Lemon Madeira Loaf with Lavender Earl Grey Icing

I've had a nearly-full packet of dried culinary lavender sitting on my kitchen shelf for months now after buying it for a cake I made a while back, and I decided it was time to put some of it to use again. Not that it's going to go off or anything, but maybe it will loose it's flavour and scent over time- does that actually happen?! Anyway, Mothers Day seemed like a perfect excuse to bake a cake, and what better than a classic madeira cake. My mum loves a simple loaf cake topped with glace icing left to dry out so that it goes all crunchy and cracks when you cut the first slice, and so I knew this would be the perfect cake to make. I like to add a little lemon zest to my madeira, and it's such a Springtime flavour you know? I decided to keep the lavender for the icing, as I didn't want it to be too overpowering. I also thought the addition of Earl grey tea would also add an extra dimension to the cake, and I have paired it once before with lavender which was a great success.

 

Lemon Madeira 1

 

The cake itself turned out beautiful, with a lovely crack right down the centre- the sign of a good loaf cake I say! I spread over the icing whilst the cake was still warm so that it dried out fairly quickly to leave a deliciously crunchy top. My mum was certainly pleased anyway!

 

For the cake:

175g butter, softened

175g caster sugar

3 large eggs

grated zest of one lemon

250g self raising flour

For the icing:

100g icing sugar

1/2 tsp dried culinary lavender

1/2 tsp Earl grey tea

Water to mix

 

  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs.
  2. Sift the flour in the mixture, and fold in gently until incorporated. Carefully fold in the lemon zest
  3. Transfer the mixture into a 900g loaf cake tin that has been lined with greaseproof paper.
  4. Bake at 170C/Gas mark 3 for approximately one hour until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and allowing to finish cooling completely on a wire rack.
  5. For the icing, grind the lavender and earl grey tea leaves in a coffee grinder or using a pestle and mortar. Combine this with the icing sugar and add small amounts of water until you have a thick but pourable icing. Spread this over the top of the cake allowing it to drip down the sides a little. Finish with a sprinkling of the dried lavender- perfect!

 

Let me know how you get on!

 

Claire x

 

 

 

What’s the deal with gluten?

Gluten, you've probably heard a lot about it in recent years, particularly with what may seem like an increasing trend for 'gluten free' foods, but do you actually know what it is?

 

Gluten is found in many baked goods, and it is one of the main structure builders along with starch and and egg proteins. Gluten is found in flour in the form of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin. These proteins combine to form gluten when water is added. Glutenin is said to provide strength, and gliadin is said to provide the stretchiness and elasticity to gluten. You could also describe gluten as being part solid, part liquid because it displays the properties of both. Scientists refer to it as being viscoelastic, which means it can stretch and change shape without any breakages or tears, and it has an ablility to spring back to it's original shape, like an elastic band would do- pretty cool really! This allows it to trap and hold gases inside the dough, which contribute towards the final texture of the baked good. Although gluten may have got a bit of a bad reputation, it's a pretty unique protein.

 

Baked goods each differ in their gluten requirements, and the protein is more important in certain products. Generally, yeast-raised baked goods such as bread require more gluten than say pastries. However, that being said, it is possible for bread to have too much gluten, which causes it to be tough and chewy, with a low volume, and the inability to form a thin and soft crust. It is also possible for pastries to not have enough gluten, causing pastry shells to break and crumble easily, cakes to collapse, and scones to spread and flatten out rather than rise up. Therefore it is important to understand the role that gluten plays in your baked good to determine requirements. It's all about acareful balance of ingredients!

 

So is gluten bad for you?

 

For the majority of people, no it's not. I'm a firm believer that nothing is technically 'bad' for you as such, but we tend to put things into categories such as 'good' or 'bad'. Remember that foods labelled 'gluten free' are not necessarily healthier.  However, there are some of us who actually have an intolerence to gluten, and so eating foods that contain gluten can cause illness. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder, whereby the body reacts by damaging the small intestine if even the smallest amount of gluten is consumed. Since the body absorbs nutrients in the small intestine, people with coeliac disease may suffer the symptoms of malnutrition. In this case, a strict gluten free diet is required.

 

Flours that contain gluten include wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and semolina- just to name a few. Gluten is most commonly found in bread and other baked goods, however you may also find it in soups, sauces, cereals, spice mixes and even beer! If you're avoiding gluten in your diet, always check the label first!

 

A few examples of gluten free flours include cornflour, potato flour, rice flour, soya flour, coconut flour, gram flour, and buckwheat flour. If you're baking gluten free, there are gluten free flour mixes which are a quick and easy substitute for regular flour in your recipe, however you can also make your own mix if you're feeling adventurous!

 

Have you ever tried baking gluten free, and if so, what were your results? I'd love to hear from you so please do share your thoughts.

 

Thank you for reading, and if you have a question that you would like me to answer then be sure to pop it in the comments below so that I can add it to my list!

 

Claire x

 

 

 

 

 

Baking powder vs Baking soda

Baking powder and baking soda- what's the difference? Let's face it, they both look the same, taste the same (please don't taste them, they don't taste so great...kinda salty!), and are both used as chemical leaveners in various baked goods. Yes they may have these things in common, but they're actually pretty different. Let's start with baking soda shall we?

 

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate (if you want to get technical) is a salt that decomposes and gives off gas when exposed to moisture, heat, and acid. In order for baking soda to act as a leavener in baked goods, it must be combined with acid. It's this acid that reacts with the baking soda, causing it to break down and give off carbon dioxide gas, which helps to leaven the baked good.

 

baking soda + acid > carbon dioxide + water + salt

 

It's important to get the amount of baking soda just right in recipes. Too much will produce a yellow/green discoloration and leave a salty, chemical aftertaste from the salt residue left behind. Too little and there won't be enough to leaven the baked good.

 

Common acid ingredients used in baking include buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, fruits and fruit juices, vinegar, syrups such as honey, brown sugar, unsweetened chocolate and natural cocoa powder. All of these will react with baking soda to produce carbon dioxide and help leaven your baked good.

 

So, what's baking powder then?

 

Baking powder is actually a combination of substances. It actually contains baking soda, one or more acids (such as cream of tartar), and starch or some other stabilizer to stop the soda and acid reacting. Baking powder also releases carbon dioxide when exposed to moisture and heat, however it doesn't require the presence of an acidic ingredient since it already contains acid. Since baking powder is activated once liquid is added producing carbon dioxide bubbles which help to leaven, it is important to get your cake into the oven as soon as everything has been mixed together. Store your baking powder in a cool dry place, as it can loose it's affectiveness over time if exposed to moisture or heat. Unsure as to whether your baking powder is still good? Add a teaspoon to some water and if it fizzes, you can rest assured that it will still work!
Most baking powder you get these days is known as 'double acting'. Basically what this means is that it reacts twice- once when liquid is added, and again when heat is applied. This helps to give the baked good a longer, slower rise.

 

What about recipes that call for both baking powder AND baking soda?
It's a simple answer really. Sometimes one leavener just ain't enough! Some recipes don't contain enough acid to react with the baking soda and produce carbon dioxide, and so baking powder is required too. Also, baking powder and baking soda affect colour, flavour, and the tenderness of the finished baked good and so sometimes it's about getting the balance of both leaveners just right!

 

Can you substitute one for the other?
Well it's possible, but I wouldn't recommend it as you may well need to adjust other ingredients. For example, if you want to substitute baking soda for baking powder, you're going to need around 4x as much and this is likely to affect the final flavour- you may be left with a salty, chemical tasting product, which is not great! On the other hand, if you want to substitute baking powder for baking soda, you're going to need some form of acid in the recipe to get it to react and leaven your baked good. If you're a newbie baker, I would always suggest sticking to the recipe until you have enough background knowledge that you're able to tweak things.

 

Do you have a baking question of your own? Let me know in the comments below so that I can answer it for you!

 

Claire x

Spring is here!

I don't know about you but I feel that Spring has finally arrived, I can just sense it in the air. When the sun starts to shine, the birds begin to tweet again, and the days get that little bit longer, I think we can officially say that the new season is upon us- yippee!

 

I for one LOVE this time of year. It feels like everything is waking up again, refreshed after the long winter sleep, and raring to go once again.

 

The new season brings with it a new range of cakes that I'm really excited to share with you. I've recently been experimenting with fresh flowers to create these bright and beautiful floral cakes. As I love working with other small local businesses, I've been sourcing my flowers from Slades florist West Bridgford, who have been ever so kind in helping me choose the perfect colours and varieties of flower to make each cake truly individual.

 

 

I wanted to show you a few of my personal favourites that I had so much fun creating! Popular flavours right now include lemon and white chocolate, and chocolate fudge- and these two even happened to be gluten free!

 

IMG_7247

IMG_7202

IMG_7192

 

What do you think to these bright and colourful floral cakes, and what are your favourite Springtime flowers and flavours? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Claire x

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Why did my cake sink?

 

It happens to the best of us. You spend all that time preparing a delicious cake, only when you come to take it out the oven you find that it has sunk in the middle. It's pretty disheartening, believe me I know! Unfortunately, once your cake has sunk there's no going back. Once the cake has sunk it has usually cooled down, so putting it back in the oven won't make it rise back up again! However, on the plus side, there are plenty of ways to decorate and disguise your cake so that nobody will ever know that it sunk in the first place! First, lets get into the reasons why this happened so that you can prevent it in the future. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why a cake sunk without seeing the recipe and method, as all cakes are different, however I have listed my top reasons as to why cakes sink, and here they are!

 

1. Your oven temperature was too low. This slows the formation and expansion of gases which give the cake its volume. You can check the temperature using an oven thermometer to check that it is hot enough, but not too hot as you don't want that cake to burn!

 

2. You opened the oven door too early- a classic mistake! Opening the oven door before your cake is baked will cause the heat to quickly escape from the oven, and your cake needs that heat in order to rise, so be patient..I would suggest waiting at least 3/4 of the way into the baking time before taking a peek.

 

3. You took your cake out of the oven too soon. You need to make sure your cake is fully baked before you remove it from the oven. This allows time for the cell walls to dry out and set, which defines the final volume. You can test your cake using a skewer, and if it comes out clean that's a pretty good indication your cake is cooked.

 

4. Over mixing the batter. This may not actually cause your cake to sink, but it is unlikely to rise as well. When you over mix, you incorporate too many air cells. The cell walls then get over stretched, thin, and weak, and this causes your cake to shrink back once it has cooled.

 

5. Under mixing the batter. When you under mix, you don't incorporate enough air cells, and it's the expansion of these air cells that give the cake its volume.

 

6. The ratio of ingredients is wrong. Always check that you have weighed out your ingredients correctly as unlike cooking where you can usually make tweaks as you go along, baking is a precise science. For example, too much sugar or fat interferes with the gelatinisation of starches and the coagulation of proteins- complicated words I know! Since starch and proteins are important structure builders in cakes, you don't want to interfere with these processes. I would suggest using electronic scales so that you can weigh your ingredients precisely.

 

7. Your cake tin was too small. You may not have heard this to be a reason, but I have found that if I have too much cake mixture for my tin, the cake struggles to rise properly. Most recipes tell you what size tin to use but if not, ensure that there is enough space in the tin to allow your cake to rise. This is particularly important for sponge cakes that often double in volume once baked.

 

If your cake has sunk, don't worry about it! Trim off the higher points of the cake to get it a little more level, smooth over the top with your choice of icing, and decorate with fresh fruit- nobody will be able to tell! Even if it is a badly sunken cake, you can still cut out the middle part and make a ring cake, or even use the sponge in a ice cream sundae or trifle! There are always ways to make use of cakes that didn't quite go to plan so before you throw it in the bin, use your imagination and create something new!

 

Do you have a baking question of your own? If so, please pop it in the comments below and I will answer it for you.

 

Thank you so much for reading!

 

Claire x

Good egg or bad egg?


Good egg or bad egg?

 

Well, there’s only one way to find out…stick it in a bowl of water and see what happens! Yes, you may have heard this trick before, but have you ever wondered how this can determine how fresh an egg is? Okay, let me explain…

 

Egg shells are porous, meaning they have teenie weenie little holes in them allowing gases to flow freely in and out as they please. At the wider end of an egg, there is a small air pocket which forms soon after an egg is laid. Over time, the egg loses moisture through the porous shell and shrinks, which causes the air pocket to increase in size. Since water is denser than air, an older egg, which contains more air, will cause it to want to float in water rather than sink.

 

Fresh eggs will completely sink and sit horizontally.

 

Older eggs will sink but tilt upwards.

 

Stale eggs will float.

 

What are the best uses for my eggs?

 

Fresh eggs hold their shape well once cracked, so are much easier to separate- perfect for making meringues or for use in other recipes that separating the yolk from the white. They’re also good for poaching and frying!

 

Older eggs are perfectly fine for use in general baking. If you’re not into baking, you can always use them up in an omelette or scrambled egg…just make sure you use them up fairly quickly!

 

Stale eggs are not so good for anything, so unfortunately it’s best to dispose of these…better to be safe than sorry.

 

If you ever come across a bad egg, trust me once you crack it open you’ll know about it!

 

Have you got any more questions about eggs? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Claire x