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2
Apr 15

Fairy cakes

We are very proud of our fairy cakes at Fiona Cairns Ltd, which since we first sold them a few years ago have proved one of our most popular cakes ever. We make them all year round-changing the designs seasonally. I’ve been asked more times than I can remember what is the difference between cupcakes and fairy cakes? The former tend to be larger, usually topped with buttercream and originated in the States, but the smaller fairy cake I understand was first baked here in Britain.

This month I am giving a simple fairy cake recipe -they are decorated with edible crystallised summer flowers in the photo. I ‘ve just picked a few spring edible flowers (see the other photo)- tiny primroses, cowslips, violas and yes even the humble garden daisy (from my lawn!) Just make sure they havn’t been sprayed with chemicals. These little cakes are just perfect for an afternoon tea, make a lovely gift or even could be piled high on a cake stand for a wedding or a Christening. In fact a lovely centrepiece for any spring or summer celebration.

I remember well the month of April -4 years ago. We were in the midst of creating the Royal wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We were on count down – only 4 weeks to go until the wedding – a little stressful I recall! The cake was 17 fruit cakes and 8 tiers high and stood about a metre high. Covered in handmade sugar flowers we crafted, and all selected from a list produced by the Duchess herself-from “The Language of Flowers”.

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These little fairy cakes and decoration are so much simpler to create-and hopefully you will find a pleasure to make- totally stress free I hope!

Crystallised flower fairy cakes

Perfect for any garden party, these are as pretty as a picture. In this recipe, they are iced in very pale lavender and green pastels to complement the flowers used, but you can use any colours of your choice. For a large party or wedding, a stand of these on each table would make a fabulous centrepiece.

Cakes

Makes 20-24

20-24 fairy cake cases

250g unsalted butter, softened

250g golden caster sugar

grated zest of 2 large oranges,

plus 75ml orange juice

4 eggs, lightly beaten

250g self-raising flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/340°F/gas mark 3 ½ .Line 2 fairy cake tins with paper cases. Cream the butter, sugar and zest until very pale, light and fluffy (it will take at least 5 minutes in an electric mixer). Add the eggs gradually, beating between each addition, along with 1 tbsp of the flour to prevent curdling. Fold in the remaining flour and, lastly, slowly mix in the orange juice. Divide the batter evenly between them (make sure each is only just over half full, as you need space for the icing to set flat on top). Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and spring back to the touch. Leave for 1-2 minutes in the tins, then place on a wire rack until cold.

photo

Icing

600g icing sugar, sifted

5-7 tbsp orange juice

purple food colour

green food colour

20-30 edible crystallised flowers

and leaves (I used lavender,

tiny rosebuds, anchusa, daisies

and pinks, and geranium and

rosemary leaves, see below)

70g bag white royal icing

Divide the icing sugar between 2 bowls. Very gradually add a little orange juice to each until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add a very little purple food colour to 1 bowl and blend it in well until you achieve the desired shade. Cover the bowl with clingfilm (the icing dries out very quickly) while you colour the other bowl in the same way, using the green food colour. To ice the cakes, replace them in the fairy cake tins. This makes it much easier as the tins will hold the shapes of the cakes. Spread enough icing on to the cakes – using each colour on about half the batch – so that it is almost level with the top of the case, gently easing it to the edges with the back of a spoon. Allow to dry for a couple of hours. The cakes can be iced 2 days ahead, but add the flowers on the day they are to be eaten.

To finish, arrange the crystallised flowers and leaves on the cakes, using dabs of royal icing to hold them in place. Display on cake stands or plates, scattering any remaining flowers and leaves in between.

How to Crystallise Edible Flowers. A really simple and beautiful cake decoration.

photo 1

1 egg white, lightly whisked

white caster sugar

edible flowers and leaves,

such as whole roses or rose

petals, violas, pansies, violets,

mimosa, cowslips, pinks,

primroses, lavender, sweet

geranium leaves, mint leaves

small paint brush

florists’ wire (optional)

A quick and stunning decoration that requires very little equipment, just a quiet hour and a bit of patience. These should keep for up to 1 week in a dry place. Use unsprayed flowers that are completely dry. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

Place the egg white in a bowl and the sugar in another. Hold the flower, petal or leaf at the base and paint with egg, ensuring you cover every fold. Gently sprinkle on the sugar, again making sure every surface is covered, then shake off the excess. If crystallising whole roses, push a fine florists’ wire through the base of the bloom, then hook the wire over a tall glass. Leave overnight in a dry, warm place. The flower will dry while hanging. Lay petals or leaves on the lined sheet and leave overnight in a dry, warm place (an airing cupboard is ideal). They will harden in a few hours, becoming brittle.

Store in an airtight container, lined and interleaved with baking parchment. They are very fragile, so only make a couple of layers.

Please note not all flowers are edible and some are poisonous. So, ensure the flowers are fresh, dry unsprayed by pesticide(most shop bought flowers will more than likely have been sprayed). I prefer to pick mine from my garden when in season. In April ,see my list in the introduction for seasonal flowers. In a month or two the roses and lavender will be available.


27
Feb 15

Almond-Apricot Pansy Cake

 

Spring really is around the corner now – at long last. As if that wasn’t enough to celebrate – Mother’s Day falls on March 15th followed  closely two weeks later by Easter.

I’ve always loved this time – all the endless spring and summer months stretch out in front of us – longer , brighter , warmer days and the gardens unfurl. A  much  less stressful time than the madness that surrounds Christmas – far more relaxed entertaining – and more me that always includes  baking of course!

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Photography: Robert Leveritt

The traditional Simnel Cake we have come to associate with Easter originally began as a Mother’s Day gift. Made by girls in service in Victorian times,  the cakes were   baked  in the large kitchens  and taken   to their mothers. The delicious lighted fruited cake  which  has  a layer of marzipan running through the middle   is topped with more marzipan and eleven marzipan balls to symbolize the apostles(minus Judas) .

My almond-apricot cake is a much simpler affair. I decorate  it with a few edible spring flowers picked from my garden-pansies, violas, primroses  all   these would be perfect. A little more effort than buying her a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers -but  a  so much more meaningful way to spoil her! Decorate it with little sugar eggs or edible flowers and serve it for a spring or Easter afternoon tea or dessert.

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Photography: Robert Leveritt

Throughout March , we are showcasing a few of our cakes in  a  Harrods window. A selection of our cakes are always to be found in Harrods Food Hall (our first ever regular customer – dare I say  for the past 30 years!). To coincide with this very special Harrods promotion “Stealing Beauty” we are also selling the prettiest fairy cakes-decorated with tiny rosebuds and butterflies. Larger box will retail at £12.95 for a pack of six, or £5.50 for a pack of two.

Happy Mother’s Day and  Happy Easter baking!

Almond-Apricot Pansy Cake 

A wonderful cake to serve for tea, or as a dessert. It would be equally good with a blackcurrant or cherry jam.  I have decorated it with pansies on top, but primroses, violets or a mixture would be equally pretty. Serves 8

pansycake

FOR THE CAKE

225g unsalted butter, really soft, plus more for the tins

160g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

60g ground almonds

225g golden caster sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp almond extract

finely grated zest of 1 organic orange and juice of ½

 

FOR THE FILLING AND DECORATION

200g crème fraîche

5 tbsp best-quality apricot jam

icing sugar, to dust

freshly picked, dry, unsprayed pansies

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Butter two 20cm round tins and line the bases with baking parchment.

 

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir in the ground almonds and set aside.

 

Put the softened butter and sugar into the bowl of a food mixer (or use a bowl and a hand-held electric whisk) and cream together until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk in the eggs, adding 1 tbsp of the flour mixture halfway through to prevent the mixture from curdling. Fold in the remaining flour mixture, almond extract, orange zest and juice.

 

Divide the batter between the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until firm to the touch, or a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tins for a minute or two, then turn the cakes out on to a wire rack. Remove the papers and leave until cold.

 

When ready to serve, simply place one of the cakes upside down on to a serving plate or cake stand and spread the flat surface with the crème fraîche. Spread the flat surface of the second cake with the apricot jam and sandwich the two together. Sift over a dusting of icing sugar and decorate with the pansies.

 

Recipe from SEASONAL BAKING by Fiona Cairns, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25 © Fiona Cairns

 


9
Feb 15

White Chocolate and Cardamom Rosewater Sponge and Crystallised Rose Petals

February – the winter is dragging on just that bit too long and we all long for spring. There are signs of hope however, snowdrops and early bulb shoots appear in the garden and the days are slowly drawing out.

Valentine’s Day on February 14th – impossible to ignore, whether you love it or not. As soon as the Christmas decorations are down, all things heart shaped appear in the shops (as well as Easter eggs!)

Forgo the red roses this year (the easier option of course) and bake this quite delicious cake as your Valentines offering. If you don’t have a heart shaped tin, or the inclination to purchase one then use a deep 20cm round tin (or 2 x 20cm sandwich tins instead). Don’t be put off baking the cake if making chocolate curls and crystallising rose petals is a step too far. Simply scatter a little bling – heart shaped sweets or chocolates. This cake is also perfect to make all year round, for any girl’s special celebration.

Tip: There is a lot of overly sweet cheap white chocolate around – I always use a good Swiss brand, widely available in supermarkets. As always when melting chocolate – do so over a very gentle heat ensuring the bowl is not touching the water. This is described in the recipe.

Ideally rose petals to crystallise need to be organic, or at least pesticide free, and can be hard to find especially in February. I prefer to use garden roses when making this in the summer months or decorate as you wish.

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Rose Petal Heart
An exquisite combination of white chocolate, cardamom, rosewater and raspberries. This cake is temptingly strewn with crystallised petals and white chocolate curls; both can be made a few days ahead, then stored in dry conditions in a cardboard box at room temperature.

Serves 8

1 x heart-shaped White
Chocolate and Cardamom
Rosewater Sponge with filling,
kept separate (see below)
250g fresh raspberries
200g icing sugar, sifted
2–21/ 2 tbsp rosewater
100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
12 crystallised pink rose petals
(see below)

Method
Split the cake, spoon in the filling and the fresh raspberries, then turn it upside down on to a cake stand. Place the icing sugar into a bowl and gradually add the rosewater, mixing all the time until the icing is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour over the cake and let it drizzle down the sides. Allow to set for an hour or so.

To make the chocolate curls, place a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Add the white chocolate to the bowl and heat until it melts, stirring only very occasionally. Pour it on to a plastic board, or a piece of marble, and spread out with a palette knife. Allow to set; a short spell in the refrigerator will help.

Run a sharp fine knife at a 45-degree angle across the chocolate (or use a vegetable peeler) and it will curl. Too cold and it won’t work; too soft and it will need 15 minutes or so back in the refrigerator. You’ll have to experiment.

Scatter the cake with the chocolate curls, then with the rose petals.

fiona


White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

This is very delicately flavoured and the tastes of white chocolate, cardamom and rosewater marry beautifully. White chocolate ganache, which forms the filling, can be tricky. I’ve had my best success using Swiss white chocolate.

Serves 8

FOR THE CAKE
130g unsalted butter, softened,
plus more for the tin
20 green cardamom pods
170g self-raising flour
100g white chocolate, chopped
130g white caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

FOR THE GANACHE
100g white chocolate, finely
chopped
100ml double cream
2 tsp rosewater

FOR THE GLACE ICING
150g icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4. I make this cake in a heart-shaped tin measuring 23cm at its widest point and 6.5cm deep, but otherwise use a 20cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round tin. Butter the tin very well, then line with baking parchment.

Deseed the cardamom pods: split them with the point of a knife, empty out the little seeds and grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. There may be a few pieces of husk mixed in, so sift the cardamom powder together with the flour to remove them.

Place the chocolate in a food processor with half the sugar. Process until as fine as possible. Take 2 tbsp hot water – not boiling water or the chocolate will seize – and leave it until you can just dip in your finger.

Dribble it into the chocolate, processing until most has melted.

Add the remaining sugar and the butter, cut into knobs, and process well. Add the eggs, flour and vanilla and mix again. Don’t worry if there are tiny pieces of chocolate left in the batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 25–30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Rest in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wirerack, removing the papers. Leave until absolutely cold.

Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a bowl and, in a pan, bring the cream and rosewater to the boil. Pour the cream over mthe chocolate, leave it for a few seconds, then gently stir until smooth.

Leave until cold, chill slightly, then whisk until it thickens.

Split the cake in half and invert so the flat base forms the top. Fill with the ganache and top with the second layer of cake. Place the icing sugar in a small bowl and add 1 ½ -2 tbsp water until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour it over the cake and allow to drizzle down the sides.


12
Jan 15

A Very Lemony Crunch Cake

After all the excesses and happiness of Christmas, January can be a little depressing. The days are dark and gloomy; spring seems far away – even though the nights are slowly, ever so slowly getting shorter as the days lengthen.

Many of us have made our New Year’s Resolutions, which in my case are a bit of a struggle to keep after a week or two. Each year I put away that biscuit tin, forgo my evening glass or so of wine, stick to healthy salads and soups and renew my gym membership thinking this year will be different! On top of that it is probably the most difficult time of the year to be hard on yourself!

Fortunately for us, the wide array of brightly coloured citrus fruits in our shops is now at its very best, so do make the most of them to brighten your day. Delicious oranges, lemons and grapefruits. Even if, like me you are trying to stick to all that is healthy, a small slice (or maybe two) of this simple and simply delicious lemon crunch cake will lift your spirits I guarantee.

fiona

A few baking tips: Remember when baking cakes – all ingredients need to be at room temperature. Eggs – if straight from fridge can be brought to room temperature by placing the uncracked eggs in a bowl of warm water for about 15 minutes. Butter – in this recipe it is melted anyway so no problem. However as in many cake recipes where softened butter is required, simply cube and very briefly blitz in microwave until slightly softened (not melted).

The eggs and sugar are whisked for a few minutes until they become pale and thickened – this is a key to success and then gently fold in the flour to ensure a light cake.

This moist sponge is doused in lemon syrup to give a wonderfully crunchy top.

RECIPE – A Very Lemony Crunch Cake
serves 6

cake

FOR THE CAKE

175g unsalted butter, softened,

plus more for the tin

175g self-raising flour

a pinch of salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

175g golden caster sugar

zest, finely grated, and juice of 1

large unwaxed lemon

FOR THE TOPPING

juice of 1 large lemon

100g white granulated sugar

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Lightly butter an 18cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round springform tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside to cool slightly.

Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, or a bowl and electric whisk, beat the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy (this may take 5 minutes).

Blend in the melted butter; then very gently fold in the flour and zest.

Finally, slowly fold in the juice.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch, or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the crunchy topping by simply mixing the juice and sugar together in a small bowl. Immediately the cake comes from the oven, prick tiny holes all over it with a fine skewer or cocktail stick.

Pour the lemon syrup evenly all over the surface.

Leave to cool completely in the tin.


4
Dec 14

Gingerbread man cake and biscuits

Christmas seems to begin earlier each year (well in the bakery it certainly does, we are planning cakes for Christmas 2015 already!). We began making our Christmas fruit cakes in September-and have been producing 1000’s of seasonal cakes and biscuits of all shapes and sizes ever since-right up to a few days before Christmas Day. Maybe you have baked my delicious fruit cake (see November blog) and it is stored away maturing nicely. If not –as long as you still have a couple of weeks minimum for all the wonderful flavours to mingle, mellow and work their magic, then do bake it if you feel so inclined. This month I describe in detail how to marzipan and ice your cake, and decorate it simply with gingerbread men.

Alternatively make a simple batch of little gingerbread men –wrapped in cellophane bags they make great edible gifts, stocking fillers or hang on your Christmas tree!

These gingerbread men can be baked and decorated now all ready for Christmas-or cut out snowflakes, stars or Christmas trees-whatever takes your fancy!

TIP. If making tree decorations, make a hole at the top of the biscuit(you can use a straw or skewer), and on removal from oven re form, as the holes may have closed slightly. Once cold, thread a narrow ribbon through and form a loop. Alternatively, make the dough, cut out and layer the unbaked biscuits in freezer containers-layered up with baking parchment. Bake fresh as required.

Your home will be filled with the wonderful scent of Christmas!

Happy Baking and Happy Christmas!

Next Month. –a simple Lemon Drizzle Crunch cake. Just the thing after all the excesses of the Festive season.

GINGERBREAD MAN CAKE

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A great classic Christmas cake for all the family; there’s always someone who doesn’t like fruit cake, so they can eat the gingerbread men!

Makes 40 slices

1 x Rich Tamarind Fruit Cake
1/ 2 x batch Gingerbread dough (see below)
4 tbsp apricot jam, warmed and sieved
1kg marzipan (see below)
1 tbsp brandy or boiled water
icing sugar, to dust
1kg sugarpaste
6cm gingerbread man cutter
9cm gingerbread man cutter
6 cocktail sticks
30g bag black royal icing
30g bag red royal icing
60g bag white royal icing
bag of mini chocolate beans

Turn the cake upside down on to a cake stand. A dab of apricot jam will stop it moving around. If there are any holes or the cake is a dodgy shape, correct it now with little bits of marzipan. Once you are happy, brush all over with jam. Knead the marzipan until pliable. Dust a work surface with icing sugar and, using a little more on the rolling pin, roll the marzipan into a rough circle slightly larger than the top and sides of the cake and about 5mm thick. Lift on to the cake, smoothing all over, and cut off any excess. Leave overnight to firm up.

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Brush the marzipan with the brandy and, on a clean, flat surface, knead the sugarpaste until pliable. Dust the work surface and rolling pin with icing sugar and roll out the sugarpaste in a rough circle about 5mm thick and slightly larger than the diameter of the cake and sides. Lift the sugarpaste with your hands (or loosely wrap it around the rolling pin) and place it over the cake. Gently smooth with your hands and cut away any excess. Leave overnight to harden.

Preheat the oven to 180.C/fan 170.C/350.F/gas mark 4. Roll the gingerbread dough out to 4mm thick and cut out 12 large and 12 small men. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment and lay out the
shapes; smaller on 1 tray (they take less time to bake) and larger on the other. Press 2 cocktail sticks on to the backs of the legs of 3 smaller men so they will stand up later. Bake for 8–15 minutes, depending on size. The gingerbread will darken. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Pipe black eyes and red mouths on the large men and stick on red mini bean noses.

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Pipe black eyes and red noses and mouths on the small. Stick 3 buttons on the large men and 2 on the small. Surround the cake with the larger men, propped against it, dabbing their heads with a little royal icing to adhere. Carefully position the 3 men on sticks on the top of the cake. You will have 9 little men left over to serve separately.

GINGERBREAD BISCUITS

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Once you have wrapped the dough in clingfilm to chill, you can store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days or freeze for up to a month so they are ready to bake at any time.

Makes about 40

350g plain flour, plus more
to dust
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/ 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
130g salted butter, very
slightly softened
1 egg yolk
150g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp black treacle
zest of 1 orange, finely grated

Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and add the butter, cut into small chunks. Gently rub together with your fingertips – or pulse in a food processor – until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs

Add the egg yolk, sugar, syrup, treacle and zest and mix together until you have a firm dough. If it’s too sticky, mix in a little more flour. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 180.C/fan 170.C/350.F/gas mark 4. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 4mm thick, and cut out with a 6.5cm round cutter. Bake for 10–15 minutes. The gingerbreads will have darkened a little.

Remove from the oven and leave to firm up a little for a few minutes, then gently transfer to a wire rack to cool. They will become crisp.

MARZIPAN

makes about 600g, enough to cover a 20cm cake

190g icing sugar
380g ground almonds
3 tsp lemon juice
3 egg yolks
4 drops almond essence

In a bowl, mix the icing sugar and almonds. In another bowl, mix the lemon juice, egg yolks and almond essence. Add the egg mixture gradually to the icing sugar and almonds and knead everything just until it forms a stiff paste. (It will become oily if overworked.) Store in a polythene bag in the refrigerator (use within a week).


4
Nov 14

Classic Christmas Fruit Cake

I actually really enjoy all the preparation and forward planning and my endless “to do” lists (which I write all year round anyway as many of us do) are longer than ever!

Maybe you are super organised-presents wrapped, cards written, meals planned, decorations and festivities all organised weeks in advance -or maybe it is a bit last minute. Possibly, like most of us it is a bit of both.

November can be a bit bleak-the nights are getting longer, trees are bare and we are fast descending into winter. I can think of nothing I would rather do than retreat to the warmth of my kitchen and spend many happy hours baking. I would say that wouldn’t I…..

Here is my fail safe luxury Christmas cake recipe- I started the cake business making this from my kitchen table almost 30 years ago! We even made the little cakes using baked bean cans in those days (well washed out of course). Now we make literally 1000’s of Christmas cakes in the bakery using very similar recipes. It is quite delicious- packed with moist fruits, spices nuts and laced with brandy. If you have never made a fruit cake-I urge you to follow my step by step instructions. Make it now and store it away and the cake will mature and the flavours will mellow and mingle.

At least you can tick one thing off that list!

How to decorate the fruit cake, and how to make gingerbread men in December’s blog.

Bake & Decorate by Fiona Cairns (Quadrille, £12.99)

 

Rich tamarind fruit cake

fruitPhotography by Laura Hynd

makes 25–30 slices

200g dark glacé cherries

280g sultanas

280g raisins, preferably lexia or

muscatel

100g currants

170g mixed peel

110g glacé ginger, chopped

1 tsp tamarind paste

3 tbsp black treacle

40g bitter marmalade

zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated

zest of 1 orange, finely grated

1 heaped tbsp mixed spice

100ml brandy, plus 3 tbsp to feed the cake

250g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin

120g walnuts

40g blanched almonds

180g self-raising flour

1 tsp salt

250g dark muscovado sugar

160g ground almonds

5 eggs, lightly beaten

 

The day before, rinse the cherries, then dry them well with kitchen towel and cut each in half. Place the sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, glac. ginger, cherries, tamarind paste, black treacle, marmalade, zests and mixed spice into a large bowl. Pour over the brandy, give it a stir, cover with clingfilm and leave overnight.

Next day, preheat the oven to 140°C/fan 130°C/275°F/gas mark 1. Lightly butter a 23cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round tin and line with baking parchment. Wrap the outside of the tin with brown paper and tie with string, to protect the edges from scorching in the oven.

Scatter the whole nuts on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes in the oven, shaking once and watching so they don’t burn. Cool slightly, chop and set aside.

 

fiona

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar for at least 5 minutes until paler and fluffy. Add the ground almonds, then very gradually the eggs, mixing well between each addition. Fold in the flour with a large metal spoon and, lastly, all the fruits (and any liquid) and nuts.

Scrape the batter into the tin and bake on a low shelf for about 23/4 –3 hours. Start to check it after 21/2 hours: if a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, it is ready. If it browns too much before it is fully cooked, make a circle of foil a bit larger than the cake, pierce a hole in the centre and open it up, then place it over the tin.

Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. When cold, prick all over with a fine skewer and evenly sprinkle over the extra brandy. Wrap in baking parchment, then foil, and leave to mature for a week or up to 3 months. Unwrap and feed it with 1 tbsp more brandy every other week, if you like, for extra succulence and booziness!

 


6
Oct 14

Autumn baking

I have always loved the glorious autumnal colours , golden light and sheer abundance of seasonal local produce at this time of year. An exciting time for any cook or baker. Our harvest this year from the garden alone-of apples, pears and plums,( and blackberries from the hedgerow) is the best ever.

Our clocks go back at the end of the month as we descend into winter, and we are constantly reminded Christmas is fast approaching!

Halloween, Trick or Treat and all things spooky and creepy , closely followed by Bonfire Night seems to have become more and more commercial over the years, but can be fun.

These little monster cakes are more frightful than frightening I would say, but perfect for the kids to while away a few hours at half term maybe? Great to take along to any Halloween gathering, Trick or Treat or maybe a Bonfire gathering.

Each year I always make a quite delicious Parkin Cake. The recipe comes originally from the North of England and is traditionally served on Bonfire Night. A dark moist, slightly sticky cake made with black treacle, ginger oatmeal , this would be my personal preference! Served slightly warmed with a salted caramel or vanilla ice cream it is a delicious autumnal pudding. My recipe for it is in my latest book Seasonal Baking. So – two very different autumnal ideas to bake at home for October .

Little Monsters

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All-in-one orange cake

The more revolting and gruesome the better! Thank you
to Molly and Jacob Eardley (aged 11 and 8) for designing
the originals for me to copy. I have listed the colours and
quantities of icing I used, but this is only a rough guide.
A great way to get children involved: just give them the
icing, colours, a piping bag or two (and this photo to
spark their imaginations) and leave them for an hour or
two! You could use food colouring pens too (although the
sugarpaste will need to have dried overnight first).

Makes 16

16 cupcake cases

For the cupcakes
250g unsalted butter, softened, diced, plus more for the tins
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
finely grated zest of 2 large oranges and juice of ½ large orange
250g golden caster sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the syrup (optional)
juice of 1 orange
5 tbsp caster sugar

For the icing
500g icing sugar, sifted
5–6 tbsp orange or lemon juice

To make the monsters

fiona

500g white sugarpaste (or ready mixed colours of your choice)

The colours I used were:
pink food colour paste
green food colour paste
red food colour paste
yellow food colour paste
blue food colour paste
violet food colour paste
orange food colour paste
black food colour paste
60g piping bag white royal icing, no. 1 nozzle

To bake
Set the oven temperature to 180C/fan 170C/350F/gas mark 4.
Line two cupcake tins with paper cases. For this batter, I use an electric mixer and beater attachment, but do use a food processor, or a bowl and an electric
whisk, if you prefer.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl, then add the orange zest, sugar, butter and eggs. Beat together and lastly add the orange juice. Do not over-mix.

Divide the batter between the cases. Bake for 15–18 minutes, or until
the cakes spring back to the touch.

Meanwhile, if you are making the syrup, mix the orange juice and sugar in a bowl. As soon as the cakes come from the oven, prick holes all over each with a cocktail stick and douse with syrup. (Only do this after they are defrosted, if
the cakes have been frozen.) Leave to cool completely in the tins.

When ready to ice, place the icing sugar in a bowl and gradually add
just enough orange juice to make a pourable consistency which coats
the back of a spoon. Pour a spoonful or so of the icing over each cake,
gently easing it over the cake with a spoon so it spreads to the edges.
Allow to set for an hour or so.

To decorate
Divide the white sugarpaste into however many colours you wish to
use (each of my monsters took 20–30g) and colour it, keeping back a little white for the eyes and teeth. Make your monsters!
Stick the monster parts together with royal icing, and decorate each
cake with a monster, adhering with a blob of royal icing, if necessary.

To colour sugarpaste
Place a piece of sugarpaste on a work surface. Dip a cocktail stick into a pot of food colour and knead in. It is much better to add the colour little by little and mix different colours. If it is sticky, add a little icing sugar. Knead until the sugarpaste is an even colour you like. Seal in a polythene bag and leave overnight, if possible, to firm up.


1
Sep 14

Peanut Butter and Sour Cherry Cookies

September has always been one of my favourite months of the year.  I know, the long lazy summer holidays are over, giving way to mellow early autumnal gradually shortening days.

It is “back to school” for many – new beginnings.  I remember that feeling well – rows of brand new pencils, pristine exercise books and squeaky clean shiny shoes.  Translated, these days – September is still about new beginnings and when I most want to replace my entire winter wardrobe – no doubt a hangover from those days!

photo 2

Anyway, a much cheaper option is to whiz up a batch of these cookies – a perfect addition to any lunchbox, late summer picnic, a September country ramble or with a weekend cuppa.  The saltiness of the peanuts and the sweet/sour cherries makes them a hit with everyone.

TIP:  Replace the cherries with chocolate chips or small pieces of chocolate. Remember cookies and biscuits will harden and continue to slightly cook off when removed from the oven.

photo

Another of my September occupations is to ramble across the fields in search of sun ripened blackberries.  Turn it into to crumbles, cakes and jellies or simply enjoy a bowlful with a dollop of yoghurt for breakfast.  If you aren’t near a blackberry bush or don’t have the time then they are, of course, available in the supermarket.  For a 5 minute delicious pudding make a white chocolate sauce – break up a bar of good white chocolate with an equal amount of double cream into a small bowl.  Melt over gently simmering water (ensuring bowl doesn’t touch the water).  Pour into a jug and serve warm with a bowl of blackberries and maybe a few shortbreads.  Sublime!

Recipe for peanut butter and sour cherry cookies 

One of the best biscuit recipes I know to pack up and take on a picnic, as the salty peanut butter combined with the sweet cherries makes them a hit with all ages. Substitute the same amount of chocolate chips for the cherries, if you prefer.

 Makes 18–20

100g unsalted butter, softened, in pieces, plus more for the trays (optional)

170g light muscovado sugar

200g crunchy peanut butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

200g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

peanut-butter-cookies

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and lightly butter two baking trays, or line with baking parchment.

Using a food mixer (or a large bowl and a hand-held electric whisk), whisk together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the peanut butter and egg. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt, then add the vanilla and cherries. Mix together (but do not over-mix), until just combined to a soft dough.

Using a tablespoon, divide the mixture between the baking trays and flatten each biscuit with the tines of a fork. The mixture will spread a little, so space them out well. Bake in the preheated oven for 10–12 minutes, or until just colouring around the edges. The cookies will continue to harden as they cool, so it is really important not to over-bake.

Leave on the trays for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. These will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

 

Recipe from SEASONAL BAKING by Fiona Cairns, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25

 

© Fiona Cairns


1
Aug 14

Edible Flowers

I have a passion for flowers that, I would say, is about in equal measure to my baking obsession. So, naturally, I love to combine the two whenever possible!

The tradition of using flowers in the kitchen is nothing new; interestingly the Romans sometimes flavoured their wine with roses and violets. There are many interesting floral recipes from medieval times and flowers were used in the kitchen for centuries.

Making floral cake decorations

Making floral cake decorations

Seemingly the tradition rather went out of favour during Victorian times… and then in came artificial flavours and colours. (It is wonderful these days to see the return of natural food colourings, widely used now in baking and confectionery and in our cakes in the bakery.)

Many of the flowers we grow in our gardens are edible: roses, lavender, pansies, violets, primroses, pinks, sweet geraniums, borage and even the humble garden daisy. Little packets of fresh edible blooms can be found in some supermarkets, as can rose and orange blossom water and lavender sugar (though the latter is easy to make at home).

Be careful which flowers you use

Be careful which flowers you use

 

They are all there to transform your summer baking, puds and salads, too. However, do remember that shop-bought flowers intended for general display are not suitable for cooking, as they have been sprayed with pesticide. And remember that some flowers are poisonous, so please stick to those specified!

In this recipe I have crystallised several roses from my garden and even a few daisies from the lawn! Tumbling over the cake, with a selection of summer berries, I hope you will agree it is fairly stunning and so simple to do.

 

Making edible flowers is easy

Making edible flowers is easy

TIP
Bring your summer salads, puddings and salads alive with a sprinkling of rose petals, marigold petals and pansies.

Do look out for a book to be published in September by Frances Bissell called The Floral Baker. Not only are the recipes easy to follow, but Frances explores the use of flowers as flavourings in her cakes, pastries and breads in an original way.

To crystallise flowers

1 egg white
caster sugar
paint brush
a selection of dry edible flowers and leaves (see above)

Lightly paint each flower, petal or leaf with egg white, covering every surface. Sprinkle over the sugar with a teaspoon, again covering every surface, then shake off excess, place gently on baking parchment and leave to dry for 12-24 hours.

Summer extravaganza

Summer extravaganza

Summer extravaganza
Maximum impact with just a bit of effort and a wonderful centrepiece for any special occasion, even a small wedding. Everything on the cake is edible: crystallised roses, dog roses from the hedgerow, daisies, cherries and currants. For children, cover with sweets or biscuits. Just use your imagination!

Serves 30

FOR THE TOP TIER (15CM, SERVES 6); MIDDLE TIER (20CM, SERVES 8); BASE TIER (25CM, SERVES 16)

175g (225g; 550g) unsalted butter, really soft, in pieces, plus more for the tins
175g (225g; 550g) self-raising flour
1 tsp (1; 2) baking powder
3 eggs (4; 8), lightly beaten
1 tsp (1; 2) vanilla extract (or seeds of ½/½/1 vanilla pod)
175g (225g; 550g) golden caster sugar

FOR THE FILLING
100ml (200ml; 300ml) clotted cream, whipped
4 tbsp (8; 8) jam of your choice, plus more to stick
icing sugar, to dust

FOR THE DECORATION
crystallised flowers (see below)
200g cherries with stalks
150g redcurrants with stalks

TO ASSEMBLE
3 round thin cakes boards: 15cm; 20cm; 25cm
8 dowelling sticks
30cm cake stand or serving plate

Follow the instructions for Classic Victoria Sandwich, filling, in turn, a 15cm deep round cake tin, two 20cm sandwich tins and two 25cm sandwich tins with the batter. It’s best to make the batter and bake the cakes one batch at a time.

The batter in the 15cm tin needs to be twice as deep as that in the other tins. Bake the 15cm cake for 50–55 minutes (because it is very deep), the 20cm cake for 25–30 minutes, and the 25cm cake for 30–35 minutes. Cool, turn all the cakes upside down and fill (see below), cutting the small cake in half horizontally to do so.

Attach each cake to the right-sized cake board with a blob of jam. Check they are all level and, if not, trim them level with a serrated knife. At this stage they can be stored in the fridge for quite a number of hours, ready to be assembled a few hours before required. Dust all three cakes with icing sugar.

Insert four dowelling sticks vertically into the largest cake, spacing them apart to form a square sitting just within where the middle cake will rest. Push each stick down on the board until it will go no further, then mark with a pen about 1mm above the surface. Remove each stick, score where it is marked with a knife and snap. Replace the sticks into the holes. Repeat for the middle tier.

To stack the three cakes, simply place the largest cake, still on its board, on to a cake stand or serving plate. Place the middle tier on top, checking it is exactly in the centre, then add the top tier.

Now the cake is all ready for decorating. And this couldn’t be simpler. Once you have crystallised your flowers (see below), simply arrange them on the cake with the cherries and currants. (A few carefully placed cocktail sticks can be useful to drape the fruit from.) You will have to decorate the cake on site, as it cannot be moved once the flowers and fruits have been arranged.


2
Jul 14

Ice-cream cone cakes

One of my earliest childhood memories was the excitement of hearing the ice-cream van jingle every Saturday afternoon. My brother and I would dash to greet it, pennies tightly clasped in our little hands. It was a very tricky decision, as a six-year-old, to choose just one ice from the van’s exotic display!

So, whatever our unpredictable British summer throws at us this year – a stunning heat wave or just grey drizzle – ice-creams just have to make an appearance on the kitchen menu.

Ice-cream cones

Ice-cream cones

Any little treats that don’t require hours of slaving in the kitchen are perfect, especially during the summer months when appetites may be smaller.

You might need to look twice at these… are they freshly churned? Flake 99? Raspberry ripple and mint-choc chip? No, these are in fact cakes!

Dead simple, quite quick to bak e and ideal for all that summer entertaining. They are great at impromptu barbecues, picnics and kids’ parties and will even keep children occupied in the kitchen for an hour or so during the interminable summer break, if you don’t mind the mess… Oh, and they won’t melt! Surprisingly the cakes are actually baked in the cones, which form an edible cupcake case.

TIP

In the hot weather, buttercream can easily become too soft to pipe. If this happens to you, place the bowl of buttercream in the fridge for a short spell – 15–20 minutes should do it – to firm up a little. If it becomes too hard, beat it again, adding 1 tbsp of boiling water; it will soon become creamy and easy to pipe once more.

TIP

Bake the cakes, if you can, on the day they are to be eaten or, if necessary, the day before, but no longer as they tend to dry out inside the cones. The buttercream can be made ahead and even frozen, but will need to be beaten again, as above.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to bake these ice-cream cones, pop along to Waitrose patisserie counter, where you will find an array of individual summer treats. We have created a cute summer box of fairy cakes, decorated with little ice creams, bunting and bumblebees, and even a summer tea party box of fairy cakes decorated with a tiny tea pot, cup and strawberries.

The simple and quite delicious British summer classic dessert, Eton Mess, is made with strawberries, meringues and cream. One of the many stories behind its creation has it that a perfectly constructed meringue dessert was mangled during the car journey to a picnic at Eton College… Luckily, however you combine British summer berries, meringues and cream, it will taste delicious.

Look out for our Raspberry Eton Mess cupcake in Waitrose, or make the dessert yourself with home-made or ready-made meringues.

In the summer, it would be criminal not to make the most of our delicious home-grown berries and fruits. And remember that, during the summer months, individual portions of dessert can be much easier to serve, especially for picnics, barbecues and other moveable feasts, so try meringues, individual pavlovas, tartlets, summer puddings… I could go on!

Ice-cream cones

Ice-creams that won’t melt! A perfect addition to any children’s party or picnic, especially during the summer. These are decorated as the real things – flake 99, raspberry ripple or mint choc chip – but use your imagination and get the children to give you a hand. These cakes are baked in ice-cream cones, so eat them quickly as they will start to dry out after a day or so. That shouldn’t prove difficult!

Makes 20-25

1 x Orange Drizzle Cake batter
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
grated zest of 2 large oranges, plus 75ml orange juice
4 eggs, lightly beaten
250g self-raising flour, sifted
20-25 flat-based ice-cream cones
1 x recipe Buttercream
300g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar, sifted
few drops of peppermint extract
green food colour
1 tsp vanilla extract
pink (or red) food colour
nylon piping bag
large star nozzle
7-8 chocolate flakes
7 tsp tiny chocolate buttons
5 tsp coloured sugar sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 170C/fan 160C/340F/gas mark 3 ½. Cream the butter, sugar and zest until very pale, light and fluffy (it will take at least 5 minutes in an electric mixer). Add the eggs gradually, beating between each addition, along with 1 tbsp of the flour to prevent curdling. Fold in the remaining flour and, lastly, slowly mix in the orange juice.

Place all the ice-cream cones on a baking sheet. Divide the cake batter evenly between them and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until they spring back to the touch. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter in an electric mixer until really pale and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and beat for at least 5 minutes, until light and creamy.

Divide the buttercream between 3 bowls. Add a little peppermint extract to the first, to taste, then a dash of green food colour, and mix until you achieve the desired shade. Add the vanilla to the second bowl and mix well. To the third bowl, swirl in a little pink food colour; do not blend it in as you are aiming for the marbled effect of raspberry ripple ice-cream.

Spoon the vanilla buttercream into the piping bag and swirl on to a third of the ice-cream cones. Finish each with a chocolate flake. Wash the bag and nozzle and repeat with the green buttercream; sprinkling with chocolate buttons. Wash the bag and nozzle again. Finally pipe the raspberry ripple buttercream into the remaining cones and decorate with sprinkles.

Arrange on a serving dish or cake stand.

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