Hummingbird Red Velvet

I thought everyone in the world had had their fill of red velvet by now, but it turns out my delightful coworkers were very taken by the colour of the cake and the cream cheese frosting.

Among the reactions were:

“When I move out into my own apartment, you’re going to be my roommate”

“I think I love you!”

“Omg”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Is that really the last piece?”

At the other end of the spectrum, my Organic Aunt, whom I gave five mini cakes to last evening, said no to the cream cheese frosting and took a microscopic bite (a crumb, perhaps) out of her husband’s cake, hemmed and hawwed while clutching her belly and said,

“hmmm…not bad, but Cedele’s one was so much better.”

Family. Always wanting the best for you.

Most of my cakes are hits or misses – definitely mostly misses. However, when I was baking this, I instinctively felt that it would come together really well.  I wasn’t entirely sure if it was because I was following the recipe to a tee, or because the recipe is that amazing.

Hummingbird Bakery has become something of an institution in central London, having opened its first store in 2004. It is literally 20 feet from South Kensington station, and perpetually crowded, mostly filled with rich English housewives having a cupcake with a cup of tea, with their little sugar-saturated children in tow. I often preferred the vanilla cupcake (always with green frosting) for its simplicity and lack of overwhelming flavour.

Three years ago, on my roommate and her twin sister’s birthday, they both requested a red velvet cake from Hummingbird. Because it was her birthday, my other roommate and I obligingly said ‘yes’ despite our (now non-existent) aversions to sweets and got Rajeev to hand-carry the monstrous, seemingly overweight cake (in the grey rain, no less) from the bakery to the restaurant the party was at. Because the party was so small and each person could have easily had five pieces of cake, we had an endless supply of leftover red velvet.

As a result, I have never touched a bite of red velvet since. It has unabashedly taken me three years to overcome the red velvet overdose.

Three years. Until yesterday.

“That’s not a hamburger, Hamburglar”

Hummingbird Red Velvet

Taken straight from The Hummingbird Bakery – Cake Days: Recipes to make everyday special

Makes 12-16 cupcakes

Cupcakes:

  • 120g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 40ml red food colouring (colour may vary)
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 240ml buttermilk
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1sp salt
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Cream cheese frosting

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (375°F)
  2. Using a hand held electric whisk or a freestanding electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and flurry. Break in teh eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition and mixing in the scrapings from the side of the bowl.
  3. In a separate, small bowl, stir together the coca powder, food colouring and vanilla essence to form a paste. Add the paste to the batter, mixing thoroughly until the paste is completely incorporated.
  4. Sift together the flour and salt in another bowl, then add the flour to the batter in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk and mixing thoroughly after each addition. Lastly, in another bowl, mix the vinegar and soda bicarb together by hand and add it to the cake batter, mixing it in until it is fully incorporated.
  5. Spoon the batter into the paper cases so that they are two-thirds full, using any remaining batter to fill up to four more cases in another tin. Place in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until sponge bounces back when lightly pressed. Allow the cupcakes to cool for a short while in the tin, then place on a wire rack to cool completely before frostig.
  6. Using an electric whisk or mixer, mixing on low speed, beat the butter and icing sugar together until no large lumps of butter remain and the mixture is sandy in texture. Add the cream cheese and mix together slowly until everything is incorporated, then increase the speed to medium and beat the frosting until soft and fluffy.
  7. Cover all but one of the cupcakes with 2 tbsp of cream cheese frosting, smoothing it down with a palette knife and making a swirl in the middle for a decorative touch.
  8. Place the remaining cupcake in a food processor and blitz into fine crumbs, then sprinkle over cupcakes with the red crumbs. Or you can also use coloured sprinkles.
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Mum’s Homemade Lasagne

A firm favourite in my house when I was young was always homemade lasagne. I’m not entirely sure why my mother always chose to make lasagne, seeing as she doesn’t like to cook – it’s really quite involved. I’m not one to complain though.

I’m trying something new today. I’ve added this recipe in pictorial form. I find recipes like this easier to follow. Not sure if that holds true for everyone though. In case you don’t like it, here’s a cute picture of my dog. Feel better now?

This is one of my favourite things to eat at home, but you can enjoy it without me this time. I’m still slightly traumatised by a story I was told recently about how cows are slaughtered for meat, and how they jerk afterwards and kick their legs. Sigh. I guess in a couple of weeks or so I’ll come back to the second lasagne stashed in the freezer.

Mum’s Homemade Lasagne

I’m not sure where this recipe originally came from. I collected it by following my Mum around the kitchen with a notebook and a camera. This recipe makes 2 trays of lasagne. You can adjust the proportions of meat to vege, and the cheesiness of the sauce. It will still work. Not like it has to rise like a cake or anything. Creativity food!

Beef Mince

800g beef mince
2 carrots
6 tomatoes
2 peppers – red or green is fine
3 sticks of celery
2 yellow onions
2 whole heads of garlic
Chilli powder – optional
Salt & Pepper
1/2 bottle of Prego or another pasta sauce, OR
1 can of crushed tomatoes, and
3 bay leaves
1 teasp basil
1 teasp thyme
1/2 teasp rosemary
– Add more herbs as you like. You might need a bit more basil.

Cheese Sauce

1 litre milk
2 tablesp butter
3/4 of a block of Philly cheese / other cream cheese
400g grated cheddar
1/2 to 1 cup of grated parmasan
Any other cheese you like, these proportions aren’t fixed 🙂

A box of lasagne sheets
1/2 cup grated parmasan – to sprinkle on top
1/2 cup breadcrumbs – to mix with parmasan and sprinkle on top, optional

 1.

  • Dice the veges, garlic and onion.
2.

  • Defrost the meat.
3. 

  • Fry garlic until fragrant.
  • Add onion, fry until soft. Add a pinch of salt.
  • Add the meat, break it up and add salt, pepper and herbs (if using).
4. 

  • Keep frying the meat until it goes about this brown (see pic).
  • Add the vege and tomato, and stir it around.
  • Add the pasta sauce. Stir it around and keep cooking for a bit until the sauce boils down and the meat isn’t too wet. You can substitute for crushed canned tomatoes, use all fresh tomatoes (tell me how, I haven’t figured it out yet…)
5. 

  • Mix milk, butter, and cornflour in a pot over low heat.
  • Keep stirring, and take it off the heat when it reaches the consistency of thick cream.
6. 

  • Add the cheeses to the milk, and mix well. Don’t worry if there are still a few lumps, they’ll melt away in the oven.
  • Pour a thin layer of cheese sauce into an ovenproof dish.
7.

  • Add a layer of meat, then a layer of instant lasagne sheet.
  • Repeat! Try to get at least 3 layers of lasagne sheets, it’ll taste better
8. 

  • Finish it off with a layer of cheese sauce, and a layer of grated parmasan. You can mix the parmasan with some breadcrumbs if you’d like a bit more crunch.
  • Bake at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes, or until the top goes nice and brown and the inside of the lasagne is piping hot.

Then… take a plate, and a big spoon, and enjoy 🙂 I like mine with lots of chilli flakes.

Also, this freezes really well in the bowl (just stick it back in the oven for a bit to heat up and crisp). Make sure you cool it to room temperature before putting it in the freezer, and defrost it to room temperature before putting it in the oven – so that your bowl doesn’t crack. I speak from experience.

Cake Fails: Strawberry Rainbow Cake

Let’s talk about cake fails. I spoke to a real proper professional chef over the weekend, and she said that cakes fail if you don’t talk to them. In all seriousness.

I believed her. I usually worry a lot about my cakes, given my history of cake fails during the pre-Happy Bellea era. Nowadays, I generally plead with my cakes before I put them in the oven.

“Please cake, please rise. Please taste good. If you do, I promise I’ll eat you quickly, and you won’t be left at the back of the fridge for months. Please.”

*Slam*

I’m glad to hear that this tactic is condoned by a real proper chef. Now I don’t feel like such a crazy person.

   

But well, in this instance, I didn’t talk to my cake. I’m sure that was the problem. Not the fact that I played fast and loose with the recipe, doubled the cooking time because of the soggy strawberries, or that the cicak bandit living in my kitchen walked all over the top tier. And then I made all the same mistakes a second time, because I’m rather stubborn when I think I’m right. I rather not serve people cake that Mr Cicak has walked all over.

In any case, I shall now recap the lessons I (painfully) learnt. Don’t laugh at me too much.

  1. If you need to double the time the cake is in the oven because it won’t set, something is wrong.
  2. Don’t try to add a very high proportion of (wet) strawberries to a cake unless the recipe specifically says you can. You will get mush. Cakes that can take that level of fruit are special cakes.
  3. Always use a food cover when cooling cakes.
  4. Food colouring covers a multitude of sins. At night, food colouring becomes the Pivotal Distractinator, and no one will notice how dry the cake is. Except you, and you can just quietly go cry in a corner by yourself, thinking about how chewy and weird the texture is.
  5. Don’t do funny experiments on other people’s birthday cakes, do it on your own. That’s fair.

I really don’t like dry cake. Dry cake is a trick. The cake looks nice, smells nice, and you bite into it and…ugh. It’s one step above that special type of chicken sold in some fast food restaurants, that smells absolutely amazing but tastes like oily plastic.

   

So you may have gathered that this was a rainbow cake, except I decided to colour the icing instead of the cake batter (because who has the time to make 6 separate cakes, really). I would do it again. Perhaps not with this icing, it isn’t my thing. Everyone else liked it but I think I prefer straight up butter icing at the end of the day. Maybe I’m a bit boring. Oh well.

Rainbow Cake – (relatively) Lazy version

I’ve left the Victoria Sponge recipe in, as it was actually very nice on its own. Don’t add the strawberries like I did, and stick to the cooking time. It’s nice and light even with gluten free flour. I’ll probably use it again for something else, without soggy strawberries. Also it’s a one-bowl cake, yay!

Victoria Sponge 

Taken from BBC Good Food, edited just a bit. I made 1.5 times this recipe to get the 5 tiers (2 normal, and 1 skinny).

100g white sugar
100g brown sugar
200g butter – at room temperature
4 medium eggs
200g self-raising flour (or regular flour + 1 teasp baking powder OR 1/4 teasp baking soda) – I used gluten free
1 teasp baking powder (or 1/4 teasp baking soda)
2 tablesp milk

Oven temperature: 170 degrees C in a fan oven / 190 degrees C otherwise

  1. Cream the butter and sugars.
  2. Dump everything else in, and beat well.
  3. Grease 2 baking tins and put it in the oven for 20 minutes until golden brown and cake springs back when you poke it. Don’t poke your finger in it too early, you’ll burn your finger.

Lemonade whipped Buttercream

Taken from Joy the Baker, originally from Organic and Chic. Originally rose flavoured, but I thought lemon was nicer. I used 1.5 times the recipe and it was enough for everything.

1 cup butter – room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
1 tablesp vanilla extract
3 tablespoons lemonade cordial

  1. In a small pan, whisk the flour, vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup of milk until it isn’t lumpy anymore. Turn the heat up to medium, and then add the remaining milk, whisking. Keep cooking until the mixture hits a low boil.
  2. Lower the heat and keep stirring. The mixture will thicken slightly, changing from a milk to a cream/custard consistency.
  3. Once this happens, immediately take the pan off the heat but keep stirring. Whisk really hard to get it smooth, or else strain it with a sieve. Let it cool to room temperature (I stuck it in the freezer for 5 minutes, pan and all).
  4. While the milk mixture is cooling, cream the butter until it’s soft with a mixer.
  5. Add the sugar to the butter, and beat til light and fluffy. High speed is useful.
  6. Pour the milk mixture into the sugar mixture, and beat it until the icing gets fluffy.
  7. Add the lemon, then keep beating until it is all mixed in.
  8. If you like colours, you can split it up and colour it now.

I think I’m going to take a break from all this cake-ing for a while.

Flash Fried Curried Pork Chops with Various Vegetables

The yeti abode will be empty for an indefinite amount of time, hence my comeback on this blog. Oh, hey. This means that I get to come home from work to escape into the kitchen, not be shooed out of the kitchen. Frankly, I don’t see why anyone would ever want to escape from the kitchen. The kitchen is my sanctum sanctorum, as Garfield’s kitty bed and blanket is to him (I modelled myself after Garfield as a child…which actually explains an awful lot now, but I digress).

During my university days, I had a copy of Nigella’s Express. It was my first cookbook and has been rendered extra special and memorable because Ms. Lawson signed it herself, addressed to me. I love Nigella for many reasons: her deep, rich Oxonian accent as she narrates her way through graceful swirls of woody sauces, coupled with her immense love for bacon and cream – oftentimes together. I don’t know why any man or woman would turn her down, in the kitchen or otherwise. I have since given the book to my mother for her safekeeping, but I’ve memorized quite a lot of her recipes.

This recipe has been a tried and true favourite of mine for a while now – except this time I took the liberty of modifying it ever so slightly by dusting curry powder, garam masala and chili powder into the marinade. Also, I used pork chops instead of steak. And I threw in other types of vegetables in place of mash in a bid to detoxify. I ought to have been more liberal with my dusting, because albeit I could smell the curry, I couldn’t quite taste it. Ah, well. I tossed in a few cloves of garlic for good measure. I love garlic. Completely unapologetic about it.

Pork in a bag

I marinated the pork in the morning before I left for work. My marinade consisted of curry powder, garam masala, chili powder, 2 cloves of smashed garlic, salt and a liberal dose of olive oil. A tip that I picked up from Nigella: whack your meat as though it were your supercilious ex-boyfriend so that it becomes a bit thinner and cooks more evenly and quickly. I parboiled my vegetables and served them without any dressing. Also, I ate my dinner with a generous serving of mustard and wasabi and hot sauce combined in one.

Mustard pork chops

Here’s Nigella’s original recipe for your modifying/reading pleasure. Apart from the ingredient change, my methods are no different to hers:

Flash Fried Steak with White Bean Mash

Ingredients

60 Millilitres Olive Oil plus 2 teaspoons
1 Cloves Garlic crushed
1 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary (optional)
1 Lemon zest & juice
1230 Grams White beans (3 cans)
4 Entrecote steak (150g each) thin cut
1 A pinch of Salt to taste

Method

1. First, get on with the beans: put the 60ml of olive oil in a saucepan, and mix in the garlic. Add the whole rosemary sprig, if using, and the lemon zest and warm through. Remove the rosemary, but do not throw away.
2. Drain the beans and rinse under a tap to get rid of the gloop and then add to the pan and warm through, stirring and squishing with a wide, flat spoon so that the beans go into a nobbly mush. Season to taste; some beans come saltier than others.
3. Meanwhile, heat a teaspoon of oil in a large frying pan and cook the steaks on high for a minute and a half a side. Remove to warmed plates, sprinkling some salt, to taste, over them as you do so.
4. Squeeze the lemon juice into the hot pan and let it bubble up with the meaty oil, then pour over the steaks. Serve immediately with the bean mash adorned with the reserved rosemary sprig.

I might make some sweets over the weekend. Aren’t you excited?!

Peace Offering Cupcakes

These are cupcakes were say: sorry for being a useless communicator, I didn’t RSVP for the party, but here I stand at your door. No I didn’t check the Facebook invite, I haven’t really been using Facebook much, at least not properly. Sorry I’ve been so busy working for the last month that we haven’t met for dinner. Here’s some cupcakes. We cool? Please don’t throw me in the swimming pool.

I suspect it was really about me feeling guilty. Cupcakes aren’t generally the chattiest bunch, on the whole.

   

This was the first time I brought homemade cupcakes to a party. One fell on the floor. Surprisingly, another guest had a much stronger, sadder, reaction than me. I suppose that means they were good? Someone else tried to eat one that had been covered with silly string. Apparently it still tasted nice. I hope he felt okay the next day.

 

The influx of sweet recipes here recently is also a direct consequence of my move back home for 6 months. Since I’ve been at home, I haven’t really had the opportunity to cook much in terms of savoury dishes. But, what I have found is that there is no faster way to grease the wheels of any request than with the promise of something edible that is “just for you”. Case in point, here and here. Other instances have not been documented.

Does this make me a bad person? It’s a win-win situation really, I feel. I do like cake.

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

Chocolate cake: I used this one, but only a 2/3 batch. It made 21 decent sized cupcakes. I brought 15 to the party. Bake for 30 minutes at 150 degrees C.

This is quickly becoming my chocolate cake of choice, I think my previous problems with it were due to the uber-rich chocolate ganache. Also, I’ve realised I can make it as a one-bowl recipe, which, given my pre-established laziness, can only work in its favour.

Peanut Butter Icing:

Taken from Food.com, I used a half portion and had a bit left over (quantities below). Note that I don’t ice my cupcakes sky-high..They are domed from baking under the icing.

This is not excessively sweet and the peanut flavour is relatively mild, but everyone I asked said it was good as it was, and that didn’t need to be more peanutty.

1/2 cup butter – room temperature
1/2 cup peanut butter – I used Skippy Superchunk
2 cups icing sugar
1/8 cup milk
1 tablesp vanilla essence

  1. Blend the butter and peanut butter well
  2. Dump in 1 cup of icing sugar, and whisk until combined
  3. Add the milk and vanilla, blend again
  4. Add the last cup of icing sugar, and keep blending until it gets a bit stiff.
  5. If it is a bit soft to work with, stick it in the freezer for a couple of minutes and it’ll harden up. If you ice the cupcakes and put them back in the fridge, it sets to a nice, creamy but not-runny topping which held up well in the tropical heat.

Cheating Milo Dinosaur Cake

Cheating Milo Dinosaur cake is really any chocolate cake, with a vanilla icing. Then pile it high with milo powder on top of the icing.

Don’t pile it up too high before taking a slice though.

The milo powder goes soggy, and that’s just a waste of good milo powder.

That’s better.

Cheating Milo Dinosaur Cake

Chocolate cake recipe: I used the chocolate cake recipe here, unchanged. I’ve also done this with gluten free flour, and it works well.

Icing recipe: I used Fluffy 7 Minute Frosting, from Epicurious. I didn’t like this frosting at all, it looked pretty but tasted like plastic to me. I don’t even know how that happened, using fresh ingredients and all. You live and learn, I guess. I’m not going to bother reproducing the recipe here, because I didn’t like it.

Build the Beast:

Chocolate cake
Vanilla icing
Milo powder

  1. Make the chocolate cake (yes, sounds easy doesn’t it, I’m not belittling you, promise). I got an 8 inch round cake, pictured, and 2 decent sized loaves out of the recipe.
  2. Make the icing. I’m going to use vanilla buttercream next time. Rssssppppptle to you too, fancy frostings.
  3. You can stack the cake, but since you are only putting milo on the top of it, I wouldn’t bother. The chocolate cake is moist enough and doesn’t need a filling to save it. Spread a generous layer of icing on top of the cake. It’s like a cake-float!
  4. Sprinkle some milo on the cake, so that everyone knows it’s a milo dinosaur cake.
  5. Cut a slice, and go on a rampage, throwing milo everywhere. That’s how you transform a little slice of raptor into T-rex material. If you want to pretend to be classy you could serve it with a little bowl of milo powder on the side, and a teaspoon. I don’t really see the point though, you’re better off just giving people the milo tin.
  6. Yum. Roar.

If you really don’t want to allow people access to your milo tin (I, for example, have a tendency to eat the powder straight out of the tin), you can spoon milo powder on top of the cake the last second before serving. Keep spooning it on until you get little mountains of dry milo powder across the cake.  If you do this, you need to make sure your guests (victims?) eat the whole cake in one sitting, because the part of the milo which touches the icing will get soggy after a while, and the effect will be spoilt.

Also, rampaging is an important life lesson. Take note.

Swirly Caramel Ice Cream, Apparently Nice

A caution – I don’t really like caramel ice cream. I’d never choose it in an ice cream parlour, simply because I find it too sweet. But, I have it on good authority that this actually is a very nice, creamy, caramelly ice cream.

 

 

I trust no one. I want to make mint choc chip next time.

So there.

 

 

Some notes on making Dulce de Leche:

  • Don’t overfill the water-filled baking dish, it will leak into the inner condensed milk-filled dish
  • Don’t refill the dish! It’s not even half empty! Can’t you see it’s leaking?
  • I guess you didn’t see it leaking.
  • Not very bright are you, trying to strain liquid caramel with a sieve to get rid of the water. Doesn’t work. Clearly caramel is liquid, as is water.

Then I gave up, and microwaved the caramel / condensed milk it in a high sided bowl for another 5 minutes, stopping every couple of minutes to stir. Hooray for Wikihow.

Swirly Caramel Ice Cream

Ice cream from Piggy’s Cooking Journal and Dulce de Leche from David Lebovitz.. Then I gave up and used faithful Wikihow. David Lebovitz also has a good set of instructions on how to hand-churn ice cream, which you can read here.

Ice Cream

For the caramel:
60g sugar
1 tablesp water

For the rest of it:
3 egg yolks
200ml whipping cream
450ml milk – I used full cream
50g sugar
1/2 teasp salt

  1. Mix the 60g sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Keep stirring. It will bubble and look kinda exciting.
  2. In the meantime, microwave the whipping cream for 30 seconds on high. I’m not sure what this does but it must have some purpose. I’m no ice cream pro, so I didn’t miss the step.
  3. Eventually the sugar-water will turn yellow / amber. Stop here, take it off the fire. Don’t go as far as I did (see how brown mine is in the picture? Also see how in the next picture, it accidentally solidified and I had to re-melt it?)
  4. Stir in the whipping cream and milk. Try to mix all the caramel in. If you can’t, because it has gone hard (erhem), then turn the fire back on and try again over low heat. Then turn it off again once you manage to mix everything in properly.
  5. Whisk the egg yolks, 50g sugar and salt. Keep going until the egg gets a bit thick and pale.
  6. Take half the caramel-milk-cream mixture, and whip it into the egg yolks. Once it is mixed well, then pour the whole thing back into the pan and stir well.
  7. Top tip: use a wooden spoon.
    Keep stirring the mixture until it gets thicker. Don’t boil it! Unless you want sweet scrambled eggs of course. It’s done when it coats the back of the spoon, and you run your finger across, and it leaves a trail behind it. A trail which is not refilled by custard, even if you wait a while.
  8. Strain, freeze, and churn – by hand or using your ice cream maker’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker (like me), check out the tips here. Add the dulce de leche on the last churn and don’t mix too well.

Dulce de Leche

1 can of sweetened condensed milk
A pinch of salt, if you like

  1. The way that didn’t work for me:
    1. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees C
    2. Dump all the condensed milk in a heatproof dish. Stir in some flecks of salt. Cover well with silver foil.
    3. Put this dish into a deeper, larger dish. Fill the larger dish halfway up with water. Don’t overfill!
    4. Stick it in the oven for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.
    5. When it’s done, take it out and whisk it. Store in the freezer
  2. The way that worked for me
    1. Dump your condensed milk in a high sided bowl. Stir in salt, if you want to. You don’t have to.
    2. Whack it in the microwave for 10 minutes.
    3. Every 2 minutes, or when it looks like it is going crazy and escape from the bowl, stop the microwave and whisk well.
    4. Yay, that was easy, no water contamination!