Challenge No. 16 – Cornish Pasty

This challenge was suggested by one of my good friends from University.  My friend Laura is by all accounts a vegetarian, cake lover (amongst many other wonderful things) and I hadn’t registered that one of her suggestions was not only not cake, but a meat filled pastry! It took me by surprise when I realised what Laura had asked me to make.  So thanks for the suggestion Laura and I’m sorry you can’t get to try this one 🙂

This dish is said to be an important part of the Cornwall county culinary history.  The first references to cornish pasties appeared in the 13th century and during the 18th/19th century, it was a staple part of the diet of working men in Cornwall.  The wonderful thing about a Cornish pasty; it contains a meal within its golden crust.  When handled by miners/farmers, the thick crust could be held with dirty fingers and thrown away at the end. Today, it is enjoyed by many people (not just the miners/farmers) and we don’t throw the crust away – I mean come on, its one of the best bits!

I did a quick search and found a recipe by one of my favourites, Paul Hollywood.  You can find the recipe here.

For this recipe you will need:-

  • For the pastry
    • 500g/1lb 1oz strong bread flour
    • 120g/4oz vegetable shortening or suet
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 25g/1oz margarine or butter
    • 175ml/6fl oz cold water
    • 1 free-range egg, beaten with a little salt (for glazing)
  • For the filling
    • 350g/12oz good-quality beef skirt, rump steak or braising steak
    • 350g/12oz waxy potatoes
    • 200g/7oz swede
    • 175g/6oz onions
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • knob of butter or margarine

Edited - test

I started by putting all the pastry ingredients (except the egg) into my bowl and used a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients.  I then used my hands to crush everything together to form a dough.  It didn’t really form into a ball very well (it was so dry) but I tipped it out onto the worktop and started kneading to bring it together properly. 

Edited - dry ingredients

Oh my gosh, this was such hard work! I watched the video included on the recipe link and Paul Hollywood makes it look so easy.  I however was literally have to put my full body weight into the kneading and it was a real work out.  Dave even had a little go but he didn’t quite get the technique right and was just kind of squashing the dough.  Anyway, after I took over again and gave the dough a last few bits of vigorous kneading, I had my smooth and glossy ball. 

Edited- dough ball

Practical tip: develop your own method of kneading.  This may sound silly but when I first starting making bread, I tried to replicate other people’s kneading styles.  Unfortunately, I have bad joints, particularly bad in my hands and I found it painful to use some of the methods I’d seen on TV.  Instead I found I rolled and stretched the dough between my two hands, using more of the heel of my hand than my fingers.  It takes a little longer for me to knead like this but I always get there in the end and it is less painful 🙂 So find a method that works for you and just go with that.

With the kneading done, I wrapped the dough in cling film and popped it into the fridge for 60 minutes. 

I then got started on the filling ingredients. I chopped the potato, swede and onion into what I thought were reasonable sized cubes.  I knew Dave was going to be a bit funny about eating this dish (he likes Cornish pasties but he hates chunky vegetables) and to try and keep him happy, I asked him to ‘approve’ the size on my cubed vegetables. He said they looked too big and was concerned they wouldn’t cook properly.  I re-read the recipe and sure enough, I’d cut them to about double the size suggested.  So I re-chopped to make them smaller.

I cut my braising steak to similar size cubes and put all the ingredients into a bowl, mixed and seasoned with salt and pepper. 

 Edited - vegEdited - beef

I divided my dough into 4 pieces and took the first piece to roll into a disc of approximately 25 cm.

Practical tip: in case you missed Challenge No. 11, when rolling out pastry (or fondant, or pretty much anything you want to roll), always roll from the middle up and middle down.  If you roll from top to bottom you’ll end up with a really fat bottom, whereas rolling from the middle helps to keep an even thickness all the way through.

Edited - rolled out

I then spooned a quarter of the seasoned mixture onto one half of my pastry circle.  The recipe says to add a knob of butter/margarine before folding over the pastry but I accidentally missed this bit.  Paul doesn’t add any butter/margarine in the video so I decided it wasn’t a problem that I missed this stage. 

Edited - filling

Next, I set about crimping; I used my fingers to make twists all the way along the round edge.  I put the pasty on my lined tin and made the remaining three pasties.  I put one more on the baking tray and then wrapped the remaining two in baking paper and cling film before putting them in the freezer for another day.  I’ve read mixed reviews about freezing cornish pasties before cooking them, so I’ll give a little update in the future to let you know if it worked 🙂

Edited - crimped

With two pasties in the freezer, I brushed the remaining two with the egg and salt mixture before putting them in the oven for 45 minutes.

When the timer went off, Dave and I tucked into these glorious looking little (okay huge!) parcels of goodness. 

Edited - golden brown Edited - centre

We both really enjoyed them, strangely Dave a little more so than me.  I have to admit the first few mouthfuls left me a little disappointed but the flavour soon developed and I started to appreciate it more.  To improve it, I think it could have done with more seasoning – I was probably a little too cautious with this.  Also, I thought it was a little dry in the middle and I wonder whether putting the knob of butter in with the filling would have helped with this. 

Whilst the filling definitely had room for improvement, Dave and I thought the pastry itself was great and overall it was a very tasty dinner.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 17 – passion fruit cream profiteroles and hot chocolate fudge sauce 

Challenge No. 15 – Simnel Cake

Can you believe Easter has been and gone already! I don’t know where 2015 is going but it sure is flying past.  This recipe was suggested by my mum and I remember thinking I’ll make it for Easter and how far away that seemed!

I’d never heard of simnel cake before and I had to look up what it was.  For those of you who share my lack of knowledge it is basically a fruit cake with marzipan cooked into the middle. It then has a circle of marzipan placed on top, traditionally decorated with 11 balls of marzipan to represent the 11 disciples (excluding Judas).

Once I had found out what a simnel cake was, I asked my mum whether she wanted me to make the marzipan from scratch and the response was “well if you’re going to do this blog properly, then yes”.  Thanks for the challenge mum! I had a bit of warning for this dish and so I decided to give the marzipan aspect a trial run by making it for my Christmas cake last year.  I realised it is actually not very difficult and the fear for this challenge was eased slightly.

A few weeks ago I started looking for a recipe and found this one by The Hairy Bikers.

For the recipe, you will need the following:-

  • For the marzipan decoration
    • 225g/8oz icing sugar, plus at least 3 tbsp for rolling
    • 175g/6oz caster sugar
    • 350g/12oz ground almonds
    • 2 large free-range eggs
    • ½ tsp almond extract
    • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 2 tbsp apricot jam
  • For the fruit cake
    • 1 well-scrubbed orange, freshly squeezed juice and finely grated zest
    • 1 unwaxed lemon, freshly squeezed juice and finely grated zest
    • 500g/1lb 2oz mixed dried fruit
    • 100g/3½oz glacé cherries, halved
    • 225g/8oz self-raising flour
    • 2 tsp ground mixed spice
    • 3 large free-range eggs
    • 175g/6oz butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
    • 175g/6oz light muscovado sugar

Edited - ingredients

I started out on Good Friday morning with the marzipan.  I sifted the icing sugar into my bowl and stirred in the caster sugar and almonds. Next, I beat the eggs in a small jug and added the lemon juice and almond extract. 

Edited - dry ingredientsEdited - egg,lemon,extract

Practical tip: when juicing a lemon (or orange), pop it in the microwave for around 30 seconds to warm it slightly.  The fruit will release more juice if it has been heated.

I was visiting my parent’s for Easter and was back baking in their kitchen.  To avoid a repeat of the problem with the pictures in Challenge No. 13, this time, I took my own plastic bowl with me.  However, when I came to measure my 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract, I noticed my mum’s measuring spoons only refer to the millilitre measurement; mine at home helpfully have this and a guide as to what is a quarter, half and full teaspoon etc.  I therefore had to ask mum which one I should use for the teaspoon (5ml for those wondering) and instead of using the half measure as instructed by the recipe, I accidently put the full teaspoon in! I love almond and considering that marzipan is almond flavoured, I decided it would only improve the taste and it did 🙂

I then added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combined until I had a paste. 

I dusted the worktop surface and tipped the marzipan out to knead by hand until smooth.  The marzipan kept sticking to the worktop but I persevered and eventually had a smooth(ish) ball which I popped back into the bowl and covered with cling film to rest for 2 hours.

Edited - pre kneadingEdited - kneaded marzipan

After about an hour, I got started on the next bit of the recipe.  I zested the orange and lemon into a small pot, put this to one side and then juiced the fruits into a saucepan.  I added the dried fruit and my halved cherries to the pan and I turned the hob on.

Edited - fruit in the pan

The recipe says to simmer over a medium heat until the liquid disappears.  Now, I couldn’t actually see the liquid with the fruit in the pan but I just made a small gap by pushing the fruit to one side and soon enough the liquid started to bubble.  Then within a couple of minutes it was gone! I tipped out the fruit onto a plate and left it to cool.

Edited - fruit

Next up, I buttered and double lined the base of my cake with baking parchment. This was something I had to do for the first time when I made my Christmas cake last year – for my sponges, I normally just butter and flour my tin.  If you’ve not double lined a tin yourself, I found a really useful guide here which I think explains it perfectly.  I didn’t follow this exactly for my simnel cake but I used the techniques I had learnt last year.

Edited - lined tin

With the tin and fruit ready, the recipe instructs to mix the flour and mixed spice in a large bowl.  I don’t know why it calls for a “large bowl” as you then add it to another bowl later on.  So I just put the ingredients into a jug.  I whisked the eggs in a dish with a fork and then set out softening my butter in the bowl.  I used a handheld electric mixer to do this and then added the sugar, beating the two together until light and fluffy. 

I then beat in the eggs a little at a time and included a teaspoon of the flour with each addition to stop the mixture curdling.  Once all the eggs were incorporated, I added half the flour/spice and mixed it with a spatula – I didn’t use the electric mixer because it is quite vigorous and I prefer a more gentle approach.   I then added the second half of the flour/spice and continued to mix until it was well combined.

Edited - sponge

Finally, I stirred in the fruit and zest and added half the mixture to my lined tin. 

Edited - adding zestEdited - half mix

Time to roll out the rested marzipan.  I got the ball and split it into 3 equal parts.  I measured them to make sure they were equal and ended up with quite a bit leftover, especially from the last bit which was used for the ball toppings.  To avoid this, I would recommend measuring one part out to be 220g (which will give you 11 balls of 20g for the topping) and then dividing the left over marzipan equally into two.

Edited - ready to roll

I put out a big bit of baking paper and covered it with icing sugar.  I then started rolling out one of the marzipan balls.  The paper kept moving and I ended up using bags of flour, sugar etc to weigh down each corner of the paper – this worked well 🙂 

With my marzipan rolled out, I used the cake tin to imprint a slight circle and used a knife to cut out a circle slightly larger.  I then used a rolling pin to pick up the round and put it in my tin.  This didn’t really work and the circle broke but I just squished it back together again, making sure it reached all sides of the tin. 

Edited - marzipan middle

I then covered the marzipan with the remaining mixture and popped the tin in the oven, setting the timer for 1 hour.  When the hour was up, I reset the timer for 10 minutes.  Then without taking the cake out of the oven, I covered the top with a bit of foil to stop it catching.  After a final 5 minutes, I used a tester to make sure the cake was done.  I then let it cool on the side for around 15 minutes.

Edited - cooked

Once the 15 minutes were up, I released the cake from the tin and took off the lining.  I then went and did some retail therapy for a couple of hours whilst the cake cooled completely on the wire rack. 

When I got back, I put the cake on the grill pan and started heating some homemade apricot jam on the hob (see here for a homemade jam recipe).  Next, I rolled out my second ball of marzipan and used the clean cake tin base to measure the right size.

I brushed the top of my cake with the jam and put the marzipan on top (it stayed in one piece this time!).  I then fluted the edges and scored the criss-cross pattern.

Edited - round on top

Practical tip: take a small amount of the discarded marzipan and roll it into a small circle to practice your pattern before scoring it onto the circle on the cake.

I made my 11 balls which all weighed 20g and I positioned them on top of my cake tin base to get an idea of the approximate positions to fit all 11 onto the cake.  I put a blob of jam onto the bottom of each ball and placed them onto the cake.  I still got the positioning slightly wrong and ended up with 10 in a circle and the eleventh sat nicely in the middle 🙂 

 Edited - balls in placeEdited - topped

With all the balls in place, I put the cake under the grill to brown the marzipan.  I stood and watched the oven like a hawk because I thought it would catch really quickly.  I was right! Once the marzipan had started to brown, I quickly took the cake out the oven and left it to cool before applying the yellow ribbon.

Edited - finished cake Edited - finished tope

The cake was then taken down to Surrey on Saturday to enjoy with my extended family at a long-overdue catch up.

The verdict – DELICIOUS!  The cake was very light for a fruit cake but packed full of flavour.  As for the marzipan, perfect almond flavour and a beautiful texture.

Edited - slice

Overall, this cake was a huge success and all the family loved it.  This is especially true of my mum and uncle who are huge marzipan fans.  I actually thought there was going to be a fight over the last few slices. 

There you have it then; my first ever attempt at simnel cake went well.  I’m actually craving some as I write this up and I am a little sad that I left the final slice with my mum to enjoy.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 16 – cornish pasty. 


Challenge No. 13 – Candy Floss Cupcakes

See that lovely drawing at the top of the page, the one of the blonde girl holding the cupcake? Well, that was designed by my amazing friend Nic and is his representation of me 🙂 This next recipe was suggested by Nic who, as you can tell, is very creative.  If you want to see some of his other incredible work, check out his Facebook page here. Unsurprisingly, Nic’s creative mind didn’t just suggest any old regular cupcake, nope, he suggested a candy floss cupcake!

I did a quick Google search and found lots of inspiration.  One of my favourites was Harry Potter themed from bakingdom. Nic is a huge Harry Potter fan and so when I found this blog, I thought the idea was just perfect.  Whilst all the websites I found included a recipe, I decided to use my own cupcake recipe and just adapted it in line with what I had read for incorporating candy floss. 

So, to make my version of the candy floss cupcakes, you will need the following:-

  • For the cake
    • 175g softened butter/margarine
    • 175g sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 175g self raising flour
    • 3 eggs
    • A drop of vanilla essence
    • 250g candy floss
  • For the topping
    • 550g icing sugar
    • 275g softened butter
    • Milk
    • A few drops of pink food colouring
    • A few drops of green food colouring
    • 250g cotton candy
    • 2 tsp of cream
    • Popping candy (I used chocolate covered because that’s all I could find)

This recipe makes 18 cupcakes. 

Edited - ingredients

First things first, I turned the oven on and gave it plenty of time to reach the required temperature, 180 degrees celsius. 

I started the cake mix by beating my softened butter with a fork until it was light and fluffy.  I then added the caster sugar and continued to beat until completely incorporated. 

 Edited - fluffy butter Edited - sugar and butter

P.S. I made these at my mum’s and she only had an orange mixing bowl which isn’t great for photo’s!  So please excuse the orange tinge on some of the photographs in this post!

Anyway, next up I combined my flour and baking powder in a jug and set this to one side.  I added my eggs one at a time to the butter/sugar mix.

Practical tip: each time you add an egg, put in about 1tsp of the flour and then mix together.  The flour helps to stop the mixture curdling.  

Edited - egg adding

Once all the eggs were added, I sifted in the flour and baking powder and mixed until well combined.  I then added a few drops of vanilla extract and gave it another stir. 

Time for the fun bit.  I took my candy floss and tried to break it up a bit with my fingers.  This was very messy as it kept sticking to me but it definitely helped get a nice even spread throughout the cupcake mix.  Once it was broken up, I stirred it into the cupcake batter. 

Edited - candyfloss Edited - batter and candy floss

I then put about 1 and a half teaspoons of mixture into each cupcake case.  Now, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and when I make cupcakes, I take things one step further and weigh each filled case to make sure they are equal.  As said above, I made these cupcakes at my mum’s house and it turns out her scales aren’t quite as accurate as mine, however, each cupcake case was either 35g or 40g with the mix in. It may seem like a bit of an OCD step but it helps get perfectly even sized and baked cakes 🙂

Edited - cupcakes oven ready

With the cakes (just about) equal size, I put them in the oven and set the time for 10 minutes.  When the timer went off, I rotated the trays to help make sure they had an even bake and popped them back in for another 8 minutes.  I then checked the cakes to see if they were done. 

Practical tip: in case you missed Challenge No. 5, 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!

Edited - fresh out the oven

I let the cakes cool on the tray for a few minutes and then transferred them to a cooling rack.  

Edited - coolingThis is where my night changed plans, I had a yummy takeaway Chinese and a few glasses of wine with Dave and my parents.  I then went out to visit some friends for the evening and somehow ended up consuming quite a lot of vodka (I blame my friend Kev!).  Suffice to say, I was a little worse for wear on the Saturday morning.  However, after a trip to see some 12 day old lambs at a local farm and a quick nap, I was (just about!) ready to finish decorating my cakes.

I started by whisking the butter (using a handheld electric whisk) until nice and smooth.  Don’t rush this step – it is one of the most important stages to get the right consistency to be able to pipe your buttercream.  I always try to whisk the butter for a good 5 minutes. 

With the butter whisked, it was time to start adding the icing sugar.  I added a bit at a time, covered the bowl with a clean tea towel and then whisked until combined. I continued adding a bit at a time until all the icing sugar was incorporated.  As I got towards the end, I added a little milk to keep the buttercream from being too stiff. I then split the buttercream between 2 bowls.

In my slightly hungover state, I forgot to take any pictures of the above stages! I realised on the next bit and got the camera back out again.

Next up, I tried to combine the leftover candy floss with the cream.  This is done so it can be added to the buttercream without making the buttercream lumpy.  I however did this wrong 😦 I’d read that you should melt the candy floss with the cream but I didn’t read any more than this.  When I read the word ‘melt’ I instantly thought of heat.  So I put my cream into a small saucepan over a low heat and added the candy floss.  All than happened is that it started to caramelise and went horribly sticky and extra lumpy! I decided to throw it away and leave the candy floss out of the buttercream.

Edited - candyfloss cream

😦 It just didn’t work!

I was making the buttercream at about 2.30pm and that night, when lying in bed at about 1.30am it dawned on me, I didn’t need the heat! The cream alone would ‘melt’ the candy floss and then the liquid could be added to the buttercream.  Lesson learnt for next time and for any of you who may read this and want to give it a go.

Anyway, having given up on the candy floss flavouring, I added a few drops of pink food colouring to one half of the buttercream and gave it a mix with a wooden spoon.  I then took the cupcakes which were in the green cases and used the back of a teaspoon to add a small covering of the buttercream.  I got a handful of the chocolate covered popping candy and sprinkled it on top of the cupcakes. 

Edited - popping candy

I then put the remaining pink buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a wilton 2D nozzle and piped swirls onto the top of each one.

My brother wanted to help with the piping.  I let him do one and he actually did quite a good job! :)

My brother wanted to help with the piping. I let him do one and he actually did quite a good job! 🙂

Practical tip: if you missed Challenge No. 7 – when spooning mixture into a piping bag, I always find it easier to put the bag into a tall glass and turn the top down.

Edited - piping glass

I then added the green food colouring to the other half of the buttercream and repeated the above steps with the cupcakes in the pink cases.

The final stage was an extra special touch, inspired by the bakingdom blog.  I had created Honeydukes signs using cake-pop sticks, wrapped in purple ribbon and cling film and topped with homemade signs.  It was a little time consuming but the finished product for my Harry Potter loving friend was well worth it.

Edited - cupcakes finished

These cupcakes were a success with all who tried them.  The popping candy could have been a bit more ‘poppy’ and I was disappointed I messed up the cotton candy for the buttercream but overall I was happy with this bake.  The candy floss added a nice speckled effect to the cakes and they tasted yummy.

Edited - inside cupcakeComing up next week, Challenge No. 14 – moussaka.