Month: October 2012

15 Lessons I learnt at Leiths Cookery School.

I’m never happier than when I’m baking!

Earlier in the summer I was lucky enough to go on one of Leiths Cookery school’s ‘Cakes and Baking workshops.

Now, I bake a lot. I mean A LOT! So I thought I knew quite a lot of stuff about baking, but boy was I wrong.  I learnt that there are so many little things you can do to make every baking experience even more successful. So without further ado, or waffling – if I can help it- here are some of the tips I learnt.

 1.Use the right tin.

If it says grease and line an 8” tin- do exactly that! I always used to make that up as I went along and make do, but Sue the demonstrator showed how using the right cake tin makes all the difference. Your cake will rise evenly and more importantly bake more flatly. Use a tin too small and your cake won’t bake. Use a tin too big and you’ll end up with a biscuit! It’s also important to prepare the tin before you start to mix up the ingredients as the longer you wait once the cake mix is ready, the more air you will lose and the cake won’t rise as well.

Leiths demonstration kitchen (obviously this is not Sue!)

2. Avoid loose bottom tins. 

The best tins to use are heavy bottomed ones. I use Mermaid tins and Lakeland’s ‘My Kitchen’ range of heavy based tins and they seem to work really well for me. I’m also in the process of testing some others out, but more on that in another post!

3. Always line the bottom of the cake tin. 

Get the paper (which should be silicon as it’s less sticky) to fit as closely as possible. Don’t let the paper from the bottom of the tin go up the  sides as this will change the shape of the top of the cake. Also, if the paper’s not covering the whole base of the tin the cake is likely to stick and be difficult to get it out after baking.

Individual squares of silicon paper were used for the Blueberry and lemon Friands we made

4. Use oil to grease your cake tin

I’ve always used butter or cake release to ‘grease’ my cake tins. It never occurred to me to use oil. Sue explained that using butter will nearly always form a crust on the outside edge of the cake.  I have been using a non flavoured oil (vegetable oil or sunflower oil – not olive oil) since the workshop and it has made such a difference. My cakes are now soft and spongy all over.

5. Bake at 180ºC

Practically all cakes need to be baked at 180ºC in the centre of the oven. I always worried about larger cakes burning or not baking in the centre but they too work best at 180°. I also always used the fan option with my oven. If you do this you need to lower the temperature by 10-20°C. Since the workshop I have opted not to use the fan  at all and the results are amazing. Goodbye fan hello better cakes. My cakes now bake much, much flatter and more level. There’s hardly any doming.

6. Check your oven temperature

I have a relatively new oven and even that doesn’t keep to a constant temperature or it doesn’t reach the temperature that I set it to. This is where an oven thermometer is essential. Pop one in the oven as soon as you turn it on to make sure you are ready to bake as soon as the mix is in the tins. I use this one from Amazon TALA OVEN THERMOMETER TALA 0/6

7. Don’t use a food processor

To make a cake rise most rely on air being beaten into the cake mix. The air then expands when it’s heated in the oven. For this reason a food processor isn’t the best mixing tool as it will bash all the air out when you mix with a blade resulting in a less fluffy cake. I always use my Kitchenaid stand mixer to blend ingredients and it works brilliantly.

8.Get the temperature right

Have your ingredients at room temperature for at least a few hours (preferably overnight)  before you make the cake. The most important elements are butter and eggs. Avoid putting butter in the microwave to soften it up as it won’t do so evenly and it affects the way the cake will bake. Instead leave it near a warm radiator for a while.

Everything was weighed out for us before we started.

9.The right way to mix

I didn’t know there was a wrong and a right way to mix a cake but apparently there is! We should start by mixing the sugar and butter together till they are light and fluffy (this is the creaming method). Then to add the eggs, first crack them into a jug and break them up a bit with a fork, then add them to the butter and eggs a tiny bit at a time. Then whisk, and whisk some more and then whisk some more until it is all really well blended. Then add a tablespoon more egg and continue with the mammoth whisking. I never did this before. I just added a spoonful of flour if it started to curdle, but this is the best way to avoid curdling. Then you can add the rest of the dry ingredients and fold it in.

There were plenty of pieces of equipment to go around

10.Always sieve

Until the workshop I always skipped sieving but it definitely helps to ensure everything will blend to a really smooth texture. I now sieve all dry ingredients, so if there are any larger sugar crystals (which there always are) I can get rid of them. Also when it comes to cocoa powder – which naturally seems to clump together, it means that you don’t end up with any lumps of powdery cocoa in your cake

11.The best way to fold….

is to use a large metal spoon and move it in a figure of eight, turning your bowl after each ‘8’. Don’t over fold, just keep going until all the flour is well blended. Now don’t do what I do and bang the spoon on the side of the bowl as every time you do that you are knocking more air out of the mixture.

12.Use a spoon to fill cake tins

I gloop cake mix directly from the mixing bowl into the cake tins, but for a really even cake Sue suggests weighing the ingredients into each tin so you have a really even cake. (Sorry Sue, but life is just too short for that!) What I did learn from watching her fill a cake tin is that if you use the back of a regular metal dessert spoon to smooth the mix right up to the sides of the tin the mix doesn’t stick to the spoon and it gives you more control than I have had in the past using a silicon spatula.

Leiths kitchen

13.Don’t open the oven door….yet!

Once your cake has been placed in the centre of the oven don’t open the door for the first 10 minutes. The cold air that rushes in will cause it to sink. If your cake rises to a peak the oven was too hot.

14. Test when your cake is done…

by using a metal skewer. If it comes out dry it’s ready. If it’s a little wet give it a few more minutes. Other ways to check are by lightly pressing your finger near the centre of the cake. If it springs back instantly it’s ready. Lastly the cake will start to come away from the edge of the cake tin when it’s baked to perfection.

15. How to remove the cake from the tin.

After 10 minutes of cooling on a wire rack Sue showed us how to take a regular kitchen knife and place it down the side of the cake tin  and move it up and down moving around the cake tin to release any cake that is stuck to the tin. If you just drag the knife between the cake and the tin all the way around you are likely to break the cake edges.  Place your hand over the cake then flip it over and out of the tin. Remove the silicon paper from the bottom of the cake and place it bottom down on a cooling rack until it’s completely cool.  Make sure that the cake is cold before you start adding icing or cream.


So that’s it. The top tips I learnt at the Leiths cookery school. Check out their website if you fancy doing one of their workshops. Most of the people on the course with me had been given it as a gift. What a great idea.

Do you have any great baking tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.


Coconut macaroons…the search begins

 On Saturday, Beau and I dashed into Bromley to do a few odd jobs- as you do at the weekend. Because it’s getting nearer to Christmas the regular market was much longer than usual, extending all the way up the High street rather than just in the middle of the pedestrian area. There were lots of new trinkets, bags and hat stalls as well as farmer’s and bakery stalls complete with artisan breads,  full roasted hog and luxury coffees and teas. But the stall that caught Beau’s eye was the coconut macaroon stand.

Little domes of happiness 

The stall itself was really understated. There was a table at the front with a huge bowl of white mixture sitting to one side, complete with ice cream scoop. At the back was an oven with around 6-8 trays of little white domes, happily baking away. The sign read

“Coconut Macaroons. 

Made with fresh coconut and coconut milk

1 x £1, 3 x £2.50”

As we walked by Beau started with the pester power. “Please, Mama. Can I have one!!! Please? Please? Please” Now, I’m not a huge fan of coconut and I was pretty sure that Beau didn’t like it either, but even I couldn’t resist the gorgeous smell that was wafting around the high street.

The stall holder literally scooped up the mixture with the ice cream scoop and dolloped it onto the baking tray resulting in perfect little domes. He must have had around 20 on each tray. We had to wait for the macaroons to finish baking and turn into golden mounds. By the time they came out of the oven there was a small crowd phenomenon*. We bought just one to share as I thought they were quite big and I really didn’t expect us to like it.

Beau took the bag with the piping hot macaroon and we couldn’t wait to try it. It was delicious. By this time we had to bomb it back to the car before our parking meter ran out. We hadn’t reached the end of the high street before we had broken it open and devoured most of it. Neither of us could leave it alone! Beau put half back in the bag for later and so we could try it when it was cold. We both regretted not buying 3!  I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about them – you know- the way you do with REALLY good food.

I’ve never seen coconut macaroons before. Have you? And do you have a recipe for them? I’d love to give them a go!

*A ‘small crowd phenomenon’ is from ‘The book of Ultimate Truths, by Robert Rankin’ which Tim and I both read when we were on a Kibbutz in Israel during our gap year. In the book whenever the main character waited in line for anything he would turn around and there would be this small crowd of people behind him too, from out of nowhere, all ready to start queuing with him. I seem to encounter small crown phenomenons all the time. Luckily they seem to happen behind me!


The Ultimate Bakers Christmas Gift List… It’s never too early to get ahead!

Ikea know how to wrap a Christmas present.

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? I know its only October but it’s in the shops already and there seems to have been a bit of a shopping buzz in Bromley town centre for the last couple of weekends.

I am currently in the midst of Christmas BIG TIME – being the good little Jewish girl that I am! I am just about to start doing my fourth Christmas shoot (the (fake)snow is quite literally piled up in my hallway as I type!) and I’ve already completed two Christmas features,  a Christmas gift guide, a Christmas product launch and a Christmas look book. And all that started in March!

Compiling a gift guide really get’s you thinking. Although my grown up job is all about interiors and I have been surrounded by press releases full of beautiful cushions, candles, tea light holders and anything antler related since June, I am finding myself getting more and more into my baking gifts, so I thought I would share my round up of the best baking gifts around, or in other words, what to by a foodie.

What makes a good baker’s gift

Every year my mother-in-law always asks us what we want for Christmas. Thirteen years ago I said I would really like some Mermaid baking tins. Now, this was way before my blog, before kids and only just after Tim and I were married.

I don’t think that was the answer she was expecting. I think perfume/jewelry/clothing was the normal response. But that year I had just had a visit from the PR for Mermaid bakeware and I was hooked! Being told that the tins had outlasted many marriages (as they apparently used to be big on wedding lists back in the day) I had to have some. They were one of the best presents I have ever been given and they are still going strong to this day. It just goes to show. Practicality and quality wins the race.

So, what would be on my list now? Well, let’s just say that I can think of a load of things and nearly all of them baking related, but I thought I’d keep it to just 10 for now! I always think that a great gift is practical, pretty or something that you don’t really want to buy for yourself, but you know you’ll use it loads. So here is my bakers gift guide  -with a few stocking fillers for good measure.

The Bakers gift list

1. A gorgeous cake stand – Dotcomgiftshop

I could never do a gift list without some sort of cake stand could I? When I first saw this at the Dotcomgiftshop Spring Summer launch  I knew it had to be mine. Perfect for a Victoria sponge to take centre stage at any afternoon tea. It’s soooo pretty!

2. Everlasting Baking tins –  Amazon

I know what you’re thinking. If you already have them, why do you need more? Well it’s not for me! It’s for you!! And there are so many available that I will never have every single design. Mermaid’s baking sheets are second to none. I’ve got my eye on the pudding sleeve now!

3. Beautiful Jelly moulds

Tala have this way of making beautiful, 50’s inspired baking accessories and kits that are almost too good to use. These fluted Jelly moulds would sit perfectly on my kitchen window sill until it was time to make a fruit layered jelly for the girls or a divine chocolate mouse for me and Tim. If I put my grown up Interior Stylist’s head on I’d be using them as a vase too! I have a thing for pressed glass!

4. The must have Pie dishes

Everyone should have these two pie dishes. The Le Creuset pie dish is really beautiful and makes any tart, pie or flan perfect for an oven to table dinner party – christmas or not. It’s also available in lots of beautiful colours. I have the Cassis and can think of so many people I would buy this for.

Le Creuset pie dish

Jamie Oliver’s Big boy bowl is one of those safe for fridge/freezer/oven/microwave dishes. Tim and I were given one for Christmas by his brother about 7-8 years ago. It’s an ideal couples gift. I used it so many times, for so many dishes. I nearly always made my apple pie in it as it was the perfect depth. It really was one of my faves. That was until I dropped it recently! Have I mentioned that I am a really clumsy person?  Usually, I’m an ‘easy come, easy go’ sort of a girl. You know- I use our best stuff for everyday as I don’t want it sitting in the cupboard only to be brought out for special occasions. If things get broken at least I had enjoyed using them. But with this dish I was gutted! Don’t let the photo below fool you either. It’s big – 28cm in diameter.

Jamie Oliver big dog bowl

5. Bountiful Baking books- Amazon

Any baking or cookery book is going to be a winner with a foodie – Especially if it’s a new one but I’d really love a book on the Science of baking. I don’t really understand all the ins and outs of what gluten does to a cake, what difference it makes if the eggs aren’t at room temperature and all that jazz. If I knew more of the in-depth stuff I think I’d be an even better baker.

The Great British Bake off books (any of them. They’re all winners!)

My latest addiction!

This book has so many fantastic recipes in it. It’s become one of my favs
Just wait till this one is out on 25th October. I’ve been checking out a review copy and it’s really good!

Recently when I’m looking for inspiration or for something new to bake I go straight to ‘The Great British Bake Off’ books. They have tons and tons of recipes- some classic, some new and they always seem to turn out great, like anything you cook from a Jamie Oliver cook book. Simple to make, impressive to look at, delicious to eat!  The ‘How to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers’ is my latest fav. I find myself scouring the pages every Friday night, choosing what I want to make for the first time that weekend.

6. Off the scale TriScales by Joseph Joseph- Amazon

Once I started using digital scales I never went back. They make life so easy. You simply have to add ingredients to your bowl. Re-set the scales to zero. Add more ingredients then re-set it again. It really does take the hassle out of measuring and using a ton of bowls.  This new design by JosephJoseph is really clever as it folds up really neat and small and won’t fall out of your baking cupboard taking the flour and hundreds of those silver ball cake toppers with it every time you try and squeeze it back in the cupboard in between the plain flour and the bags of icing sugar. Or is it just me that that happens to?

7.In a bind with Sticky Tape – Dotcomgiftshop

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Sticky tape! A gift? And what’s that got to do with baking anyway? Well, bare with me. How many times have you gone to finish off a cake board with ribbon only to find that you have run out of glue or have forgotten to buy the ribbon in the first place? Well a box of these pretty sticky tapes is the answer to all those problems. Self sticking, easy to position, a choice of colours and designs as well as a great store cupboard item. Stocking filler anyone?

8. Mixing it up -Kenwood Hand Held mixer- Amazon

I may have nearly every baking gadget under the sun but since my hand held mixer went kaput a few years ago I have missed that super speedy tool. I know that they are notorious for not being up to the job – especially when you bake as often as we do, but I have my eye on this Kenwood kMix HM791 Metal Hand Mixer in a beautiful Raspberry Red colour

9.Perfectly protected with Oven Gloves and Aprons

It’s funny the things you get attached to. I always bake in my ‘Woman and Home’ apron as it reminds me of my time as Home Editor on the magazine and how much I learnt from sitting next to the food team. It’s also a really hard wearing, yet soft cotton that just washes and washes. But, if I were to add to my collection it would definitely be with this poodles design by Hope and Greenwood. Completely adorable.

10.The ultimate in Cake toppers  & Wraps- Talking Tables

Every time I walk into my local cake decorating shop the first thing I see are packs of Talking Table’s cup cake cases, cake wraps, cake toppers and cake stands hanging off the edge of the shelves. I love them all. Their Christmas ranges are so cute. The designs are great and would make a great addition to any bakers Christmas stocking. Then again, I styled some of their shoots so I am slightly, completely biased!


So, what have I left off?

What do you bakers want for Christmas?

Or do you just need to leave this post open for someone to ‘accidentally’ see?

I’d love to know. 


Apple Tarte Tatin and my epic disasters!

Sometimes you have days when things go wrong. Sometimes those days turn into weeks! I have just had one of those weeks. Nothing I have baked this week seems to have worked!

On Saturday night we had friends round for dinner. In my head I had everything perfectly planned. As always I was on dessert alert and Tim was doing the main meal cooking. My timings were all set (in my head at least) and I already had all the ingredients I needed as I had dashed into Waitrose on Friday to get Tomar (a non dairy butter that tastes great in pastry and is Parve so can be used in kosher desserts for after a meat dinner). My trip for a “few essential ingredients” turned into a £75 shop and we hadn’t even decided what were making for the main meal yet! Damn those great offers/magazines/early Channuka pressents!

Epic Fail No.1- The Banoffee pie

When it came to choosing deserts Beau really wanted Banofffee pie, which she helped me make.  Once it came out of the fridge and was cut into slices it was more goo than anything else and the base was as good as welded onto the pie dish. I won’t mention that I hadn’t whipped up enough cream to pipe over the bananas and it looked really, really sad. I had to serve it anyway. Banoffee goo!

Epic Fail No.2- The Tarte Tatin and Honeycomb ice cream

Tim suggested that I make this Tarte Tartin which I had made last month to take to my Mum’s for our family Rosh Hashanah meal. It went down really well then and he loves it. This time I managed to over bake the pastry but that didn’t seem to stop anyone enjoying it on the night. I also made Honeycomb ice cream to go with the tarte. I didn’t read my friends recipe instructions properly and started making it at 1pm. It was supposed to go in the freezer for at least 8 hours- preferably over night! There were kids coming for dinner and we weren’t expecting to eat that late! Oh well. I decided to go for it. In the end it came out after just 6 hours and was rock solid. Everyone had finished their desserts before it was soft enough to scoop and serve. I still managed to add a dollop to my guests now nearly empty plates. (It did taste good though).

Epic Fail No.3- Chocolate pudding

I really wanted to make Chocolate pots. You know those little individual chocolate puddings you get that when you cut into them they have delicious melted chocolate ooozing from inside? Well, I tried out the recipe from The first Great British Bake off book with my girls and my 4 year old nephew last Friday for the first time. Even with lots of little hands helping me and spilling most of the ingredients, I still had more success then, than I did this time.

Saturday nights chocolate pots were a complete last minute thing. I had to make sure that I was showered, the house clean and tidy, girls dressed and table laid before I even started to make them. Figuring that my guests would be a little late (because I always am) I started pulling ingredients out 10 minutes before they were due to arrive. That’s when I discovered that I only had self raising flour not plain flour as I needed! Oh well, what could go wrong? LOTS it would seem!

My guests arrived just as I was putting the cake mix into each of the holes of the muffin tin. I put the whole thing into the fridge ready for later. Time to pour the wine.

After our meal I put the muffin tin into the oven for 12 minutes. Once ready, I took them out and left them for a minute or two to set. I then got a chopping board and inverted the tin onto it, ready to see if they would release easily. They did. A bit too easily! Eight of the 12 cakes came splurging out all over the worktop. Hot molten chocolate everywhere! I then managed to drop the hot muffin tin into all the spilt cake goo! It was a mess. But a mess that smelt gorgeous. (Have I mentioned that we have a kitchen diner and everyone was watching me make a mess of it?) Serious EPIC FAIL! I just had to laugh. It was all going horribly wrong. I write a cake blog showing people how to make cakes! This is not supposed to happen to me!!!! Luckily I have great friends who know me well enough to know that this is just what happens with me when I do an “add on”. I could’t just leave it at two desserts and an ice cream. I had to ‘add on’ just one more!  Lesson well and truly learnt….. well for now anyway.

Needless to say that the Banoffee Goo, chocolate splats , over baked Tarte Tatin and rock solid ice cream were all tasted and good sounds of “Mmmmm” were to be heard over the dinner table. Even if it was from the nine year olds!

So onto the Tarte Tatin.

This tarte recipe is for a 20cm (8″) pie dish and will serve 8 people


For the pastry

  • 200g butter / Tomar / Cookeen- at room temperature
  • 320g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 4 tbsp cold water
  • 3tbsp caster sugar

For the filling

  • 450g cooking apples
  • 400g eating apples ( I used 4 small Gala)
  • 50g butter / Tomar
  • 4tbsp apricot jam
  • 25g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

How to make Tarte Tatin

To make the pastry add the butter to the flour and use your hands to mix them together until they resemble breadcrumbs. Then add the rest of the ingredients and mix until you have a dough. Avoid over kneading as this will create a tough textured pastry.  Once all the ingredients are bound together wrap it in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When the pasty is chilled heat your oven to 180ºC/ Gas 5.  Knead  and roll it out so that you have enough to fill your pie dish. It should be nice and thin.  When I made this one I pinched the top edge of the dish and then cut off the excess straight away, but it’s actually a better idea to leave the excess on until you have done the blind bake. That way the pastry is a little baked and won’t have shrunk down into the dish. It will sit flush with the top if you cut off the excess after the first bake with the ceramic beans.

To bake blind: Use a fork to make holes in the pastry case. Scrunch up a piece of baking paper (silicon paper is best and less prone to sticking) and place it over the pastry. Fill the dish with ceramic beans and then bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pie dish from the oven. Carefully take out the ceramic beans and silicon paper and bake for another 5 minutes until it turns golden but not brown. Place the pie dish on a cooling rack till the apple filling is ready.

To make the filling: Peel, core and cube the cooking apples and place them in a lidded frying pan with a knob of butter. Cover and cook them over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until they become soft. Then add the golden caster sugar and 2 tbsp of apricot jam and stir in well. Use a fork to mush the apples to a puree consistency. I like to leave a few bigger pieces in there.  Set aside to cool down.

Prepare the eating apples by coring them. You can peel them but I think the tarte looks so pretty with the skin showing. Also it cooks down so much that it will be nice and soft to eat.  Cut each apple into quarters then each quarter into three or four very thin slices.

Add the puree apple to the pastry case, covering the bottom, then arrange your apple slices on top. Finally brush the decorative apple slices with the lemon juice and pop it in the oven (again at 180ºC gas 6) for 20 minutes or until the apple slices start to brown up nicely.

To glaze the tarte tatin: Heat up the remaining 2 tbsp of apricot jam in the microwave (or in a saucepan) till it’s runny and brush over the top and serve. 

Et Voila! One epic non-disaster Tarte Tatin. Let’s hope this week brings me a lot more success!!!


Cookie cutter fun

With the half term school holidays coming up I thought now was a good a time as any to share with you my latest budget baking find! Wilkinson’s have a really great baking section with all sorts of spatulas, mixing bowls, icing bags with a choice of nozzles and this fab box of cookie cutters all at really low, low prices.

I’m a big believer in letting kids make a mess in the kitchen and especially when baking. My two certainly do that. Actually they make a mess everywhere in the house, every day but that’s another story! We decided that it was time to make their favorite Vanilla Cookies.

This box of 24 cutters doesn’t contain the usual shapes and designs you’d expect to find. It’s got a dog, bird, santa, butterfly, horse, fish, music note, rabbit and cat- to mention just a few! I thought I should explain what shapes they are as it’s hard to tell from the photo above once Darcey got her hands on the royal icing and sprinkles!

Once baked you can see how there are imprints on some of the cookies so that you can follow the lines for icing details on them. I have to admit that some of these cookie cutters have quite narrow parts, like dogs tails and legs, which are pretty tricky for little hands to cut out cookies without loosing a limb, especially once the dough had been rolled out a few times and was no longer cold. The up side to this is that that’s where mum’s get to step in and have a play too!

To say Beau and Darcey went a little OTT with the decoration is an understatement, but they loved making the cookies and liked eating them even more!


Now it’s your turn. I have an extra set of these cookie cutters to giveaway. All you have to do it leave a comment over on the Cakes, Bakes and Cookies Facebook page as to why you should be the winner of these cutters and icing set. The winner will be chosen on Friday 12th October 2012. Good luck bakers.


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