6 Valentine’s Day Recipe Ideas

http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/getmedia/929c383c-7b10-45fe-9744-797cfce5f368/Sh-passion-fruit-and-vanilla-cheesecake-website-featured/?width=420&height=270&ext=.jpg

Vanilla and Passionfruit Cheesecake by Simon Hulstone

1. Passion? You said it with this vanilla and passionfruit cheesecake from chef Simon Hulstone. Passionfruit puree can be bought from Amazon and you can buy fine leaf gelatine leaves from Tesco. Not sure whether these will be bronzed though!

Poiresauchocolat

Dark Muscovado Truffles By Poires Au Chocolat

2. Or how about making some delicious dark chocolate truffles for your loved one? Much more thoughtful than bought choccies. I recently reviewed these Paul A Young dark muscovado truffles which were easy to make and yum! Poires Au Chocolat made some lush ones pictured here.

3. Take your other half to a Valentines afternoon tea – why not? I recently sipped hot chocolate downstairs from Rabot, a cacao restaurant in Borough Market in London and their afternoon tea menu caught my eye. Think cacao-infused drinks, brownies, banana bread and gin-cured smoked salmon sandwiches.

4. Concoct a raspberry courting cake – inspired from my Lancashire roots, the mascarpone icing tastes amazing.

5. Bake some love bug cookies – these look very cute and bright – perfect to cheer up your partner on a wintry February day! Ready to roll red icing can be bought from supermarkets and you’ll also need some 8cm and 6cm heart cutters (you can get a set from Lakeland).

6. And if baking eludes you then make your partner a Valentine-inspired cocktail. Rasmopolitan or Raspberry Chocolate Kiss Martini gets my vote!

For more inspiration you can read my previous year’s baking ideas. What will you be baking this Valentine’s?

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Cake Days: Hummingbird Bakery Chocolate and Salty Caramel Cake Recipe Review

salty chocolate and caramel birthday cakeI saw this recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book and it immediately sprang out at me as a great birthday cake. I made it yesterday for my boyfriend’s ex’s birthday and it went down really well with him and his colleagues today! It’s a three layered chocolate cake with a salted caramel and chocolate frosting. The good news is it tastes great although this cake is not for the faint hearted. Definitely big appetites are needed as it is pretty sickly but yummy too. A word of caution – it takes ages to make the cake! Because it is three layers of cake you need to cook the sponge in two batches so that you can put each cake on the middle shelf of the oven. Of course if you have a third cake tin (unlike me) then this will speed things up. It’s also quite a complicated recipe as you have to faff about with alternating adding flour with the soured cream and cocoa powder to form the sponge. I must say though that the sponge baked really evenly and consistently. The cake definitely needs a full 25mins in the oven and for the last sponge I made it needed 27 mins.

Birthday cake from Cake Days by Naomi Longworth

The other thing is that it makes WAY too much frosting and caramel. The recipe only needs six tablespoons of caramel. You could have probably quartered the recipe and still had left over but you would need a small measuring jug to cope with the smaller measurements. Now I am left with loads of caramel. My plan is to buy some Rice Krispies tonight and see if I can make some little cakes so I don’t waste the mixture. I still have about a third of the frosting left – again you could easily pare down the recipe. I am also left with quite a bit of buttermilk and soured cream so if you have ideas of what to do with it then let me know! BTW on the top of the cake I sprinkled caramelised cocoa nibs from Artisan du Chocolat and coarse sea salt. If you want to create a cake that’s a bit different and yummy then this is a good one to go for. Just make sure you have about four hours time to make it!

Interview: Just Bake’s founder Jo Shaw reveals her business start-up tips


On a summer evening last year, Jo Shaw came up the idea for Just Bake over a glass of wine with friends. Six months later the website launched selling beautiful cake decorations and cupcake accessories. Mumpreneur Jo explains how Just Bake came to fruition and gives us her best business startup tips. 

CTTB: Why did you decide to start the Just Bake website? 

JS: I always wanted to have my own business but it wasn’t until last year that the idea came to me. I do lots of baking with my two young children and at the same time I couldn’t find the cake decorations I wanted off the high street. When I looked online I found a lot of poor quality websites were around. I realised what was missing was a simple, easy to navigate website which was appealing from the outset where people could buy pretty decorations.


Pretty flowers cupcake wrappers from Just Bake

CTTB: What advice can you give to someone else who is thinking about starting up their own cake business?

JS: Research the market properly, the product range you’re going to offer and who your target market is.

I did lots of anecdotal market research – speaking to various people about the products they like and the products they couldn’t find easily. I carried out lots of competitor research too like ordering from competitors to understand the customer journey. I also ensured I hired a good quality web agency. Finally, I checked that the cupcake boom wasn’t about to dive. However, I was still careful to give the business a more generic name ‘Just Bake’ so it was insulated from any cupcake trend changes.

CTTB: Have you any tips on how to secure funding, especially in these tough times? 

JS: I looked at the costs of borrowing from our bank and using our own investments – weighing up which was the best option with the lowest risk. The two big costs were the website and branding plus buying the products.

Just Bake cupcake cream wrappers

CTTB: What have you learnt whilst setting up Just Bake?

JS: One thing I did learn along the way is that until you can buy bigger quantities of product, the supplier firmly has the upper hand. I spent a lot of time trawling through supplier websites until I found the best deals and understanding the quantities of stock I needed. I also had to pass an environmental health assessment to ensure all the products were in a hygienic space and kept at the right temperature. It’s not easy setting yourself up as self-employed and learning about the tax regulations – I’m going on a course run by HMRC so I can make sure I’m compliant.

CTTB: Best piece of advice given to you that would help others?

JS: One of my friends said you don’t need to do and learn everything at once – work on one aspect of the business at a time and you’ll build it up from there. He was right and it really helped me to stop worrying and focus.

Union jack cupcake wrappers on Just Bake

CTTB: Are there any big trends you can foresee for 2012 based on what people are browsing for on Just Bake?

People are searching for daffodils and Easter decorations now that Valentines Day is over. I’ve also started noticing people buying Jubilee products already like white, blue and red sugar strands.

CTTB: And finally, cake or biscuit?

JS: Definitely cake.

Ideas for Halloween Cupcakes!

Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream - Halloween cupcakes

I have been thinking about Halloween for several weeks but I’ve been away for several weekends in October and just couldn’t get to the baking until this weekend. I opted for some simple choc cupcakes as I was limited on time.  Waitrose had a good selection of spooky products although you needed to get in early as I arrived when there were no more orange and black sparkles and various other baking ingredients.  The website is probably your best bet – tip for next year! I did like their spooky cupcake set, complete with Halloween baking cases, and little ghouls and pumpkins on cocktail sticks.

Photographed by Hannah CarmichaelMy friends Hannah and Hazel were much more adventurous and used ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake’ book by Lily Vanilli  to create spooktacular treats including graveyard cupcakes with marzipan worms complete with gingerbread cookies for the tomb stones and eyeballs speared with sugar glass oozing with cherry jam for bloody treats (I actually shivered when I saw the photo!). They also made fondant death masks so their friends could decorate them at the party! You can check out Hannah’s photos here.

I used the Cakes4Fun chocolate cupcake recipe and chocolate buttercream for these Halloween treats with the Waitrose witches and Frankensteins on top. I was really chuffed with how the fairycakes came out of the oven – they were totally flat! The secret to this is to mix the ingredients for atleast 3 minutes. It seemed that if the cupcakes weren’t atleast half full though, the baking case collapsed. I did have a slight mishap on the piping as I cut my disposable piping bag too close to the metal nozzle and so icing could escape from the bag. They still tasted good but I think that next time I still stick to my trusty baking cases rather than the Halloween ones plus I won’t be making the same mistake again with the piping bag!

Review: Cakes4Fun Ultimate Cupcakes Baking Course

This month, I was lucky enough to be treated to a full day’s baking course at Cakes4Fun in Putney for my Christmas pressie from my boyfriend. He did a lot of research before he chose the course and I can confirm it was excellent. It’s definitely a treat as it’s not the cheapest course at £99 but you do get 5.5 hours of tuition in a group of eight people, 12 beautiful cupcakes to take home, you learn two different ways to ice the cupcakes and four ways to decorate them. You also get a sturdy box and cake carry bag to ensure your cupcakes get home safely. Our tutor was really friendly and organised and was very helpful too.

Cakes4Fun cupcake by Naomi LongworthThe surprising part of the baking course was how relaxing it was. With classical music quietly playing in the background, and the calmness of making little sugar paste decorations, I felt thoroughly chilled out after the day. I honestly thought I had been pampering myself in a spa I was so relaxed and I even fell asleep on the bus home!

You can see the results of the baking course for yourself – they look pretty professional! My favourite cupcake was this vanilla sponge one with bluegrass liquid fondant icing with waterlilly sugar paste flowers. I wasn’t particularly gifted at making the waterlillies but had more success with the butterflies and hydrangea flowers. I wasn’t the best at modelling either so my teddy bear isn’t as good as some of the others in my group. The course is really good for finding out which techniques you like.  At home, I would like to explore using liquid fondant icing. I have already tried making the butterflies with edible glitter at home but I have learnt some tips on how to get the best results which I’ll share with you in another post! Here’s the Ultimate Cupcakes course on offer in May if you’re interested.

Cupcakes and cake plates

This week I made a small batch of chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing from the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book. There is a new Hummingbird recipe book publishing on 17 March which you can pre-order from Amazon. I used concentrated sugar paste colouring to make the purple frosting – it lasts a long time as you only need one tiny blob using a cocktail stick. I used a variety of fun decorations including hundreds and thousands, shiny mini balls and blue edible glitter. The cupcakes went down a treat and all my friends had two.

Recently, I was given a vintage cake plate for my birthday from eBay. I did a lot of research before finding the one I wanted and found that it’s actually quite hard to find a nice one at the right price.

You can also buy it here for the same price on ‘Say No  To The Highstreet‘ or Amazon. My friend found a lovely one at a vintage sale so you may find them at car boot sales, charity shops or on vintage websites.

You can buy modern ones like this single tiered cake plate from Amazon or this other Portmeiron one from John Lewis. I also like Cath Kidston’s three tiered cake stand and at House of Fraser, this one layer cake stand is currently on offer. Happy cake plate hunting!

How to make a Frosty the Snowman cake

Hummingbird bakery red velvet cupcake

This weekend I made a Frosty the Snowman cake and surprised my boyfriend with it as part of his Christmas present. The cake is made with the Hummingbird Bakery red velvet cake recipe (same as the cupcakes) and their cream cheese frosting. I used a six inch cake tin for the head and a 10 inch cake tin for the body. I found TK Maxx and department stores like House of Fraser are good for finding cake tins of varying sizes.

The Hummingbird Bakery recipe says to use Dr. Oetker red food colouring as this gives a deep red colour for the sponge. I used Dr. Oetker’s artificial cochineal food colouring as I couldn’t find the recommended one in my local supermarkets. I would be interested to know if it made a difference to the taste. It did give a great colour to the sponge as you can see from the photo but personally, I think this could taste a bit more chocolatey and less bland. I suggest adding 1-2 extra tablespoons of sifted cocoa powder to taste. The cream cheese frosting tasted sweet and complemented the sponge well. I did get a few lumps in the icing so I would suggest that, however difficult, try mixing the butter and icing sugar as much as possible before you add in the soft cream cheese.

For the decorations I used smarties for the eyes, nose and buttons and mini smarties for the snowman’s scarf. For the lips I used fizzy strawberry laces from Sainsburys. The cake turned out well but personally I think this would taste better with a chocolate sponge. You could also increase the recipe size slightly to give the sponges a little more depth. The cake certainly went down well with my boyfriend and he ate atleast half the snowman in two days with a little help from me!

Alternative Christmas cake ideas

Marks and SpencerWhilst browsing in Marks and Spencer yesterday morning, I came across this great cake mould in the shape of a Christmas tree! Each year I like to do something a little different from the traditional Christmas cake. Last year I made chocolate cupcakes in Christmas cupcake cases and then decorated them with miniature puds, Father Christmas and snowmen. You’ll be glad to know they’re selling them again this year at Sainbury’s – just search for Fiddes Payne Festive Fun Royal Icing, Cake Decorations on the Sainbury’s website. Back to the Christmas tree mould – I am going to make a chocolate cake and decorate it with Smarties for the baubles! I will keep you posted on the adapted cake recipe for the Christmas tree mould so you can try it for yourself. If you’ve got any alternative ideas which you like to do at Christmas, please feel free to comment on the blog!

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