little treat in the afternoon too!

 

Coconut Caramel Slice

Coconut and Salted Caramel Slice