Sunday, 20 February 2011

Baking Sunday: Coffee & cakes at Avalanche Records and Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I recently volunteered to make some cakes for the newly reopened Avalanche Records. Strictly speaking my boyfriend volunteered me, as he is always being inundated with cakes and thought it would be a good outlet for my baking. It was an exciting thing for me to be volunteered for! Avalanche Records is an independent record shop which is a bit of an Edinburgh institution. They have moved from Cockburn Street to a huge new shop in the Grassmarket with plenty of space for instore gigs and they have recently started serving coffee alongside old school sweets and cakes. These cakes can pretty much be whatever I feel like making at the moment as the coffee section is in its infancy, but it has to be served up easily and so I decided to make some brown sugar chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cupcakes with different frostings: chocolate, vanilla, baileys and whisky.

Cupcakes at Avalanche Records by me and Emily - yours for £1.50

I used my usual fail-safe cookie and cupcake recipes but decided to make swiss meringue buttercream for the cupcake frosting. It's not generally used in the UK - I think Beas of Bloomsbury, an American-style bakery in London, is one of the few shops I know of that use it for most of their cupcakes and cakes - and I associate it more with American cakes. It's got a super light silky texture and as it doesn't use icing sugar, has slightly less sugary sweetness to it. It also pipes easily and holds shape really well, and can take on flavours and colouring beautifully.

I'd only made this once before as buttercream is so easy to make but if you have a mixer, this is really only one extra step more. I used the recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes which makes quite a bit (5 cups) but can easily be scaled down if needed. Egg whites can also be bought separately in cartons or in powdered forms now which makes it even more convenient and easy to make. Be warned that the mix can curdle - mine did, and I freaked out hugely but just be patient and keep mixing a few more minutes and it will come together!

So now you can stop off for a cake or cookie and support your local independent record shop at the same time.
Avalanche Records 
5 Grassmarket

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Makes about 5 cups

5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 lb (450g) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into tablespoons
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. Combine egg whites, sugar and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips)

2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

3. With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides with a flexible spatula and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes. 

4. (Optional) To tint buttercream, reserve some for toning down the colour, if necessary. Add gel-paste food colour a drop at a time to the remaining buttercream. You can use a single shade of food colour or experiment by mixing two or more. Blend after each addition with the mixer (use the paddle attachment) or a flexible spatula, until desired shade is achieved. Avoid adding too much food colour too soon, as the hue will intensify with continued stirring; if necessary you can tone down the shade by mixing in some reserved untinted buttercream.


 Using a flexible spatula, fold in 4.5 oz of semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled, into the buttercream mixture in step 3, along with the vanilla extract.

Mix 2 tablespoons good-quality instant espresso powder (do not use instant coffee) with the vanilla extract, and add in step 3.

Beat in 6 oz of fresh raspberries (or other berries) after all butter has been added, until buttercream is streaky (do not overbeat).

Substitute the vanilla for Baileys or whisky in step 3.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Baking Sunday: Tricolour cookies

I love cookbooks and have a pretty big collection of baking books. The cookbook section is usually one of my first stops when I visit any bookshop to see if there's anything new and exciting I should be checking out. When I'm on holiday it's exactly the same and I have been known to come home with heavy cookbooks weighing down my luggage, proclaiming "I won't be able to get these in the UK!" -  conveniently forgetting about Amazon and ebay. On my last holiday in Florence, I visited a wonderful American bookshop, the Paperback Exchange. It was a beautifully charming and well-stocked bookshop and the cooking section had a lot of lovely looking books, mostly in Italian (unfortunately for me). However there were a number of American titles I had never seen, and one jumped out at me - "Baked - New Frontiers in Baking." 

Baked is a Brooklyn-based hipster bakery (by their own admission) who say that "not every baker wants to re-create Grandma's angel food cake or cherry pie." The recipes in the book are updated versions of classics such as the Red Hot Velvet Cake (with cinnamon buttercream) or Lemon-Almond meringue tarts (with amaretto meringue topping) and their own signature creations such as Sweet and Salty Cake (chocolate layer cake with salted caramel ganache),  Root Beer Bundt Cake and Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie. Pretty much every recipe has me drooling over the pictures, such as the Peanut Butter Crispy Bars, pictured with a perfect chocolate glaze and a bite taken out to show the smooth peanut butter layer, yummmm. Shamefully, I had yet to make anything from the book, and so I decided to tackle these Baked Tricolour Cookies. 

These are an American-Italian dessert, usually baked in the red, white and green combination of the Italian flag however the recipe gives a chocolate and orange flavour to these almond cookies, and suggests baking them in brown, white and orange. I decided to colour my cookies with brown, white and purple instead and flavour the purple layer with a lavander syrup. I also used a shredless marmalade instead of apricot jam to sandwich the layers together which gave more of a tang and took the edge off the sweetness of the cookie. 

As I didn't have the square baking pans required, I used a 3 set of cake tins of the same size which I thought would work quite well - sadly not. The layers were too thick to be cookies, and so my version is more of a slice. Next time I would rather bake them in the pan I normally bake brownies in, to get a thinner layer. This would mean baking each layer individually though so it will have to wait til I have a very free weekend! The cake pans did mean I got a pretty slice of cake from it at least. These cookies/slices are delicious and the little touches of amaretto liqueur in the glaze and the dark chocolate glaze make them a pretty special treat. They are very sweet though so a little goes a long way!

Baked Tricolour Cookies


For the cookie layers:
1 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 oz almond paste (recipe follows)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup butter, softened (6 oz)
3 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
Orange food colouring (or any colour of your choice)
2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder, sifted

For the filling:
2/3 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur

For the glaze:
6 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter, softened (4 oz)


Make the cookie layers:

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C. Butter three 8-inch square baking pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour. Sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste, sugar, and almond extract together until small crumbs form. Add the butter and beat on high speed until the mixture is combined. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the orange zest and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture in three parts, beating on low speed after each addition until combined.

Divide the batter among three small mixing bowls. In the first bowl, add a few drops of the food colouring of your choice to the batter, and mix well. Continue to add a few drops of food coloring and mixing until the batter is evenly coloured. In the second bowl, add the cocoa powder to the batter and whisk until fully incorporated. Leave the third bowl plain.

Pour each batter into a prepared pan and smooth the tops. Bake the layers for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

Make the filling:
In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the jam and amaretto until warmed through and completely blended, 3 to 5 minutes.

Assemble the cookies:
Place the chocolate layer on a serving rack and evenly spread half of the apricot jam over the top. Top with the plain layer and spread with the remaining apricot filling. Top with the coloured layer and let the layers sit in the refrigerator for 5 minutes (or while you make the chocolate glaze).

Make the glaze:
In a large nonreactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly.

Put it all together:
Spread the glaze over the top of the bar cookies, completely covering the coloured layer (some glaze may spill down the sides of the cake). Place the tray in the refrigerator until the chocolate topping completely sets (about 1 hour). Remove the tray from the refrigerator, wait 30 minutes for the chocolate to warm up, and cut into 20 individual squares or use a small cookie cutter to cream your own shapes.

The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.
Almond Paste (makes approx 14 oz)
1.5 cups finely ground almonds
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Put all the ingredients in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of water and process until a paste forms. Remove from the food processor, wrap tightly in cling film and refridgerate until ready to use. Extra almond paste, tightly wrapped, keeps well in the freezer. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Forever Nigella: Honey Chocolate Cake

I love Nigella recipes and deciding on a chocolate recipe to make for the Seduced by Chocolate event for Forever Nigella made up a very pleasurable afternoon leafing through my recipe books. I was tempted to make my fail safe chocolate cupcakes but wanted to try something I'd never made before and it was between this cake and the flourless chocolate lime cake. The  honey chocolate cake won in the end - the picture of the shiny glazed cake topped with bees was divine and I wanted to make something pretty.

I thought it would be cute to make these in my new silicon heart shaped muffin pan, each cake topped with a little bee. They came out perfectly, and there was enough mix leftover for a small cake too. Obviously the timing of the recipe needs to be adjusted if you are going to do this. I checked these after 30 minutes and left them in for a total of 40 minutes (the recipe recommends baking up to 1.5 hours for a 23cm cake).

Making the bees was the fun part and they're very straightforward to make. I didn't have any yellow marzipan so used food colouring to tint the marzipan, and rolled each bee in a tiny bit of gold luster dust before painting on their stripes. Nigella suggests leaving them eyeless for a "Napoleonic" effect but I couldn't resist giving them little eyes - I still think they looked pretty dignified. I had a version of Bjork's 90's hit Army Of Me in my head as I made them, except with the words Army of Bees - tragically keeping me amused as I made them.

This is an incredibly easy recipe, and Nigella suggests that the whole thing could be mixed in a food processor. It's slightly unusual in that boiling water is added as the final ingredient which makes for quite a runny mix, so make sure your cake tins are lined and secured. The only problem I really encountered was my terminal clumsiness messing up my bees. Nigella says to use leftover honey glaze for the bee's stripes however my glaze set a little too much. I could have reheated it but decided to use some brown food colouring striped across with a toothpick. This worked wonderfully well, except for me touching the bees and managing to smudge the wet food colouring stripes - same deal with their eyes too. The description of the bees' being "Disney-fied" by having eyes was made all the more comical by me smudging the early ones to the point where they practically had eye patches! However I learnt my lesson and let them dry completely before handling them again. So my top bee-making tips - make sure all food colouring is dry before handling with care!

These cakes are nearly too cute to eat but somehow I managed and they were gorgeous - there's an intense honey flavour to the cake and the glaze was thick and luscious. I'm glad I tried something different, the cake looks amazing and is lots of fun to make. The recipe is from Nigella's book Feast or on her official website here.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Dinner at Charlie & Evelyn's Table

When I tell some friends that I'm going to visit Edinburgh's only pop up supper club, Charlie and Evelyn's Table, I find myself having to explain what a supper club actually is. Supper clubs have been around for a few years and have had some exposure in press and television but due to their nature they gain publicity primarily by word of mouth and by social media.  A supper club is basically a restaurant in someone's home - eating out in.

When I booked a place at Charlie and Evelyn's, we were asked by owners Rachel and Chris Rowley if we had any particular dislikes and emailed the menu in advance. Each supper club can operate differently and my only other visit to a supper club has been the Underground Restaurant in London for an Elvis themed night which was very different indeed. It was far more of an intimate, fine dining experience at Charlie and Evelyn's, but still a perfectly relaxed evening with none of the formality you'd usually get in a venue where each diner has six pieces of cutlery set out for them.

The night we visit their central Edinburgh flat, the weather had taken a wild turn and we're grateful for a warm welcome. The evening takes place in a large living/dining room and when we arrive, introductions are made to the other diners. We were grateful and relieved they were a friendly group, as we all sit together at a large 8 seat dining table. Dining at a supper club is more of an experience than just visiting a restaurant as really you're invited into someone's home as part of a dinner party. Although you're likely not to know your fellow diners, you are likely to be visiting Charlie and Evelyn's Table as a bit of a foodie and this helps as it was a unifying topic of conversation as each course arrived. 

Rachel acts as a perfect hostess and creates a lovely atmosphere, making everyone comfortable.  Chris is mostly confined to the kitchen as chef, but emerges to announce each course for us. After pouring a glass of G&T for us (it is BYO), we're relaxed and chatting in the comfy seats and couches and sample some canapes - a pea and pecorino bruschetta and a tandoori mushroom (a button mushroom stuffed with breadcrumbs, tandoori spices and coriander). After we sit down at the beautifully laid out table (complete with candles and fresh flowers) we have an amuse bouche of celeriac soup served in teacups and topped with crispy bacon.

Us diners giggle at using the bacon as a spork to eat the soup and we alternate between sipping teacups and using a spoon. It's a delicious beginning to the meal, creamy but not too rich. Next up is a starter of pheasant with winter leaves, with beetroot and roasted tomatoes.

The serving could easily have been main meal sized and the earthiness of the beetroot matches the flavour of the pan fried pheasant wonderfully. There is also a piece of freshly baked sour dough bread to accompany. It was clear by now that Rachel & Chris put in a lot of attention to detail in every dish and it was a beautifully presented and balanced dish. I'll also note that the service was faultless and unobtrusive - we all chatted the night away without feeling rushed and without our glasses being empty. I'd been feeling a little bit under the weather so I kept drinking a lot of water and never had to ask for a top up once which is more than I can say for a lot of fancy restaurants I've been to.

Next up was the main of brill with creamed cabbage, with carrots, bacon and crispy potato. Not being a great lover of cabbage, I was surprised at how well the springy savoy worked with the brill and it was a innovative wintry dish, satisfying but not at all heavy.

Our dessert was toasted buttered brioche stacked with ricotta and griddled oranges, topped with rhubarb and orange zest and mint leaves. I'm not a huge brioche fan so this missed the mark for me a wee bit however I did finish my plate! The rhubarb was perfectly cooked and provided a light sweetness to the dish, matching the creamy ricotta and tangy orange very well. I'll also note that for all courses, every plate was enthusiastically cleared and everyone seemed to enjoy the food hugely - for 7 people of varying tastes that is quite some achievement!

We finished up with tea and coffee, served with delicious macarons from Patisserie Madeleine. Envelopes are discreetly placed for payment and guestbooks are handed out for any feedback. It is unsurprisingly overwhelmingly positive. As mentioned, Rachel and Chris put a huge amount of effort into every detail at Charlie and Evelyn's Table and it shows - it is homemade fine dining served up with charm and style. It's an amazing achievement by itself, never mind the fact that Chris works full time and Rachel is six months pregnant.

As it is the only pop up supper club in Edinburgh, they have paired up with the only pop up afternoon tea parlour, Queen of Tarts for an alternative Valentine's weekend, with a singles dining event planned on Friday 11 Feburary at Charlie and Evelyn's Table and an afternoon tea at Queen of Tarts on Saturday 12 February. Dates for Charlie and Evelyn's Table are announced on their website, facebook and twitter pages, and you need to email your chosen date to confirm the booking. They sit eight people in an evening and their current dates are fully booked but check back after summer for any news.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Weekend Brunch: The Roseleaf

The Roseleaf is a bit of a locals' secret. It's hidden just out the way down from the Shore in Leith and is the type of place you want to take people to show off about cool places you know about. There are some eccentric touches at the Roseleaf that make it just the right side of quirky - the menus are all hidden away in 1950's National Geographic magazines, the drinks menus in old Decanters; the cocktails are served in vintage teapots and teacups; vintage radios and old novelty teapots are used to decorate the place; and the menu is full of local chat, for instance you could order a Barry Burger along with their a Port-a-Belly Donkey, their take on a Moscow Mule. The decor is faded glamour vintage boozer and the staff are also unfailingly genuine and friendly - it's a perfect laid back place to come for brunch on a weekend. It's served daily between 10am-5pm and there's a roast on Sunday's too. I would recommend phoning ahead if you intend to go after 12 on weekends as it does get busy.
The menu at the Roseleaf has changed a few times in the past few years - last year, a new chef started and breathed some new life in and while it's not quite a gastropub it's certainly a very classy take on pub grub. Certain things on the menu have been a bit hit and miss for me but these teething problems seem to be sorted out now and the extensive brunch menu has some real treats on it. Top brunch picks have been the french toast with bacon, banana and maple syrup; the eggs benedict with a variety of additions available - spinach, bacon, black pudding, smoked salmon or haggis; the Big Yin full Scottish breakfast; and the mighty Ploughman's lunch, which features a homemade pork pie, pickled cabbage and beetroot and a wee loaf of bread (though last time I ordered this they forgot to add the cheese to my plate! I received a few lumps of cheddar pretty quickly after mentioning this). Another standout is the homemade sausage roll - a behemoth of spicy flavoursome sausage with golden flaky pastry which is a world away from Greggs.

There's a dinner and afternoon tea menu available too. Retro hats adorn the walls of the pub for customers to wear whilst taking high tea with specially made cakes.

Whilst the food is lovely, the real star of the Roseleaf is the drinks. There's a whole page of original cocktails, made with their own homemade ginger beer and lemonade. They're all a fiver each and if you get two of the same, they come served in "pot tail" teapots and cups. Shots come served in egg cups. These little touches would be sweet on their own, but the cocktails are unique and imaginative as well as being damn tasty. Favourites include the Rosebud, homemade rose lemonade with gin and cucumber; Fruit Tingle, bubbly with passion fruit and berries; and the Peely Wally Scotsman, their own version of a white Russian.

If that doesn't appeal to you, there are over 20 different types of beer, 15 types of whisky, and a decent sized spirits, wine and bubbly list. On the sober side they have freshly squeezed juices, coffee and blended teas available - I'm yet to try an afternoon tea there but with over 10 loose leaf teas to try they give other tea places a run for their money.
It's clear that a lot of thought gone into every aspect of the Roseleaf to make it into the charmer it is without being twee and it's a rare find indeed. It's the kind of place you love coming back to and well worth a visit.

Roseleaf Bar
23/24 Sandport Place
Tel: 0131 476 5268

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Baking Sunday: My favourite carrot cake with lemon cream cheese icing

One of my friends has a passion for carrot cake and claims that after trying and testing numerous ones, her favourite is from the Dover Street Market cafe in London. Apparently it's the creamy lemony cream cheese icing which seals the deal. I plan to test this theory next time I visit London but for now, the best carrot cake I have tried in Edinburgh has been the carrot and lime cake at Mimi's Bakehouse, on the Shore in Leith, which had a similarly divine lime cream cheese frosting. I have to admit, I have not exactly extensively tested carrot cakes across town and mainly for this reason - my favourite carrot cake is the one that I make. I've been making it for years and have tried others but this remains my favourite. 

After my friend had planted the idea of the best carrot cake, I knew I had to make it. I did consider trying a new recipe; I thought long and hard about baking the carrot cake from Red Velvet Heartache, Harry Eastwood's baking book which uses vegetables in places of fats and ground almonds in place of wheat flour - a healthy eating cake book if you will. But the description of the book was so painfully twee I couldn't bring myself to make it: "This cake is the great-great-aunt of all the ones in this book. She has lived through several wars, and likes to read her newspaper in bed with lace gloves so that she doesn't stain her fingers with the ink" - urgh! A rant on this book where all the cakes have "personalities" is due in another blog post someday. Also, I just really wanted to eat my lovely cake. Taking inspiration from Fee's favourite cake, I used a lemon cream cheese icing which cuts through the sweetness beautifully - I will definitely match these up from now on.

Carrot cake

1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup golden syrup
3 eggs
3 carrots, peeled and grated (pat with a paper towel to remove some of the moisture)
1 cup walnuts (dusted with a little plain flour so nuts suspend better in the batter)
zest of 1 orange

1. Preheat oven to 180C / 160C fan forced. Grease and flour a 20cm round cake pan and line the base with non-stick baking paper
2. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger into a separate bowl. 
3. Put the sugar, oil, golden syrup and eggs in a large bowl and whisk together.
4. Mix the flours into the sugar and oil mixture with a spoon in two batches. 
5. Fold in the grated carrots, walnuts and orange zest.
6. Pour the mixture into the cake pan and bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely before covering in lemon cream cheese icing.

Lemon Cream Cheese Icing

150 g cream cheese
1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tsp  lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon

1. Mix the lemon zest with icing sugar.
2. Using an electric whisk, mix the cream cheese and icing sugar together well (this is the secret to getting a light creamy icing)
3. Mix in the lemon juice slowly, don't add all of it if it looks the right consistency or it will become runny.