Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jammy Almond Melts

These biscuits certainly lived up to their billing...they literally melt in the mouth and due to the copious amounts of butter they tasted divine...a little bit like really soft shortbread!
The dough for these biscuits was easy to make but it was extremely soft as there's a whole block of butter in them, so when it came to rolling out, it was really difficult. My advice would be to roll out as quickly as possible. Due to the excessive softness, some of my biscuits spread during order to avoid this it is advised to put the baking tray back into the fridge once the biscuits have been cut out. This allows them to firm up again before going straight into the oven.

Kids will love these biscuits, and they'd make a lovely little treat for anyone with a sweet tooth! :-)

225g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
200g plain flour
100g gound almonds
Pinch of salt
55g jam - either strawberry or raspberry

Preheat the oven to 150c/130c fan/gas 2. Prepare 2 baking sheets, grease and line. I used a reusable silicone baking mat. Using your electric whisk, beat together the butter and sugar until it becomes pale in colour and nice and fluffy. Then sift in the flour and add the ground almonds and salt, you should then be able to bring it together in a dough with your hands.

The ball of dough can then be wrapped in cling film and fridge for two hours. After chilling, the dough can be rolled out to about half a centimetre thick.  Take a heart shaped cutter and cut out as many biscuits you can out of the dough. Then cut smaller heart shapes in the centre of half the biscuits...these will make the tops.

The biscuits should bake for about 25-30 minutes until golden. They should then be left to cool on a wire rack before spreading jam on the bottom biscuits without the small heart cut out. Finally, place the cut out heart on top and sandwich together. To present your biscuits, dust the tops with icing sugar. However, to prevent the jam from being covered with icing sugar, cover it over with a small bit of baking paper.

* Adapted from Love Baking Magazine

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Apple & Cider Wigwam Cake

If you love camping but would like to try something different or alternatively if camping really isn't your thing and you prefer your home comforts then why not try 'Glamping'. Glamping is 'Glamorous Camping' and it's really taken off in the last few years!

Whether you want to stay in a tipi or cruise around Cornwall in a classic VW camper, glamping offers something for everyone. Kids will see it as a great adventure and for adults it's the ultimate in cool camping. If you're heading to a festival this year, you can also glamp it up with an array of festival accommodation on offer.
To celebrate the great British tradition of camping I made this Apple and Cider Wigwam Cake. It's so cute and perfect for summer. The cake is a lovely moist apple and sultana cake with some tasty cinnamon spice. The apples and cider are both British. The cider was incorporated into the buttercream between the cake layers inside and it was also used as a coating for the cake for the sugarpaste to adhere to. The cake even comes complete with a Matchmaker chocolate campfire and welly boots!

This is yet another bake from 'The Birthday Cake Book' by Fiona Cairns. It would appear I'm working my way through the book as I've already made Alice's Teapot, the Butterscotch Wisp Cake and the Lime and Vodka Russian Doll Cakes
Inside the tipi there are actually 3 x 15cm apple cakes stacked on top of each other and sandwiched with buttercream. These were then carved into a cone shape with a large serrated knife. A top tip to give the green sugarpaste on the board a grassy effect is to use a scourer. Once the paste is in place on the board use a scourer and press down on the soft paste and it gives it a great mottled effect which is reminiscent of grass! You can just about see the effect in the picture below.
So if all this talk of 'Glamping' has whet your appetite here are a few suggestions:
  1. Vintage Vacations on the Isle of Wight - stay in a classic Airstream trailer/caravan
  2. Jolly Days in the North Yorkshire Moors - Tented lodges with four-poster beds!
  3. 4 Winds Lakeland Tipis - Hire a tipi in the Lake District
  4. Yurt Village Holidays - Stay in a yurt in Dorset. I've stayed here and it was great fun! Why not try llama treking too! :-)
  5. Devon Classic Camper Hire - Strap your surfboard to the roof and visit Devon in a VW camper
  6. Free Spirit Spheres - For the more adventurous, sleep in the trees on Vancouver Island, Canada. I'm hoping to head here next year. If you go at the right time of year, you can even Kayak with Killer Whales!
As camping in the summertime is a British institution I am entering into this month's Calendar Cakes with the theme being 'British Summertime'. The challenge is alternately hosted by Rachel from Dolly Bakes, who is hosting this month, and myself. If you'd like to join us you can find more details here.
* Please note - I have not been asked to advertise any of the above 'Glamping' destinations they are simply places I have seen on the internet which I would like to visit. In addition, I cannot vouch for any of the companies or the quality of service they offer as I have only previously visited Yurt Village Holidays in Dorset.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nielsen-Massey Masterclass with Eric Lanlard

On Wednesday evening I was very excited to be invited to a vanilla workshop with master patissier Eric Lanlard which was hosted by Nielsen-Massey fine vanillas.
It was also my first visit to Cake Boy...and it won't be my last as I only live 10 minutes down the road! When we arrived we were greeted with the wonderful aroma of vanilla and the tables were decorated with beautiful orchids...vanilla pods are actually the fruit of an orchid...something I didn't know!
There were also some gorgeous nibbles, all made with a hint of vanilla. There were sweet and savoury offerings...a top tip is to use vanilla in your savoury dishes as it cuts through acidity. It was therefore perfect with the little shot glasses of gazpacho. You can also use vanilla to cure fish and Eric recommended adding it to your pumpkin soup!
My favourite was this combination of raspberry and pistachio even had a little macaroon in the bottom of the glass.
I always use Nielsen-Massey vanilla in my bakes and I was glad to hear I'm in good company, as so do all the top bakers. At the beginning of July I conducted a blind taste test creating mini cupcakes using Nielsen-Massey vanilla and mini cupcakes using vanilla essence. The pure vanilla extract won hands down and you can check out the results here.
Whilst we were at the masterclass, there were three different types of vanilla laid out in front of us...Nielsen-Massey bean paste, Nielsen-Massey pure extract and an artificial flavouring. You could really see...and smell the difference but interestingly 98% of factories worldwide use vanilla flavouring in their products.
First of all Eric spent some time explaining to us about was good to see that it was something he was passionate about as he was very knowledgable. Eric even went so far as to arrange a visit to the Nielsen-Massey factory on a trip to Chicago.
Then we got to the baking...obviously my favourite bit...which kind of goes without saying with a blog name like 'Laura Loves Cakes'! Eric demonstrated for us a Gateau Fraisier, a traditional patisserie made with sponge, creme mousseline and strawberries. We were shown each step of how to construct the gateau and to remove it from it's ring, Eric used a blowtorch...apparently a good place to get a blowtorch is B&Q! The finishing touch was marzipan on top, it was hand crimped around the edges and finished with the blowtorch. You may sometimes find that the marzipan on a Gateau Fraisier is green. Finally, the word Fraisier was expertly piped in chocolate on top along with a voila...a gorgeous gateau!
So what were Eric's top baking tips?
  1. Take your time - when creaming butter and sugar together it takes longer than you think! The good news is you can't overbeat it.
  2. Baking is like chemistry - you need to be precise. Mary Berry always advocates this too.
  3. Always sift your flour
  4. Ensure your ingredients are at room temperature.
  5. Never leave your eggs and sugar sitting together - the sugar starts to cook the eggs!
  6. If you have been storing your self-raising flour for a while it can lose it's va va voom, so just add a little baking powder to it before using.
After Eric's brilliant demonstration we were given a bag full of baking goodies...including of course some Nielsen-Massey vanilla. All I need to do now is come up with a recipe inspired by Eric's Gateau Fraisier! We also received a copy of 'British Baking in 2012' a lovely little book full of delicious, easy to make recipes. You can buy a copy of the book in Sainsbury's for £2.99. I also have to admit that I ate the delicious vanilla cupcake below as soon as I got home! :-)
So to finish off, here are a few facts about vanilla and how it reaches us ready for baking!
  1. Madagascar is the world's largest producer of vanilla. It also produes the finest vanilla. Other producers include the Seychelles, Mexico, Uganda, Indonesia and Tahiti.
  2. Vanilla pods are the fruit of an orchid and each one has to be fertilized by hand.
  3. It takes around 7-8 years before a vanilla vine will produce well.
  4. Each vanilla flower opens for only part of one day - if it's not pollinated on that day, no pod will be produced.
  5. 6-9 months after pollination the pod turns from green to yellow and is ready to harvest.
  6. A curing process is then undertaken. The pods go into an oven for 24-48 hours, they're then spread in the sun, gathered in overnight and wrapped in a blanket to sweat, spread in the sun, gathered in...and so on.
  7. Finally, they are stored in racks to further develop the flavour. This curing process can take between 3 to 6 months.
Who knew that it took so long to get one vanilla pod! And finally to leave you with a bit of vanilla trivia...the bean seeds that we often see in ice cream etc are purely cosmetic...they have no flavour, they're simply exhausted vanilla bean specks!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peaches & Cream Upside Down Cake

Have you been looking for a simple yet impressive cake that takes next to no time to whip up? If so, you can end your search here...this Peaches & Cream Upside Down Cake is a beauty. For not much more effort than a Victoria sponge you can make this light, summery and quite frankly delicious cake! Conincidentally, the bakers on the Great British Bake Off were also making upside down cakes this week, although their's were a little more fancy than this one! I took my cake out of the oven about 5 minutes before the new series started...must be psychic!
You could use your regular Victoria sponge recipe to make this, all that is required is to cut three ripe peaches into 8 slices per peach. Toss the peach slices in 85g of light brown sugar and arrange on the bottom of a base lined 20cm sandwich tin (also grease the sides with a little butter). Split your Victoria sponge mix in half and spread half in a second sandwich tin and half over the arranged peaches. Bake for 20-25 minutes or however long your sponge recipe suggests. The tin with peaches in may take around 5-15 minutes longer than the other so keep an eye on it. Both sponges should be golden brown.
To finish sandwich the two cakes together with cream. The original recipe suggests using clotted cream which I'm sure is delicious but I thought it might be a little bit rich, so I whipped up some double cream.
The BBC Goodfood website has a good recipe for a 'Classic Sponge Sandwich' which I used. Finally, I'd recommend not using loose-bottomed sandwich tins...I tried this previously (as suggested by the recipe) when I made an Apricot Upside Down Cake but it ended in tears when most of the apricot juice and sugar leaked out of the bottom!!!
I'm entering this cake into the One Ingredient Challenge with peaches being this month's special ingredient. The challenge is hosted by Nazima at Working London Mummy, who is this month's host, and Laura at How to Cook Good Food.
I'm also entering it into Simple and in Season hosted by Fabulicious Food as fabulously juicy peaches are now in season. Check out more about Eating with the Seasons here.
Finally, I'm entering it into a new Great British Bake Off Challenge hosted by Lottie's World of Cakes and Bakes where she is inviting participants to enter bakes inspired by the GBBO. So seeing they started the new series with Upside Down Cakes this is perfect! :-)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gold Medal Millionaire Shortbreads

What a phenomenal two weeks...who could have predicted that London 2012 would have gone quite as well as it has! I'm just settling in to watch the closing ceremony and quite frankly I'm not sure what I'm going to do with myself next week with no Olympics to watch!

To celebrate Team GB's success I made these Gold Medal Millionaire Shortbreads as we have won a staggering 29 gold medals in total which is 10 more than in Beijing and puts us firmly in third place on the medal table...amazing!
The recipe for these shortbreads is from the BBC and the finished product not only looked good but also tasted good too. The first step was to make the shortbreads, the recipe suggested making the hole for the ribbon with a drinking straw but I used a Wilton 2A nozzle. I would imagine that using a drinking straw the hole would close up when the shortbread was baked. 
Once they were baked and cooled, the next step was to add the fudge layer. The recipe suggests taking two fudge squares and then pressing them into shape on top of the biscuit but this seemed a little bit fiddly. I decided to take all the squares and microwave them for 10 seconds, knead them into a ball, roll it out and then cut out circles with a cutter. This method worked really well as all that was needed was to place them on top and press them down.
The final step was to melt some chocolate and then spread it over the biscuits, once this is set you can brush each one with gold lustre dust. I then mixed up some royal icing and piped on the Olympic rings etc and threaded the ribbons through. Below you can see the actually gold medal which depicts the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. I did consider trying to recreate this in royal icing but decided it might be slightly beyond my piping skills! ;-) These are lovely cookies which could be made in future to celebrate other successes!
To finish, I wanted to share with you my favourite purchase of the last couple of months...a Wilton Cookie Spatula. I bought it on impulse but have actually found it really useful as once you've cut out your cookie you can then use the spatula to transfer it to the baking sheet without mishaping it. I also used it today to pick up my fudge circles. You could certainly live without one of these but it's a handy little tool which gives you a neater finish and I've used quite a lot already! :-)
Shortbread Ingredients:

120g plain flour
50g caster sugar
120g butter
50g semolina

For the top:

24 fudge pieces (I used Tesco Dairy Fudge)
75g dark chocolate
Gold lustre

Lightly grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 160c/140c fan/gas 2. These are simple to make, just place all of the shortbread ingredients in a food processor and mix until they start to come together as a dough. Knead lightly and then wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

After the 30 minutes, roll the dough out on a floured surface, it should be about 5mm thick and you should be able to cut out around 12 7cm rounds. Use a nozzle or a drinking straw to cut out a hole at the top of each shortbread if you wish to string them with ribbon. Prick each biscuit twice with a fork. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden. Once baked, leave to cool.

To add the fudge layer, take around 24 pieces of fudge, although you may need more, and place them on a plate in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. They should then be nice and soft and it will be possible to knead them into a ball.  Roll out the fudge to about 4-5mm thick and then cut out circles the same size as your biscuits. Make sure to add the ribbon hole too. Press one circle of fudge onto each biscuit. Leave to set into position for around 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a bowl over boiling water and the gently spread over the biscuits ensuring all the sides are covered. It is best to do this on a cooling rack so the excess chocolate drips off. Leave the chocolate to set before brushing generously with gold lustre dust. Finally, string with the ribbons and then pipe your chosen designs on top. Enjoy! :-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Olympic Park Apple & Blackberry Picnic Pies

*Ahem* my best Marks and Spencer's voice...this isn't just a picnic's an Olympic Park picnic pie!
I've been lucky enough to enjoy some of the action in the Olympic Park this week and I wanted to soak up the atmosphere by enjoying a picnic in the park after a spot of athletics on Monday morning. So I packed up my sandwiches, crisps and other picnic goodies and as a tasty treat I made these pies to take too. I loaded them up in my Olympic regulation sized bag and took them to the park for lunch. I was a bit worried they wouldn't make it in one piece when my bag went through the scanner and was deemed to be suspicious, after a bit of rooting around from a rather dashing army man my pies were cleared!
The action in the athletics stadium during the morning was amazing and the atmosphere electric! After the excitment of the morning we found a spot for our picnic and spread the picnic blanket, we were even overlooking 'Gloriana' on the lock. I am happy to report the pies were in one piece and were really tasty. The pastry was sweet and soft and the classic combination of apple and blackberry can't be beaten. So all in all a success!
The recipe for these pies came from I slightly misread it and added the demerara into the pastry which should acutally have been sprinkled on top. I also found that the flour and butter was a bit dry and didn't bind together in a ball so I added in an egg yolk. It worked well and it was a good pastry. It was however a little difficult to get them out of the muffin tin at the end, a number broke, so obviously I had to eat them then and there! ;-) If you were to make these I'd recommend not making the pastry too thin as they may then be less liable to breaking upon removal. I'd also add more filling next time as I was a bit weary of over-filling. Finally, I might also up the blackberries in the recipe.
These pies would taste delicious warm straight from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream! I'm entering them into this month's Tea Time Treats hosted by Kate at What Kate Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage. These Olympic Park Pies are particularly apt as Kate was a cloud wrangler in the Olympic opening ceremony no less!
We had the most amazing day at the Olympics, it has truly lived up to it's billing as the 'Greatest Show on Earth'. We even managed to catch a glimpse of Andy Murray, Greg Rutherford and Laura Robson at the BBC. In the evening we were also lucky to see some beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade where we enjoyed another pie or two!! ;-)


350g plain flour
225g cold butter, diced
100g golden caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 egg beaten
6 tbsp demerara sugar


2 cooking apples
150g blackberries
2 tbsp golden caster sugar

The recipe suggests putting the flour and butter into a bowl and rubbing them together...being a bit lazy I used a food processor, either is fine! Then add in the sugar and a pinch of salt. The original recipe only called for the golden caster sugar...I also added the demerera by accident but it tasted really again your call. The pastry should come together in a ball, so I add an egg yolk to bind it but maybe see how your pastry goes. This recipe produces a rich sweet shortcrust pastry, especially with the addition of the egg. The pastry should then be wrapped in clingfilm and chilled for 30 minutes.

To make the pie filling, peel, core and chop the apple and pop it into a saucepan with the golden caster sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Heat gently until the apples begin to soften and then add the blackberries and leave on the heat for another 5 minutes. Whilst the apple and blackberries and cooking, lightly grease a muffin tin. I made 12 pies but the recipe says it makes 18.

When the pastry has chilled for at least 30 minutes, roll it out on a lightly floured surface and cut out 12-18 7.5cm circles and then 12-18 6cm circles depending on how much pastry you have and how many pies you are making.

Gently use the larger circles to line the muffin tin holes before spooning in the filling. Dampen the edge of the pies before pressing on the smaller circles to form lids. I did not cut any holes in the top of the pastry. Brush the tops of the pies with beaten egg and then put in an oven preheated to 200c/180c fan/gas 6. They take around 20 minutes to bake and should be golden when done. Leave to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before VERY gently removing from the tin. Enjoy!

* Adapted from

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ice Cream Cake Pops

The theme for this August's Calendar Cakes Challenge is British Summertime. Hosted by Dolly Bakes this month we are celebrating the best of that seasonal summer produce, the seaside, holidays or English country gardens to name but a few...let your imagination go wild! If you'd like to see last month's Olympic inspired bakes, check out the round up here.
The weather may have been a bit hit and miss in the last couple of months but we did at least enjoy some glorious sunshine last week. I even made it to the beach...and no visit to the beach would be complete without ice cream. I love these cute ice cream cake pops and they're a great way to use up cake cut offs!
There are two varieties here, the first are the mini cones. I bought the cones online and filled them with chocolate ganache. The cake balls on top are cake crumbs mooshed with ganache, the balls were pressed on top and then placed in the freezer to firm them up ready for covering. To cover, each ice cream was dipped in Wilton Candy Melts which can be melted in the microwave but to make them a nice runny consistency for covering, it is advisable to add a little vegetable oil.

These little ice cream cone pops were designed by Peggy Porschen and you can find out how to make them in her new book. I actually found the recipe in the latest Love Baking: Cupcakes & Sweet Treats magazine. You can also read a bit more about how to create cake pops in my previous post where I made Tiffany Boxes, Piggies and Blossom Pops.
The second type of ice cream cake pop is the Magnum style or Fab. These are made from cake crumbs and vanilla buttercream. The lolly sticks are available online or in some cake decorating stores. The shaped pops are again put in the freezer and the sticks are stuck in with a little of the melted chocolate. The ice creams receive a dipping in the first colour and they are then left to set a little before being dipped in the white chocolate.
If you can't get hold of Wilton Candy Melts it is just as easy to use melted chocolate. Both types of cake pop were finished off with a good helping of Dr.Oetker sprinkles.
If you'd like to join in with Calendar Cakes this month, you can check out more details here. We love to see your creations and absolutely all ideas are welcome...and if you're not based in problems we love to see summer holiday bakes from your part of the world!