First bake: raspberry and almond madeira cake

Raspberry and almond madeira cake

I usually bake a plain madeira cake for my birthday, but as it was the big 30 yesterday, I decided to push the boat out with BBC Good Food’s raspberry and almond madeira cake. This is a really easy cake to make, and it’s amazing how little time and effort can go into something rather spectacular.

Raspberry and almond madeira cake, pre-baking

Raspberry and almond madeira cake, pre-baking

The recipe is slightly unusual (for me, anyway) in that it takes a mixture of plain and self-raising flour, rather than plain flour and baking powder. It’s a good way to go about things, though, as this makes for the perfect texture – fairly dense but not heavy, if that makes sense! I was quite intrigued by the addition of orange zest, as well – the mix tasted very orangey, but the finished cake didn’t. The zest simply added an extra bit of tanginess to go with the sharp raspberries and balance out the almonds, sugar and vanilla.

Raspberry and almond madeira cake

The cake was done after 1 and a quarter hours, as specified in the recipe, although it didn’t firm up until it was cooled – as I discovered when I nearly broke it when trying to get it out of the tin! Taste-wise, it’s wonderful. You seem to get different combinations of the raspberry, almond, orange and vanilla flavours with each bite, making for a rather exciting eating experience (sort of like an unpredictable raspberry bakewell). Fruit aside, the cake itself is definitely the ideal madeira cake and very moreish.

Overall, this was a great idea for my birthday cake and I’m very pleased with the results!

Raspberry and almond madeira cake

The recipe

Taken from BBC Good Food 1o1 Cakes & Bakes.

Adventures in cake decorating (part 2)

I’m about a month into my cake decorating course now, and I don’t feel like I’m getting much better at it! I am, however, coming to appreciate just how difficult it is to create those wonderful feats of decoration that you see on lavish wedding and birthday cakes. What really drove this home was when we recently made a little figurine out of Mexican paste.

Mexican paste is basically a type of icing that dries really, really hard – ideal for fiddly models, but not so much for eating! Making the Mexican paste itself shouldn’t be that difficult, as long as you can source gum tragacanth (or a substitute, like tylo/CMC powder) and liquid glucose. I found my tylo powder on eBay and the liquid glucose in a large Morrisons.

When you come to mix it, you’ll find it stays quite dry and powdery for ages before it comes together to form something quite similar to sugarpaste. However, something went wrong with my mix and I had to add much more water than the recipe called for to get it to come together. It was still a bit too dry after it had matured for 24 hours, so I made another batch last week – and the same thing happened again! My tutor said it’s possible there’s a problem with my tylo powder, so just be aware of this when buying yours.

Anyway, I managed to do some work with the original batch of Mexican paste despite all that. We spent the entire two-hour lesson making a model of a girl, complete with a dress, hat and all limbs intact. I found it pretty difficult because we had to concentrate on making several very small parts, which had to be the right size and had to be affixed to the model in the right way. Unfortunately, I fell behind a little and had to accept help from the tutor to get it all done on time, which I hated but it had to be done.

Mexican paste model

Mexican paste model

You can see the results of my (or our) efforts above. We made the legs first, then the dress, head, hair, hat, hands and shoes. Mine doesn’t look as delicate or detailed as some of the other women’s models, but I’m still pretty happy with it! I’m not sure if I would do this again off my own bat, especially because I seem to be unable to get on with making Mexican paste, but I certainly appreciate the hours that expert cake decorators put into making bigger, more elaborate models!

First bake: Lady Grey biscuits

Lady Grey biscuits

Twinings makes an excellent tea called Lady Grey that is a slightly fruity twist on good ol’ Earl Grey. It’s been a favourite of mine for several years, and a few days ago I decided to come up with a biscuit recipe based on the fresh, light flavours of the tea.

This recipe is loosely based on the rum and raisin biscuits I baked a couple of weeks ago, and also uses the excellent tea infusion method I incorporated into my tea masala cake recipe last month. I aimed to create a delicately flavoured biscuit that accentuates the lemon and orange flavours of Lady Grey.

I had to tweak the biscuit base a little, as it came out a little drier than when I made the rum and raisin biscuits – I suspect this is because the process of infusing the loose tea in the butter resulted in some of the butter clinging to the tea leaves that I discarded. I added a tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of milk to sort out this issue. As you can see in the picture below, the mix was still quite crumbly, but it was moist enough to press together into biscuits. I got 24 biscuits out of the mix altogether, which is about right.

Lady Grey biscuit mix

Lady Grey biscuit mix

I made sure to press the biscuits completely flat this time, which definitely paid off. The end result was biscuit-y with a ‘snap’ quality to the texture, rather than the more cookie-like ones I ended up with last time.

So, what did they taste like? While the zesty flavours of the orange and lemon definitely came through, I think I could have done with adding a lot more tea to the butter during the infusion process. I can barely taste the tea itself in the biscuit, which is a big shame! I used 2 teabags’ worth of Lady Grey (mainly because the icing for the tea masala cake had 2 teabags’ worth of Yorkshire Tea in it, which came out pleasingly strong), but I think I probably should have used 4 or 5, as Lady Grey is much more delicate than the robust flavours of Yorkshire Tea.

They’re still very nice biscuits, though – hopefully they will have more of a tea flavour the next time I bake them!

Lady Grey biscuits

The recipe

Based on The Caked Crusader’s rum and raisin biscuit recipe and Cupcake Project’s tea infusion method.

Makes approx. 25 biscuits

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 140g caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 30g loose Lady Grey tea (or approx. 4-5 teabags’ worth)
  • zest of ½ lemon
  • zest of ¼ orange
  • milk, if needed
  • a little juice from the lemon/orange, if needed
  1. Heat the unsalted butter in a saucepan until just melted and add the tea. Heat gently for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
  1. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve (a tea strainer is ideal), pressing hard on the tea leaves, and remove any tea leaves from the strained mixture. Leave to cool to room temperature.
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
  1. Beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and light. Beat in the vanilla and the egg yolk.
  1. Stir the flour and the zest into the mixture. Add a tablespoon of lemon or orange juice and/or 2 tbsp of milk if the mix looks too dry to bring together.
  1. Take tablespoons of the dough and place them 3cm apart on the baking sheets. You should get approximately 25.
  1. Press down on the biscuits so they are as flat as possible. If they are too domed they will be cakey in texture rather than biscuity.
  1. Bake for 15 minutes. They should be golden and crumbly around the edges, but still soft in the centre.
  1. Leave to cool completely on the baking sheets before storing in an airtight container. You will find that they have crisped up and are no longer soft in the centre. Serve with a cup of Lady Grey tea.