Sunday, 30 September 2012

Caramel layer cake

I was so excited to finally receive the latest British Bake Off book in the library, I'd had it reserved for a while. I knew that I HAD to bake something out of it as soon as possible and it happened to be Scott's sister's birthday, so I tried out this caramel cake.

The book's version
and mine...

Yum! It was so good. The caramel icing was quite difficult to work with, because it was either setting too quickly and not spreading or spreading too easily and dripping down the sides. I decided to just leave it to set in the fridge and then tidied it up afterwards by using a spatula dipped in boiling water. 

For the cake 

300g self raising flour
pinch of salt
300g caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, very soft but not runny
4 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Filling
225g unsalted butter, softened
450g dark brown muscovado sugar
175ml double cream
300g icing sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes, or to taste
100g dark chocolate, broken up 

3 x 20.5cm sandwich tins, greased and the base lined with baking paper
disposable piping bag

  • Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  • Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl of a large free-standing electric mixer (or into a mixing bowl if you are going to use a hand held electric mixer) Add the butter to the bowl, in pieces. Whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and vanilla using a fork, then add to the bowl.Beat on low speed until everything is thoroughly combined and very smooth, thick and light.
  • Divide the mixture evenly among the 3 tins and spread level. Bake for about 25 minutes until the sponges are springy when gently pressed in the centre and starting to shrink away from the sides of the tins. 
  • Set the tins on a wire rack and run a round-bladed knife around the insides to loosen the sponges, then cool for 2 minutes before turning out. Leave to cool completely. 
  • Meanwhile, make the caramel filling. Put 175g of the weighed butter into a medium-sized pan with the muscovado sugar and cream. Heat gently until the butter has melted, then bring to the boil, stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour the mixture into a heatproof mixing bowl and beat in the icing sugar, using an electric mixer. When the sugar has been incorporated, continue beating until the mixture is fluffy and barely warm. Gradually beat in the rest of the butter and the salt. Add more salt, if needed.
  • Put the pieces of dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of steaming hot (not boiling) water and melt gently, stirring until smooth. Spoon about half the chocolate into another bowl, and stir in slightly less than 1/4 of the caramel mixture. 
  • To assemble the cake, set one sponge layer on a serving plate and spread over one-third of the caramel mixture. Spread a second sponge layer with the chocolate-caramel mixture and set on the first layer. Place the third sponge layer on top. Leave the cake to set in the fridge slightly (to avoid a landslide!) then cover the top and then the sides of the assembled cake with the remaining caramel mixture, working quickly before the mixture firms up. 
  • Spoon the remaining melted chocolate into the disposable piping bag and snip off the end. From the centre, pipe a spiral on the cake, then 'feather' the surface by drawing a cocktail stick through the icing from the centre to the edge at regular intervals. Then, in between the feathered lines, draw the stick back to the centre from the edge. To marble the icing, pipe random loops and circles of chocolate onto the caramel icing, then swirl the two together with the cocktail stick.
  • Leave to set. The cake can be kept, in an airtight container, for up to 4 days.
Caramel layer cake 

Caramel layer cake

By the time I remembered to get my SLR out, this was all that was left! Oops. It was my first time trying out the feathering technique and it was quite easy but with impressive results. It was really delicious and the recipe said that the taste gets even better the day after as the flavour matures so I'm going to try a slice after tea. Now, which recipe to try out next... 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Skimming stone

French Connection dress

Shoes - Marks & Spencers
Dress - c/o French Connection
Cardigan - Debenhams

I was lucky enough to be sent this gorgeous dress by French Connection - it is perfect for work and has long sleeves so will be great throughout the winter months. The nude colour of it is 'skimming stone' and that is what the curve design of it reminds me of too! I'm considering my winter wardrobe and I need lots more long sleeved tops and dresses - so much of my wardrobe is sleeveless or short sleeves so I get cold arms in the winter. I'm trying to get prepared for this year though, before it gets too cold. 

Also, did you know that French Connection now sell house stuff?! This 'snuggle robe' looks like the most stylish slanket haha. I've been spending a lot of time snuggled on the settee with a blanket so this may be perfect. I'm finding the winter blues are settling in already, I can't believe how dark it is in the morning when I get up and it's making me feel so lethargic. Does anyone have any tips to help the transition to winter?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Wedding planning #3

I'm currently stuck in my pyjamas for the 3rd day running with some kind of flu virus thing. It is honestly the worst 'cold' I've ever had. Friday night I slept so badly and was in so much pain, shivering and wimpering. I'm starting to feel slightly better today but just SO TIRED all the time. Friday was our -1 year anniversary and I just kept saying I hope I'm not that ill on my wedding day!

We also had our florist consultation on Friday evening and we have some great ideas. I love brightly coloured bouquets with lots of different textures and height. As our florist said, we want it to look like she's just grabbed a bunch of bright wild flowers together. I love blues and yellows and reds, but with lots of natural foliage.

We love those little yellow pom pom flowers, or crapsedia as they are called. I also have a soft spot for ranunculus and dahlia and daisies. Of course, I would love peonies too but they won't be in season in September and although our florist said we can get them frozen out of season, it's always a bit hit and miss.

Next on our list to sort out is the cake. Then my dress. I did have an appointment booked at the weekend to try some on but had to cancel because I was too ill to go. With officially less than 12 months to go, the heat is on!

What kind of wedding flowers do you like? Traditional, pale pastels or bright & bold?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

I hate winter

Yes. I do. I'm not going to try to wax lyrical about how I can't wait to carve a pumpkin and have a Starbucks red cup and cosy up in front of an open fire and toast marshmallows. This is a fantasy. The reality is that winter means dark mornings where I can't wake up and not getting enough vitamin D and soggy shoes from the bloody rain and those damp patches in our living room getting worse and soaring heating bills.

Yes. I hate winter.

I mean, it does have some good points like Christmas and Halloween, but I am definitely more of a summer person. I love summer dresses and sandals. I don't like boots and layering. I've had the same winter coat for 3 years. (Do you see a pattern emerging? Just like I've had the same winter boots for 6 years.) So, this winter I'm buying TWO! These two:

H! by Henry Holland at Debenhams, £75

Miss Selfridges, £80

However, I've not turned into a complete lush, I am going to return one of them. It just depends which one I prefer when they both arrive and which fits better. Being petite, coats arms are always too long for me unless from the petite section which neither of these are so I could very well end up returning both. Or I could end up loving both of them and wanting to keep both! That could be a bad result. 

Which one is your favourite? (Could help me decide which one to keep if I end up torn between the two!) 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

My next running challenge

I've only gone and entered the Liverpool half marathon! It takes place next March, which I figured will give me lots of time to train for it. The only thing that is slightly scaring me is that it means I'll have to become a dedicated winter runner. I am a bit of a fair weather runner - preferring to hibernate in the winter and saying that it isn't safe to run in the dark is always my favourite excuse (although I know it's mostly rubbish if you stick to main roads and use common sense anyway).

I have a gym membership to fall back on but the thought of running for longer than 15 minutes on the treadmill bores me to tears. I'm determined to do most of my running outside. I have a 10k race in October (Southport 10k on the 7th October) and from then on I'll be slowly building up my mileage over the winter. To be honest, the thought of running in the dark and in the cold over the next few months is making me have second thoughts...but to motivate me through it is the thought of running my first half marathon in my favourite city AND the opportunity to buy new clothes.

I've already started by buying a new sports bra (Shock Absorber from Bravissimo - they don't move an inch! Such a good bra!), a thermal base layer top and ugly but practical fluro yellow running jacket. Running clothes are pretty much all ugly, but for some reason I really enjoy buying them. I really like Nike running clothes but can't quite bring myself to spend £45 on a running top (I wouldn't even spend that on a normal top, probably a dress).

So, does anyone who's ran 13.1 miles before have any tips and advice for me?

Friday, 7 September 2012

Shoetastic - Ecco

It's that time of year when everyone finally feels like they can start shopping for coats and boots, despite eyeing them up all summer as being British we can't cope with having to dress for the humid/damp/wet/warm/cold weather that is the British summer. I've had the same pair of boots for nearly 6 years now from Topshop (the ones in this post) and every year I swear that I will treat myself to some new ones. However, I always have the same conundrum when it comes to boots. They are either too high on my leg for me or too high in the heel. Or they won't look right with skirts and things I wear for work. To cut a long story short, I am a fussy bugger when it comes to boots. 
Dress - Topshop
Necklace - Primark
Shoes - ECCO
So, when I was offered these Sculptured 65 shoe boots from ECCO, I jumped at the chance. To be honest, I was surprised when I was told they were ECCO - I associate ECCO with the kind of shoes middle-aged women would wear for comfort. But, I am on my feet most of the day in work so I knew that they would be comfy as well as stylish. The style is definitely much trendier than the usual ECCO style, as I think they've realised that women want both style and comfort. I wore them all day on Saturday and they didn't rub or pinch me once. I think they are quite versatile too and will look great with skater dresses, casual skirt and t-shirt combos and even jeans like Laura wore on her blog. Some cute socks would also look great with them. 
How would you wear them?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Liverpool food & drink festival

Liverpool food festival

Liverpool food festival

Liverpool food festival

This weekend was the Liverpool food & drink festival in Sefton Park and myself & Scott went down on the Sunday to check it out. It was even better than last year! First stop was the churros stall, yum. Only downside to them was that the chocolate was a bit on the stingy side. 

Liverpool food festival

Liverpool food festival

After the churros and chocolate, we were in need of something savoury to balance the sugar out so we stopped at the Bistro Qui stand and got a portion of beef bourginion with potato dauphinoise and some frogs legs. It was the first time we'd both tried frogs legs (I've had snails before but never frogs legs) and they are like a weird cross between chicken and fish. It wasn't horrible, but I think I enjoyed the beef more. 

Liverpool food festival

And one of the highlights of the food festival was the Merseyside Bakeoff! Paul Hollywood was hosting and judging! I am such a big fan of the Great British Bake Off, I felt a bit star struck. He was very funny too, I would like to see him host his own show about baking where he is less serious and bad cop (Mary Berry being the good cop). 

Liverpool food festival

Liverpool food festival

After watching the bake off, I was craving some cake so we headed over to the coffee bar area where there were quite a few of Liverpool's independent coffee shops and I picked up a flat white from Cosy Bean Coffee and an oreo cupcake. It was deeeeelicious.

Liverpool food festival

Then we had a mooch around the marketplace area and bought a few bits to take home, including some pizza dough, local vegetables, coffee syrup and cheese. We stupidly didn't buy any chocolate to bring home though which I am regretting already. You can't beat the chocolate cellar's hot chocolate sticks or chocolate bars. 

So, all in all it was a fantastic day. I'm really looking forward to the Lantern Parade on halloween now that is also in Sefton Park. (I've heard from the organisers that it will be on either the 27th or 28th October for 2012, exciting!). Then, before we know it, it'll be *whispers* Christmas. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Beetroot pink speckled cake

Beetroot cake

Beetroot cake

Beetroot cake

This cake is one of the first cakes I started making when I got into baking. It is like a carrot cake, but made with beetroot so is prettier (and also a lot messier!). I now grate the beetroot in my food processor as it's a lot quicker and cleaner, but before I had a food processor grating it by hand would result in the kitchen looking like the scene of a massacre. Yet I still carried on making it, especially for Easter for my family get together. My cousin especially is a fan of it and whenever I make other cakes he alwaysalways mentioned the famous beetroot cake. He turned 30 last weekend so I made this cake for him. 

Beetroot cake

Beetroot cake

Phwoar. It is so so good. The cake also has crunchy bits of roasted hazelnuts in it and the frosting is a delicious vanilla cream cheese icing - full fat of course. 


150g raw beetroot, grated
200ml groundnut oil
250g caster sugar
3 medium eggs, separated
3 tablespoons of milk
100g hazelnuts, roasted and chopped
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg

For the frosting:
450g cream cheese (the recipe says low-fat but I prefer to use full fat - no point in trying to be virtuous when you're eating cake!)
150g icing sugar
180g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sugar flowers to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 170c fan/190c/gas mark 5 and butter and line two 20cm cake tins. Place 1 teaspoon of the grated beetroot in a small bowl and cover with 2 teaspoons boiling water and set aside (This is for colouring the frosting later).

2. Whisk the oil and caster sugar in a large bowl, then whisk in the eggs yolks and milk. Add in the remaining beetroot and nuts. Add the flour and baking powder to the mixture and stir until combined. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then fold into the cake mixture in 3 goes. Divide between the two tins and bake for about 30 minutes or until a fork comes out of the cakes clean. Leave to cool in the tins for a bit, then turn out on to a cooling rack.

3. For the frosting, combine the icing sugar and butter in a food processor. Add in the cream cheese, food colouring and vanilla extract and pulse until fully combined. 

4. When the cake is fully cooled, ice the cake. The cake is a very soft moist cake, so I do a thin crumb layer first to trap all of the crumbs inside and leave to cool in the fridge. Then when it is set add another layer of icing and decorate with sugar flowers.  


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