life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

Piping hot — Sunday, 26th February

Piping hot

Cupcakes with butter icing and chocolate lattice

This week’s baking challenge was Cupcakes from  Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes.  I went through a cupcake phase some time ago, when I made dozens of the little beauties so at first I wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of revisiting them.  But, looking on the bright side, I have recently enrolled on a cake decorating course and so far I’ve learnt how to cover a fruit cake with marzipan and fondant icing so that it’s smooth and shiny.

However, the bit I’ve been dreading is coming up – the piping bag.  I have a real phobia about it.  I have never managed to get the icing in the bag without it slopping down the sides and squelching through my fingers.  Once inside it never comes out how I want it and the icing tip nearly always pops out when I’m doing the trickiest bit.

Chocolate lattice
Chocolate lattice

I now had the perfect opportunity to get some practice in before my next class as rather than spreading the butter icing on the top of the cupcakes, I decided to put my fears behind me and pipe it on.  Not only that, I could go one step further and make chocolate lattices since I didn’t have any sprinkles for decoration.

For the lattices I melted 75g of plain chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water, left it to cool slightly then poured it into a plastic bag.  I snipped off the corner and drizzled the chocolate onto a non-stick baking sheet.  When it was cold I slipped it into the freezer for 20 minutes to set hard.   The whole process was repeated with the white chocolate.


Onto the buttercream icing which ended up rather thick and uneven and I found myself having to mix up an extra batch for the 6 chocolate topped cakes.

The delicate lattices peeled off the baking sheet quite easily, although I had to work quickly as they were melting from the heat of my hands.

Overall the cupcakes with their pretty topping tasted good, albeit the sponge was a little on the dense side.  I think this was due to me baking them on a lower heat for much longer than the recipe stated, as my Rayburn simply wasn’t in the mood for cooking.

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The appliance of science — Saturday, 18th February

The appliance of science

Austrian curd cheesecake
A delicious Austrian curd cheesecake

This week’s baking challenge is an Austrian Curd Cheesecake from  Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes (a similar recipe can be found HERE, although Mary’s version includes sultanas).

After looking enviously at all the other entries in the Orange Victoria Sandwich Weekly Bake Off, most of which showed beautifully flat and even sponges, I decided it was time to improve my cake making.  In the past I’ve not had much success in turning out a decent sponge so I searched on-line for an answer to why my sponges so often resemble ski slopes.  I came across a good explanation of how a cake bakes and from that I understood that the edge of the sponge starts to form a crust before the rising process has really had a chance to get under-way, therefore the centre which heats up last is softer and so rises higher.  That’s why you often get a teepee shape.  In my case the side next to the firebox receives more heat than the other side, which rises up into a steep slope.  There is nothing I can do about my ancient solid fuel Rayburn to circulate the heat more evenly but I did see a recommendation for something called “Bake-even cake strips”.  These strips are soaked in water and wrapped around the cake tins to try to keep the outside of the cake cooler for longer, in theory giving an even rise all over.  I researched these strips but found several reviews that weren’t terribly complimentary.

Baking tin wrapped
Baking tin wrapped in tin foil strip

However, anything was worth a try and I came across a way of producing my own strips.  Simply soak some kitchen towel in water and then sandwich in tinfoil.  These “foil bandages” can then be wrapped around the cake tin.  Determined not to take any chances this time, I also wrapped a tall collar of greaseproof paper around and secured it with string.

It wasn’t perfect but I did get a more even bake with only a very slightly uneven top.  Overall I was very pleased with the appearance but not sure that I can be bothered with all that messing about every time I bake a cake.

Goat's milk curd cheese
Goat's milk curd cheese

My special ingredient this week was homemade cheese.  Two days before baking my cake I made the curd cheese from my goat’s milk.  It’s so simple to make, very tangy and it blended beautifully into the cheesecake mix.

The finished product was light and delicately flavoured with lemon but I was a bit unhappy when it was pointed out to me that all the fruit had sunk to the bottom, despite following the instructions to the letter and letting the mix sit for 10 minutes to thicken up.

Never mind there’s always next week.

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The sheep spa — Wednesday, 15th February

The sheep spa

The large and lovely Geraldine

Last year, around this time I went out to the field to find Geraldine my oldest ewe laying flat on her back with her legs in the air.  She was about a month away from lambing.  The weather had been really rough, with snow up to our knees so we had been feeding extra rations of corn and hay to all the beasts.

We managed to roll her into the wheelbarrow and she made an undignified trip to the shed where I had prepared a pen for her with a deep bed of straw.  We managed to up-end the wheelbarrow and tip her out – she’s a big girl, about the size of a Shetland pony, and she lay splayed on the ground with her back legs sticking straight out behind her.

She couldn’t get to her feet and wriggled around on her belly.  I offered her food and drink and she ate a bit.

Geraldine with lambs
Geraldine with lambs

The vet arrived and diagnosed twin lamb syndrome, gave her an injection and left me with medication to tip down her throat at regular intervals.  I really thought we had lost her and the lambs as she couldn’t stand up for at least 2 weeks, but with care and me waiting on her hand and hoof, we eventually got her back on her feet and she gave birth to two healthy babies.

This year the weather isn’t nearly as bad but we’re not taking any chances, so at the weekend we bought some of the girls into the shed for a bit of pampering.  They are not due to lamb for at least a month but a few days in the health spa should set them up ready to go.  They have the finest in sheep cuisine served twice a day with an evening snack of hay, they will be checked all over and have their hooves trimmed and sprayed.

When this lot return to the field, we will bring the next batch inside for more of the same.

Geraldine in the spa
Geraldine in the spa

I should say that this in not the first time I’ve nursed Geraldine back from the brink.  A couple of years ago she escaped from the field and fell into a drainage ditch, almost invisible from the top, we didn’t find her for about 24 hours.  Then we had to heave her out with a rope and transport her to the shed on the loader of a tractor.  We laid her on the straw and hung a heat lamp above to warm her up.  She was off her feet for a couple of weeks that time as well.

Then there was the time she developed a huge abscess on her jaw……..

Milking it — Sunday, 12th February

Milking it

Apple and almond desert cake
Apple and almond dessert cake with goat cream

We were out of cake so I had to make a few American style pancakes to keep us going until this week’s recipe for the baking challenge was announced.  It was an apple and almond dessert cake from the book Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes (similar recipe HERE) as a tribute to Bramley apple week 5-12 Feb 2012.

I didn’t have any Bramleys so instead I used Gala.  I was also completely out of flaked almonds but I found I few nuts in shells leftover from Christmas two years ago and persuaded Himself to break out the nutcrackers.  I was left with almonds in a brown wrinkly skin, not a good look, so turned to the internet for advice.  I discovered that I should cover them in boiling water and leave for a few minutes.  The skins came off easy as anything with a little rubbing.

Little Lily
Little Lily, my maiden milker

With the cake baking in the oven, it was time for my own personal twist.  I set off outside to milk the goats, armed with the apple cores as a little treat, and returned with a pail full of lovely creamy milk which I poured straight through my cream separator and hey presto, gorgeous goat cream.

By the time I’d finished preparing our lunch, everything was ready.  We had a lovely chunk of warm apple and almond cake with a fresher than fresh dollop of silky goat cream.  Perfect.

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My baking challenge — Saturday, 4th February

My baking challenge

Lemon marmalade on toast
Home made lemon marmalade on toast

Living in a rural environment I don’t get to see many people on a daily basis, the post person is probably the only regular visitor.  We don’t tend to get out much so most of my contact with the outside world is through TV or my laptop.

I would love it if we had a local baking group but if such a thing exists I’ve not heard of it and even if there were one, I doubt I’d go, too much to do here.

So, when I came across an online weekly bake-off I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to take part.  Every week I bake a different cake for us.  I do try to challenge myself and try never to repeat a recipe.  This was perfect, I wouldn’t have to choose, it would be done for me.

The other proviso as far as I’m concerned is that as far as possible all my baking contains something that we have produced here on the smallholding.  Eggs usually fulfil that criteria and I often have a choice between chicken, duck or goose.

The bake-off uses recipes from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes and one is chosen at random on Monday by the organiser.  The item must be baked and the photo submitted for judging by Sunday.  I didn’t own the book but found it for sale on Amazon at a relatively modest sum.  However,  just a few days ago I was experimenting with Kindle for PC and decided instead to download it.  I use my laptop to find most of my recipes, even if they are in books sat on my shelf.

An uneven rise
An uneven rise

This weeks challenge was the Farmhouse Orange Victoria Sponge.  A sponge with light brown sugar and some orange zest and for my special twist instead of using orange marmalade in the filling I would be substituting my home made lemon marmalade.  Therefore I renamed it St Clements Victoria Sponge.

My only means of cooking is an ancient solid fuel Rayburn so cakes often present me with a bit of a dilemma.  Reaching and maintaining a constant temperature is difficult especially in windy conditions and I don’t have a fan assisted oven so the side next to the fire box is always hotter.

Farmhouse St Clements Victoria sandwich
Farmhouse St Clements Victoria sandwich

This cake suffered particularly badly and I ended up with two ski slopes.  I didn’t bother cutting the sponge to level it off, that would just be a waste of good food, instead I sandwiched them together with the filling, fat end on top of thin end which gave me an almost even cake.

The sponge was a little denser than I like and typically I didn’t read all the instructions, I believe the marmalade should have been mixed in with the butter icing rather than spread in separate layers.  Nevertheless, there was nothing wrong with the taste which was enhanced by my ultra tangy lemon marmalade.

Having seen some of the other entries, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for my chances, they look stunning with both halves of the sponges deep and even but I will submit it anyway and try harder next week.

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