101 Ways With Fresh Ginger

If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s the reduced sections at the supermarket. I also can’t resist gin, but let’s stick to the story! The other day I was stocking up on veg for the obligatory January health kick – I’d got a recipe for a carrot and cabbage asian style salad (from a friend, but I think it’s a River Cottage recipe) and what do I spy in the cheap section…fresh ginger! Not just one root. Not a couple of roots. No. It was over half a kilo. For 35p. I needed a ‘thumb size piece’ for my recipe but the bargain-grabber in me just couldn’t resist this huge bag of gingery fabulousness. There were actually TWO bags of the stuff, but I thought buying both would be ridiculous (bah!!). I also got 6 red peppers for 45p! So off I trot to the till, chuffed to bits with my bargains, but not a flipping clue what to do with it all.

ginger-rootTruth be told, I’m not a massive ginger lover. A hint, yes. In cakes, definitely. Ginger beer….urgh no! So quite what possessed me, I’m not really sure.

So, what does someone who doesn’t really like ginger do with all that fresh ginger root? Freeze it, for starters. Give some away to some ginger-loving friends. And then do what I do best…research. A quick search of tinternet gave me a few ideas. Obviously cake would be a good option – dark chocolate and ginger is a taste sensation. Biscuits – citrus and ginger would be lovely. Soup – classic carrot and ginger. Stir fry and asian style salads.

If you’ve got any ideas about what I can do with all my ginger, please do let me know! But as I experiment with it all, I will write up my recipes, and if you ever find a huge bag of ginger with a yellow sticker on at your local supermarket and want to know what to do with it, perhaps I’ll be able to give you a bit of inspiration!

And maybe, just maybe, at the end of all that ginger I might start to like the stuff. I wonder if I can put it in gin….

A double life…

I bake. I write about cakes. I love cake. The problem is, I feel like I’m living a bit of a lie. You see, when I’m not being all cakey, I’m actually on a low carb and no sugar diet. That’s right, I don’t eat bread, potatoes, rice, grains, pasta (you can feel the despair of my Italian father can’t you!)…no chocolate, haribo, ice cream, jam, nutella, caramel sauce…you get the picture.

Over the years I’ve dabbled with a few different diets with varying degrees of success. Slimming World (slow but effective), Weightwatchers (ditto), Atkins (meaty), calorie counting (easy but obsessive and not that healthy!), Heart Surgery diet (tuna, ritz crackers and cottage cheese – awful!), crazy exercising, intermittent fasting (aka 5:2)….

I was quite the chubster at one point, after university, where beer, cider, pizzas and jimageunk took their toll. I got down to a reasonable size with Weightwatchers about 10 years ago but since then I’ve yo-yo’d a couple of stone up and down, so it hasn’t  been massive amounts I’ve needed to lose (until I had my second child!). Our family is Italian, consequently we’ve always eaten well…and by well, I mean lots! But it was good, real food cooked from scratch, fresh ingredients and always yummy. Except for that phase where mum got loads of Vesta microwave meals because they were all the rage. Prawn paella, anyone?

So I’ve always known about real cooking and I thought I knew about nutrition too, but as it’s come to light that sugar, not fat, is the real bad guy I decided (after a lot of umming and aahing) that I’d try to give up sugar, mostly. I was inspired by my lovely friend Jenny, who has lost an incredible 7 stone in 9 months and looks and feels fabulous. Seeing her gave me the push I needed.

I follow a way of eating called The Harcombe Diet. Not as strictly as I should, but I do adhere to the main principles most of the time. Except when there’s cake club. But even then, I do that one cake sesh then get right back into my normal eating style.

Developed by Zoe Harcombe, this diet is all about cutting out refined and processed foods and eating proper, real food. It does allow for carbohydrates but the key is not to mix them with fats and proteins. You’re aiming to identify food intolerances, candida and if you’re hypoglycemic. This happens by cutting right back then gradually reintroducing foods and seeing how your body reacts. And here’s the other biggy – it’s not low fat. Hard to get your head around when all the advice for donkeys years has been that fat is bad for you. So, it’s a bit paleo (and loads of paleo recipes work well on Harcombe), definitely not Atkins, and refreshingly easy once you get into the swing of it.

Why am I sharing all this? I don’t intend to make this into a blog about my weight loss or health, but I would like to share occasional low carb recipes. I’d also like to see whether there really is scope for a lifestyle like this that incorporates cake!  I’d like to be able to maintain the two…will I succeed, or will I just fall into a big cakey heap?!

Girl Vs Pastry

We don’t get on, pastry and I. Never have. As a child I used to help my grandma bake and have many happy memories of weighing and mixing…but when it came to pastry I was made to run my wrists under the cold tap for ages before being allowed to handle the pastry. My hands were too hot. I think that experience has scarred me for life and consequently I very, very rarely make pastry. When I do I am petrified of it. I’m even scared of shop bought stuff.

But, I would like to conquer my pastry nemesis. If nothing else, it will win me many good wife points! So, my mission starts this week. The plan is to bake a pie…a proper pie with pastry all round it, none of this casserole with a lid nonsense! Filling to be decided, but for extra wife points, it will be something meaty.

Wish me luck…I need it!

Isn’t wine brilliant?!

Well, yes. Of course it is. Unless you’re tee-total, in which case, this might not be your…erm…cup of tea.

It’s a wine cake. I love wine. I love cake. Why not combine the two! This is a red wine chocolate cake recipe that will give you a rich, but surprisingly fluffy cake with a deep red/brown colour. It tastes decadent and is definitely for grown ups!

This cake was created for the Clandestine Cake Club Manchester City Centre gathering on 18th September, but this was a tester cake that I took into work. They don’t mind being guinea pigs! I used a 6-cup Bundt for this trial cake, but have given you the recipe and method for a full size bundt (12 cup).

The 12 cup, Jubilee bundt for Manchester Central Cake Club

The 12 cup, Jubilee bundt for Manchester Central Cake Club

Ingredients
– 225g plain flour
– 230g butter or margarine
– 2 large eggs
– 250g caster sugar
– 100g dark brown sugar
– 75g cocoa powder
– 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
– ½ teaspoon cinnamon
– 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 300ml red wine – I used a Negromaro currently available in Aldi, but anything dry and fruity should work.

Method
Grease and flour your chosen tin. Preheat the oven to 180C (170C fan).

Pop the butter and sugars into a bowl or mixer and beat on a high speed for a few minutes, until pale and fluffy. Even though you’re using dark sugar you should still notice the mix going much paler.

Turn the speed down to low. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined.

Sift together all the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, bicarb). Add in a third of the flour, then half the wine. Mix well on a low speed, then add another third of flour and the rest of the wine and mix again. Finish with the last of the flour. Be careful not to over-mix – I find it easier to do this stage by hand.

Now spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and give it a bit of a wiggle to make sure there aren’t any air pockets. Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, after which time you can test it with a skewer or other such implement. It may need a little longer depending on your oven. This is a moist cake, so don’t worry if it takes 60+ mins. It should be coming away from the sides slightly.

Leave in the tin on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes, then turn out onto the rack and allow to cool completely.

To serve, dust with cocoa powder or icing sugar, or drizzle with a yummy chocolate sauce!

A Weekend of Baking Brilliantness (Cake and Bake Show 2014)

I’ve got a cake hangover. It’s been a very fun weekend at the Cake and Bake Show in Manchester.

Things started on Friday – Emma (Manchester City Centre CCC Organiser) and I were helping out on the Clandestine Cake Club stand, along with Lynn (CCC Founder) and her daughter Joanne. It’s fair to say Em and I were a little bit excited. We’re talking ‘taking photos of ourselves with excited faces whilst walking to the show’ type excited. We’d had such a fab time last year that we were expecting great things of the show this year, and we weren’t disappointed.

excited face

Excited face!

After making our way to our stand, setting out the cakes that CCC members had baked for the ‘Taste on the Table’ competition and sending a few excited tweets, we had a little wander round the show before the doors opened to the public. We also met up with fellow CCC organiser and Bundt baker extraordinaire Rachel (aka Dollybakes) who was just as excited as me!

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Me, Em and Rachel – Organiser girlies.

I was delighted to be asked to judge cakes with Peter Sidwell on Friday, for our Taste on the Table competition. I say asked…Emma couldn’t taste the bacon cake, being a veggie, and Lynn didn’t want to trough through 30 cakes by tasting them all each day, so I was the last resort really!
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All the cakes were of very high quality and I honestly liked them all…but the winner (thankfully Peter agreed with me and I didn’t have to argue my case) was a pistachio, lime and basil cake that was beautifully flavoured and well balanced, as well as being unusual.

On Sunday, which we’d named “Sunday is Bundt Day”, our competition prize was kindly donated by NordicWare. Not one to pass up the opportunity of winning a huge pile of goodies, I entered a bundt of my very own. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous about baking a cake as I was about this one. I made the Chocolate and Salted Caramel Bundt that I did for cake club a few months ago, but with a few tweaks. I marbled the dark chocolate and caramel sponge, and made the caramel sauce differently, and quite a bit more salty!

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Lynn cutting into the competition cakes

I didn’t win, but was very happy to take part in the competition and get some good feedback from Rachel (most importantly) Peter (what does he know?!), my fellow cake clubbers (who tucked in to it at the end of the show), Marcus from NordicWare and my band mates at rehearsal later that evening. A Bundt goes a long way!

There were some absolutely amazing cakes on display. I’m not really one for sugar craft – my cakes are more about taste than decoration, mainly because I’m not great at it! However, I am certainly in awe of those who have the skill. It’s fantastic. The jungle theme threw up some stunningly decorated cakes, including a mahoosive gorilla, a snake, spiders and an elephant that was, quite possibly the size of an actual baby elephant!

As for the stalls…cor. The CCC stand was opposite a company selling very nice brownies and cupcakes.

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There were cakes, meringues, marshmallows, sausage rolls and pork pies, breads, wines, pinnies, gifts…so much to see and buy. I think the show organisers struck a really good balance this year. Last year I found it a bit sugarcraft-heavy but this year it seemed much more suited to a wider range of bakers. It was also very, very difficult not to spend every penny in my purse!

The demos and classes were excellent – as well as Peter Sidwell and his co-host Mich Turner, we saw Simon Rimmer, Eric Lanlard and Rosemary Shrager. Great British Bake Off contestants and winners were in abundance. I met Kimberley (very chatty, loves a good wedge of cake and full of knowledge. Meeting her made Em’s day!), chatted to Glenn (very tall and friendly) and said hello to Christine. Saw John Whaite and Cat, but missed Frances!

Great to finally meet Marcus from Nordic Ware, whose tales of celeb bakers and bunts were very entertaining. Not to mention producing the best photo of the show…

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Just feel that bundt!

Other show highlights include Salcombe Dairy ice cream – I mentioned their tweet and got a free 3-scoop waffle cone of deliciousness, Neilsenn-Massey cocktails – orange blossom cosmo was amazing and was responsible for my flushed cheeks on Sunday afternoon, Olivia and Sam proving that baking and glamour do indeed go hand in hand, Joe & Seph’s popcorn for flavours that shouldn’t work with popcorn but do and the end of show reductions that have resulted in obscene amounts of pork/pastry products in my fridge.

Thanks to Lynn for coordinating the show and inviting me along to help. Thrilled to be part of it and share the cakey love.

Pink Grapefruit ‘Spare’ Cake

I love grapefruit. Especially pink grapefruit. No added sugar, freshly peeled, first thing in the morning or as a pick-me-up afternoon snack. I love the tangy sharpness with a hint of sweetness and they smell divine.

I’ve wanted to bake a grapefruit cake for ages, but kept forgetting that I wanted to. This may or may not have had something to do with my caramel obsession, bundt obsession, passion fruit obsession and blood orange obsession. Then, when Beca baked her grapefruit sponge on the Great British Bake off it reminded me how much I wanted to use grapefruit in a cake.

This week, we had an unusual cake club event – I won 50kg of ready-to-roll icing from Renshaw in a competition on the Clandestine Cake Club website. As the kind-hearted group organiser I am, I wanted to share this with everyone in the club, so I organised an event for everyone to get together and play with the icing. Themed ‘Naked Cakes’, 15 bakers got together with their plain sponges and Renshaw professional cake decorators came along to show us some sugar craft techniques.

So, here’s a confession *whispers* I don’t really like icing. It’s too sweet, I don’t like the smooth but gummy texture and the way it disguises the lovely cake underneath it. Yes it makes cakes look pretty but it doesn’t add anything to the flavour. It’s so disappointing to cut into a beautifully iced cake to find a plain sponge without any interesting flavour. It’s the reason I didn’t even really like cake until I discovered there was more to cake than victoria sponge! For me, the joy of cake is in the flavours. Anyway, getting back to the cake….

I thought I should bake a sponge for the decorating event that had a punchy flavour, which would hopefully balance out the sweetness of the icing. Not orange again (bit of an orange overdose lately) or lemon (done lemon loads). Grapefruit was the answer. Off I toddled to Pinterest for some inspiration.

There were a few different recipes but I needed to work with what I had, and something that would stand up to the weight of the icing. Also I’d planned to bake a spare cake for the event, so that people could take their decorated sponges home but still have cake to eat on the night! So this is what I did.

I based my sponge on this recipe from Suzonne Stirling’s Urban Comfort blog, which was a lovely big but sturdy cake mix (5 eggs!) and used it for my 6″ decorating cake and the spare cake.

This is the 6″ cake baked for decorating.

Here’s the recipe. Please note this made TWO cakes – one very deep 6″ sandwich cake and one 8″ normal-size sandwich cake. You can use whatever tins you prefer – make two cakes, or one big one. Either adjust the recipe quantities or the baking time.

Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 300g unsalted butter
  • 540g caster sugar
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 300mls whole milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs (I used large)
  • zest of 1 ½ pink grapefruits (finely grated)

For the filling

  • 100g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 200g icing sugar
  • pink grapefruit juice and zest

For the topping

  • icing sugar
  • pink grapefruit juice
  • zest strips to decorate

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prepare your chosen tin.
  • cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
  • in a separate bowl, sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together.
  • add the eggs to the butter and sugar mix one at a time, slowly, making sure they’re fully incorporated.
  • add the vanilla
  • mix in the flour, alternating with the milk and mixing slowly.
  • add the zest and mix on a low speed until the batter is smooth, thick and fluffy. If it looks a bit curdled keep mixing for another minute or so until it comes together.
  • pop equal amounts of batter into your chosen, prepared tins. Cooking time will vary depending on what size you’ve chosen. My 8″ sandwich tins took approximately 25 minutes but keep an eye on them and take them out when browned all over, and when the sponge springs back when touched, or a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool fully.
  • For the buttercream, reduce the juice of one grapefruit in a saucepan until it’s thick and syrupy (no sugar needed) and allow to cool. Beat together the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy, adding the thick juice and a sprinkling of finely grated zest. If you wish to make more, to fill and top your cake(s) with buttercream adjust the quantities as required simply keeping the ratio 2:1 icing sugar:butter.
  • Once cooled, fill your sponges, spreading your buttercream with a pallet knife. I don’t like too much filling – about 1cm thickness does the trick for me.
  • To top with glacé icing, simply add small amounts of pink grapefruit juice to icing sugar and stir until it makes a very thick paste. I found it turned a really pretty pale pink colour. Spread this over the top of your cake, using a few small strips of zest to decorate. Don’t worry if you make it a bit too runny and it drips over the sides – it looks pretty!

And TA-DA! Your pink grapefruit spare cake is done.

Pink Grapefruit Spare Cake

For anyone interested in how the cake decorating turned out, I was pretty pleased with my efforts and definitely learned a lot about the basics of cake covering. Also, I like doing icing roses!

Blood Orange Bundt

I like this time of year. I realise I’m probably in the minority, but I really do like it. Frosty days, the days getting gradually longer, and blood oranges are in season. Maybe it’s the Sicilian in me (it is) but these little globes of blush-orange deliciousness are just magical. You peel one and you never quite know what you’re going to get. Some are all orange on the outside and crimson inside, some are speckled with red all through, some are blood-red at one end and orange at the other…but all are beautiful. And tasty. So tasty. Orangey with a tang, but with a sweetness that sets them apart from other oranges. The season is so short that when they come onto the scene you’ve just got to grab your opportunity and use them as much as you can. Eat them, make them into a salad (with fennel), juice them, marmalade them…and bake with them.

Blood oranges and lemons from Sicily

I got a delivery of Sicilian lemons and blood oranges from my Dad, just a few, and I was chuffed. Little did I know that a week later he would bring me a whole crate of the little round jewels!

I had a cake club coming up and was desperate to incorporate the oranges into my bake, even if the link was somewhat tenuous. After a trial blood-orange drizzle loaf cake that turned out okay, but nowhere near orangey enough, I plunged head first into making my blood orange bundt cake using the pretty NordicWare fir tree tin. It gave me the ‘trees and mountains’ link to the Winter Olympics that I needed for Cake Club theme.

ImageThis tin first came on my radar when I saw Nigella use it for her Spruced Up Vanilla Cake. Actually I think that might be the first time that Bundts came onto my radar at all. I just thought they were pretty shaped tins (which they are) but little did I know the world of Bundt that would open up to me in the future!
I borrowed this particular tin from my good friend Sarah, who is almost as Bundt crazy as me. Between us we have a range of lovely NordicWare tins that we swap and share. They’re quite pricey, as bakeware goes, but the heavy-duty quality of them makes it totally worth it. If you can find a friend with a passion and willing to share, I recommend it.

Next mission, the recipe. Lessons learnt from the trial cake, I set to creating. Here’s the recipe:

Cake

  • 350g self raising flour
  • 400g golden caster sugar
  • 225g unsalted butter (or Stork)
  • 225ml milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 blood oranges (zest of 3 and juice of 2)

Glaze and caramelised oranges

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 blood orange, thinly sliced
  • 250ml water

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160degrees  and prepare the tin with cake release spray and a dusting of flour.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, either with a stand mixer or a hand whisk.
  • Add one egg at a time and mix slowly, until fully incorporated.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add this to the mixture, folding in slowly by hand and alternating with adding the milk.
  • Add the finely grated zest of 3 oranges (I like my cake to pack a punch of flavour. None of this delicate malarkey!) and keep folding. Don’t over mix or your cake will get dense when it cooks. Don’t worry if it is a little bit lumpy.
  • Add the juice of 2 oranges. When you add the juice, the mix will look a bit odd, but go with it and keep mixing gently.
  • Spoon the mix into your prepared tin, making sure it gets into the pattern thoroughly. Do not fill more than ¾ full.
  • Place in the centre of the oven and cook for about an hour – test it, turn it and give it another 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t worry about over-baking; Bundts are hard to burn and if you leave it an extra 5 or 10 minutes you’ll just get a thicker ‘crust’ rather than burn the cake.
  • Whilst it’s cooking, make your glaze and caramelised oranges. In a non-stick frying pan, heat the sugar and water slowly until the sugar is dissolved and it’s on a slow boil. Add the slices of orange (I used the zested spare orange from the cake mix) so they are in a single layer. With the heat low, cook until the sugar syrup is lovely and thick and the oranges are soft. Mine took about 20 minutes. It should have infused with the juice from the oranges and be a pretty pale pink colour. Take the slices out and cool on a wire rack. Use the syrup to glaze, but you’ll need to do it whilst it’s still hot.
    Oranges in the pan
  • When the cake is out, let it cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack. Your cake should turn out of the tin smoothly, but don’t panic if it doesn’t, just turn it upside-down and let gravity do the work. If anything gets stuck on the tin, don’t worry, most things can be covered or repaired!
  • Whilst it’s still warm, drizzle the sugar syrup glaze over the cake.
    Cake
  • Once everything has cooled, sprinkle the cake generously with icing sugar, pop onto a cake stand or plate and decorate with the orange slices around the base.

The result should be lovely, moist and full of orangey zing. If you make it, tell me how you get on.

Blood Orange Bundt

I’d love to know what you’re doing with blood oranges. Let me know!