Posts Tagged ‘baking’

I had so much fun making this gingerbread house with the architectural expertise of Mr W. From mixing the gingerbread to icing and assembling, and finally, seeing the grin on our two year old goddaughters face when she saw it!

The gingerbread mix is from the BBC Good Food website and it behaved perfectly when baking, however, you do have to work quickly with it as it becomes crumbly, so make sure your baking sheets and templates are prepared in advance. I upped the spices to give it a bit more of a ginger kick and a hint of warming spices. There was plenty left over to make Christmas trees and stars for stocking fillers.

The  royal icing was left over from icing the Christmas cake and had been whisked to stiff peaks so it was nice and thick and stayed where I put it. It also gave me a chance to practice my new found piping skills.

Finding brightly coloured boiled sweets at the local newsagents and supermarket proved a bit of a challenge so the stain glass is not as bright as originally planned but overall I’m very pleased with the end result.  In fact, it turned out better than I could have hoped!

The gingerbread house was placed on a silver tray which was dusted all over with icing sugar. Trees were stuck to the tray with more royal icing, though a few blocks of mini toblerone were required to help it stay in place while setting. Inside the house was a gingerbread tree decorated with green icing, surrounded by marzipan presents.

I’m entering my Gingerbread House into the Great British Baking Club December Challenge

Fingers crossed!


250g butter
200g light soft brown sugar
105ml golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
11/2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut out 3 sheets of baking paper to fit your largest baking tray.

Melt the butter with the sugar and syrup in a saucepan over a low heat.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the butter mixture into the well and quickly bring together with a wooden spoon to make a dough.

Take about 1/4 of the dough (cover the rest with clingfilm to prevent it from drying out) and roll out to the thickness of a £1 coin. Lay the two roof panel templates on the dough and cut round with a knife. A metal ruler will help you gain straight edges. Stamp out trees, stars or any other shape that takes your fancy into the dough around the edges.

Remove the excess dough from around the cut outs and remove the templates. Lift the baking paper with the cut outs on it on to the baking sheet. Bake in the top of the oven for 8 minutes or until golden brown (your oven may vary, the original recipe for this mix suggested 12 minutes, you may wish to do some tester biscuits first – chef’s perk :)).

Repeat with the walls and side panels. If you wish to create stain glass windows. Cut out your shape, remove the dough and fill with crushed boiled sweets.

Allow the gingerbread to cool and harden before placing on a wire rack. Once completely hardened and cool you are ready to decorate and then stick your house together with thick royal icing.


First pipe royal icing along the edges of the front wall panel and push the side panels into them. Repeat with the back panel. Support them with a big ball of icing wrapped in clingfilm or whatever you can find in your kitchen – in my case forks and ramekins worked well. Once hardened and set pipe along the top edges of the walls and put the wall panels in place. Support until set.

Pipe icing to create icicles and stick on any chocolate or sweets you wish to decorate your house with.

I think I might make this a Christmas tradition, it certainly seems more popular than Christmas cake.


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I have been asked to make a birthday cake and it is for an unusual client who has lost his sense of taste and smell. Therefore, it has to look amazing! No pressure there then…

When making a cake flavour is absolutely the most important thing for me, and whilst I like to make my cake look good too I usually do this with fruit, or cut out a patterned template to dust icing sugar over. Buttercream is usually my limit but this is to be a special, celebration cake so I’ve decided basic buttercream just won’t cut it. Royal icing? Not my forte (yet), mainly due to my own dislike of the sickly stuff which in my opinion ruins a perfectly decent cake – though I will be perfecting it on the Christmas cake (yum) this year after covering it with marzipan (eurgh). Not to mention, no doubt, all the practice I will get at Leiths.

It is to be a chocolate cake so I’m going for a chocolate extravaganza. The edges of the cake will be decorated with chocolate panels which I made this weekend after a dash to Lakeland to purchase a decent size palette knife and a digital thermometer so I could temper my chocolate properly. This is my first attempt at tempering chocolate and I am pretty pleased with the result.

If melting chocolate to line moulds, for coating, or making chocolate shapes it is essential to temper it to avoid a dull appearance and ‘blooms’ (white blotches) when it hardens. When melted chocolate hardens the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure and type of structure is determined by the temperature at which they formed. Tempering changes the alignment of molecules in chocolate so the desired type of cocoa butter crystals remain unmelted in the chocolate.

How to temper dark chocolate

Firstly, use a good quality chocolate

Chop the chocolate into small pieces (about 1 cm). Reserve 20%

Half fill a saucepan with water and heat until it simmers. Set a heatproof bowl containing 80% of the chocolate above very gently simmering water. Make sure it does not touch the water. Even the tiniest amount of liquid or steam can cause chocolate to seize and whilst it may be possible to rescue it by adding a little oil and reheating it, it will not be possible to temper it.

Stir the chocolate until it melts and reaches a temperature of 45 degrees (43 degrees for milk and white chocolate). Remove from the heat and cool to 27 degrees (25-26 degrees for milk or white) by adding the remaining 20% of chocolate. Stir constantly. This process is called ‘seeding’. – I found the chocolate took quite a long time to drop to this temperature so helped it out by transferring it to a cool bowl and continued to stir to keep the temperature even.

Reheat the cooled chocolate to 31 degrees (27 degrees for milk or white). Do not let it exceed 33 degrees or you will need to reheat it to 45 degrees and start the process again as I had to do as the temperature rocketed far quicker than I was anticipating when I placed it above the water. Do not allow the chocolate to overheat or it will seize.

To test if the chocolate has tempered successfully, dip the back of a teaspoon into the chocolate, tap of the excess and allow to stand for 5 minutes. It should harden and be shiny. If not, repeat the tempering process.

Once tempered keep at 31 degress by placing the bowl in a roasting tin half filled with lukewarm water.

To make chocolate panels

I did not have any acetate so borrowed this technique from Mandy Mortimer of What the Fruitcake?!, which uses baking paper. However, whilst it worked perfectly on the upside, the underside does not have the same shine, so I think it is worth investing in acetate.

To cover the sides of a 9 inch cake I used 250g of 70% dark chocolate to make 10x 4cm panels.

1. Drawn a 20 x 40cm rectangle on a piece of baking paper. Extend the lines so you know where to cut once the template has been covered in tempered chocolate.

2. Mark lines every 4cm along the longest sides and 10cm on the shortest.

3. Reverse the paper and tape it to the worktop or baking sheet.

4. Pour the tempered chocolate on to the template and spread evenly with a palette knife. It will start to harden quickly.

5. While the chocolate is still tacky, cut out the panels using a sharp knife

6. Once completely hardened, use or store in an airtight container between sheets of greaseproof paper.

To create a pattern, drizzle or pipe tempered chocolate of a different colour over the chocolate slab. Continue from step 5.

To embed the design into the slab as I have done, drizzle or pipe your design on to the baking paper. I used 50g tempered milk chocolate. Allow to harden and continue from step 4.

I will be posting the finished cake in a few days time.

Cooking for engineers – Tempering Chocolate
Leiths Techniques Bible
What the Fruitcake?! – Chocolate shards

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Mr W was the main bread maker in our house until I signed up to cookery school. Now that I have to practice the job has fallen to me. He now gets exciting jobs… Like the washing up and manly DIY tasks.

When all goes according to plan I really enjoy making bread. I love the smooth, satiny feel as you knead it, the delicious smell as it bakes and the satisfaction of sitting down to eat something you made yourself that tastes sooo much better than anything you buy in the supermarket. When it goes wrong it is infuriating.

Until I started making white bread using the Leiths recipe I’d been pretty successful, but other than a lovely first loaf, my bread went from bad to worse. Bread became my nemesis. Stubborn refusal to rise … uneven crumb … cakey texture… You name it, it happened. My second to last attempt was the worst. A doughy brick that even birds wouldn’t touch. Was something wrong with the recipe?

Of course not.

As the brick was consigned to the compost heap I remembered what Paul Hollywood said in last weeks Great British Bake Off Masterclass – “Don’t use dried yeast, a load of rubbish” – an explanation as to why would have been helpful. Is it because you have to reconstitute it? Anyway, I realised that after making the first Leiths loaf I had switched from using fast-action dried yeast to dried yeast.

There are three sorts of yeast you can use in bread making; fresh yeast, dried yeast and fast-action dried yeast. Fresh yeast is mixed with water at 37 degrees to make a smooth cream. Dried yeast requires a slightly higher temperature (39 degrees) to reconstitute successfully. Fast action yeast is dried yeast that can be mixed directly with flour. It is easier to use and very reliable. If replacing fresh yeast with dried in a recipe, use half the amount in weight. If using fast-action use quarter of the amount.

So here we have a lovely little loaf made with fast-action dried yeast. Golden, chewy crust and a soft crumb.

Ok, so I need to make a few more loaves  to prove Mr Hollywood right, and I need to give dried yeast another go – My current theory is that I didn’t use water at a high enough temperature when reconstituting it – but for now I can say bread is no longer my nemesis.

What are your experiences of using fresh, dried or fast-action yeast? I’d be interested in your thoughts on what I might have been doing wrong. Do you agree with my current theory or have another suggestion?

Leiths Techniques Bible: Susan Spaull & Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

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