April 27, 2010

Cherry Squares Done Two Ways

 I love London.  Several people in my inner circle either live there or have lived there so visiting this city has always been more about connecting with friends than being a tourist.  While there are so many great things about London (Wimbledon, Harvey Nicks, TopShop, the Tube and Pimms, to name a few) I have to admit that British cuisine hasn't necessarily made it to the top of my list.

I can hear my friends protesting as I write this, but I will concede that English food has improved greatly over the years, beyond the ubiquitous fish and chips, which is one of my favorites btw.  But when it comes to baking I think most would agree that  English desserts  haven't reached the same echelons as the Frenchies, and I daresay, us Yanks!

So when I read that April's Daring Bakers challenge was to make a British pudding I definitely felt some hesitation.  There are different types of puddings in the UK, savory or sweet.  Anyone care for steak and kidney pie?  No thanks!  I chose to go the sweet route since I don't really like savory puddings.  We were tasked use suet, a type of animal or vegetable fat, and also to steam the pudding.  I've never heard of suet before and my local market doesn't carry it but based on what I've read it's similar to lard or Crisco.

I ended up using a recipe for cherry squares, which is essentially a Victoria sponge cake topped with cherry pie filling.  Using suet didn't sound too appealing in the batter so I stuck with butter.  Since I failed at using the required fat, I instead focused my efforts on the  challenge's baking technique: steaming.  I've never steamed a dessert before so I was very curious to see what the end product would be compared to one made in a conventional oven.  

I split the cake batter in half and steamed some and baked the rest.  To my surprise the cakes cooked in the steamer rose as high as the one in the oven.  But the main difference between the two versions was the crust.  With steaming there wasn't one.  The cake was perfectly cooked but lacked the golden brown color and crunchy texture I was looking for.  Let's face it, the crust is one of the best parts of any baked good.

I'm glad I did this month's challenge.  I learned a new baking technique that I never thought of before.  But to be honest, steaming just isn't for me.   However, if my oven continues acting up as it has been recently I now have an alternate approach I can use.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.    

April 25, 2010

Cheeky Monkey Cupcakes

These cupcakes are so darn cute, aren't they?   And the fact that they're super easy  to  recreate  makes them even more delightful.   Got the idea to make these when I was passing by the bakery counter of an upscale supermarket the other week.

I loved the idea of a cupcake resembling a monkey.   What I didn't like was the $5 price tag.  Why pay so much when you can make them yourself.  And they'll taste better too.

When I got home I set about doing some internet research and found so many adorable  versions.  The design I ended up using seemed like the most simple to make.

All you need are some cupcakes, chocolate and vanilla frosting and vanilla wafers.  You don't need to make these from scratch either..a boxed cake mix and canned frosting will work just fine, although I do find they are a lot sweeter than homemade recipes.

I think these would be so cute for a kid's birthday party or a baby shower.  Or for anyone who loves monkeys.   Try it!
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