Cakery Bakery: Melty chocolate puddings, for any day you like

My dear lovely people! Come and fall into the happy embrace of Friday. It’s Friday! It’s nearly over for the space of another weekend. And, at least where I am, it’s sunny. Doesn’t that mean you deserve some melty chocolate pudding? Of course it does.

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We call them melty chocolate puddings in our house, because they tend to end up melted all over our faces. Actually they’re better known as molten lava cakes, and that fits, too: a chocolate souffle baked till just crisp on the outside, with a bubbling interior that tastes like mess and happiness. We found this recipe, after a tip from my cousin, on Our Best Bites, which is the recipe site haunting my dreams at the moment. This is also what I wanted Nigella’s Glitzy Chocolate Puddings to be, and they weren’t. With due apologies to Nigella, these are twelve times better.

You start by beating butter and sugar together, which is a task better suited to an electric whisk, if you have one. If you don’t, the back of a wooden spoon will do fine – just make sure the butter is properly softened if you want to avoid tennis elbow. Then you throw in three eggs, one at a time, and then the flour and salt. If it seems like quite a small mixture at this point, don’t worry: at least half the final mixture is melted chocolate. This you add next, and the recipe suggests melted chocolate chips. I’ve tried it a couple of ways, and real chocolate works better. I like them as dark as they’ll go – there is a little Voldemort in me, when it comes to chocolate – so I use the 74% cocoa stuff. Tim is more of a Dumbledore confectioner, and prefers milkier chocolate. Even if you do, too, use about half plain chocolate and half milk. Trust me on this.

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Anyway, this should make enough to comfortably fill six ramekins, which you’ve prepared beforehand by buttering and sugaring the insides. I can tell you from experience that six of these is about the maximum that two of you can consume in one evening. We made this discovery so you don’t have to.

They go in the oven for 10-12 minutes (ten being the melted middle in the photo below; twelve being more squidgy) so alter as you prefer. They go any which way, to be honest. And with ingredients that you’re likely to have in the cupboard at all times, they make a pretty fabulous impromptu treat.

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Ah, now we’re feeling better.

PS, WERE WE SPEAKING OF SQUIDGY? I BELIEVE WE WERE.

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This amazing chocolatey marvel comes courtesy of Our Best Bites, and is here. Why are you still here?!

Cakery Bakery: the only pumpkin chocolate chip cookie you will ever need

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Yesterday night we skipped off to watch Ender’s Game at the cinema (which I loved). And so, in the spirit of dramatic sci-fi narration, let me say this:

there are some recipes that will CHANGE YOUR LIIIIIIFE.

And this is one of them.

Thanks to a lovely friend being wonderfully generous with the contents of her store cupboard, I now have more cans of pumpkin than I know what to do with – or I would, if I didn’t like pie so much. When I found this recipe claiming to be the best pumpkin chocolate chip cookie ever, I was ready to break into my stash and take that sucker down. (Sorry, that’s the sci-fi voice coming out again. Down, Harrison, down.)

The ingredients are almost all cupboard staples, with the exception of molasses (I use Lyons’ black treacle, Britishers) and canola oil (I use rapeseed oil, Britishers, though I’m pretty sure ordinary vegetable oil would work just fine). The method is a throw-it-all-in-and-mix type, which always makes me happy. It was all done in a jiffy, even with Henry trying to stick his face in the treacle.

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Two notes about the mixing:

- put in the oil first, then use the same cup measure to put in the molasses. Black treacle is stickier than Satan’s armpit, but with a residual layer of oil in the bottom of the cup, it slides out into the bowl without a problem. And – this is very important -

- re. chocolate chips: go plain, or go home. And always, always put at least a third more in than you think you’ll need.

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The mixture is unpleasantly brown and clingy, but just wait till their ten minutes in the oven are up. These things puff out into glorious, golden mounds, cracked along the top like fault lines and studded with melted chocolate chips. If you don’t take care ladling out the dough, they can very easily be as large as your face. Crack one open and they are cakey and slightly chewy – like good gingerbread, almost, but without the ginger. Curiously, the pumpkin doesn’t come through very strongly, though they’re not at all tasteless. What they most remind me of are those German Christmas cookies: the same spices and the same texture. Magnificent, in other words. And the batch made thirty-five.

Store in a tin, and eat at your leisure. But even thirty-five of these babies won’t last long. I do not think there is a better cookie in the whole of space and time. And that’s not even Harrison Ford talking.

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The recipe for these cookies is courtesy of heynataliejean.com, and can be found here. Do it. DO IT NOW.

Cakery Bakery: Cinnamon roll cake

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I finished work on Friday. Not forever, but for long enough. Oh, it was like being let out of school before the long summer holiday, only with several hundred added Braxton Hicks. I bought a newborn car seat, in celebration (by heck do I know how to live). And then I made a cake.

It felt like a conquered mountain in itself, this cake. Baking is rather difficult at present, with a) Henry trying to get his tongue into the egg whites and b) all of this foetus to carry around. And I am generally obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without a breadmaker can never be bothered to go through with them. Well, have a look at this: cinnamon roll cake, from The Girl Who Ate Everything (still working my way through her website. Still in love). It’s like a giant cinnamon roll, but without any dough palaver. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

It didn’t go entirely smoothly, I admit. It started well: the cake mix is one of those wonderful throw-everything-in-a-bowl-and-press-go types, which always makes me happy. I used my free-standing mixer, but a handheld electric one would work just as well. That part is over and in a baking tin before you can say LITTLE BOY, PLEASE MOVE YOUR FACE AWAY FROM THAT EGG.

Then you prepare what the recipe calls topping, but is more like filling: cinnamon, soft butter, brown sugar and pecans all mixed together. My butter wasn’t quite soft enough, so I prepared the pecans separately, thinking it might be easier to whisk without them (it was). The instructions said to put tablespoonfuls of the filling on top of the cake mix, then use a knife to ‘marble’ it in. Well. My filling spoonfuls sat on top of the cake mix like daubs of cold peanut butter, and clearly weren’t going to marble anywhere at all. I ended up mashing them in any old how. It was messy, and left my cake looking like it had a bad case of acne (especially once I put the pecans on top), but we forged on.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Then came the real trouble. In the oven for 25-30 minutes, said the recipe. Which I did. I took the cake out, poked in a knife, and was utterly horrified when a lava-flow of grease came flooding out. I realised it was the butter/sugar solution, partying away on the inside. Who on earth would want to eat a grease cake?! I put it back in for another ten minutes. No grease this time, but lots of raw cake mix. Another ten minutes. And another ten. Thirty-five minutes after the recipe said it would be done, it was done. I wasn’t at all sure it would be edible, by this point.

Thank goodness for cream cheese frosting. The recipe gives instructions for a glaze that looks like a thin form of icing. But cinnamon rolls need cream cheese frosting, yes? It just feels right. I used this recipe, halved. It’s the sort of thing I can happily eat from the bowl, with a spatula. I would eat it on toast. I would probably lick it off a wall, to be honest, but for the time being it was jolly lovely on the cake.

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The verdict, then:

Deliciousness: Do you know, after all that, it was wonderful. Extremely fluffy, gloriously messy and crumbly. I don’t know why it took half an hour longer in the oven than it should’ve done, but it didn’t suffer for it. The filling makes sandy little cinnamon blobs in the middle of every slice, and the frosting and pecans together are lovely.

Complexity: If I can work out the correct oven time, it’s a cinch: measure, mix, dump in a tin. So much easier than proper cinnamon rolls. Now I have an ominous feeling.

Washing-up pile: Two bowls and some cutlery. Nice and easy (not – um – that I actually did the clearing up. Thanks, kitchen wonders!).

Casualties:¬†Here is a life lesson – you don’t want to wipe a ladleful of sugar/butter/cinnamon out of a toddler’s face and hair. Ever. That stuff clings.

Oh gosh, it's not going to come off. Is it?

This was the moment I realised it wasn’t going to come off.

The recipe for cinnamon roll cake is here, and the frosting I used is at the bottom of the page here. Go go go!

Cakery Bakery: Boston cream cupcakes

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I always have the best of intentions when I start to bake.

Well, no. Sometimes I have the best of intentions. Yesterday I did. I should bake something practical, I thought. I’ve got those frozen raspberries I need to use up (Failed Henry Experiment No. 736). Or, maybe something healthy. Something with oats in? Oats and frozen raspberries and OH MY GOOD GRAVY WAIT A MOMENT.

Hummingbird Bakery Boston Cream Cupcakes. Otherwise known as cake with custard inside.

Could I repeat that a moment? Cake. With custard. In. Side. And chocolate frosting on top. Do you know how I feel about custard? I drink it from the jug. The raspberries never stood a chance.

Learning to make custard from scratch is one of my baking goals this year, but it didn’t feel like Friday afternoon was the right goal-busting moment. So I bought a can of Ambrosia and the whole thing was as easy as you please.

The sponge was a quick job: the recipe said to mix all of the dry ingredients plus the butter in a free-standing mixer, and as it happens, these days I have one. If you haven’t, a handheld mixer or even a food processor would do the same job. The wet ingredients come after, then you’re done. It’s a thinnish, wet mixture that you then spoon into baking cases until they’re about two-thirds full. I quite like using an ice cream scoop for this job, but only because it makes me feel a bit special.

The sponges go in the oven for fifteen minutes or so, during which I made the frosting. It’s butter rubbed into icing sugar and cocoa powder, and then whisked together with milk. For the life of me, I can’t mix butter into icing sugar without inhaling half of it, so I use my fingers. Then once the cupcakes have cooled it’s time for the assembly.

These cupcakes are very similar to the chocolate fondant cakes I tried last year. You slice the top off each cake with a sharp knife, fill the space with custard, then replace the top after trimming it a little and cover the whole thing with frosting. I am not a natural froster and it felt like it took forever. But then it was done, and oh hello my darling, it was goooood.

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Deliciousness: apart from the obvious genius of filling a cake with custard, this is an excellent recipe. The sponge is very light and soft, and the chocolate frosting is surprisingly lovely (I’m not usually much of an icing fan).

Complexity: well, I cheated. I expect that making the custard would be the hardest bit. Using shop-bought stuff made the process much quicker, and the rest of it wasn’t hard at all.

Washing-up pile: Henry dumped an entire cutlery drawer into the messy sink halfway through. So, seventy-four?

Casualties: We survived. Hurrah!

This recipe is from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book; it’s also online here. But buy the book if you can, because it’s lovely and you deserve it.

Christmas Cakery Bakery: the Hummingbird Bakery’s sweet and salty chocolate cake

Whoa, wait, hang on a minute. Christmas is in how many days? I haven’t done a thing.

Well, we have a Christmas tree, though it’s getting more undressed by the day (saucy). And I have half a knitted garland for my living room. But no presents and no prep. I need to get a grip. Shake some jingle bells, that sort of thing.¬†And also, make some Christmas food, because nothing says festivity to me like festive baking. I wanted to get stuck in to biscuits and pies and Christmas morning muffins, but first we had a party to attend. Party people want to eat chocolate cake, and that is the truth.

We decided on the Hummingbird Bakery’s sweet and salty chocolate cake, in a moment of heady abandon. If the holidays mean decadence, this is the cake for the season: three layers of chocolate sponge, sandwiched with salty caramel and caramel chocolate frosting. It’s a tiny bit obscene. When I got home from the supermarket I put all of the ingredients on the table and we stood and gaped for a while. How much sugar? How much cream?

Oh, go on then.

Start with salty caramel. You combine syrup, sugar and water, boil it for ten minutes, combine it with lightly salted double cream and sour cream (which has also been boiled) and stir like billy-oh. That’s stage one, and the caramel it makes is delicious. I’m never sure how I feel about salted caramel, by the way, but this isn’t off-puttingly salty, so you’ll be fine.

Then repeat the process exactly, but without the salt, and end up with another bowl of creamy caramel that becomes the frosting, once you’ve added half a ton of chocolate and some butter. You’re supposed to whip and whip with a whisk until the mixture cools. After the chocolate, the frosting turned thick and spatula-friendly, which was exciting. Then after the butter, it suddenly became thinner and silky-smooth. I hoped it would solidify in the fridge (it didn’t), but perhaps it’s supposed to be splashier.

That’s stage two. Stage three is the sponge. And this was the exciting bit, because I got to break in the ancient (let’s say ‘vintage’, that’s trendier) Kenwood mixer I just inherited from a very lovely friend. It’s a thing of beauty. I can’t stop looking at it. And I cannot believe that it’s possible to make up a cake mix with no input from me or my bicep whatsoever. What is this?!

Twenty-five minutes later, and after I’d decided to get rid of one of the cake layers to save time, we were on to the assembly. I was right: the frosting was a pain to keep on, especially sliding over the caramel. But it looked rather spiffy, all the same.

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The verdict, then -

Deliciousness: Do you know, we thought it was only alright. Don’t get me wrong, it was a delicious chocolate cake. The caramel frosting went all fudgy, the sponge was soft, and it was beautifully rich. But we couldn’t taste the caramel, salty or no, which meant that after all that effort we’d just made… a chocolate cake. A very good chocolate cake. But not a life-changer.

Complexity: The most difficult bit was keeping the frosting on the cake. The rest of it was a little more time-consuming than your average effort, but not hard.

Washing-up pile: Approximately twenty-seven. Thousand. Maybe more. It was a lot.

Casualties: Distracted by frosting at a crucial point,¬†Timothy stubbed his toe on the wall halfway through the afternoon. It wasn’t all bad. In throes of agony on the sofa, he asked (through the medium of song) for a spoonful of the caramel stuff as his last request. I was sympathetic, and complied.

Cakery Bakery: Hummingbird Bakery Chocolate and Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

If you knew how hard I had to try not to call this entry ‘Making Whoopie’, you’d give me a medal.

I am completely in love with the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book. It’s not just that absolutely everything in there looks wonderful. It’s the way the recipes are written, the helpfulness and friendliness of them. It makes you want to have a go, and I love that.

Rather pointlessly, I gave Timothy the choice of what I baked last week – pointless because I included a chocolate-and-peanut-butter option, so his decision was a foregone conclusion. And so we embarked on the chocolate and peanut butter whoopie pies, my first foray into whoopie land.

A whoopie pie, in case you don’t know, is marshmallowy filling sandwiched between two spongy cookies. Marshmallow fluff is a scarce commodity here, but after a bit of hunting I tracked some down at Waitrose. The sponges are made from fairly standard ingredients, the only unusual additions being plain yoghurt and both bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, which I suppose is what makes them rise so much.

The sponges, then. As a word of warning, this recipe is much, much easier if you have an electric whisk. It would be possible to do without, I think, but you might not have an arm left by the end. Wet ingredients and sugar go together first. Whisk, whisk, whisk. Then dry ingredients are sifted in, a little at a time. Whisk, whisk, whisk. By the time the last of the flour went in, the chocolate batter was the consistency of play-dough and the whisk was groaning through it like car wheels in a swamp. Last of all you add the peanut butter, IF YOU ARE FOOLISH ENOUGH (more about this in a minute).

 

The dough Рit really is dough, rather than batter Рgoes into the fridge to set for half an hour, during which you preheat the oven and line baking trays with parchment. The cold mixture goes on the trays in dollops, and they go in the oven for about ten minutes. I would smooth them out with your fingers or a spatula as much as you can, since they rise almost exactly in the shape you left them. Once out, mine were huge and craggy, like chocolate rock cakes, and not really at all like the photo in the book.

Next, the filling, which looked like a quick enough job. Whisk butter and icing sugar together until combined, said the recipe. I got out my electric whisk and plunged it in, then ended up inhaling so much icing sugar I was coughing it out in clouds. So I tried my other, not so vigorous, electric whisk. Now it was coating the kitchen walls. So I got out a wooden spoon, which was so ineffectual I ended up using my hands. Much better, though infernally sticky. Once your mixture is combined, you add the whole tub of marshmallow fluff, whisk it in, and stick the bowl in the fridge for another half hour.

Finally, the assembly: two sponges, a spoonful of sugar(y filling) and a good squish together.

All in all, I thought, admiringly, they didn’t look half bad. Then I had a taste.

Dear reader, these whoopies are an abomination. Filled with a startling chalky dryness that explodes in your mouth, and not either very chocolatey or peanuty. I wondered whether I’d put them in the oven for too long, or added too much baking powder. Then I got it: it’s the peanut butter. The sponges take on the exact, mealy texture of peanut butter in your mouth, but without inheriting much of the nutty taste. The abominable whoopie. What a terrible shame.

(we still ate them all.)

Deliciousness: The marshmallow made up for a lot of things – it’s smooth and sugary enough to combat much of the dryness – but oh oh, these could’ve been SO much better. I still haven’t ruled out the (strong) possibility that I did something wrong, but I’m going to try them again without the peanut butter and see what it does. Timothy was a fan, of course. He ate the rest of the marshmallow filling – a not inconsiderable amount – on a single slice of toast. Yes, what?!

Complexity: Not bad at all, really. The electric whisk made things a lot easier.

Washing-up pile: A couple of bowls, a couple of trays, and many, many whisk attachments.

Casualties: My injured pride, mostly.

This is September calling. It’s time to change your life.

You guys, September is in the air. Can you smell it? It smells like freshly sharpened pencils (tm Tom Hanks).

A whiff of September is¬†irresistible¬†to me. Eau de New Start. I buy stationery I don’t need and embark upon life-improving projects. It’s the sort of month where I start feeling like I might want a new lampshade, because what COULDN’T you accomplish with a fancy lampshade in your living room? The Cakery Bakery project was a product of September. It’s a good month for beginning things you’ve always wanted to begin, and that is the truth of it.

Today, poorly Henry and I have been holed up in the house with rain spattering the windows. I have cleaned and thought, stopped cleaning out of boredom, restarted and thought some more. Here’s what I want from myself in the last leg of this year:

Write well. Work hard at it. Write about things that matter.

I just don’t know anything better for understanding myself and my surroundings than working it out in words. I love this little blog – it’s become something essential to me, unexpectedly – and I want to make it a place worth visiting.

Make definite, uncrossable, computerless spaces in our day.

Did you know, Henry knows how to switch on an iPhone? He can’t talk, but he can swipe. The phone signal down in Dorset was awful, and I was surprised (but not really) by how clearly I can think, how many more things I notice, when cut off from a screen. I would like to resurrect our computer-free zones and the iPhone spirit prison, and maybe September will help them stick.

Read. Poetry and all. 

A bit of literary criticism does me a heck of a lot of good, even if it’s just by myself.

Really, truly listen.

To both my boys. To the people I’ve asked how they are without stopping for an answer. For the things that are said and the things that aren’t said.

Vacuum at least once a week. Do laundry more often than that.

What?

In addition, we are planning a month of diet detox and I just feel like life would be more sparkly with at least two more notebooks and a set of coloured pens. Paperchase, you and I have a date with destiny. Let’s get this month ON A ROLL.