First steps into Sugar Craft: the terror of fondant

A couple of weeks ago my cousin asked me to make her wedding cake – now this is a huge deal, a cake, to feed 100 or so people, that needs to get from Manchester to Kent and be decorated to look like an allotment, AND be impressive enough to not only make my cousin and her fiancé happy, but also to impress my aunt who my cousin calmly told me – used to examine the City and Guild Sugar Craft exams. No. Pressure.


I’ve never really tried decorating cakes before, nothing beyond smoothing some icing over the top of a cake, or wrapping a battenberg with marzipan (recipe to follow)… Still I’ve got six months to learn – I’m not particularly phased about the cake part – I’m good at cakes (plus Neil gave me a 12″ square 4″ deep adjustable cake pan for my birthday, so we have capacity covered).

But icing, is a whole new adventure.

I started with the basics last week – a YouTube tutorial on flowers, a quick trip to Lakeland for some white fondant modelling paste and a few modelling tools and off I went.

It’s not all that hard! Yes it needs patience and lots of deep breathing but that’s what flour and faff is all about, spending a little longer to make something better.

And here is the result of my first ever foray into the world of cake decoration. Next stop: cabbages and some sunflowers climbing a garden shed…

(I had to make some quick chocolate fairy cakes so I had a good background to show off the flowers!)

Flowers 1 edit

Esterhazy Torte – a cake for Kings (well technically Princes…)

This is a really lovely cake to make and the first faffy cake I’d made in a little while.

Sandwich together four layers of light enriched hazelnut Genoese sponge with smooth chocolate and coffee butter cream, covered in flaked almonds and topped with some glossy glacé icing. As I said – a cake for kings – technically Paul III Anton, Prince Esterházy!

This one is out of the Hairy Bikers’ Big Book of Baking, which has loads of really tasty European recipes – for once cake that’s not French…

I enjoyed learning how to make the web pattern on the top by dragging a chopstick through piped chocolate rings in alternate directions.

Tarte tatin – the apple pie to beat all pies

I have tried many different attempts at tarte tatin, from Mary Berry and Raymond Blanc’s making the caramel first and then lining with apples before baking, or BBC food one where you are asked to grate the pastry over the apples.
IMG_1407This one is the best I have found, and it comes from the sticker which came with my Silverwood tarte tatin tin – it’s beautifully simple and produces the most amazing results.

The idea is the caramel is made with the juice from the apples – divine.

Now the first few times I made tarte tatin I did it in a frying pan and hoped for the best, the results were always tasty, but never attractive (and I burned my hand on the handle as I’m apparently incapable of understanding that just because it’s a frying pan the handle gets hot when you put it in an oven!). The proper pan for the job can be used on the job, put in the oven, has a nice heavy base and decent lip for flipping the tart over.

But don’t take my word for it – try it yourself: (and because it’s old school I make it in oz)

Please note it is SO important to stack your apples up vertically so you the most amazing and deep squidgy caramelised apply goodness and none of this flat tarte rubbish.

Linda Collister’s TARTE TATIN
from ‘The Baking Book’ Serves 6

8in Tarte Tatin Pan

PASTRY: 6oz plain flour; 1oz caster sugar; 3oz unsalted butter, chilled and diced; 1egg yolk; 2 tablespoons icy water; a pinch of salt.

FILLING: 3oz unsalted butter; 6oz caster sugar; 3lb (about 8) dessert apples, such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Egremont Russet.

It is best to use tart eating apples for the filling – cooking apples release too much liquid – and to pack them together tightly. Don’t put the pastry onto the apples until they are sitting in a good brown caramel or the tart will be soggy and insipid-tasting.

Make the pastry dough by hand or in a food processor: Put the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of the processor and process until mixed. Add the diced butter and process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. With the machine running, add the egg yolk and icy water through the feed tube, and process until the mixture binds together to form a firm but not dry dough. If there are dry crumbs, gradually add a little more water. Wrap and chill while preparing the apples.

Cut the butter into thin slices and arrange to cover the base of the pan completely. Sprinkle over the sugar to make an even layer.

Peel, halve and core the apples. Arrange in the pan, on top of the butter and sugar, so the apple halves stand up vertically. Pack the apples tightly together so the tart will not collapse in the oven. Put the pan over a moderate heat on top of the stove and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the butter and sugar have formed a richly coloured caramel, and all the moisture from the apples has evaporated. Remove from the heat. While the apples are cooking, preheat the oven to 220C (425F, Gas 7).

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a round to fit the top of the pan. Roll up the dough around the rolling pin and lift over the pan. Gently unroll the dough so it covers the apples completely. Quickly tuck the edges of the dough down inside the pan, then prick the pastry lid all over with a fork. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Cool slightly, then loosen the pastry edges and turn out the tart upside down so the pastry is under the caramelised apples. Eat warm or at room temperature, with ice-cream, crème fraîche or fromage frais.

Scrummy squid two ways

Slow cooked squid in a chorizo and paprika stew with flash fried squid for added texture – a perfect combination.

This recipe comes from Raymond Blanc for the BBC, and is a great weekend recipe as it can be left alone to do its thing for a little while:

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, cut into wedges
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 pinch salt
  • 2 pinches ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 45g tomato purée
  • 400g canned chopped plum tomatoes
  • 200g white wine, boiled for 30 seconds
  • 400g squid, skin and quill removed, scored and cut in to 5cm pieces
  • 200g cooking chorizo, cut in to 3cm pieces
  • 300g new potatoes, halved
  • 100g squid, cleaned, cut into rings or scored
  • chopped parsley

In a frying pan over a medium heat, heat the olive oil and fry the onions, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and smoked paprika for about seven minutes, or until lightly golden-brown. Add the tomato purée and cook for three minutes, stirring frequently. Then add the chopped tomatoes and cook for five minutes, or until they have broken down.

Finally, add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover with a lid, but leaving a small gap for steam to escape and reduce the heat to minimum – just a few bubbles. Cook for one hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.

To finish the dish and serve, flash fry the squid rings for one minute in a hot frying pan until golden-brown and just cooked through. Arrange the stew on a large dish or four large plates. Top with flash-fried squid pieces and some chopped parsley.

I think this dish needs some nice crusty bread to mop up all the tasty sauce.

Palet d’Or – A.K.A prize winning devil’s chocolate food cake

This has to be the faffiest recipe I have put on the blog – it is a beast of a cake, two layers of moist chocolate sponge painted with dark chocolate, sandwiched together with a chocolate truffle cream coated in a shimmery chocolate glaze.


The Bouchon Bakery book came from my mum a few years back and it really is a gem for anyone wanting to step it up a little in the baking arena past the basics (though who doesn’t love a Victoria Sandwich). I’ve made this cake twice in the last week in the run up to the University of Manchester Charity Bake-Off (see link to competition site)– which I won :) – Hence amusing cake and prize picture from the competition…


I want on a charity cycle ride for the British Heart Foundation with a twist on Sunday – the 52miles route left Manchester at 1am! We had a few hiccups at the start but made really good time completing the route in 3hours 20mins (not including mechanical and jelly baby breaks). This super duper rich chocolate cake was the perfect antidote to achy legs.

Good luck and keep your patience.


Palet d’Or – Thomas Keller: from ‘Bouchon Bakery’

For this recipe you will need an 8” x 1 3/8” bottomless cake ring and silver leaf gelatin.


  • 101g plain flour
  • 31g cocoa powder
  • 5g baking soda
  • 5g baking powder
  • 1g salt
  • 56g eggs
  • 126g caster sugar
  • 2g vanilla paste
  • 86g mayonnaise
  • 105g water

Preheat the oven to 165C. Line a sheet pan with a silpat or line with parchment paper and spray the parchment.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium bowl. Add the salt and whisk to combine.

Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla paste in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and mix on medium-low speed for about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and whip about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and whip medium high-speed for another 5 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. When the whisk is lifted, the mixture should form a slowly dissolving ribbon.

Add the mayonnaise and whip to combine. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and fold in the dry ingredients and water in 2 additions each.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and using an offset spatula, spread it in an even layer, making sure that it reaches into the corners. Bake for 10 minutes. Set on a cooling rack and cool completely.

Cut two 7 ¼ inch discs from the cake. Using a small offset spatula paint 25 grams of melted dark chocolate over each cake round.

Line a sheet pan with a silpat and position a cake ring toward one end of the pan. Centre a cake round, chocolate side down, in the ring. Place the second cake round next to the ring, and freeze for about 1 hour.

Chocolate Cream:

  • 333g double cream
  • 233g 64% chocolate, chopped
  • 50g eggs
  • 100g egg yolks
  • 83g caster sugar

Whip the cream to soft peaks and refrigerate. Melt the chocolate in the top of a bain marie. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl and let cool to 37.7° to 48.8°C.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in the clean top of the double boiler over simmering water. Initially the eggs will increase in volume and foam, but after 5-7 minutes, the foam will begin to subside and the eggs will thicken. Watch the temperature closely, as the eggs will begin to set if they get too hot; when the temperature reaches 83.8°C, immediately transfer them to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed for about 7 minutes, until the mixture thickens. When the whisk is lifted, the mixture should form a slowly dissolving ribbon.

Whisk one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate to combine. Fold in the egg mixture, then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Transfer the chocolate cream to the pastry bag.

Remove the sheet pan from the freezer. Pipe a ring of cream to fill the gap between the edges of the cake and the ring. Then pipe a spiral, beginning in the centre of the cake and extending to the edges of the pan. Centre the second cake layer over the first layer. Repeat the piping, using enough cream to reach slightly above the rim of the ring. Sweep a long offset spatula over the cream from one side of the ring to the other for a perfectly smooth surface. Place the sheet pan in the freezer overnight.

Chocolate Glaze:

  • 2.7 g of silver leaf gelatin
  • 150g double cream
  • 225g sugar
  • 180g water
  • 75g cocoa powder

Place the gelatin in a bowl of ice water to soften

Place the cream, sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cocoa powder, reduce the heat to keep the mixture at a boil, and cook for about 15 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by about one-third. Test by spooning a small amount onto a plate: run your finger through it – if it runs together, continue to reduce it until your finger leaves a track. Once it has reached the desired consistency, remove the mixture from the heat. Wring the gelatin of excess water and whisk it into the cocoa mixture.

Assembling the Cake:

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set cooling rack on top. Position the frozen cake, still in the ring, on the rack. Warm the sides of the ring with your hands or with warm towels. (Do not use hot water- the cream must remain frozen.) Holding one side of the cake steady, lift up and remove the ring.

Reheat the glaze if necessary until hot, and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a spouted measuring cup. In one smooth, quick motion, pour the glaze over the top of the cake, beginning 1 ½ inches from the edges, allowing the glaze to flow down the sides and into the centre to coat. Tap the sheet pan against the work surface to distribute the glaze evenly.

Let the glaze set for a few minutes and then, using a cake lifter or a wide spatula, lift the cake from the rack. If there are any drops of glaze clinging to the bottom of the cake, carefully scrape them against the rack to remove them, then place the cake on a serving platter

To serve, run a slicing knife under hot water and dry well. Slice the cake, heating the knife again as necessary.

*phew* hope you made it through that :)

Pork Tonkatsu – Japanese week


How may of you were watching the Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure on the BBC? I thought it was really good, and enjoyed it as a good mix of food and travel! The series inspired us to embark on a Japanese week, including:

  • Pork Tonkatsu
  • Poached Chicken Ramen
  • Chicken Katsu curry

Themed weeks are good if ingredients are normally quite pricy, our problem before was that we would buy a whole ingredient sent for just one dish, but by planning a whole range of (Japanese in this case) recipes, we could use all our fresh ingredients before they went off!

This recipe is adapted from the BBC Hairy Bikers’ Recipe. For the sauce, mix the following ingredients together in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer for five minutes:

  • 125g tomato ketchup
  • 75ml sake – Japanese rice wine
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce (such as Kikoman)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grat
  • 1 tsp finely grated fresh root ginger
  • 1 tsp Japanese mustard
  • 2 tsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a small bowl. It will be served at room temperature Set to one side until ready to use.

To coat the two pork loin steaks bread crumbs, put 4tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper in one shallow dish, 2 gently beaten eggs in another and 5tbs panko bread crumbs in a third.

Coat each steak by first dipping into the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Re-dip each steak into the egg and breadcrumbs again – this creates an extra crisp coating. You may need to top up you egg or panko in your dishes.

Heat up a deep non-stick frying pan and add a good half inch of oil in the pan.

Shallow fry the cutlets on a medium heat until golden-brown on both sides- if you are lucky enough to have one, you can test the pork with a probe cooking thermometer – pork is cooked at 72C), this will take about 4 minutes on each side, be careful when turning the cutlets to avoid splashing the hot fat.

We had our pork with sticky rice, shredded Chinese cabbage and the Tonkatsu sauce poured over.

Moules a la Manchester with homemade garlic bread

moules meal

This was a great lunch! So quick and easy and the only non-store cupboard ingredient is a kilo of mussels!

On the way back from cycling to Ikea we stopped off at the fishmongers to buy some trout, which we had en papillote for tea and some mussels for lunch yesterday. Eventually deciding against a lamp in Ikea that would have been hard to bungee across the rack. It was nice 25 mile round trip on a sunny but very windy day!  

These are essentially moules mariniere only with cider instead of wine, as it has a much lighter less alcoholic flavour. The garlic bread was a bit of an afterthought, but as the home-made bloomer was going a bit stale -instead of throwing it out we decided to jazz it up:

Rustic parsley garlic bread:

If you’re lucky enough to have a small food processor/whizzer of some kind use that, if not a bowl and the back of a spoon will do quite well instead. If you are whizzing you can leave your engredients whole, if not make sure you chop everything nice and fine before you start to beat them into the butter.

Blend together, 50g butter, 3 cloves of garlic, 2tbsp flat leaf parsley and a pinch of salt. Once this has all blended together spread it on old slices of bread and grill until golden.

garlic bread

Moules mariniere / a la Manchester

Start off by cleaning all your mussels, pull out the beards – green mossy things, Neil uses his fingers, I use a pair of fish tweezers because I find them quite slippery, then rinse the mussels in cold water. As you go through the mussels make sure they’re all closed, if not give them a good tap on your work surface and see if they close, if they don’t chuck them away.


Once your mussels are nice and clean finely dice a small onion and a clove of garlic, sweat these off in a tsp of pork fat (or butter) in a very large saucepan until they soften but don’t colour. Add in 150ml of dry cider and the clean mussels turn up the heat, cover and leave to steam for a couple of minutes or until the mussels open.

Once cooked pour in 50ml of double cream and a small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley and stir this altogether – discard any mussels that haven’t opened. The mussels will have released a lovely salty liquor into the sauce. Serve with the garlic bread to mop up the sauce.