Speculoos Topped Chocolate Brownies

So…Speculoos. You may have seen other bloggers mention this new baking ingredient recently. Cakeyboi made Speculoos Frosting for some cupcakes, and Slice of Barnes added it to a Cappucino Cake. So what is it?! Well “Speculoos” is actually a caramelised biscuit spread. The name Speculoos comes from the Dutch biscuits that the spread originates from. It is also known as Cookie Butter and a few other brands make it too, but the Lotus version pictured below is the only one available in the UK at the moment. You can get it at Waitrose in both crunchy and smooth, and it can be found on the same aisle as the chocolate spread.

I don’t live near a Waitrose, but I wondered past one the other day and decided to hunt out this stuff and find out what all the hype was about. Straight from the jar I thought it was nice, but I wasn’t about to go crazy and devour the whole thing. I haven’t made brownies for a while and I love topping them with things so I thought Speculoos Topped Chocolate Brownies would be a nice simple recipe to try it out with. Here’s what I did…

I started by melting 225g butter on a low heat. After transferring the melted butter to a mixing bowl, I added 400g caster sugar and mixed until fully combined.

I beat in 3 eggs, one at time and mixing in between, and 2 tsp vanilla extract.

I made a last minute to decision to throw in a bag of chocolate chips and did so along with 85g cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt.

Finally I folded in 125g plain flour and poured the mixture into a lined square baking tin.

I baked on 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes. I left them to cool in the tin on a cooling rack.

Making the Speculoos topping involved a bit of guesswork. There are several different ways you can do it. Some people use milk, and some use double cream. I decided to use cream cheese, or rather the contents of my fridge decided for me! I mixed 100g Speculoos, 30g butter and 5 tsp cream cheese. Also at the end I added another 1 tsp each of butter and Speculoos. I think milk or cream would create a smoother glossier finish.

I spread the mixture over the brownies and cut them up to serve. The brownies were super squidgy and moist – I recommend this recipe even if you don’t top it with Speculoos! I really liked the mixture of the caramelised biscuit flavour with the gooey chocolate. It definitely enhances the brownies and isn’t overpowering. I devoured a piece in a very short time! Have you tried Speculoos yet? What do you think?

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Review: The Cake & Bake Show – Manchester 2013

Last weekend I attended The Cake & Bake Show in Manchester, at Manchester Central. It was on for three days, Friday to Sunday, and I visited on the Saturday. There was so much to do and see at the show. Demonstrations, plenty of shopping opportunities, Q&A sessions with baking celebrities, expert classroom sessions and lots of competitions to enter!

I arrived on the dot at 10am when the doors opened and started my day by generally looking around in awe at all there was to do! I first stumbled upon the Dr. Oetker stand which showcased all their fabulous products and what you can do with them. I do tend to use Dr. Oetker quite a lot as their products are so readily available in the supermarkets and they make nice finishing touches to cakes and cupcakes.

They also had demonstrations on throughout the day with cookery writer and food stylist Kathryn Hawkins showing visitors piping, chocolate decorating and meringue making.

Neff ovens also had a stand – these are the fab ovens seen on The Great British Bake Off where the door slides underneath. The ovens retail for around £500 (based on a quick Google search) so they are a big investment. I entered a competition to win one, fingers crossed!

I also checked out the stunning Gingerbread Village being created over the weekend by Billingtons. I’m not sure how much of this is edible, but I think quite a lot. The roses under the window are little cupcakes and a lot of the smaller things like the rabbit are sugarcraft.

They had already made a Hansel for the house and Gretel was being crafted on the day. Very impressive stuff!

I found some gorgeous dessert tables, oh how I wanted to dive right in and sample some of these! Sadly it was not an option. The above photo is by West Didsbury cafe And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon.

The above photos are Honeywell Bakes table. I love the carnival/fete theme, so pretty!

My first demonstration of the day was Peter Sidwell. As well as being a chef for 20 years, he is a judge on ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery and owns a cookery school and restaurant in the Lake District. Peter made a spinach, walnut, rosemary and hootenanny cheese focaccia, and some savoury eccles cakes using the same ingredients as well as halloumi cheese. He gets the hootenanny cheese from a local creamery, and he talked about using local ingredients to make foreign foods. The focaccia was absolutely delicious, I grabbed a piece at the end so got to taste it!

Peter answered some questions from the audience, the one that stood out to me was a woman who asked about the difference between using cheap and expensive flour. He said that if you are making something like a Victoria sponge or some scones, cheap flour is fine to use. But you should spend on spelt, rye and wholemeal flours as they will make a noticeable difference to the final result.

Some of the stalls had some gorgeous looking tasty treats for sale. The stunning meringues above are made by The Little Round Cake Company. Everything they sold was huge! The big cakes and tarts looked so good. They aren’t based up north, but you can buy their giant ‘merangz’ and other treats online.

Now these aren’t your standard marshmallows. The Marshmallowists use whole fruit and no artificial colouring or preservatives to make these stunning marshmallows in a variety of exquisite flavours.

Wrights Flour had brioche, pumpkin and sourdough bread mixes for only £1 per bag. I bought some brioche mix and am looking forward to making it!

The Bakewell Baking Festival is taking place 8th – 9th June and features Stacie Stewart and series one Great British Bake Off winner Edd Kimber. I want to go!

Manchester cupcakery Hey! Little Cupcake were in attendance showing of their gorgeous cakes! They sell delicious cupcakes everyday, but offer bigger cakes for special occasions. I have visited a few times now and also went to their Cupcake Decorating Class. I love their Sorrento Cello cupcake, it’s amazing!

Baker and Maker had a gorgeous stand, I loved the styling and every item was so pretty and interesting. The paper straws and milk bottles are quite popular now and I am seeing them used in a lot of food photos on other blogs. They have some really cute stuff and I am expecting to find some more gorgeous goodies on their website!
 

Conserve and compote makers Bonne Maman had a stall. I am not a huge jam eater, but I do love it in cakes and it’s a must have on scones. They also have a cook book featuring both savoury and sweet recipes all involving jams. Some of the recipes I would never have thought you could put jam in! For example, mackerel with rhubarb sauce and steak with blueberry sauce.

I thought the design of the The Kids Cooking Company‘s products was really fun and eye catching. I support anything that gets children involved in baking. I used to love baking in school and at brownies when I was younger, and it’s definitely formed part of my passion for baking today.

Pryces Bakery are based in Manchester, it was nice to see another local business at the show. They had some yummy looking pies and cupcakes on offer.

Simply Vintage Designs were another stall with gorgeous products and beautiful styling. I would love my kitchen to be full of stuff like this one day! So gorgeous and pretty!

I love a table full of freshly made bread and The Artisan Bakery didn’t disappoint, the focaccia in particular looked fabulous. My mum purchased one and some sourdough too.

I have to say the highlight of the day for me were the ‘Bake Offs’ between The Great British Bake Off contestants! I watched two, and the first was James Morton versus Ryan Chong making madelines with audience volunteers. After the bakes were done, three audience members taste tasted them and chose a winner, who received a goodie bag and ticket to the London Cake & Bake Show.

It was really fun and entertaining to watch and listen to them talk about their time on the show and what they’ve been doing since. There is a lot of camaraderie and genuine friendships between the Great British Bake Off bakers, and this really enhanced the atmosphere in the competition tent as the other bakers appearing, but not on stage, were sat at the front watching and chipping in or stealing food! We also found out that Ryan’s favourite bake is Japanese Cotton Wool Cheesecake and James’ is Banana Bread.

Ryan won the challenge!

The second challenge was Brendan Lynch versus John Whaite making cookies. I absolutely love Brendan and could listen to him talk for hours. I was thrilled to be watching him baking. He told the audience that his baking inspiration was Raymond Blanc, he bought his first book about 30 years ago and went through it page by page until he was good at everything. If ever he got stuck, he rang up Raymond for help! As he got his number off his publisher. I thought this was brilliant!

John talked about his family being his inspiration, and how you should learn from experience when baking as it’s different in every kitchen. I really agree with this as ovens are all different and you have to get used to them. He also threw in a few plugs for his book which is out soon! James Morton also has a book coming out in August, and Cathryn Dresser has one out next year about baking with kids. Brendan won the challenge and I got to try one of the cookies he made – I can report that they were very good!

I have to share this photo as I met some of my baking heroes which was a real pleasure and so exciting for me! I had such a brilliant time at The Cake & Bake Show. The atmosphere was so friendly and the opportunity to interact and meet some of the stars was brilliant. Big crowds surrounded the Great British Bake Off contestants, but they all took time to have photos, sign autographs and talk to everyone. There was no pushing or shoving, everyone just waited their turn, it was really nice. Bakers are such great people and what can be better than spending the day in a room full of them!

The Cake & Bake Show is back in London on 13th – 15th September at Earls Court. Click here for more information and to buy tickets!

NB. I had a press pass for the show, but I picked all the stalls and products I liked based on my own opinion to feature in this post.

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Battenberg

After my recent Six Things To Do With… Marzipan post, I decided I really wanted to try and make a Battenberg cake. It has been used as a technical challenge on The Great British Bake Off so I thought it would be a good challenge for me as a baker. I haven’t done anything overly challenging or technical in a while, plus I had plenty of marzipan lying around. I am not sure whether the correct spelling is ‘Battenberg’ or ‘Battenburg’ as I have seen both, but the recipe I chose to follow is by the Hairy Bikers so I went with their spelling!

First, you need a square baking pan. I picked one up in Tesco. The recipe says to use a 20cm tin, mine was 21cm and this didn’t cause any problems. I measured out a piece of baking paper that was 30cm x 20cm. I folded it in half, and folded it back leaving a 4cm tall fold. It’s hard to describe so hopefully the above photo makes it clear. The fold should stick up in the middle so the two parts of the sponge don’t mix when cooking.

To make the sponge I mixed together 175g butter, 175g Whitworths Fine Demerara Sugar (I didn’t have any golden caster sugar and had some of this in the cupboard), 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 175g self raising flour.

Using scales I split the mixture into seperate bowls until the weights matched exactly. I added Sugarflair Christmas Red food colouring to one bowl until it went pink, you only need a little bit.

I poured the batter into the seperate sections of the tin.

I actually ended up making this twice. The first time I baked on 180C for about 30-35 minutes. It hadn’t cooked properly and it was too late to put it back in the oven as it sunk quite badly. So in the bin it went and I started again. This time I cooked on 160C for the first 30 minutes, then turned it up to 180C for the final 25 minutes. It cooked much better the second time. I would say keep an eye on it and test it with a skewer or cake tester to make sure the part where the cakes meet in the middle is cooked as that’s the area where I had problems.

Once the cakes had fully cooled I trimmed the edges and then cut the cakes in half. It’s best to hold the cakes together whilst trimming so they stay an equal size.

I rolled out some marzipan, and warmed and sieved 6 tbsp apricot jam. I also made an almond buttercream using 100g icing sugar, 50g butter and 3/4 tsp almond extract. The recipe says to use the jam for both sticking the marzipan to the sponge, and to stick the sponge together. But I decided to do a buttercream to stick the sponge together instead because of the yummyness.

So the construction begins! I brushed the jam on the bottom of the sponge and buttercream down the side and stuck onto the marzipan. Then covered in buttercream

The other two pieces of sponge went on with buttercream in the middle. I brushed the jam on the top and on the marzipan at the sides. Wrapping it around was the hardest part. There were some cracks in the marzipan and it was hard to get it wrapped tightly.

I also decided to add some marzipan leaves to the top. I cut these out of the leftover marzipan using a knife and stuck them on using the leftover jam. This was partly because the top looked a bit boring and partly to hide some imperfections in the marzipan!

It looked better when I cut the end off. This also gave me an opportunity to taste it, delicious! The buttercream was definitely a good idea.

I don’t think my Battenberg is technically perfect, but I am thrilled with how it turned out! Especially how neat my squares look. It tasted really good too, I was glad I used the almond buttercream. It does feel really good to conquer a baking challenge like this. I can understand to an exent what The Great British Bake Off contestants went through now! I took this into work and once it was sliced, it didn’t last long! Have you made anything technical from The Great British Bake Off?

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Things To Do With… Marzipan

Made by mixing sugar and ground almonds together, marzipan only tends to come out for holidays and celebrations. It’s most well known for being the layer between cake and icing on wedding and Christmas cakes. Although it is very well known throughout Europe and Asia, it doesn’t appear often in British baking, and I hadn’t used it until I made some Easter Simnel Cupcakes. I suspect a lot of you have leftover marzipan after making Simnel cakes at Easter! Wrapped it cling film it will stay fresh and leftovers can be used in one of the recipes I have selected below…

Stollen Muffins – Uses 60g Marzipan (or more if you double the batch!)
Easy to make muffins that embody all the flavours of stollen.

Honey & Orange Cupcakes – Uses 120g Marzipan (or more depending how many cupcakes you make)
Adorable marzipan bees top these delicious cupcakes, I recommend using honey from British bees if you can!

Cherry Traybake – Uses 250g Marzipan
This simple traybake recipe is decorated with colourful marzipan cherries, cut out using a icing plunger.

Swedish Princess Cake – Uses 440g Marzipan
This cake is quite complex and has lots of different elements, but it’s extremely delicious and worth the time and effort!

Easter Simnel Cupcakes – Uses 144g Marzipan
A perfect treat for Easter, with a ball of marzipan baked into the centre, plus you can decorate them in a variety of ways.

Battenberg – Uses 500g Marzipan
The traditional marzipan covered cake.

Golden Layered Simnel Cake – Uses 320g Marzipan
A modern layered twist on the traditional Easter cake, filled with delicious almond buttercream.

Other ideas from around the web:

The traditional one:
Battenberg Cake – Uses 500g Marzipan
Apparently Battenberg’s used to have nine squares in them, but now (thankfully!) they are made with four. This has been used as a technical challenge on The Great British Bake Off and is the same recipe I followed above.

The cupcake one:
Marzipan & Pear Cupcakes with Caramel Buttercream – Uses 240g Marzipan
These look absolutely gorgeous and are sure to impress!

The versatile one:
Easy Almond Cake – Uses 250g Marzipan
The Nigella recipe is simple to make and very versatile. I’m a sucker for raspberries, but you could use a variety of fruit as she suggests in the instructions, and decorate in a number of ways – be creative!

The fruity one:
Plum & Marzipan Cake – Uses 100g Marzipan
Plum seems to be a very popular ingredient (purely based on the fact that Plum Clafoutis is a very popular blog post of mine), I really want to make this and smother it in custard!

The simple one:
Marzipan Slice – Uses 115g Marzipan
Simple to make and perfect for almond lovers!

The European one:
Coconut & Marzipan Macaroons – Uses 500g Marzipan
These tasty little bites originate from the German city of Lübeck, popular for its marzipan.

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