Monday, 25 September 2017

GBBO 2017 Week 4 - Caramel Poppy Seed Cake

Caramel Poppy Seed Walnut Cake

Caramel Poppy Seed Walnut Cake Slice

The showstopper challenge on the mighty caramel week for the GBBO 2017 series was all about making an impressive caramel cake. As my partner's family is Polish, I've been keeping an eye on Julia's bakes, as she keeps making eastern European inspired bakes. I was really intrigued by the cake she made this week, a light poppy seed cake with a walnut and prune filling and caramel frosting, so thought it'd be fun to give it a go.

The cake was a big success! The cake was really lovely and airy, but still had a lot of flavour, and the filling was a bit hit with my boyfriend's mum :) I altered the caramel sauce and buttercream a little - I wanted the buttercream not quite as sweet, so used treacle instead of the golden syrup Julia used. otherwise this recipe doesn't stray too far from what was seen on the show. I had some fun with the caramel decorations though - they aren't as difficult as you might think! Just be very careful, boiling caramel really hurts :(

Makes one 20cm cake (easily feeds 12)


For the sponges:

  • 200g (7/8 cup) unsalted butter/margarine
  • 5 medium eggs, at room temperature
  • 200g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 10g (2 tsp) poppy seeds
  • 200g (1 & 3/4 cups) self-raising flour, sifted

For the filling:

  • 75g (1/2 cup) walnut halves or pieces
  • 75g (1/2 cup) semi-dried prunes (I used Whitworths, which are partially rehydrated)

For the caramel sauce:

  • 50g (1/4 cup) butter or margarine
  • 100g (1/4 cup + 2 tsp) treacle
  • 150g (2/3 cup) caster sugar
  • 150ml (3/5 cup) double cream

For the buttercream:

  • 50g (1/4 cup) softened butter
  • 50g (1/2 cup) icing sugar, sifted

For the caramel decoration:

  • 240g (2 & 2/5 cups) caster sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 9 walnut halves


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (170C fan)/375°F/Gas mark 5. Grease the base and sides of two loose-bottomed 20cm cake tins, and dust lightly with flour.

2. Gently melt the butter/margarine (in a microwave or in a saucepan) and leave to cool until needed.

3. Separate the eggs, placing the egg whites into a large grease-free bowl, and the yolks into a another large mixing bowl. Whisk using a hand-held electric whisk (or use the whisk attachment of a stand mixer) until the whites stand in soft peaks when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Whisk in 100g of the caster sugar to make a stiff, glossy meringue. Set aside.

4. Add the remaining 100g of sugar to the yolks, along with the vanilla extract, and whisk (there’s no need to wash the whisk) until very thick and mousse-like and the whisk leaves a distinct, ribbon-like trail when lifted from the bowl. Whisk in the poppy seeds.

5. Using a large metal spoon or similar implement (I used a metal palette knife), carefully fold in a third of the sifted flour. Once you can't see any speckles of flour, add a third of the eggs whites, and fold in. Repeat this, alternating between adding flour and egg whites, until it has all been incorporated.

6. Pour the melted butter/margarine around the sides of the bowl and gently (but thoroughly) fold in. Divide evenly between the two cake tins.  

7. Bake the sponges for about 18-20 minutes until golden, well risen and starting to shrink away from the sides of the tin - if you press the centre of the sponge it will spring back. Leave to cool for 5 minutes in their tins, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

8. For the walnut and prune filling, roast the walnuts in the preheated oven for around 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes, until they smell nutty and are golden in colour. Leave to cool. Put the prunes into the bowl of a food processor and blitz to make a thick puree. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the walnut and blitz the pieces (briefly) until they are chopped medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

9. To make the caramel sauce to flavour the filling and buttercream: place the butter, treacle and caster sugar into a medium pan and stir over a low heat until melted and smooth. Meanwhile heat the cream in another pan until it is just simmering. 

10. Bring the sugar/treacle mixture to the boil and cook for about 4 minutes, or until becomes thicker and even darker in colour. Stir the mixture often to ensure it doesn't burn.  Remove the pan from the heat, cover your hand with an oven glove and very carefully add the hot cream. 

11. When the foaming subsides, return the pan to a low heat and whisk constantly with a wire hand whisk for a few minutes until thickened (on a sugar thermometer the temperature would read 110C/230F). Pour into a heatproof bowl. Leave to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge to chill fully. 

12. For the caramel buttercream: beat the butter/margarine until it is very smooth and fluffy. , until very light in colour and texture. Gradually whisk in the caramel sauce. When it’s very smooth and light, remove 100g and mix this into the prune/walnut filling. 

13. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat until it is smooth but not too slack - if it seems very loose, add more icing sugar. Transfer ⅓ to a separate bowl for the ‘crumb coat’.

14. To assemble the cake, level both sponges, then set one sponge top-side down on a serving plate. Spread with the walnut/prune filling. Place the second sponge on top.

15. Evenly spread the top and sides of the cake with the buttercream set aside for the ‘crumb coat', using a palette knife or spatula. Chill for 10 minutes, or until it is no longer sticky to the touch. Using a cleaned palette knife or spatula, neatly spread the remaining ⅔ of caramel buttercream over the entire cake and chill until firm.

16. Meanwhile, make the caramel for the shards: put the sugar into a medium pan and shake the pan so it settles in an even layer. Add the water, and place on a low heat. Gently melt the sugar, tilting the pan occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Meanwhile grease and line the base of a baking tray with baking parchment. 

17. Once all of the sugar has melted, turn up the heat and boil without stirring until the syrup turns a rich, golden-brown caramel colour. Take off the heat, and leave until cool (to speed up this process you can dip the pan in some cold water/ice). Once the caramel is thick enough to leave a trail from the pan, use a whisk to spread the caramel out on the baking parchment - make a thick line about 7cm in size at the bottom, then have fun drizzling the caramel above this (this will make a feature for the cake that should have stability due to this base). If the caramel gets too thick, place back on a low heat for a few minutes.

Reserve 1/4 of the caramel for the walnuts.

There are other fun things you can do with the caramel. For example, to make a sugar cage, grease a ladle and drizzle the caramel over in a web pattern. Whilst warm (but not too hot), gently peel the cage away. If it gets too cold, I found out (to my horror) the caramel sticks to the spoon...

18. Place the walnut halves in the reserved caramel and swirl to get an even coating (I'll admit, mine weren't as even as I'd like - we can always improve!), then tip out to cool. Leave to set.

19. Once the caramel is hard, press the large into the buttercream on the top of the cake and decorate the top with the caramel coated walnuts.

20. Enjoy!

Caramel Poppy Seed Walnut Cake

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GBBO 2017 Week 4 - Peanut Butter Millionaire's Shortbread

Peanut Butter Millionaire's Shortbread

This was the best week of GBBO by far. I love love love caramel, so to find out that the whole theme of the show was caramel was like a dream. The signature challenge were millionaire's shortbread (or as my boyfriend calls them, Rich Man Biscuits), and I was really intrigued with what the bakers would come up with. Traditionally they have a shortbread base, caramel middle, and are topped with chocolate. I've made them before, but have never been able to make the caramel from scratch (i.e. without the help of condensed milk) before (my other recipe, which is also gluten free, is here).

So I was pretty excited to see what the baker's would bake. Some didn't appeal to me - bay leaf infused caramel for instance, just sounds a bit too weird for mass appeal. However, I loved the idea Sophie had of making individual shortbread biscuits, wrapping them in acetate then topping with layers of caramel, orange chocolate ganache, and chocolate.

Although I loved her ganache (I tried it out and it was amazing, so I may do another blog post about that later on), Liam's peanut butter millionaire's shortbread really took my eye so I decided to give them a go, with a few cheeky tweaks along the way.

Oh, and these taste incredible!! The caramel sets perfectly (helped by the peanut butter), and it sort of reminds me of a caramel snickers bar, except made even better with a layer of perfect shortbread. I've never used ground rice (also called rice flour) before, but it really worked a treat.

One money-saving tweak I tested, which worked really well, is to use baking margarine instead of butter. Personally I think the shortbread base doesn't suffer (with all the other flavours going on you don't miss it, and the texture seems very close to that when you use butter), and the caramel set just fine. Butter will obviously work too, but I thought it'd be nice to let people know when I'm able to cut the price of ingredients :)

I tried wrapping strips of plastic wallet (in place of acetate sheets), and had no issues of spillage. However, the end result wasn't perfectly clean as the caramel stuck too the sheet (but maybe if you grease the plastic that wouldn't happen). It was a lot less time consuming to use a loose bottomed individual mini cake tins - I already had one, which I got from Lakeland years ago (see below). If you don't have one, try the acetate trick out :) Instructions for both methods are in my recipe.

These tins have removable bases and have straight sides, perfect for shortbread
Easily makes 12 millionaire's shortbreads (unless you want huge ones...)


For the shortbread :

  • 175g (1 cup & 8 tbsp) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 90g (2/3 cup) ground rice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 85g (1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp) caster sugar
  • 175g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, chilled (or baking margarine)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste

For the peanut butter:
  • 100g (2/3 cup) roasted salted peanuts
  • 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1 teaspoon nut oil (vegetable oil will also work)

For the caramel:
  • 90ml (2/5 cup) double cream
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 30g (2 tbsp) liquid glucose
  • 185g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
  • 100g (1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp) butter, at room temperature, diced (or baking margarine)

For the chocolate topping:
  • 200g (1 & 1/3 cups) dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids)


1. Preheat the oven to 180c (160c fan)/355f/ gas mark 4.

  • If you are using the individual moulds, grease the base and sides of each mould and dust lightly with flour.
  • If you are going to use the acetate moulds, grease and line the base of two baking trays with baking paper. Find a circular biscuit cutter (I used a 5cm cutter) and cut out pieces of acetate/plastic wallets so that they are 5cm wide and around 16cm long (so that it could surround the 5cm biscuit).
  • If you want to be traditional and make one large millionaire's shortbread, grease and line the base of a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper.

2. Sift the plain flour and ground rice into a bowl with the salt and the sugar. Add the vanilla, then rub in the butter/margarine to form a dough. Gently bring into a ball.

3. Line your surface with clingfilm and tip the dough onto the surface. Cover with another layer of cling film, then roll out until the shortbread is around 1cm thick.

4. If using the moulds or the baking trays, cut out 5cm circles of the dough and place in the moulds or on the baking sheets. If making one large shortbread, roll out until it is 20x 20cm, then transfer to the cake tin.
Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

5. Bake the shortbread for 12-14 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove from the oven to cool.

6. If using the acetate to make individual shortbreads, after removing from the oven, use the biscuit cutter to trim the biscuits to size (if they have spread on the trays). Wrap one of the pieces of acetate around a biscuit and secure in place with some tape. Try to get it as tight as possible to avoid leakage later.

7. To make the peanut butter, add the roasted peanuts, honey and oil to a high powered blender (you could use a pestle and mortar too), and blitz until the peanuts have broken down but there are still chunks remaining. Taste, and add more honey or salt if needed.

7. To make the caramel, place 60g (4 tbsp) of the caster sugar in a saucepan with the liquid glucose. Place on a low heat and frequently tilt the pan, until the sugar has melted and is a caramel colour. Meanwhile, heat the double cream and butter/margarine in another saucepan until it is lightly simmering.

8. Add the remaining (125g) caster sugar to the melted sugar and swirl the pan to incorporate the sugar. Keep a close eye on the sugar bubbling, until it is all a rich caramel colour.

9. Take off the heat (be sure to be holding the pan handle with an oven glove!), and pour over the simmering cream and butter. The mixture will bubble up a lot so be careful. Return to the heat, and stir continuously until the mixture is 110c/230f. Take off the heat and leave to cool for 15-20 minutes, until the temperature is around 50c.

10. Add two heaped teaspoons of the peanut butter to the caramel, and stir to combine. Add two tablespoons of caramel to each mould (or pour the whole thing over  the cake tin), and place in the fridge to set.

11. Melt the chocolate in a microwave on high power for 30 second bursts, stirring well after each addition. Add a teaspoon of the melted chocolate to each mould - I made some of mine thicker and regretted it, so keep the layer thin! Place in the fridge to set for 20 minutes.

12. Remove from the moulds, slice (if necessary).

13. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Millionaire's Shortbread

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Monday, 18 September 2017

GBBO 2017 Week 3 - Bara Brith Inspired Teacakes

Bara Brith Inspired Teacakes

It was bread week on the Great British Bake Off this week - I've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with baking bread - sometimes the dough just doesn't behave like I'd expect, or the tastes don't quite live up to expectations. I've had a few successes, like my pesto and feta swirl bread, but you may have spotted most of my recipes aren't yeasty. My partner however, is amazing at baking bread and is currently writing a guest post about this week's technical challenge.

I decided to have a go at the showstopper challenge, which were teacakes. When I was little, I remember going to my local market with my brothers and sisters, and eating toasted current teacakes with butter. Because of this and my inexperience with bread, I was pretty eager to attempt to master them.

None of the flavours the bakers in the tent took my fancy (way too many had cardamom in), so I decided to do a take on the welsh fruity bread known as bara brith. This bread contains mixed dried fruit (including raisins, sultanas and mixed peel), and is spiced with cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice. I used these elements in the teacake, to make a really tasty bun :)

After baking, I went a little away from my bara brith theme and glazed the teacakes with an orange and cinnamon glaze. This gave them a really lovely shine and added another dimension of flavour.

These are probably the most technically-correct bread I've ever made, and they really do taste fab. So give them a go - they're brilliant as an alternative to toast or a mid-morning snack. I'll definitely be making them again :)

This recipe makes 6 large teacakes, but double up the recipe if you want more.


For the soaked fruit:

  • 300g (2 cups) mixed dried fruit (I bought a blend of raisins, sultanas and candied mixed peel)
  • 75ml (1/3 cup) strong black tea (I brewed 2 teabags in a cup of water for 5 minutes)

For the dough:

  • 375g (2 & 1/2 cups) strong white bread flour
  • 1 sachet (7g) fast-action dried yeast
  • 3.5g (2/3 tsp) salt
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 45g (1/4 cup) light soft brown sugar
  • Finely grated zest of one orange
  • 35g (1/4 cup) butter, softened
  • 225ml (around 1 cup) tepid water
  • 1 medium egg, to glaze

For the glaze:

  • Juice of 2 oranges (100ml)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 50g (1/4 cup) caster sugar


1. Pour the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl and tip over the strong tea. Stir briefly then cover. Leave for at least one hour for the dried fruit to plump up. For the best results leave them overnight, but this isn't essential.

2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt, orange zest, ground cinnamon, mixed spice, ginger and crumble the brown sugar into the bowl (as brown sugar tends to clump). Stir in to evenly combine, then sprinkle over the yeast. Stir in.

3. Break the butter into small (1cm) cubes, then tip into the bowl. Use your hands to rub the butter into the flour. When you can no longer see any butter, make a well in the centre of the flour and tip in 3/4 of the water. Bring the mixture together with your hands to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.

4. Lightly oil a work surface and tip the dough onto the surface. Knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is really smooth and elastic. If you prod the dough it should spring right back. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for at least one hour, until doubled in size. 

5. Drain the dried fruit to remove excess liquid. Grease and line two baking trays with baking parchment.

6. Once the dough is ready, tip out of the bowl onto a lightly oiled surface. Knock any air out of the dough by pressing the dough down into a large rectangle. Scatter over the drained dried fruit then gently bring the dough over the fruit and knead until evenly incorporated.

7. The dough may have become stickier by this point due to the dried fruit addition.. If it does, sprinkle over a few tablespoons of flour and work in. Evenly divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly with the palm of your hand into a rough circle. Place on the prepared baking trays, leaving plenty of space between each teacake. Cover with clingfilm and leave for 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.

8. Remove the clingfilm and use a pastry brush to brush the top of each teacake with the beaten egg. Be careful not to let the egg wash drip down the sides of the teacake as this will inhibit it's rise. Bake the teacakes for 18-20 minutes, until the tops are golden, and if you flip a teacake over, it sounds hollow when tapped. 

9. Whilst baking, prepare the glaze by heating the orange juice, sugar and cinnamon syrup together for around 5 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half.

10. Once the teacakes are out of the oven, brush over the glaze and leave to cool.

11. Enjoy on their own or with a little butter :)

Bara Brith Inspired TeacakesBara Brith Inspired Teacakes

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