Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese icing

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Is there anything better than a slice of carrot cake and a cup of tea? A traditional tea-room favourite, carrot cake is easy to make, despite having quite a lot of ingredients. You can add nuts to your mixture- walnuts work well- if you prefer a nuttier cake but I chose to only garnish mine with nuts. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 6 flz oz of vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 whole carrots, finely grated
  • 180g brown sugar
  • 100g granulated sugar (white)
  • 240g of plain flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 25g raisins/sultanas

For the cream cheese icing:

  • 225g cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 60g butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C and grease two round cake tins. Make sure they are exactly the same size- around 9in is ideal. This is to make the layers of the cake.

Whisk the oil, eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Make sure all the ingredients in both your bowls are well blended together.

In the bowl with the dry ingredients, stir in the grated carrot. Make sure to get it completely coated in flour. Mix in the raisins or sultanas. Stir well.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and smooth the top over. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake has risen well and is a dark golden colour. Insert a knife in the centre- if dry and clean, the cakes are ready.

Leave the cakes to cool in their tins for around 3o minutes, while you begin to make the icing.

For the icing to work well, remember to make sure the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature and soft. Beat these two ingredients together until smooth.

Add half of the icing sugar and beat well.

Add the vanilla extract and lemon juice and beat well again.

Finally, beat in the rest of the icing sugar and beat until the icing is thick and creamy.

Take the cakes out of their tins. Spread a layer of cream cheese icing on the top of the bottom layer. Assemble the top layer on top of this so you have a layer cake. Spread the rest of the icing on the top of the cake and garnish with whatever you like. I decorated mine with cinnamon honey almonds, but almost any nuts would work well.

Serve (with a cup of tea) and enjoy!

How-to video: How to separate eggs

Eggs are a staple ingredient for any baker, but you may come across some recipes which call for only part of the egg. For example, many cakes and desserts such as ice creams, custards and crème brûlées call for only the egg yolk whereas recipes for meringues, macaroons and souffles require only the egg whites. There are many methods for separating eggs, but the 2 most traditional are demonstrated here in this video. Which way do you prefer?

Edinburgh Cake Crawl: Cuckoo’s Bakery

Where do you go for the best cupcakes in the capital? Well Edinburgh certainly doesn’t have a shortage of independent bakeries and the range of sweet treats on offer in the city is impressive. I’ll be taking a look at some of Edinburgh’s favourite bakeries, starting off with Cuckoo’s Bakery.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding Cupcake- image from Cuckoo’s Bakery

Cuckoo’s Bakery is relatively new, having only opened in February 2011. But it has gained quite a reputation in the city for it’s delicious and unique cupcakes. This February, I was treated to a surprise delivery of a box of 6 for my own birthday. Classic Cuckoo’s Bakery cupcakes including the Sticky Toffee Pudding, the Red Velvet and the Black Bottom went down a treat with family and friends- they were so good I almost didn’t want to share.

Not only are they makers of delicious cupcakes but Cuckoo’s Bakery also runs a tea room at 150 Dundas Street, where you can sit and relax with a cake and a coffee in cosy, vintage style surroundings. They also serve lunches on delicate handmade crockery painted with Edinburgh landmarks, and their ice cream milkshakes are to-die-for. Highly recommended for surprise birthday treats.

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Carrot cupcake

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Black Bottom cupcake

Iconic Cupcakes: Magnolia Bakery

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The Magnolia Bakery is one of the biggest cult bakeries in the world. A bold statement perhaps, but if you’ve ever been to New York or even just watched Sex and the City or The Devil Wears Prada, you will have heard of the Magnolia Bakery. NYC’S most famous bakery has become an iconic symbol for cupcake lovers all over the world. So what’s the story behind it?

The first store opened in July 1996 in Manhattan. According to legend, its owners only ever imagined it to be a cute little neighbourhood store, open for a few hours a day with a strong focus on a homely, vintage atmosphere. But the founders, Alyssa Torey and Jennifer Appel, soon found that demand for their cakes was overwhelming. They were so sought-after, customers would apparently bang on the door late into the night begging for a cupcake. Quite different from their initial vision, but so the cult of the cupcakes was born.

Today, the Magnolia Bakery has grown into one of the biggest international bakeries in the world. And it’s all down to the legendary cakes on offer. With a menu as long as your arm, there’s something there for every taste and that’s all part of it’s cult status. The Magnolia Bakery is also credited with kick-starting the trend for beautifully decorated cupcakes, which is evidently still going strong today.

Under new owners, the bakery has expanded not only throughout America but also across the globe into the Middle East and new plans are being made to bring Magnolia Bakeries to Europe and Asia too. While the rest of the world awaits a cupcake fix, the original Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan welcomes thousands of tourists a year. Tempted not only by the baked treats on offer but also the lure of a photograph of themselves sitting on the same bench outside the store where Carrie Bradshaw sat, it’s the ultimate destination for any cupcake lover worth their sugar.

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Miranda and Carrie outside the Magnolia Bakery- all images from Magnolia Bakery

My Top 10 Baking Tips

What are the essential things that an amateur baker needs to know before they begin baking? Apart from the fact that sometimes things will go wrong in the kitchen (the flour is lumpy, theres bits of shell in the cake mixture and someones  always trying to lick the spoon before you’re even finished), I think I have compiled a list of the ultimate top 10 tips. Amateur-baker-friendly, these are the things you need to know to make sure you get delicious results every time.

  1. Make sure to measure your ingredients out properly and don’t rush. Take time to read over the recipe and make sure you have the right amount of everything that you need.
  2. Don’t forget to pre-heat the oven before you start. Ovens need a little time to warm up and to get the best results, it should be exactly the same temperature as it the recipe states.
  3. Don’t substitute self‐raising flour for plain flour, or baking powder for bicarbonate of soda- this will affect the end result. Use the same staple ingredients as the recipe states, unless you know there is room for experimentation.
  4. Unless stated, ingredients need to be at room temperature before use. This especially includes butter. Your cakes won’t rise if the butter is still too hard. To check your butter is at room temperature, press with your finger and if it leaves an imprint, you’re all set to bake. If not, try this- to bring butter to room temperature quickly, cut it into tiny squares and leave to stand on a plate for 15 minutes.
  5. Remember to always line or grease your cake tins. Butter or margarine works just as well as baking parchment or greaseproof paper, as long as it’s fully covered.
  6. Sift your flour through a sieve before adding it to the recipe to get the best results. This will add air to your baking and help it rise properly.
  7. Always use the middle rack of the oven, unless the recipe states otherwise. If your cake is too high up in the oven, it will crack and eventually burn.
  8. Never open the oven before the minimum baking time is up. I know it’s tempting to take a peek and have a sniff but it could cause your cake to sink, under bake or end up really uneven.
  9. Test your cakes are ready by inserting a skewer or small knife into the centre. If it doesn’t come out clean and dry then you’ll need to bake it for a few more minutes.
  10. Remember to clean your oven regularly for the best results.

Lakeland’s Silicone Piping Set

Until last week I had never used a piping bag to decorate my cakes before, always opting for the knife-spreading method. But a sudden desire to create beautiful cakes spurred me on to purchase a piping bag. Being a first-time buyer, I decided to head somewhere traditionally renowned for kitchenware- Lakeland. As it happens, Lakeland offers a huge variety of different piping bags to choose from. There were disposable bags, starter kits, decorating kits, individual nozzles… I was at a loss for which to choose. Eventually I settled on this kit, Lakeland’s Silicone Piping Set. It comes with a reusable silicone piping bag and 5 plastic nozzles- all that was left was to buy was the icing.  Marketed as easy to use, great for beginners and easy to clean, it seemed the perfect kit to get started with.

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Image: Lakeland

My first attempt involved a lot of mess. A lot. But after a bit of practise, I discovered that it actually was easy to use, just like it said on the box. I discovered from this video that the easiest way to fill a piping bag was to prop it up inside a glass. Then it was just a case of selecting the best nozzle for the type of decoration you want to use. The kit offers a small writer, large writer, star shape, rope style and turntable border. This great selection means that it covers pretty much every kind of decorating you need- from writing to perfect border swirls. Once you’ve chosen your nozzle and inserted it into the bottom of the bag, the silicone grips it to keep it in place. Then it’s just a matter of twisting the bag at the top, squeezing gently and off you go! Cleaning the bag afterwards was simple too, you can even pop it in the dishwasher if you have one.

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Image: Lakeland

 

Overall, I heartily recommend Lakeland’s Silicone Piping Set, especially for amateurs like me. There are a lot of different kits and styles out there and it can be more than a little bit overwhelming, but for a starting set it’s pretty much everything you need. £9.49 at Lakeland.co.uk

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Image: Lakeland

Bread and Butter Pudding

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Bread and butter pudding is an age old dish, and it’s remarkably easy to prepare. The ingredients are fairly obvious, but you can mix it up a little by adding spices, chocolate or dried fruit, depending on what you like. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it always goes down a treat after a traditional Sunday dinner. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Up to 8 slices of  bread (not thick sliced. I always go for white bread)
  • 25g butter
  • 350 ml milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 50 ml double cream
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • handful of sultanas/currants (around 25g depending on how much you like them)

Pre-heat oven to 180 C and grease a pie dish with butter. You will need one deep enough for at least 3 layers of pudding.

Cut the crusts off the bread and spread each slice with butter. Cut into triangles.

Arrange the bread buttery side up in the dish.

Add a layer of sultanas, add a sprinkle of cinnamon and repeat until dish is full.

Warm the milk and the cream on the hob but be careful not to bring it to the boil.

Mix the eggs and 3/4 of the sugar together into a bowl and whisk well.

Add the milk and cream mixture to the sugar and eggs.

Pour the custard over the bread and sprinkle the top with the rest of the sugar.

Leave for 30 minutes to soak.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the custard has set and the top is golden brown.

TIP: I added little chocolate chips through mines too. Experiment with flavours and see what you like best with your bread and butter pudding.

How-to video: Baking without eggs

Eggs are a staple ingredient in almost every recipe. But many people choose not to eat them, or simply can’t. Eggs are one of the most common allergies and vegans choose to exclude eggs from their diet, so baking can be a no-go area for lots of people. If you love baking but can’t include eggs in your recipes, then you might be at a loss for what to bake. I found this great video on Youtube which has 5 suggestions for replacing eggs in recipes- now you can make everything from cakes to cookies and brownies to waffles. Most of them use ingredients that you will already have in your kitchen, and you won’t believe how easy they are to make.

Chocolate Flapjacks

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If you read about my disastrous first attempt at making flapjacks, you will be pleased to know I finally got it right. Second time lucky.  With a better baking tray and a watchful eye on the oven, I was finally successful. Here’s what you’ll need to make them:

  • 225g butter (softened at room temperature)
  • 225g demerara sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 275g porridge oats
  • Few squares of plain chocolate

Pre heat the oven to 160 C and grease a traybake tin or roasting tray with butter. Make sure you don’t make my mistake and choose a tray too deep or too wide. These measurements are perfect for a tin approximately 12 x 9 inches.

Melt the butter in a large pan along with the sugar and the syrup. Mix it well for a good few minutes. Then slowly stir in the oats. Mix well again and turn into the tin. Flatten the top with your knife to make it smooth.

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. I found that mine needed slightly longer, but keep an eye on them while they’re in there to make sure you don’t overbake them. If they are too hard and dark then they will be no good. The perfect colour is a pale golden brown colour.

Leave to cool for 15 minutes then cut into squares before they get too hard. Leave them in the tin to cool completely.

While your flapjacks are cooling, melt some plain chocolate to drizzle over the top. Fit a bowl over a pan of hot water on the hob and break up the chocolate pieces into it. Make sure not to let the water boil or the chocolate may go hard. Stir as the chocolate melts.

TIP: always make sure to use a chocolate that is 39% cocoa solids or more. This means there is a good ratio of cocoa solids to cocoa butter in the chocolate so it will achieve a perfect chocolatey flavour. Plain chocolate is the best to use in baking.

Once your flapjacks are cool, drizzle the chocolate over the top and enjoy!

Ingredient substitutes: 

  • To make your flapjacks more chocolatey, you could add in some chocolate chips after stirring in the porridge oats. About 100g would be enough.
  • If you prefer muesli to porridge, you could include your favourite muesli too. Replace 175g of the porridge with muesli and stir well in the pan. Remember to still add 100g of porridge oats too, or they will not achieve that quite right flapjack consistency.
  • If you are a fruit fan, you could include some raisins, sultanas or other dried fruits in your flapjacks. Add  a handful or two of your favourite dried fruits after stirring in the oats- about 25-50g depending on how fruity you like them.

The Flapjack Disaster

4 ingredients, half an hour- could it be any simpler? Well actually, yes. Flapjacks are deviously difficult to master. I naively thought that because the standard recipe looked remarkably easy, it would be a breeze. I was wrong. Here’s what happened.

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First, I set the oven at the correct temperature- fan 140 C. Only it wasn’t. It was at 160 C. But I only noticed this afterwards, of course.

Then, I discovered that my traybake tin was too deep for the measurements I had. I decided to battle on anyway. The mixture was thick enough and the recipe easy enough to follow. It was all going well, until the time came to put the mixture in the oven.

Because the temperature was so high, the mixture too thin and the tray too high up in the oven, the end result was a lot of smoke and some very crunchy, burnt flapjacks.

In summary; flapjacks are hard to make when you don’t pay very much attention to the recipe. Or the oven temperature.