Friday, 18 July 2014

Malteser Fudge

When I said I was going to make fudge, most people reacted in the same way. Pursed lips, a sharp intake of breath, slight shake of the head and the words, 'ooh, it's a tricky thing is fudge.' Well. Yes it is, and it's not often that I find the confidence to say it but here we go.... I. Nailed. It.

To be honest, I think the secret with fudge is a good sugar thermometer. I know you're meant to be able to test the 'soft ball' stage by dropping some mixture into a glass of water or something else that sounds ridiculously fiddly, or by timing it properly and watching the bubbles, but screw that - get a thermometer! I've had one in the cupboard for about 3 years after declaring I was going to start making jam and then never bothering, but I've finally broken it out of the plastic case and now there's no stopping me.

This was a test batch of fudge because I wanted to make some as part of my Mother's Day gift. I took the fudge into work as to be honest I knew it would get polished off there regardless of the quality, but I had some really lovely comments from people on it, and a couple asked for the recipe, which I always think is proof it's a good one.

Here is the recipe that I used, which was from the BBC Good Food website.

450g golden caster sugar
400g double cream
50g butter
1 tbsp glucose syrup
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
Box of Maltesers, bashed slightly with a rolling pin (or your chosen topping)

Line a 20x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper.
Heat the sugar, cream, butter and glucose syrup into a medium to large saucepan until the sugar is dissolved and the butter melted, stirring occasionally.

Put a sugar thermometer into the pan. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a steady boil. Keep it bubbling and stir occasionally to stop it from sticking to the pan. Do this until the temperature reaches 116c (a.k.a the soft ball stage).

Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to stand until the temperature drops to 110c (should be about 5 minutes). Stir in the vanilla bean paste and a pinch of salt.

Now roll up your sleeves and get beating! Leave the thermometer in the pan and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon quite vigorously (although trust me, that will wane) until the temperature drops to 60c. The fudge should then be quick thick and have lost its glossy shine. Your arms WILL ache but it's totally worth it. Plus, the exercise justifies that extra piece of fudge... I think it took about 10 minutes in total.
Remove the thermometer and continue beating for a few more minutes (I managed about 2).

Apparently, this beating stage is really important as if you don't beat it for long enough, the fudge has more of a grainy texture.
Pour the fudge into the tin and smooth the surface.

Sprinkle your chosen topping over the top - I chose bashed up Maltesers (as if it wasn't already sweet enough!) and leave to cool at room temperature overnight. Cut into bite size pieces and keep in an airtight container - it will keep up to 2 months - but I highly doubt it will stick around that long!

Apologies for the poor quality camera phone pictures in this post! I didn't have my trusty photographer on hand this time!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Hummingbird Layer Cakes

Just thought I may aswell do a little roundup of the Hummingbird layer cakes that have been churned out of my kitchen, production line style, during February and March. I had retired them for a bit as I was all layer caked out, but now writing this I might have to get back on the layer cake horse!

Chocolate Malt Cake 

This was my first gift cake of the new house! It was my best friend's birthday in February so a very important first gift cake indeed.

Cakes for Del have tended to alternate between coffee and peanut butter and so I fancied trying something a bit different this year, so what better place to go than a Hummingbird layer cake? Also I realised I'd never actually tried one of their layer cakes - which was ridiculous as I'd spent so much time greedily thumbing through all of the books, so I was looking forward to trying one.

After much perusing I settled on the Chocolate Malt cake - it looked somehow appealing and all internet research indicated that it was tooth falling out sweet. Three layers of chocolate cake, with chocolate fudge sauce and cream cheese malt frosting slathered between each layer and all around. Perfect. All was going swimmingly and the cake batter looked absolutely divine - silky and smooth and like you just wanted to spoon it out of the bowl and shovel it into your mouth (and that's coming from someone with a serious raw egg phobia). I was absolutely gutted then, when the cakes sank in the oven! That will teach me to be so prematurely smug. Once decorated, the sunkenness was hidden but there was no mistaking it when you cut a slice!

It tasted good despite this, but I do want to try it again and make sure it doesn't sink next time. After this cake I immediately deployed the oven thermometer I've had for a while and it has not left my oven since.

Red Velvet - take 1

This was the cake I made for Valentine's Day, which was just a few days after the Chocolate Malt cake. I realised I'd never made a red velvet cake before and had noticed that it had been Mike's choice a couple of times on recent cake shop visits so decided to try one out. Of course I went straight to the Hummingbird for the recipe, and this was their red velvet cupcake recipe, following the suggested adaption for a three layer cake. This was the first cake I used the oven thermometer for and I will never bake a cake again without it!

I was pleased to discover a friendly face in the cake when I trimmed the tops! I love finding faces in things.

The decoration on this cake was a real labour of love (apt!) and I think it actually was the decoration that touched Mike the most about it. He knows I have no patience and if this cake had been made for anyone else he probably would have been drafted in to finish it off after I'd done the first circuit of Love Hearts. I had to soldier on with it myself though and was glad I held my nerve. Some of the words on Love Hearts are really odd though - Funny Face?!

The cake itself tasted good and was unbelievably light - the only disappointment was the colouring, it looked pretty red to me in the bowl but once cut it was a bit of a dirty brown colour. Not so appealing but better luck next time!

Red Velvet - take 2

It was Mike's parents' Ruby wedding anniversary in March and as it fell on Mother's Day, I wasn't going along to see them with Mike, so I sent a cake along to wish them a happy anniversary. I thought a red velvet would be perfect for a ruby wedding celebration. Also, I was glad for a second go at a red velvet as I was determined to get the cake mix a little redder this time! I put what seemed like even more of the food colouring in and the batter did look redder than the first time, but was still a reddy brown when it came out of the oven. Gah!

OK now seriously, how much of the stuff do you need?! I'd be really interested to know how much everyone else uses. I'm not really one of those people who doesn't agree with using food colourings, but I was a bit uncomfortable using any more colouring in this cake batter and it still wasn't as bright as everyone else's I've seen! As a further complication, I've since realised I've got some kind of intolerance/allergy to the food colouring pastes so I probably won't be trying this again if I am planning a slice myself.

Anyway, the positive out of this I was particularly pleased with the icing job on this one - icing has never been my strong suit. Apart from the lack of patience issue I'm not very artistic either, but I gritted my teeth with this one and dutifully crumb coated it and tried really really hard with the pallette knife, I think I am getting there as I can see a definitely improvement each time.

And so concludes my recent Hummingbird layer cake adventures. I've come to the conclusion that Hummingbird layer cakes are particularly delicate beasts, very sensitive to the way in which you mix them (I don't think they are even achievable without an electric mixer) and the temperature of the oven, leading to much biting of nails, pacing in front of the oven wringing your hands, a bad back and a squint from bending down to peer in at the temperature on the oven thermometer every 5 minutes. They are very much worth the effort though, as when you get them right, it feels and tastes bloody good!
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