How to make Vanilla Extract

How to make vanilla extract on the Cake takes the biscuit blog

For Christmas pressies, I decided to make homemade vanilla extract. I can now write about them since I have given the pressies away 🙂 I was given a jar by my sister-in-law as a present last year and I thought it would be a great gift idea for me to replicate as I use the jar all the time! It’s super easy and is a nice pressie that is practical and will last for ages. I bought my little jars from a shop called Tiger. The only ingredients you need is vodka – I used Smirnoff – you don’t need anything too fancy plus high quality vanilla pods – 1 per jar. I had good customer service from Vanilla Mart and you can buy the pods in all sorts of different types and quantities.

  • Cut lengthways down the vanilla pod, leaving 1 inch connected at one end.
  •  Put the vanilla pod in a preserving jar – it needs to have a tight fitting lid.
  • Cover with the vodka to the top of the jar and give it a shake.
  • Store in a cupboard for 2 months and hey presto you have your own vanilla extract for baking with!
  • The vanilla extract lasts for years – you just keep topping it off with the vodka.

I got some good tips from this recipe on Simply Recipes. I was intrigued to learn that each vanilla pod comes from an orchid that has been pollinated by hand. Once the vanilla seed pod has developed, it must be hand picked as well. Who knew!

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Afternoon tea review: Cocomaya

Cocomaya fine chocolateLast weekend for my birthday, I embarked on an afternoon tea with my girl mates at Cocomaya which is an artisan bakery and chocolatier in central London. I had tried out the bakery a few months earlier with my French friend and enjoyed the flourless chocolate cake, sitting outside in the warm sunshine. The afternoon tea was set in the chocolate shop next door to the bakery and it was adorned with plates of beautiful homemade chocolates, brightly wrapped chocolate bars and a cabinet full of trinkets and vintage china. It is a girl’s dream!  The setting was perfect and we sat down to a variety of teas and coffees and water flavoured by blueberries, raspberries and flowers. My friends had rose tea, Darjeeling, good old breakfast tea and earl grey. I was brave enough to try tea for about the second time in my life and had assam chai tea which was bearable for the non-tea drinker!

Cocomaya triangular sandwiches with cream cheese, salmon, ham and cheeseFirst up was a selection of sandwiches with a difference – they used a dark ryebread which was very tasty although rather filling and heavy for an afternoon tea. The cream cheese and chilli, salmon and cucumber and ham and cheese sarnies were tasty. We didn’t eat too many though as we wanted to save ourselves for everything else to come. We also ate cheese rolls which were in Mary Berry’s words ‘scrummy’.  The next course included a selection of three types of scones – fruit scones, chocolate drop scones with cranberries and plain scones. They were accompanied by homemade jam which I guessed was something like blackberry and damson jam plus clotted cream.

Cocomaya lemon and poppy seed cakes, raspberry and choc cakesThen came a selection of about 10 mini cakes – some to half, some to have all to yourself. I couldn’t believe such a large selection of delights! Firm favourites included mini chocolate flourless cake, lemon and poppyseed mouthfuls, raspberry and creme patissiere cakes, fudge brownie and blackberry mini loaf. There were also mini banana loaf and mini marble cake slices. What a treat!

We were starting to fill up and had to go rather slowly. We opened pressies, took photos next to the chocolates and vintage china and smelt teas! It was lovely to take the afternoon at a really leisurely pace and savour every mouthful. Cocomaya let us take little boxes home of all the cakes we couldn’t eat at the time so the afternoon tea memories carried on into the weekend….

choc brownies by Cocomaya

For ÂŁ25 per person I think this was one of the best afternoon teas I’ve had – the atmosphere was fabulous, the food generous and varied and the service patient and not intrusive. When I say patient – we asked if I could smell lots of different teas before I plumped for the assam chai and our waiter also took lots of piccies of us too! It can sometimes be hard to get through to them on the phone but I can only think they’re putting the finishing touches on their cakes. It’s well worth persevering and booking that afternoon tea of yours.

Special thanks go to my friend Hannah Carmichael for taking the amazing photos in this post. You can view more of her work at: http://picasaweb.google.com/hannie20

Hummingbird Bakery Chocolate Fondant Cupcakes

iPhone app Hummingbird BakeryFellow baking blogger Boom Bakery recently tipped me off about the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days app for iPhone. I had been on the look out for a decent cake app for a while so I was excited to give the app a try! The photography and layout of each recipe is great and I love being able to access the recipes even when I’m offline on a train. I think the split of recipes by summer, spring, mother’s and father’s day is a bit arbitrary though. Recipes I’m keen to try are the blueberry crumble loaf, summer fruit cheesecake, and summer berry muffins (you can read the recipe review on Boom Bakery’s blog).

Chocolate sponge cupcake with chocolate ganacheThe boyfriend was in the mood for something chocolatey so I found the most chocolatey recipe on the app – chocolate fondant cupcakes. It’s a simple choc cupcake recipe but once cooled, you have to cut out a 2-3 cm deep and wide part of the sponge. You then fill it with the chocolate ganache which is pure indulgence – 200g dark choc and almost a pint of double cream! I did follow the recipe carefully and ensured the cream came to the boil before I poured it on top of the choc pieces. However, the ganache was rather runny. I put a good dollop in the middle before adding the centre of the sponge. I then poured a lot of ganache on top. I found that you could see the top of the cupcake poking through the ganache which made it look untidy. Once set, the cupcakes are yummy. I’d def recommend leaving them overnight though as it takes a while to set. When I looked at the photo again on the app, it looks like they have actually used frosting rather than ganache. I think it would be worth experimenting with the ganache ingredients/method as it was too runny to decorate with. Nevertheless they tasted great! Not for the calorie faint hearted 🙂

Gareth James Chocolatier – one year on…

Today I visited Gareth James Chocolatier shop in Tynemouth and it was a timely visit as it will be their one year anniversary later this month. Since I last visited, the shop has widened its range with chocolate pearls, sea salted caramel squares and their new 60% chocolate and orange bars. They are also doing more coffees and teas and it was lovely to sit outside for a mid morning coffee in the sunshine. The staff were friendly and efficient and admitted whenever they do tastings, they can’t help but eat the chocolate themselves! I don’t blame them. My next stop was the beach and I thought it would be fun to photograph the chocolates with the complementary sand colour.

 

The chocs in a box were delicious and I loved the sea salted caramel one and the hazlenut praline whilst my boyfriend enjoyed the champagne, orange blossom and classic ones. The brownie was lovely and gooey although perhaps needed a little more structure and the dark choc and orange bar was really delicious and the taste was lingering in your mouth so you hardly needed to eat any. If you’re in Newcastle, it’s worth the metro ride out to Tynemouth for the beach and chocs!

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 ÂŁ99 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.

Celebrating one year of Cake takes the biscuit!

James Martin recipeToday is a special day, as it’s the first anniversary of the Cake takes the biscuit blog. It’s been a fabulous culinary journey so far and I intend to keep it up! I thought a Valentine’s theme post would be particularly appropriate, especially since I did promise to let you know what I would bake. First of all I made a beef and ale pie with this James Martin recipe. It’s a great one to get simmering away on a Sunday in winter and then just finish off on a week night with the puff pastry and add into the oven for 25mins. I added a heart in pastry to make this Valentine themed. It was very tasty and I’d definitely cook it again. My boyfriend did have two helpings so that was a good sign.

Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcakes with vanilla icing and heart shaped chocolates
For pudding, clearly the most important part of the meal, I baked vanilla Hummingbird cupcakes in heart shaped baking cases. I also used homemade vanilla essence which was a present from my sister-in-law at Christmas. Add two good quality vanilla pods to sterilised jars and fill with decent vodka, shake and wait. It needs 4-6 weeks to mature so this week was great timing to use it. I then decorated the cupcakes with vanilla icing and little hearts wrapped in pink and red foil from M&S. I made these in fairy cake cases rather than bigger cupcake cases. Nonetheless my boyfriend tucked into four of them! And my housemates polished off the rest with me tonight and they went down a treat. All in all, a success and a great way to start the second year of Cake takes the biscuit!

Review: The Chocolate Festival 2010, London

This lunchtime, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private event at the London Chocolate Festival by organiser Yael Rose. Greeted with prosecco, a select group of chocolate artisans, media and bloggers turned out to see the latest chocolate collections which will be the talk of the town in 2011. The festival has secured the top 10 chocolatiers in the country and this weekend they are gathered at the Southbank Centre to show off their chocolate delights. First up was Damian Allsop who is the first chocolatier to make a ‘water ganache’.

Pastry chef by trade, two years ago he realised that cream was changing the taste of chocolate so he set out to make the perfect water ganache instead. He uses natural spring water off the land where he’s producing the chocolates, rather than cream. This year he’s launched his Pure Collection which includes six water ganaches. The first chocolate we tasted was pure manjari (a 64% Madagascan dark chocolate) and Damian asked us to look out for its ‘red fruit notes’. We tasted two other chocolates of his which were delicious! One of them was an incredibly smooth Krug truffle which he has made exclusively for Fortnum and Mason. Next, Marc Demarquette took to the stage to reveal his ‘Nutkeeper’s Caramel’. He runs a small artisan chocolate business creating caramel hybrid pralines. He uses nuts and flavours such as pecan, maple and provençal almond. Next year he’ll be using macadamias from Australia. We were lucky enough to try his chocolate and pistachio caramel which was fragrant and a departure from other chocolates I had tasted before. Last but not least, Paul Wayne Gregory, (who has recently won four excellence awards for his chocolates), gave us his passionfruit bonbon. He said that his chocolates were different because of their simplicity, finish and quality of flavour.

This was the chocolate that had by taste buds talking. It was very crisp, and had just the right kick and balance between the passion fruit and dark chocolate. To find the perfect flavours, Paul explained that ‘you carry the perfect flavours inside you and you continue testing until you find those flavours’. The key to this beautiful chocolate? Room temperature, mould temperature and most importantly – the humidity of the room. The event was a great preview and teaser for what else is in store for the Chocolate Festival this weekend. I’m on my way back to the Southbank now to sample more chocolate and see what other sugary surprises are in store. Come on down!

Gareth James Chocolatier – chocolate review

Gareth James chocolatier Like the look of this box of chocs? You’ve come to the right place then. Whilst visiting Tynemouth near Newcastle over the summer, I popped in to Gareth James’ new chocolate shop (Facebook fanpage here). There isn’t a huge range at the moment, but after picking a handful of truffles and pralines and an intriguing tonka bean truffle, I was over the moon. What’s a tonka bean truffle taste like you ask? Smooth, a little marzipan, vanilla and cinammon like. Delicious. And what is a tonka bean? It’s a long and thin wrinkly bean native to South America. According to Wikipedia, they are banned in US food, but over in the UK we can go wild with ’em. If you happen to be up north, do make the diversion to this chocolatier shop!

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