Challenge No. 21 – Carrot Cake

This recipe was suggested by another of my close University friends.  I lived with Kate in my first year and throughout the year, we shared the job of resident baker.  It was therefore so nice that Kate challenged me to make a cake 🙂 But this isn’t just any old cake, its one I’ve never made and have always been a bit apprehensive about making it.  Why was I apprehensive – it’s a cake which has carrots and cream cheese in it! There is just something about that which never quite sat right with me.  As I’ve said before, this is the whole point of Challenge 52, to take me out my comfort zone!

When I started searching for recipes, I was still trying my best to avoid the cream cheese but every which way I turned, there it was.  Finally, I found a recipe that didn’t use a cream cheese topping but by then I had come to realise that the cream cheese is an almost iconic part of the carrot cake and I felt guilty about leaving it out! So instead I kept looking and found this recipe by the Hairy Bikers for a carrot and sultana cake with creamy orange frosting.

For the recipe you will need the following:-

  • For the cake
    • 200g/7oz self-raising flour
    • 75g/3oz sultanas
    • 75g/3oz pecans, broken into rough pieces
    • ½ large orange, zest only
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • ½ whole nutmeg, finely grated
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • pinch fine sea salt
    • 3 free-range eggs
    • 175ml/6fl oz sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
    • 175g/6oz soft light brown sugar
    • 200g/7oz carrots, grated
  • For the cream cheese icing
    • 100g/3½oz icing sugar
    • 100g/3½oz unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 tsp fresh orange juice
    • 200g/7oz full-fat cream cheese
    • ½ orange, zest only
    • 25g/1oz pecan nuts, roughly broken

Edited - ingredients

If you look at the ingredients photo carefully, you may note an extra ingredient which has snuck in there.  I accidentally included the vanilla essence which I had purchased to stock up my store cupboard but it isn’t needed for this recipe!

I started off by sorting through my pecans to remove all the nice whole ones to put to one side for the topping.  I then weighed the remaining bits to make sure I had 75g, adding a few of the whole ones back in to bring it up to the right weight.  I then chopped them up nice and small.

Edited - choped nuts

I put the nuts in a bowl with the flour, sultanas, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, baking power, bicarbonate of soda and the salt.  I then grated in the orange zest from one half of my orange.

Edited - dry ingredients

I broke the eggs into a jug and whisked with a fork until they were smooth.  I then added the oil and brown sugar, giving it a good whisk until well combined.  I created a well in my dry ingredients and poured in some of the egg/sugar/oil mix.

I stirred it all together with a wooden spoon, gradually adding more of the oil mix until it was all combined. I added the grated carrot and gave it a final mix.

Edited - well Edited - well filledEdited - cake mix

The recipe puts the cake mix into a 20cm square cake tin but I wanted to do something a little different.  I’ve found these adorable cases in the supermarket and thought it would be nice to make individual carrot cakes rather than one big one.   So i split the mixture between 14 cases, 13 of them weighing 79g with the mix in, and the 14th having a little less.

Edited - in the cases

I put the filled cases on a tray and into the oven on 180 celsius.  Given that I used individual cases rather than a big tin, I knew I needed to adjust the cooking time.  I originally set the timer for 20 minutes and then checked them.  I felt the tops of the cakes and decided they needed a little longer so I returned them to the oven for around 2-3 minutes.  I then tested the cakes and decided they were done.

Practical tip: I’ve given this tip a few times but it is one of the key points to perfecting your cake making skills – knowing when the cake is done.  To test whether the cakes are cooked, gently press the top of one of the cakes with your finger; if it is done it will be springy to touch and bounce back into place.  You can also take a tooth pick (or cake tester if you have one) and slide it into the centre of one of the cakes; if the cake is done the tester will come out clean.  If you think it’s not quite done return the cakes to the oven but keep an eye on them – 1 minute may be all they need but that 1 minute can make all the difference!

I put the cakes on a cooling rack and left them to cool completely whilst I got started on the icing.

Edited - cooked

I put the softened butter in my bowl, beat it with a fork until smooth and added the orange juice.

Practical tip: this is another one I’ve given before but in case you missed Challenge No. 5 I’ve included it again.  To soften the butter, cut it into cubes and put it in a sandwich bag in a bowl of lukewarm water for between 5 to 10 minutes until soft.  This can be a lot quicker than leaving the butter at room temperature, especially in the winter when your kitchen may not be so warm!

I then gradually sifted in the icing sugar a bit at a time, giving it a good stir between each addition.  Once it was all added, I used a wooden spoon to beat until light and creamy. 

Editd - softened butter

I stirred through the cream cheese and remaining orange zest before popping it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Edited - cream cheese Edited - combined

When the icing was firm, I used a teaspoon to smooth a bit on each cake.  Finally, it was time to add the decoration.  The recipe uses the whole pecans (which I set aside at the beginning) but I wanted to do something a little bit cuter.  So I made mini icing carrots with some coloured fondant icing and added one to each cake.

Edited - topped

These cakes took a little trip with me to Sheffield to celebrate my friends birthday and new home.  Kate was part of the celebrations so she got to try her suggestion, along with all my University girls.  Everyone said it was delicious! 🙂

 Edited - in the caseEdited - served up1

I even managed to persuade Dave to try this one (he had an issue with the whole carrot in a cake thing!) and he said “actually, its quite nice”.  I feel this is a great review, all things considering.

Personally, I really enjoyed this challenge, both eating and making the cakes.  They weren’t too heavy and were just perfect with a cup of tea.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 22 – homemade burgers.

Challenge No. 19 – Rum Raisin Ice Cream

Have you ever made home-made ice cream without an ice cream maker? Better still, have you ever tried to find a recipe online for making ice cream without an ice cream maker?  It is not easy – finding a recipe that is!  My mum suggested this challenge and I thought it was a great idea.  I set out trying to find a recipe and a few times thought I had got one only to get to the last instruction and the recipe would say to “put it in your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions”.  It was very frustrating! And then I remembered, my many (and I mean many!) recipe books in the flat.  I had a quick rummage and found Jamie Oliver has kindly provided a recipe which works with or without an ice cream machine. Yay 🙂

Although I had found a recipe for vanilla ice cream, I kept having a sneaky look online and do you know what I found? One of my new blogging friends has blogged about the same recipe.  You can see read about Laura’s experience at Feast Wisely

Jamie’s book (Jamie’s Comfort Food) not only gives you a lovely recipe for vanilla ice cream, it also gives 4 delicious flavour variations. One of my mum’s favourites is rum and raisin ice cream – she say’s its her ‘holiday ice cream’ but I think she would have it all the time if she could 😉 I know I would!

So for the rum raisin ice cream you will need the following ingredients:-

  • 100g raisins
  • 150ml dark spiced rum
  • 2 vanilla pods
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 7 large eggs
  • 150g golden caster sugar

Edited - ingredients

These quantities make 1 litre of ice cream and Jamie helpfully tells me that 1 scoop is 106 calories.  I however like to believe that anything which is homemade is guilt free, so we don’t need to worry about the calorie content 🙂

Anyway, on with the recipe.  I started off by putting the raisins in a bowl and covering them with the spiced rum.  I covered the bowl with cling film and left it on the side for around a couple of hours.

Edited - rum and raisins

Once I had about half hour left, I got on with making the vanilla ice cream.  I halved the vanilla pods lengthways and scraped out the seeds.  I’ve seen chef’s do this on TV and it looks really simple…it wasn’t! I got in a bit of a mess but I managed to scrape most of the seeds out and get them in the pan.  I added the pods to the seeds and poured over the milk and cream.

Edited - vanilla pods Edited - vanilla cream

I put the pan on a low heat to gently warm for 15 minutes and then took it off the heat.

Whilst the vanilla cream mixture was cooling slightly, I separated my eggs and put the yolks in a bowl.

Edited - egg yolk 

Practical tip: Jamie advises to freeze the egg whites in a sandwich bag to make meringues for another day.  I therefore dutifully put the whites in a plastic container and put in the fridge so I could later make room for it in the freezer – I then promptly forgot to do this and ended up throwing away the whites! Silly me!

I whisked the yolks and caster sugar with a balloon whisk until pale.

Edited - whisked egg sugar

Before combining the vanilla milk with the egg/sugar mix, I sorted out the soaked raisins.  I took out around half and put them to one side.  I then used a hand blender to blitz the remaining raisins and rum together until it was a smooth purée. 

Edited - purée

I then took the vanilla cream mixture and poured it through a sieve into my egg/sugar mix.  I added a bit at a time and whisked thoroughly between each addition.  At the end, I made sure to push through as many vanilla seeds as possible – I mean come on, the more true vanilla flavour you can get the better!

Edited - combined

I added the combined mixture back into my pan and put it over a very low heat.  I stirred constantly, patiently waiting for the mixture to thicken.  Jamie’s says this should take about 15 minutes but it took me longer.  I had my pan on a very low heat and perhaps I could have turned it up slightly but I didn’t want to burn it.  When it was finally thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, I was happy it was done.

Edited - spoon

I poured the mixture in to a clean bowl and left it to cool – this took about a couple of hours.

Edited - cooling

Time to add the rum/raisin to my vanilla ice cream.  I poured in the purée and whole raisins into the cooled ice cream base and gave it a good stir. I then poured it all into my ice cream contained (a simple klick lock storage box).

Edited - in the container

I put the container into my freezer and set the time for 30 minutes.  According to the recipe you need to whisk the ice cream every 30 minutes for about 3 to 4 hours to help break up the ice crystals. The aim is to do this until the ice cream is nicely set. 

When I read Laura’s blog, she mentioned that she stopped stirring too soon and ended up with some ice crystals.  I therefore tried to preserver and when I had reached 4 hours and it still was set, I just kept going with my 30 minutes schedule. 

I got to 5 and a half hours and it still wasn’t set! It was also time for bed so I just left it for the night and hoped it would be okay in the morning.

So here it is…

Edited - frozen

It looked okay – except that the whole raisins had definitely all sunk to the bottom of the container!  It’s a nice treat for when you get to the bottom 🙂

Now, I don’t know about you but if I am going to have ice cream, it clearly has to be served with either hot chocolate fudge cake, a cone or perhaps best of all, cookies!  So I also made some chocolate chip cookies to sandwich together with the ice cream. 

Edited - cookie

Be sure to come back after the end of Challenge 52 when I will be sharing my foolproof recipe for these delicious cookies.

This was absolutely delicious! Dave tried a TINY bit and said “whoaa, you can taste the rum in that!”.  Well that’s what we want – rum, raisin and vanilla galore.  I’ve now got to be controlled and make sure I don’t eat the whole lot before my mum next comes to visit!

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 20 – maple syrup glazed ham! Hope to see you then. 


Challenge No. 17 – Profiteroles

This challenge was suggested by my friend Danny and it is a fond favourite of mine.  I’ve made profiteroles before so I thought I’d experiment with a new flavour to make it more of a challenge.  I decided to try passion fruit cream profiteroles with a homemade hot chocolate fudge sauce.

Danny and his girlfriend Kate joined me and Dave for dinner a couple of weeks ago where we enjoyed Kate’s suggestion of moussaka for Challenge No. 14.  I used this opportunity to also make the profiteroles for our pudding and so Kate and Danny got a full evening of My Gastro Adventure eating 🙂

I’ve used a couple of different recipes for this challenge; one for the profiteroles and one for the hot chocolate fudge sauce

I tweaked the cream filling to build in the passion fruit and so to make my version of the recipes you will need the following ingredients:-

  • For the choux pastry
    • 200ml/7fl oz cold water
    • 4 tsp caster sugar
    • 85g/3oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
    • 115g/4oz plain flour
    • pinch salt
    • 3 medium free-range eggs, beaten
  • For the cream filling
    • 600ml/1 pint double cream
    • 3 passion fruits
  • For the chocolate sauce
    • 340g/12oz granulated sugar
    • 85g/3oz brown sugar
    • 100g/3½oz cocoa powder
    • 30g/1oz plain flour
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 1 x 400g/14oz can evaporated milk
    • 250ml/9fl oz water
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Edited - ingredients

I started by making the choux pastry and pre-heated my oven to 200 degrees celsius with a roasting tray placed in the bottom.  I put the water, sugar and butter into my saucepan and heated it over a low heat until the butter was melting.

Edited - butter in pan

Whilst the wet ingredients were warming through, I prepared the flour and salt.  I measured out the amount I needed and placed it onto a square of baking paper.  Doing this makes it easier to add the flour smoothly and quickly in one go. 

Edited - flour

Once the butter was melting, I turned the heat up and bought the mixture quickly to a boil.  Once boiling, I tipped in the flour/salt, removed the pan from the heat and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until it came away from the sides to form a heavy dough. 

Practical tip: make sure you bring the wet ingredients to a boil.  The first time I tried to make profiteroles, the recipe didn’t mention this and I just added the flour once the butter was melted.  I ended up with a very wet mixture which just would not work, no matter how much I beat it.  I looked back at a recipe I had previously used for eclairs (which are also made with choux pastry) and this clearly stated that the wet ingredients should be brought to a boil before the flour is added.  I have followed this bit of advice every time since and it always works 🙂

Edited - dough

Once my dough formed, I put it in a bowl and left it to cool for 15 minutes.  I waited until it was cool enough to touch and then beat in my eggs a little at a time, until I achieved the so called ‘dropping consistency’.  It needs to be runny enough so that it doesn’t clog up the piping bag but not so runny that it will just slip straight out the end.  Ideally, the dough should fall from a spoon when lightly shaken.  Mine was a little runny this time and I’m clearly still perfecting my assessment of the optimum ‘dropping’ point 🙂

Edited - eggs added

I lined two baking trays with baking parchment, using a bit of the choux mixture to stick the parchment to the tray.  I filled my piping bag and piped small balls (a bit randomly) onto my tray.  I then rubbed the top of each ball with a wet finger.

Edited - pipped

I put the trays in the oven and added the water to the roasting tray before shutting the door. I set the timer for 20 minutes and watched the little golden balls rise like the air filled wonders they are.  When the timer went off, I re-set it for another 7 minutes and when golden-brown, I took them out the oven.

I use a skewer to prick the base of each profiterole making a hole for the steam to be released.  I put them back on the baking trays with the holes facing upwards and popped the tray back into the now turned off oven for 5 minutes to dry out.

Edited - bottoms

I then got my flavouring ready.  I pushed the passion fruit filling through a sieve to leave just the juice.  I was amazed at how much juice you actually get out of this fruit.  They don’t seem that juicy when you eat them but there was absolutely loads!

Edited - juicing

I decided I didn’t want to fill the profiteroles too early as I thought the cream would make the pastry go soft.   So at this point I put the profiterole cases and the remaining ingredients to one side whilst our guests arrived and we enjoyed our Greek inspired dinner.

When we were all well fed and watered, I set out to finish this yummy dessert.  I whipped the cream with a balloon whisk until stiff – Kate helped with this as my arm started to ache and she was supper quick!  I then added the passion fruit juice and stirred it through until well combined.

I then put all the chocolate sauce ingredients (except the vanilla extract) into a big pan and popped this over a medium heat to bring slowly to the boil. 

Edited - sauce ingredients

Once it reached boiling point, I set the timer for 5 minutes and whilst the chocolate sauce finished cooking, I piped the passion fruit cream filling into the profiteroles.  I let the sauce cool slightly and then added the vanilla extract. 

Edited - filled profiteroles

Then we reached my favourite bit – time to tuck in! 

Edited - served up

We all agreed that the passion fruit cream profiteroles were delicious and the chocolate sauce was delicious however together they kind of battled each other for centre stage.  What would this adventure be without a little experimenting and I’m glad I tried the different flavour in the cream but it just didn’t quick work with the chocolate sauce. 

The passion fruit cream profiteroles would have been lovely on their own but for me, profiteroles just aren’t quite complete without a lovely hot chocolate sauce!!  Next time I’ll stick to simple vanilla cream profiteroles which this lovely rich sauce 🙂

The chocolate sauce recipe made a HUGE batch for just the four of us and I ended up with loads left over.  Before leaving, Danny suggested I turn the leftover sauce into brownies.  So the next day, I put some of the sauce into a small pot to put to one side and then added some flour (about 65g) and 3 eggs to the rest.  I mixed it up and poured it into a lined tin.  I popped it into the oven for about 15 minutes at 180 degrees celsius.  This definitely was not long enough as it was still wobbly! I left it in the oven for a while longer (I lost track of how much longer) and when it was firm and a skewer came out clean, I took it out the oven.  After 5 minutes cooling in the tin, I turned it out onto a cooking rack.  I’ll be honest, this didn’t really work as a brownie but what I had created was possibly one of the best chocolate fudge cakes I’ve eaten! Warmed in the microwave and served with the reserved chocolate sauce – absolute HEAVEN! 🙂

Edited - fudge cake

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 18 – Philly cheese steak.