Friday, 29 October 2010


From The Pioneer Woman's website - Due to a broken laptop, I lost my step-by-step photos :( 
My name is Vickii and I am a dessert-aholic! If any of you just thought "no sh*t Sherlock", you should be ashamed for even thinking in such language! I think I hide it well. 
Anyway, even a dessert-aholic (it's an actual condition, look it up) like me has some sweet things that they don't like. For example:
o       I HATE Turkish Delight. I don't understand how people can like it AT ALL!
o       Anything liquorish or Aniseed flavoured is a no-no - apart from Sambuca and that's only because I like shots and now that I can no longer drink Tequila (a long story featuring ATL and Patron), it's the only shot I can drink. But Sambuca is not a dessert so it doesn't count.
o       I'm also not the biggest fan of Panna cotta. In my opinion it needs to make up its mind whether it is a mousse or a jelly - how can I possibly like a dessert that is so indecisive?
o       And finally, Tiramisu. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the coffee overload, the odd I-can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-what-it-is alcohol ... I don't know, I'm just not a follower (Twitter speak)…

… UNTIL my new-ish Sardinian flatmate made a creamy, delicately flavoured, light yet satisfying dessert one Saturday evening - wow! It was Tiramisu. I made a U-Turn then and there on my opinion of it. It was a bit liquidy so you had to spoon tablespoons of left over liquid once you dished a piece. She said it was a mistake but I love it liquidy – it was perfect!

She’s promised to teach me how to make it - although she insists on fixing the mistake so there isn't too much liquid, which I'm not too happy about, but beggars can't be choosers aye? But until then - when I will share the recipe, I promise - I decided to try The Pioneer Woman's Tiramisu recipe. The Pioneer Woman; Ree, is by the way, my new cookery crush. I'm sort of cheating on Nigella with her - although Nigella is my one true food love! Check out Ree’s recipe index - she has some amazing food on there!
I did omit the alcohol though as I realised that's what I like the least about Tiramisu. Although I would like to try it with Amaretto as I love Amaretto! This made a lovely Tiramisu! Not as great as Alessia's (my housemate), in my opinion, but better than all the others I have ever tasted.


5 whole Egg Yolks

¼ cups Plus 4 Tablespoons Sugar, Divided

¾ cups Marsala Wine, Divided

1 cup Whipping or Double Cream

1 pound Mascarpone Cheese, Softened (room Temperature)

1-½ cup Brewed Espresso Or VERY Strong Coffee

1 Tablespoon Vanilla

1-½ packs of Lady/Sponge Fingers – or as many as it takes to line your dish and layer it twice more.

Cocoa Powder, For Dusting

1 - In a saucepan, bring some water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Find a mixing bowl that will fit over the top of the pan, but not sink all the way in. (A poor man’s double boiler!)
2 - Put 5 egg yolks into the mixing bowl. Add ¼ cup sugar and whisk until pale yellow in colour. Place the mixing bowl on the saucepan with the simmering water.
3 - Add 1/2 cup Marsala wine gradually, whisking constantly as you do. Cook over the simmering water, scraping the sides and bottom occasionally for 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or until cool.
4 - Place mascarpone cheese in a bowl and stir until smooth.
5 - In a mixing bowl, combine whipping cream and remaining 4 tablespoons sugar. Whip until soft peaks form.
6 - To the bowl of whipped cream, add the softened mascarpone cheese and the chilled zabaglione (the egg yolk mixture). Fold mixture gently.
7 - Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
8 - Measure 1 ½ cups brewed espresso or VERY strong coffee. Add remaining ¼ cup Marsala and 1 tablespoon vanilla.
9 - Arrange the ladyfingers in a single layer in a 9 x 13 pan.
10 - Spoon 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of the coffee mixture over each ladyfinger (keep it under 1 tablespoon per cookie and you’ll be fine).
11 - Plop 1/3 of the cold cream/mascarpone/zabaglione mixture on top and spread it into a layer.
12 - Sprinkle a thin layer of cocoa powder. Repeat the process two more times.
13 - Cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. This allows for more moisture to soften the cookies and the whole mixture to meld together. To serve, spoon out helpings onto individual plates.

Note: tiramisu does not last beyond 24 to 36 hours, as everything eventually starts to break down and become soupy.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes

My name is Vickii and I am a baking geek! I like hearing and reading about different cakes, I love cake innovation! So when I heard about this bright red cake called red velvet that was taking LA by storm about 4 years ago, I had to try it! I found an incredible recipe then and it still stands as the best red velvet cake recipe I know! This is mainly due to the frosting which as well as the standard cream cheese also contains mascarpone cheese and double cream. I promise to share it with you when next I make it.

Since then, red velvet has taken everywhere by storm and in my opinion is now usually over-hyped - especially since most places make a pretty average version; as long as it's a red cake with a basic cream cheese frosting, they're happy. Well, I'm not! There's a particular London chain bakery where I tried their red velvet cupcakes about three years ago and I thought they were great. However, I'm sure they've changed the recipe since to make mass producing them cheaper and they've lost so much of the wonderful flavour in the process! Oh well, they've also lost me as a customer so the joke is on them as they’ve lost my custom from all of 10 cupcakes I’d normally buy from them in a year! Yup, 10 a year! Read that and weep sub-par red velvet cupcake producers!! ;p

Anyway, talking about average cupcakes, I recently (well, when I say recently, I mean over 2 months ago - yikes!) made some red velvet cupcakes as part of the batch of 60 cupcakes I made for a friend's engagement party. And I have to admit grudgingly that … ummm, well … they were not my best. In my defence, I never knowingly underbake but I didn't want to risk using my layer cake recipe in cupcake format in case it didn’t work and I had 30 bad cupcakes on my hand. So I decided to use this cupcake recipe along with the cream cheese frosting below from my precious Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook. The cake was good and everybody seemed happy but I know they were not as great as my original recipe. It was dryer and more cake-ey (not usually a bad thing, I know!). However, after having a very small bite of the Brown Betty red velvet cake at my friend's wedding, even my original recipe has some large boots to fill! It was so moist, it was almost wet! Apparently that is real Southern red velvet cake! If anyone has a recipe that creates cake that sounds just like that, please, please, pass it on!

I used the Crabapple frosting because it is thicker than my original frosting so makes for prettier looking cupcakes.

Other cakes on my so-unusual-sounding-I-can't-wait-to-try-them list include 7-up cake (another Southern American cake) and Guinness cake (Irish??). I will let you know how I get on with these and my quest to bake the perfect red velvet cake!

Crabapple Bakery cream cheese frosting

125g softened unsalted butter
400g softened cream cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I use about 3 teaspoons)
6 cups icing sugar (I'd probably stop at 5 but start checking for the consistency you want from about 4)

Makes 4 cups of frosting - enough for 24 cupcakes
Keeps 4 Days

1 - Cream the butter for 1-2 minutes
2 - Add the cream cheese, vanilla and half of the sifted icing sugar and beat for 3 minutes or until mixture is light and fluffy
3 - Gradually add remaining icing sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and of spreadable consistency

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Dessert Crawl Part Deux!

4th Street Cookie - Reading Terminal Market, 51 North 12th Street

The fourth stop on the tour was 4th Street Cookie. First of all, can I just say Reading Terminal Market! Wow! Love it! If I lived in Philadelphia, I would undoubtedly spend a ridiculously large percentage of my salary buying fresh produce, shell fish, meat and unusual ingredients to prepare lovely meals, and ready prepared food and cake when I'm feeling lazy!

If I'm being honest (and isn't that the whole point after all?), I wasn't so impressed with 4th Street Cookie. It was a pretty basic counter and their cookies looked  ... well ... normal. I'm not sure what I was expecting - actually, that’s a lie. I know exactly what I was expecting. Ginormous cookies that I would ooh and ahh over, beating myself up that I'd never be able to make cookies as nice! Cookies aren't my forte don't cha know?
I bought a white chocolate chip cookie to take away and was pleasantly surprised when I eventually tried it. It wasn't the best cookie in the world - I much prefer Ben’s Cookies in London - but it was everything a cookie should be. Nothing more. But no less either.

 Flying Monkey - Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch
Now this was exciting! They had lots of cupcakes, as well as brownies and other baked goodies! Mmmmmm, baked goodies .... sorry, what was I saying? Oh, yes, cupcakes! They had cool colours and lots of exciting flavours; lots! Crème brulee, pistachio, pina colada, baileys, bubblegum, black velvet, rose, chai ... and the list goes on. I wanted to try everything! But you know, the real world being real and all, I can't get everything I want so I settled on the pina colada, my partner in crime had the crème brulee, and I got the pistachio for my pistachio obsessed other partner in crime. My pina colada was good! The cake itself was really good - in Lara's opinion the best we'd tried - but my heart still lies with Brown Betty's pound cake. And the icing was nice but not too sweet. Lara's crème brulee icing didn't really taste like crème brulee; it had more of a burnt caramel taste to it. And when we eventually got round to eating Doyin's pistachio cupcake (I bought it for her, it was only right that she halved it with me :D), that also tasted nothing like pistachio either. So my general impression is nice cake, lots of cool flavours but the icing leaves a lot to be desired. I admire their ambition though!

Final *sob* stop - Serendipity - 225 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues
While we were in NY, we were staying in Queens. Shopping there during the day and then coming into the city at night for dinner and drinks with friends Trouble and First Lady. That schedule, though fun, did not leave much time for dessert crawling, despite my best intentions. I didn't get to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or do the Sex and the City tour either :( Anyway, we did manage to make it to Serendipity, which was in Sex and the City incidentally. It was very quirky and their frozen hot chocolates - although not really frozen, just really cold and thick – were lovely! The cheesecake was alright but I really wish I had gone to Juniors for cheesecake. And Magnolia bakery for cupcakes. And Make My Cake for cake. And Crumbs for cake. And ... well, you get the picture. I guess I have to save something for next time right? And I did have Coldstone ice cream!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Chocolate Banana Bread

I'm afraid I won't be weaving a funny anecdote about my banana bread making experience. Nor will I be facing any challenges in the process, or overcoming any obstacles to make the best darn chocolate banana bread EVER! Nope, my life is not always that exciting. You'll find this hard to believe but sometimes my baking adventures aren't adventures at all! So here goes:

Once upon a Sunday morning during that time of year known as summer to the rest of the world (it's true other UK dwellers, it's not just a myth! Some countries have sun and warmth for more than just 1 month of the year!!), that time of year where my usually empty diary finds itself choc-a-bloc, I found myself at home unexpectedly one weekend. Me, three ripe bananas and a craving for some home-baked goodness! Naturally, my mind went to banana bread, and even more naturally, my fingers flicked through the pages of Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'. Ta daa... there it was; Banana Bread! And then my eyes spied at the bottom of the page a variation; Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. Even better. But due to extreme laziness, I couldn't be bothered to go out and buy chocolate chips so I met Nigella's recipe halfway and settled for chocolate banana bread. As I was in a 'quantity over quality' type of mood, I made two loaves with the recipe and while they were very good, it would have been much better if I had made just one and had those perfectly tall, square slices that a good loaf cake produces. 

The recipe below is for banana bread with the chocolate chip variation included at the bottom. Enjoy!


100g sultanas
75ml bourbon or dark rum
175g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
125g unsalted butter, melted
150g sugar (I used brown)
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe bananas (about 300g weighed without skin), mashed
60g chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin, buttered and floured

Makes 8 - 10 slices

1 - Put the sultanas and rum or bourbon in a smallish saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and leave for an hour if you can, or until the sultanas have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain.
2 - Preheat the oven to 170ºC/gas mark 3 and get started on the rest.
3 - Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a medium-sized bowl and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well. 
4 - In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Then, with your wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained sultanas and vanilla extract.
5 - Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. 
6 - Scrape into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 to1 1/4 hours. When it is ready, an inserted toothpick or fine skewer should come out cleanish. Leave in the tin on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.

For Chocolate Chip Variation: Replace 25g of the flour with good cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate) and add 100g of dark chocolate cut into smallish chunks. You can also use chocolate chips. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

(International) Dessert Crawl - Paris/Philly/New York

This dessert crawl is going places! It started off as a humble cupcake crawl, an idea I nicked from Two Wedding Belles. Then I decided to extend the invitation to all cake. And then … due to popular demand (from me), it was extended to all dessert; cupcakes, cheesecakes, layer cakes, ice creams- whatever note-worthy desserts I came across on my travels! THEN ... in Paris on our way to Philly, Doyin and I decided to have a Laduree macaroon (the must famous Parisian macaroons) and Dessert Crawl; International Edition was born. It's more of a Dessert Tour now!

So here, in two parts, are reviews of all the dessert places I tried while I was in Philly and New York - all in my quest to be a better baker - ahem, that is my story and I'm sticking to it! I hope you guys appreciate how many hours I'm going to have to spend in the gym and how many egg white omelettes I'll have to consume to make up for this – it’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it. *Sigh* just call me Miss Committed.

1st stop - Laduree, Charles de Gaulle Airport
Bonjour! Ummm, that's about the extent of my French. I'd heard about Laduree Macaroons and wasn't too fussed to try them because while I do like macaroons, I can pretty much take them or leave them y'know? But Doyin kept talking about them and when we saw the shop at the airport, it seemed like fate and totally rude not to. However, at €1.50 per tiny macaroon and a severe lack of Euros on our person, we could only afford two macaroons between us; one pistachio and one salted caramel. Making a decision of two from about fifteen flavours – from coconut and liquorish to vanilla and Madagascan chocolate - was excruciating! Doyin; judge number 1, had nothing more to contribute to this review other than "Divine. I want more".

As for my review, first of all, I have to say, the difference between these and other macaroons I have had (mainly from Paul) was very clear - these were sooooo fresh. You could tell that they'd been made just hours ago. They were soft, melt-in-your-mouth and yet still crisp. The pistachio flavour was exquisite, and the salted caramel whilst also great, was more … interesting. It had a lovely burnt sugar taste but if I was to go to Laduree again, I'd literally empty my purse on the table and ask for “as many pistachio macaroons as this will buy me!”
 2nd Stop - Naked Chocolate Cafe, 1317 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
The lovely ladies from whom I borrowed this idea were kind enough to recommend places to try in the Philly area and this was one of them. It's nice and bright inside and they have more chocolate than they do cake and other deserts. They had about 6 cupcake flavours; nothing too wild or crazy - chocolate, vanilla, chocolate with peanut butter frosting; you get the gist. They also had some amazing looking desserts like an Oreo mousse but as I was by myself on this leg of the tour, I only tried one thing; the vanilla cupcake with strawberry frosting. I decided on this one after I asked for, and refused the personal recommendation of the lady behind the counter (choc/peanut butter if you’re interested). I decided to go with the most popular choice. The cake was pretty average, quite dense and didn't taste particularly fresh. The frosting made up for it though; it was obviously made with real strawberries and wasn't too sweet. To be honest, I'm not the biggest strawberry fan in the world so this stop left me a bit disappointed!
3rd Stop - Brown Betty Boutique, 1030 North 2nd Street
I had back-up on this part of the crawl, which meant we could try more stuff ... yay!! The idea was that Lara and I would have one cupcake/cookie/dessert at each place and then share but we turned out to be total light weights! After Brown Betty; which was our first stop, Lara was more or less out, muttering something about big breakfast, can't stomach more cake **shaking my head**. But I must admit, I couldn't completely enjoy the rest of the desserts that day as I just felt caked-out! I know, I know, I didn’t think caked-out was a non-word that would ever have to be a part of my vocabulary either!

Back to Brown Betty – I loved it! First of all, their cupcakes were huge and while they were very pretty, theirs weren't the dainty, perfectly decorated cupcakes that some bakeries specialise in. They also had some interesting flavours like sweet potato. And sour cream. And all their cakes are pound cakes! For those of you who don't know what pound cakes are (which was me till my friend explained it to me), pound cakes are denser than sponge cake so wedding cakes are pound cakes so that they can hold the icing and all the numerous tiers! If you know me, you know that dense cake is not something I am a fan of, but these were amazing!

First things first. Lara chose the chocolate cupcake with coconut frosting and I had the fruit-filled sour cream and lemon cupcake. The cake in both was dense and yet still moist, soft and fresh! The chocolate cupcake was great but the sour cream and lemon was amazing! The cake was lovely, the filling (like a very light lemon curd) not too sweet and not overpowering and the icing ... oh the icing, It was like a vanilla buttercream but fluffier, creamier and not as sweet - it was lurrrvely! If anyone has their recipe for that frosting, I'll love you forever ;p

The Boutique, which is where I went, is where they baked the cupcakes and cakes for all three of their stores and that in itself was inspiring because it was a pretty small kitchen area with a much smaller oven than I'd expect. If they can run three successful shops from such a small base, it's something to aim for :D

Darn my nerves at the wedding that made me turn down the Brown Betty wedding cake at my friend's wedding! I had a tiny bite of the red velvet which was lovely but there was also almond cake and another cake which I didn't get to try ... I'm still harbouring regrets.
 That's all for now folks! Part two coming up soon!