The Great Birmingham Bake Charity Off

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I promise I’ll get round to blogging cake recipes soon, but I wanted to just mention an awesome cake competition happening in Birmingham.

The Great Birmingham Bake Charity Off is a week long series of baking competitions all taking place at SixEight Kafe in the city centre.  As well as showcasing some fantastic cakes the event is in aid of Birmingham Children’s Hospital who are currently raising money to improve the Children’s Cancer Ward.

Poster copyThe categories for the baked goods are…

Monday 21 January:  Tea time treats
Tuesday 22 January:  Savoury Baking
Wednesday 23 January: International flavours
Thursday 24 January:  Cookies, biscuits & flapjacks
Friday 25 January: Tarts and pastries
Saturday 26 January: Inspired by Birmingham (like professional category) and children’s baking plus face-painting and other fun!

Entering is simple – complete an try form, pay a £5 donation to enter (there’s a discount for multiple days) and bring your entry to SixEight Kafe on the morning of the day you’re entreating (before 9.30am).

If eating is more your thing then you can join in the judging by making a donation to sample the baking from 10am – 5.30pm each day at the cafe.  Suggested donation is £1 but I’m sure you can do better than that.

Check out the Facebook event for more details!

A break from cake: Guinness crisps

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It’s been a while since I posted (again) and there are more recipes coming soon, but I stumbled across an article on The Guardian I had to share first.  Beer flavoured crisps.  Well stout if we’re being precise, Guinness if further still.

According to Big Hospitality they’re being sold into pubs, although not the ones I work in as we serve Freedom Stout, as well as Selfridges, Waitrose and Asda.  They’re a collaboration between Burts Chips crisps (you’re made in Devon they’re crisps damnit) and Diageo, who own Guinness.  And whilst the Guardian’s columnist isn’t keen I think it could be an interesting idea.  That said I’m not much of a stout drinker, but I did make a marvelous Beef & Stout Stew which I might share on here…even thought it’s not a cake.  Perhaps I need a new category. Hmmm.

Amaretto Cupcakes

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Deliciously sweet with the light nuttiness of the almond flavour, it’s hard not to like amaretto.  My mum has recently discovered it and now seems to round off all dinner parties with amaretto infused fruit.  It’s been well-liked in our house for a while now, with my housemate Pants drinking amaretto and cola which she says tastes a bit like an alcoholic Dr Pepper.

So it only seemed natural to knock up a quick batch of cupcakes using the almond liqueur.  The concern with amaretto in cake is that it will make the cupcake sickly sweet, so I wondered whether to cut back on the sugar.  In the end I didn’t bother, figuring that as a quite light flavour it might be worth just risking.  Turns out it was fine.

I used Luxardo Amaretto, an Italian amaretto which uses real almonds.  There are other better-selling amarettos on the market but some of them don’t use almonds in their recipe and that just seems a little odd to me.  I appreciate that it’s possible to create a flavour without using that flavour, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.

Amaretto cupcake

Amaretto cupcakes

Ingredients
160g  caster sugar
160g butter (or margarine)
2 medium eggs
25ml amaretto
160g self raising flour
icing – butter, icing sugar and a small amount of amaretto

Method
Cream in the butter and sugar
Add the eggs one by one making sure they’re fully combined
Stir in the amaretto
Sieve in the flour
Divide the mixture into cupcake cases and bake until they pass the toothpick test (comes out clean)
Leave to cool
Make up a simple buttercream icing and all in a little amaretto (I didn’t give measurements for this because it’s a case of how much you can get in without making the icing too wet).  Unfortunately I didn’t measure out the icing.
Hide them from your housemates and leave the cakes so that the icing can set a little.

These were a big hit amongst both my housemates and the bartenders.  A couple of the bartenders shared that they were concerned that the amaretto would make them sickly, but actually it gave a really nice almond flavour without being too overpowering.  Definitely one to makeagain.

(Sorry for the rubbish photo, I made the cakes late at night and I only had my phone to snap a photo)

Update

Sorry for the radio silence and the lack of blogposts.  I’ve been doing some baking, admittedly not as much as before, but I’ve been really busy and sadly updating Half Cut Cakes has taken a bit of a backseat.  I’m going to do my best to get them written up and share some of my experiments!

Why Half Cut Cakes?

This is probably going to be my ‘about’ page, but I thought I better explain the project a little more…

Back at the beginning of 2012 when everyone else was making New Year’s Resolutions to drink less, mine was to drink more.  It’s odd, I know, but I figured after having worked (in events and marketing) for two of Birmingham’s best drinking establishments for over a year, I ought to actively learn in depth more about the product on offer.

After attending some Rum Clubs which were open to the public and bartenders’ training sessions, I started filling a notebook with info and soon realised that as great as it was to understand the products on the back bar, I needed more of an outlet for this newfound knowledge and a reason to build on it.  Sure, to most people bartending might’ve been a more sensible progression but I wanted to apply what felt like the alchemy of cocktail making with another kind of alchemy; baking.  After all, I like cake, I like spirits, why not add them together.  And so Half Cut Cakes was born; the name being a play on the idea of ‘half cut’ referring to cutting cake and also being drunk.

There isn’t really much rhyme or reason as to what I make.  Sometimes it’s just a case of wondering whether a single spirit in a cake would work, other times it’s what something would taste like with some alcohol added and others how a cocktail can be re-imagined in cake form.  I’m lucky enough to have bartenders of three pretty awesome venues to pose questions to, get advice from and most importantly feedback on the cakes (although I think they win on that too).

Pretty much all of my cakes are tasted by my non-bartending housemates, the general managers of two of the venues I work for and a random sampling of whoever else is about and gets to the cake first.  I’m not a professional baker by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to think getting bartenders and ordinary folk to try the cakes means I get an idea of how accurate the flavour is, but also if it appeals to people who don’t spend their lives around them.  It seems to work pretty well.

Oh and in case you were wondering the photo banner is a small portion of the Island Bar in Birmingham’s back bar.

New food TV show looking for participants

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I had an email recently from someone about a new ITV show looking for participants who will submit their favourite recipe for a chance to win £20,000 and see their dish on the shelves of Marks & Spencer.

I’ve been having a look through my Half Cut Cakes notebook, but I’m not sure which one – if any – to enter.  All of my recipes are pretty new and haven’t had the rigorous testing that some of the well-loved recipes which have been tested over and over.  Perhaps that’s just an excuse to bake some of my favourites again!

But if you’re interested in entering Food Glorious Food it looks pretty simple to do so; fill in an application form which can be found here – http://www.foodgloriousfood.tv/.  You’ve got until the 31st August 2012 to enter and good luck!

Dark and Stormy cocktail cake

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A few months ago work celebrated Bermuda Day and I figured what a perfect excuse to have a go at making a Dark and Stormy cake…it has just taken me forever to blog about it!

The Dark and Stormy cocktail is said to be Bermuda’s national drink (which is also applied to the Rum Swizzle), made with dark rum, ginger beer and a few squeezes of lime.  Although you could probably use a number of dark rums it seems only right to use a Bermudian rum which traces it’s history back as far as 1806 – Goslings Black Seal rum.  Goslings reminds me of brown sugar and rich fruitcake (like the kind you get at Christmas), but it’s also smooth, thick and pleasantly tingly on the tip of the tongue when sipped.  But doesn’t have that catch-in-the-back-of-your-throat “ARGH alcohol” reaction that some spirits do, so I figured it would be fine to use neat in icing.

First attempt at Dark and Stormy cake

I initially thought of a Goslings rum icing with a ginger and lime cake, so tried this out in the form of cupcakes.  They were nice, but getting the flavours to stand out was a little tricky, particularly as I underestimated how much ginger you need to add to get a ginger tasting cake (every kind of ginger in the world it seems).  So I switched to making a full sized cake with ginger and lime layers sandwiched together with a butter cream icing flavoured with Goslings.  Yum, rum flavoured icing is delicious!

Dark and Stormy cake

Ginger layer
175g caster sugar
175g butter
3 eggs
30g glace ginger
0.5 tbs syrup from stem ginger
2 tsp root ginger, grated
2 pieces of stem ginger, diced
185g self raising flour
3 tsp ground ginger
Lime layer
50g caster sugar
50g butter
1 egg
50g self raising flour
Goslings icing
25ml Goslings Black Seal Rum (if you can get more in and keep the consistency I say go for it)
75g butter
175g icing sugar

Cream in butter and sugar together, then add the eggs one-by one, making sure they’re mixed in well.  Once you’ve done this it’s time to add all the ginger – the root ginger should be grated and the other chunks of ginger cut as small as possible.  Unless of course you want bits in your cake, but I try and avoid this.  Sift in the self raising flour and add in the ground ginger and pour into a fairly deep cake tin.  Bake until you can prick with a toothpick and it comes out clean.  Leave to cool and make  the lime layer.

The lime layer is pretty similar to the ginger layer – cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and sift in flour.  But before you add the flour zest one lime and use the juice for the mix.  Bake until it passes the toothpick test.

Once cooled make up the rum icing; cream in the butter and icing sugar.  Add in the rum a little at a time, you don’t want the butter cream icing to get too runny but you want to get in lots of rum too.  I tend to leave mine for a few minutes to thicken a bit.  Reserve a little for the top, then spread the rest over the ginger cake with a palette knife, sticking the lime layer to the top.  Use the top to decorate as you please.  I left mine with thicker rum icing in the middle and just used a little to stick the lime slices to the top (which were purely ornamental).

Then EAT!

Apple tartlets with tequila glaze

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I was asked to proofread something on tequila one of the bartenders from the RVT had written.  In it she mentioned flavours that went well with tequila and one of them was apple, so I figured I’d have a go at making some apple tartlets.

For the very basics of the recipe I used Greg Wallace’s peach and almond tart on the BBC Good Food website as I wanted something simple that used a frangipane filling.  Usually I add the alcohol in before baking, but I figured this time I’d make a tequila glaze, which was inspired a little by a dessert my housemate had which used tequila over sorbet.

Apple tartlets with tequila glaze

Pastry
88g plain flour
43g  unsalted butter
1/2tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
Filling
50g caster sugar
70g butter
1 egg
70g ground almonds
25g plain flour
apples sliced
Glaze
water
caster sugar
golden tequila

Start with making the pastry; rub in the flour and butter until it looks like breadcrumbs, then mix in the sugar and using the egg yolk and a little water bring it together to make a dough.  Wrap it in cling-film and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Heat the oven to 180c fan, roll out the pastry and cut into four pieces and place inside each of the tarlet tins.  push into the edges and trim of the excess.  Add in baking beans (or dried chickpeas wrapping in greaseproof paper) and bind bake for 10 mins.  Remove the beans, prick the base and bake for another 10 mins.

For the filling; whisk the butter and sugar until you get a paste and beat in the egg, then add the alongs and flour.  Spoon into the pastry cases and arrange the apple slices however you see fit.  Bake for 30-40mins until golden.

For the glaze: using two parts sugar to one part water heat to make a syrup.  Once you’ve go a fairly thick syrup add in a slug of golden tequila and warm through.  Pour the glaze over the tartlets, but try and trying to avoid getting the base of the tartlet soggy.  I did this by using shot glasses – perhaps if I were to serve them as a dinner party I’d fill the shot glass with tequila too!

Sadly I  didn’t get to take these into work, so opinions were all from the house.  The apples really reduced in the baking process so I’d pack them in more than I did and this would have the added benefit of giving it a more apply taste – possibly using cooking apples too.  The pastry didn’t need the 20mins in total, so I’d keep more of an eye on them but it had been so long since I made pastry that I was wary.  The tequila glaze wasn’t too overpowering and was delicious…I wanted to put it over some ice cream after the tartlets were eaten!

Less baking more drinking…and learning!

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Over at my other blog I’ve written up my thoughts on the Birmingham Whisky Club which I attended recently.  My new year’s resolution this year was to learn more about alcohol, so this fits in nicely.

Sitting in a room with a bunch of people tasting whisky might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s actually a really fun way to learn more about the spirit and was a great way to try a range of whiskies that I wouldn’t have ordinarily, particularly as one of the bottles cost £160!  Six whiskies of different ages, some single malt and some blended and lashings of storytelling about the history of whisky making is certainly a way to encourage people to the benefits of a dram of the good stuff.  Tasting the difference in whiskies aged in sherry and bourbon barrels and the note of fruitiness  gave me a few ideas for some cakes to try out later!

I’ve also been attending a series of Rum Clubs at Island Bar which have been doing a fine job of extolling the virtues of rum.  These are even more informal, mainly by virtue of the fact that they’re mainly attended by bartenders as rum doesn’t have quite the same reputation as whisky.  It’s only really in the last five years that the idea of rum as a sipping spirit has become acceptable (largely helped by El Dorado 15 year old rum winning a major award some time in 1997/8).  But given that before this year rum was a spirit I didn’t really care much about, these events have been a good way to view the spirit in a different light and I’m really appreciating it a lot more – I just wish other non-bartending folk would too!

As well as teaching me more about whisky and rum these clubs have been giving me a better understanding of the different notes to find in the spirits.  It’s been a great way of being able to identify complementing flavours and hopefully inspire some more cakes!  It’s definitely worth having a look around to see whether bars or specialist shops near you are also running whisky/rum clubs.

“Well I baked it and there is wine in it…”

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Occasionally I cook things that aren’t cake.  The other night I was making a cottage pie and my housemate B jokingly commented that she was disappointed it couldn’t go on the blog, although I pointed out that the sauce had a glass of white wine in it (honestly I don’t add alcohol to everything this really was in the recipe).  So B told me I simply had to add it to the blog.  So even though it’s not a cake, here is my cottage pie…

Cottage pie made with potato and beef mince

I can’t seem to find the recipe online, which is strange as it came from the BBC Good Food magazine and they usually put everything on their website.  Then again I only loosely followed it as I had discounted vegetables to use up in the sauce, a jar of passata instead of chopped tomatoes and switched the milk for soya milk, so I’m not sure there would be much point!

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