Tag Archives: vanilla

Giant French Fancy

Ah, bank holidays. After a three day week that felt like it would never end, what better way to pass the time than making a giant version of a Mr Kipling classic? Henry and I decided last week that this was something that had to be done. This is undoubtedly not the way most people would consider spending their bank holiday but hey, that’s just the way we rock and roll.

Due to immense skill luck with the sizing of the pan (which, might I add, I bought specially), the proportions turned out just right. See him there with his baby brother? He’s 96 times larger – the regular size measures 1.5″ square and 1″ tall. Ours was 6″ square and and 4″ tall – not including the dome of buttercream topping – a total of 144 cubic inches of cake. Nice.

For your pleasure here is how we did it:

For the cake:
450g butter
450g granulated sugar
8 eggs
420g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g cornflour
9 x 13 inch deep baking pan
Plus a really big mixing bowl (imagine trying to fit 100 French fancies in your mixing bowl… that’s how big it’s got to be. Incidentally, if you halve this recipe you can make a lovely 8 inch layer cake)

For the buttercream topping:
80g butter
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g icing sugar

For the outer icing:
1 packet ready-roll icing
red or yellow food colouring
A couple of tablespoons of buttercream and some milk to dilute

1. Eat a regular French Fancy so you are au fait with what you are trying to recreate.

2. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan). Grease and line the pan – I used a non-stick baking sheet that stuck out over two sides of the pan – this really assisted in getting the cake out in one piece. Cream the butter and the sugar in the large bowl. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl then add the eggs in twos, alternating with the dry ingredients until all are used up. Finally, mix in the milk. Pour into the pan, smooth out and bake for around an hour, turning during cooking. You may need to cover the top with foil to stop it browning too much (mine rose more than I was expecting and got close to the element, so the top was very brown). When done, a knife inserted into the centre should come out clean.

3. Lift the cake out of the pan and leave to cool. Cut into two 6 x 6 inch squares. Do whatever you see most fitting with the spare cake.

4. Make the buttercream: Soften the butter (but don’t melt it), then cream with the milk, vanilla and half the icing sugar. When smooth, beat in the rest of the icing sugar.

5. Assemble the cake: Put the bottom layer of the cake on whatever you’re planning to serve it on. Spread with a thin layer of buttercream, so the top layer will stick. Put the top layer on – careful now! Because of the way mine rose I turned the top layer upside down and put it on so that the risen corners were diagonal to each other, giving a nice flat top to the fancy.

6. Add the buttercream topping: Dollop on to the centre of the cake then smooth into a nice round dome. Keep back a couple of tablespoons for the lines of icing on the top. Pat down with a spatula (or clean hands) for a smooth finish.

7. Put on the outer icing: Knead in the red colouring until you achieve the desired colouring. It helps to have the original to compare. Roll out as big as you can get it and drape over the cake. Mould around the buttercream topping so it’s smooth on top, then smooth around the sides. I couldn’t get mine big enough as it was getting quite thin and falling apart, so I had to do a couple of the sides separately. You can spend an age trying to smooth it all down and get it perfect if you like, or you can decide enough’s enough and move on when it’s satisfactory.

8. Dilute the buttercream you savedfrom step 6 with a little milk, until it’s fairly runny. Pipe or drizzle the stripes on.

I have to say, the giant version is definitely an improvement on the regular size. Not only does it taste better, but did I mention it’s 96 times larger? A pretty good use of an evening I think!


Crème brûlée

Henry got me a chef’s blowtorch for Christmas (after my oh-so-subtle hint of “I love chef’s blowtorches. I wish I had a chef’s blowtorch. I hear you can buy chef’s blowtorches in Kitchens for £15.95”) so naturally my first new recipe had to be crème brûlée.

All the recipes I looked at seemed to be pretty similar. I adapted this one from Simon Rimmer’s ‘Original crème brûlée’ recipe on the BBC.

250ml double cream
3 egg yolks (use the whites to make macaroons, nom)
50g caster sugar, plus extra for the topping
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 ramekins, a deep baking tray for a bain marie, a chef’s blowtorch.

What to do:
1. Preheat oven to 140C (fan) or 150C (regular)2. Bring the cream to a boil in a saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes
3. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl, and boil the kettle
4. When the 5 minutes is up, add the vanilla to the cream, then pour the hot cream over the egg yolks/sugar, whisking as you go. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens – this means the egg yolks are cooking and you are on track to set puddings
5.  Put the ramekins into the baking tray. Divide the mixture equally between them, then pour in hot water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins
6. Put the bain-marie into the middle of your oven and cook for 25-30 minutes, until the custards are set but still slightly wobbly in the middle
7.  Take the ramekins out of the bain-marie and cool at room temperature
8. Before serving, sprinkle the tops with sugar and  caramelise with the blowtorch

Recipe notes
* Our oven cooks hot, so I reduced the cooking time from the original 40-45 minutes to 30, but I’d say they could have done with a little less time
* I found the best results for the crunchy topping were when I used about 1/2 tsp sugar and caramelised this, then added another 1/2 tsp in a second layer and blasted again

Aside from being maybe a teeny bit too set around the edges, and my clumsy work with the blowtorch, I was very pleased with how these turned out. Now I have the basic recipe I will definitely be experimenting!

Birthday bundt

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, so as is the tradition it was on me to provide cake for my colleagues (small price to pay as they got me some lovely presents). Naturally I decided on a bundt cake, as I am still pretty excited by my new bundt tin, and there just seems to me something festive about bundt cakes – particularly when you add stars and sprinkles. Happy birthday me!

Birthday sprinkles
I used my favourite vanilla cake recipe, adapted from the Primrose Cafe cupcake book, which I perhaps could have scaled up as the tin could definitely have been filled a bit fuller, which would have had the added bonus of making a bigger cake. 
Get that bundt in the oven!
Vanilla bundt cake
225g butter, at room temperature
225g sugar (supposedly caster sugar; I used granulated as I don’t have loads of space in my cupboard for multiple sugar varieties – it worked fine)
210g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla exract
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 160C (fan) / 180C and greaser your bundt tin well
Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
Alternate adding the eggs with 1/4 of the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition. 
Add the milk and vanilla extract and give it one last mix
Pour the mixture into the bundt tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and golden brown (a skewer inserted into the deepest part of the tin should come out clean)
When cool enough, carefully turn out onto the plate you are planning to serve on (this is where you find out how well you really greased your tin…)
Chocolate glaze
For the chocolate glaze, I did a bad thing and did not write down what I did to make it. I knew I was doing a bad thing at the time but the truth is that I had a godawful cold (yes, in August) which had me off work sick that afternoon, so all I had done was come home, sleep on the sofa, get up to make the cake, nap again, glaze it. I will work it out again as it was pretty damn tasty. 
For now, accept that I used good-quality 100g dark chocolate, maybe 3-4 tbsp sour cream, ditto golden syrup. Melt all together in a saucepan over a low heat, add more golden syrup to taste – I like mine quite tangy but if you like it sweeter then cut a bit of the sour cream (or use regular cream).
Cool so it’s not completely runny then drizzle over the cake, then add sprinkles. 
I want the biggest piece
For my birthday, I got this:
Engagement ring
Yes… Henry and I are getting married =) Hence why this update is so late, as I have been busy writing guest lists and visiting venues and thinking about dresses and flowers and centrepieces and a cupcake wedding cake! (More on this to come, no doubt. I am definitely making it myself :D)

Vanilla perfection

To start, then. I am a big fan of the idea that simpler is better. I like margharita pizza. I like pasta with cheese. My favourite cupcakes? Vanilla, with vanilla buttercream icing. To say that I like these would be an understatement. I don’t see vanilla as vanilla, not at all. It is such a beautiful flavour. It can add depth to chocolate and turn mediocrity to divinity. It can be sweetness and light, or heady, sexy and seductive.

Of course, you have to have the right vanilla. I made mine, and will do so again – with the amount I get through it is much better than buying those tiddly little bottles in the supermarket. Not to mention that the vanilla essence you make at home will be way ahead of anything you might find in the supermarket. (More on this later, when I make my next batch in probably the not-too-distant future.)

The thing I love about this recipe is its simplicity. I can keep it in my head and carry it round with me, safe in the knowledge that, if called upon, I could easily make a batch. It hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day… The other great thing is that as far as my experience goes, it is foolproof. I do not say this lightly, but the first time I used this recipe I was baking with two four-year-olds, in an unfamiliar kitchen, with only one spoon and two spatulas to mix, and they turned out beautifully. The kids loved them. The parents loved them. The Venezuelan nanny loved them. I knew I was onto a good thing.

The recipe is in cups. Cupcakes are called cupcakes because the recipe originally used one cup of everything. This one doesn’t quite, but it’s pretty darn close.

For the cakes:
1 cup granulated or caster sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 medium eggs, at room temperature
2 cups plain/all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence (or more, if you’re me – I just pour in a generous dash)
1 tsp baking powder

For the buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence (again, more if you’re me)
3 tbsp full fat milk, or 2 tbsp cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 for a fan oven) / 350F. Line a cupcake tray with paper liners
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each
4. Add the flour and baking powder, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition
5. Beat in the vanilla. I like to do it before the milk, separately, in case for any reason it looks like the milk is going to be too much
6. Mix in the milk, again a little at a time, just in case it looks like the mixture will get too wet. It never has with me, but you never know.
7. Give it one last good mix – it should be light, fluffy and just begging you to stick your finger in. (I won’t tell if you don’t)
8. Spoon into the cases. Fill each about 2/3 full
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Your kitchen will smell delicious.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, vanilla, milk/cream and icing sugar together. I prefer to mix it up a bit with a spoon first before plunging in with the electric beater so I don’t get icing sugar dust everywhere. Keep beating until it’s light and fluffy and looks like a buttercream dream.

Use a piping bag to ice swirls onto your cakes once they are cool, or slap it on with a metal spatula or just use a knife. These don’t need to look good to taste it.

Of course you could endlessly mess with these cakes. You could add raisins or chocolate chips, top with sprinkles, chocolate buttercream, ganache, caramel, drizzle with lemon or berry compote…

You could, but why mess with perfection?