Saturday, 5 December 2009

Fairy (Christmas) Cupcakes

I like the playing part - choosing the colours, the detail - Nigella Lawson

Christmas Tree Cupcake

The verdict:
We've covered these cupcakes before here. RoseRed made them for the blog a long time ago but I made them today for a family BBQ and thought it was worth covering them again because I modified them a little. It's the perfect cupcake recipe, as far as I'm concerned. Nigella urges you to make it in the food processor and that's a winner for me. They cooked to perfection and I think they form the perfect base for fancy, playful decoration.

They rise a fair bit in the middle, which I don't think is conducive to the best decorating, so I sliced the risen parts off (and yes, ate them all!) to enable something like smooth surfaces for the royal icing.

Unusual or substituted ingredients:
I actually realised after I started that I had no caster sugar so used plain white sugar and it was just fine. Other than that, the base was made as written.

For the icing, I used royal icing I'd had in the freezer for about two years. I was prepared to not use it when it defrosted, but it turned out the two bundles marked GREEN and WHITE were absolutely fine for using. I rolled them out, cut out some Christmas tree shapes and whacked them on top. Easy.

Xmas Cupcakes

Special utensils or cookware:
Again, none. You don't have to make these in a food processor. I can't see why you couldn't just mix by hand but I do like the way it makes the mix very, very light and smooth.

Oh yes, again and again. This will be my go-to cupcake recipe forever I imagine.


Well you can make them simple and unadorned as Nigella declares she does; or you could dress them up as I did here. I have to say that I think I might have an inner cake decorator itching to get out. Although I don't claim to be great at it, I think with royal icing there's a great amount of pride to be gained for very little effort. These can't fail to impress and give you a very, very good feeling about your perhaps limited cake-decorator skills.

Overall pleasure level:
Huge bang for your buck here. Store cupboard ingredients (not including the frozen royal icing - I'll have to buy it next time) and if you have christmas decorations to hand, as I somehow do even though I don't recall buying them, this version of Nigella's cupcakes makes for a very happy baking experience.

Monday, 19 October 2009


God I love them - Nigella Lawson
Well, high praise indeed - if Nigella "loves" them, then they truly must be good good good! And decadent and naughty and truly luscious. A friend recommended them to me a long time ago and the only regret I have about making them is that it too me too long to actually do it!

The verdict: OMG THESE ARE AMAZING!! I think this is my favourite recipe so far! Both to cook and especially to eat. Oh my.
You have the fun of making dough (I love seeing it go from a shaggy mess to a smooth springy ball, and then watching it rise).
And then the syrup, which looked to me to be more of a butter mix - until I microwaved it for 30 seconds and it was definitely a syrup then!
I don't think this is a necessary step, but it does make it easier to put the syrup into the muffin tins!
Then the fun of rolling out the dough - actually, that part wasn't a heap of fun, the dough was really springy and I thought it would never roll out to the required size (60x30cm/24x12") but it got there eventually - or close enough anyway!
Then you sprinkle the dough with the sugar and cinnamon mix, roll it up into a lengthwise sausage, and slice it into 12 pieces. These go into the syrup/nut filled muffin tin holes, and are left to rise for a while before baking!
Unusual or substituted ingredients: None - all are easy to obtain (unless you live in the US, which bizarrely doesn't seem to have golden syrup easily obtainable - let me tell you, you guys are missing out! Get it if you can! Light corn syrup is NOT an acceptable substitute!! I did have to buy demerara sugar, as I don't keep it in my pantry, but that was no hassle.

Special utensils or cookware: Just a muffin tin. Preferably one with nice DEEP muffin holes. Mine does not have deep holes, and even while the dough was rising (the second rise, once it's in the muffin tin) the syrup overflowed out of the holes!
It was even worse during the baking!! I had to put a tray under the muffin tin to catch the overflowing syrup. Let me tell you, it smokes up in the oven and makes a sticky sticky mess!
Repeatability: Oh yes! In case you didn't get it before, this stuff is GOOOOOOOD! I will definitely make these again. Preferably when I've got a crowd to feed, because they really are very rich. But they also go very well the next day, especially after a little bit in the microwave. Oh yes, they were just as good the next day!
Sauciness: See above re sauciness!! Nigella's final instruction is "Leave to cool, then apply to face - as if you needed my encouragement". Schnecken is saucy, sticky and oh so satisfying!
Overall pleasure level: If I could give these 11/10, I would! Heck, since I can make the rules, I'm going to - 11/10 for these!! Fantastic!! Make them, you won't regret it! Next time, I might try them with pistachios, rather than walnuts. Or maybe cashews. I don't think you can lose!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Maple-Pecan Bread

this is a bread that comes into its own with cheese - Nigella Lawson
The verdict: Look, pretty much any bread eaten warm out of the oven is going to be good. It smells good and it tastes good (especially with lots of butter!). But I don't know about this particular bread. Maybe I need to make it again - I'm not entirely sure I cooked it enough this time, it seemed a little doughy in the very middle.

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Nothing particularly unusual, although you don't often put maple syrup in a bread mix! I also used walnuts rather than pecans (a substitution which, despite the name of the recipe, Nigella suggests!).
Special utensils or cookware: None! Bread really is very very simple to make!

Repeatability: I think I should make this again to try and do a better job. I think next time I would mix the nuts in at the same time as mixing the dry ingredients - Nigella suggests you "sprinkle" them in while kneading, but I found this very difficult. The recipe uses mostly wholemeal flour, and I find it far denser than white flour. I felt I didn't get the nuts mixed in to the middle of the dough very well at all. I think the kitchenaid would have done a far better job of mixing them in!
Once the bread was cooked, a lot of nuts seemed to "fall off" when I was cutting it. But it still was very nutty!

Sauciness: As Bells has earlier said, bread is earthy rather than saucy! This wasn't too bad, and it was good with cheese. It'd be good to serve at a party! I've found warm bread is always a crowd pleaser!
Overall pleasure level: Hmmm, I think I'd give this 6/10.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Mini Cheesecakes

These are very easy to make, but I do have to say that lining the mini-muffin tins with the digestive biscuit crust can get a little tedious. This is where your darling children come in - their little fingers are made for the job - Nigella Lawson

The verdict:
I agree entirely with Nigella - these really are very easy to make. Not having any darling children though meant I had to struggle a little with the tin lining. Not to worry, it was worth it!

Unusual or substituted ingredients:
No unusual ingredients at all - although I've got to say that either Nigella has way overestimated the quantity required for the biscuit base, or underestimated the amount of filling required. If you are going to make these, either halve the amount of the biscuit base, or double the amount of the filling (that's what I'll be doing!) .
I also found the amount of butter specified for the biscuit base wasn't quite enough to get the right consistency of "sand" for the base - it did stick, but not as much as I'd have liked - thus making the lining of the teeny tiny muffin forms even harder!

Special utensils or cookware: I don't have mini-muffin tins, so I used a cupcake tin, silicone mini-cupcakes and individual tart cases. I spooned the mixture in and pressed it down with the spoon and then my fingers - getting it up the sides was the hardest, but it was ok in the end.
I used the magimix to crush the biscuits and add the butter to a sand-like consistency, and then washed it and reused it to mix the filling - very easy. It is a baked cheesecake, but only for 10 minutes, so it keeps a nice consistency.

Repeatability: I made these for a playdate with a couple of friends, and I think they were a good choice - can be made the day before, are very easy to transport, no annoying cutting required, just the right size for an after-lunch dessert or with coffee. I would definitely make these again. Just with more of the filling!

Sauciness: These are light and tasty - and would be very easy to modify by adding some berried to the mixture (either before cooking or just on top), or perhaps swirling some melted chocolate through the mix.

Overall pleasure level: Hmmmm, I think these are a 7.5 out of 10 for me. Sweeeeeet!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter Nests

Yes, these are cute; yes, they are kitsch, but I love them all the same - Nigella Lawson

The verdict: How could you not love easter nests? Cute, so easy to make, and hello? chocolatey!

Unusual or substituted ingredients: I wasn't sure if I'd be able to buy shredded wheat here (it's such an English sounding ingredient!), but yes, in the cereal aisle, there it was. It comes in pillow like biscuits (about the size of weetbix) so it needs to be broken up, and that's about the hardest job of all in this recipe. That, and not eating the chocolate before you melt and mix it with the shredded wheat.

Oh, and stopping your husband from eating the bird's eggs (sugar coated solid chocolate eggs, not actual bird eggs!!) straight out of the bag.

Special utensils or cookware: None. This is a no-bake recipe - the most "baking" you have to do is melting the chocolate with a bit of butter in the microwave!

Repeatability: This is a very quick and easy thing to whip up at easter - if you are having people over for coffee or having a lot of kids (grandchildren, nephews and nieces, whatever) it is easy to make these. Nigella must make them big, as she got 5 nests out of the mix. I got 12. I don't think you want them too big, to be honest.

Sauciness: Well, you know how I feel about chocolate - it's always saucy! This is a simple recipe though that Nigella includes in her "children" chapter - it is definitely something that the kids could make with some help, and I'm pretty sure they'd make a big mess, but have fun doing it!

Overall pleasure level: I didn't mind these at all! 7 out of 10 for me! Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Pizza Casareccia

While we all struggle to produce that thin-crusted, charcoal redolent pizzaiolo's pizza and fail, the Italians recognise that you need to go to the pizzeria for that and have instead devised a home-made alternative, doughier and with more topping, but very good in its own but different way - Nigella Lawson

The verdict: I LOVE homemade pizza - homemade from scratch that is! It is so easy and so yummy, and makes you feel very clever. I know pizza is so easy to get delivered, but when you have the time to make it (which I happen to have right now) it is so worth it!

Unusual or substituted ingredients: The great thing about pizza is that you can pretty much use what you've got in the fridge. Most people will have some cheese (even cheddar is fine!) and a bit of meat and some onion and capsicum or mushroom, or whatever you like on a pizza. You can go gourmet or traditional, whatever you like! The recipe (while it gives toppings) is really about making the pizza base.

Special utensils or cookware: None at all! You just need a bowl, a flat surface (on which to knead) and a baking tray. Although if you are me, feel free to cheat by using a KitchenAid with a dough hook for the kneading part - frees up a few minutes in which you can chop the toppings!

Repeatability: I will definitely make this again! Nigella suggested that this pizza should feed 4 people "generously". Husby and I ate all but one piece between us for dinner, it was that good!!

Sauciness: Mmmm, yes. I really liked that the recipe used half a tin of chopped tomatoes, rather than tomato paste, for the sauce. Interesting that this is spread on the pizza base before it is baked, and then you put the toppings on and bake again, enough to melt and brown the cheese (mmmm melted cheese!)

Overall pleasure level: Erm, I think mmmmmmmm melted cheese probably sums it up really!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Boston Cream Pie

This is not a pie at all but a cake ... . ...and for some reason the addition of chocolate brought the word 'cream' into play. - Nigella Lawson
Yes, this is a cake. And it doesn't have cream in it (well, not really). But it does have chocolate, and it does have a custardy filling. And it's a layer cake. What more could you want?

The verdict: It's pretty good in the eating, although the construction failure left me disappointed. The picture in the book shows a very thick, very yellow custardy filling, with thick chocolate ganache just oozing slightly over the side of the cake.
Yeah, my version didn't quite go like that. I guess I didn't cook the creme patissiere filling enough, and even though I was rocking on the chocolate ganache making to 'Born Slippy' by Underworld, I probably didn't beat it enough either. Hence the filling and icing ran right off the cake onto the cake plate. And the table. Sigh. It still tasted good!

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Just Nigella's usual fat-free fare of double cream, milk, chocolate, eggs, sugar and butter (and a few other bits and pieces. Nigella uses her victoria sponge recipe for the cake bit. Who knows if this is traditional, but it works fine - a fairly plain solid-ish cake is probably best I suspect.
Special utensils or cookware: I made the Victoria sponge part using the food processor - last time I made it I did it the traditional way, but I figured I'd try the magimix this time.
That might explain why the cakes turned out somewhat flatter than I would have liked?

Repeatability: This cake is pretty fussy to make - you have to do the cakes, then the custardy bit (creme patissiere) and then the chocolate ganache - the ganache part is done in a saucepan, using an electric hand mixer - optional is the grooving part described above - and so it does require you to set aside some time for the baking etc, and then the construction. But it's an impressive looking thing (or at least, it would be if the filling didn't all run out) and so is a good choice for impressing non-baking guests!

Sauciness: C'mon, anything with chocolate ganache (with plenty left over) is bound to be a bit saucy!

Overall pleasure level: Hmm, 6.5 out of 10 for this. Would have scored higher but for my disappointment after the construction phase.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Autumnal Birthday Cake

That's a benefit of using this as a birthday cake: you can allow yourself a little ironic leeway - Nigella Lawson

I'm not entirely sure it was ironic that I made this cake for a friend who's birthday is February 29, and who turned 41 this year - I did joke that it was entirely appropriate that I was making him an autumnal cake as he entered the autumn of his years at the junction of summer and autumn!

The verdict: With a cake that uses almost half a litre of maple syrup (in the cake and the icing) I'm not sure why I was so surprised when it tasted almost like pancakes!

Unusual or substituted ingredients: Well, I've mentioned the maple syrup already - quite expensive it makes it too, if you use the real stuff (at least here in Australia!) - but definitely worth it, I think - I'm always a bit suspicious of things like "maple flavoured syrup".

Special utensils or cookware: Nothing special required, if you are a baker and have the required tins! It did have an unusual method (well, at least, one I've never used before) to make the icing. It uses egg whites, maple syrup, sugar and a few other bits and pieces - which is beaten with an electric hand mixer in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, until it thickens like meringue. It was quite amazing to watch the mixture change from a browny syrup into fluffy white meringue!

Repeatability: I've been wanting to make this cake for a while but kept putting it off because it looked a bit fussy and time-consuming - but it's not really that bad at all - I mean, it's clearly not the quickest cake, having to do the cakes and then the icing, but for such an impressive looking cake, it's worth it!

Sauciness: Definitely! Especially the yumbo icing. I really was amazed at the flavour of this cake. And really moist too - very good cake, definitely something a bit different!

Overall pleasure level: I give this an 8.5 - moist delicious autumny goodness!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Banana Bread

This is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it's fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess - Nigella Lawson

OMG I can't believe I haven't baked anything for the blog for over 6 months! - RoseRed

The verdict: Yes, it really is a very good banana bread - I just finished the last piece today, a week after making it, and it was still moist and deliciously banana-y. I've been, somewhat indulgently, eating it for breakfast, but it would be the perfect morning or afternoon tea cake - because it is very cake-y, not so much with the bread-y.
Unusual or substituted ingredients: I'm not sure I've had a banana bread with sultanas in it before - I almost didn't use them, but decided I would, since how would I know if it was a good idea unless I tried it? And it was a good idea, as was the idea to heat the sultanas in a small amount of rum before adding them to the mix - it's barely discernable in the end product, but it just adds that certain something. You could, of course, leave out the sultanas and/or the alcohol if you wanted and I'm sure it would still be an excellent banana bread.

Special utensils or cookware: None at all. I used a silicone loaf pan (love my lovely tupperware) and it came out very cleanly, I suspect it would do the same in a regular loaf pan.

Nigella does ask you, in the method, to combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, bicarb soda and salt) in a bowl and combine it with a wooden spoon or your hands. You then mix the combined dry ingredients into the buter/sugar/egg/banana mix. While I did this, to be honest I can't see the point of combining it in a separate bowl. Next time, I'll just put them all in a sifter and sift them into the wet ingredients. Nigella doesn't say to sift the flour, and there may be a reason for this, but it seems to be a much easier way of achieving a similar outcome!!

(Also, a word of warning and reassurance - the wet mix - butter, sugar, eggs, banana - looks a whole lot like ... erm ... curdled vomit (sorry!) while you are mixing it. But once you add the flour, it looks just like a regular cake mix - so don't think you've done something wrong if it looks a bit off initially, ok!)

Repeatability: I would definitely make this again. I always seem to have overripe bananas, and this is a great recipe for using them up. Like all banana cake/bread recipes, there is an indication of the number or weight of ripe bananas you should use - me, I just use what I've got (as long as it isn't a ridiculously different number) - I don't worry if it is one more or one less banana, it all seems to work out in the end.
Sauciness: Sticky and moist and delicious!

Overall pleasure level: I give this 8.5 out of 10. I do love a banana recipe, especially one that keeps so well. Yum.