Saturday, 20 August 2016

A Blackberry Cheesecake

Another month and another post for the cake slice bakers, baking from Maida Heatter's Cakes. Some months I could quite happily make any of the four choices, but other times like this month there is no contest. Three of the cakes were multi layered extravagant sounding affairs suitable for celebrations, with too much frosting... and too much effort for my liking! There was a four layer chocolate cake with a chocolate sour cream icing, a three layer pecan sweet potato cake witha marshmallow filling (the cake sounded interesting but the frosting sounded sickly sweet), and a three layer carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting. I'm hoping the other bakers will have made these so I can decide if they are worth the effort! But there was also a Blackberry Scotch Cheesecake which was just asking to be made... especially as it used frozen blackberries which I just happened to have!

I'm not always that keen on the usual digestive biscuit base used on most cheesecakes as I find they can be a bit soggy, so I was intrigued by the idea of a shortbread crust and had high hopes of it staying firm and crunchy.

The cheese mixture is a wonderful combination of cream cheese, cinnamon, blackberries and Drambuie... which I confess I bought specially! It tasted amazing (yes... I did lick the spoon)

The blackberries are used frozen and are dotted over the surface of the cheese mixture before baking. I had a tub of blackberries that came from Mum's garden before she moved.

Maida claims the blackberries turn a gorgeous shade of shocking pink once baked and she is not wrong!

Once baked it gets a sour cream topping which gets another five minutes in the oven.

Although it wouldn't have effected the taste, my cheesecake cracked as it cooled and as I was planning on taking this as a dessert to my book club meeting (the book club that is really a girl's supper club masquerading as a book club) I decided to pretty it up with a blackberry sauce as I had some blackberries left over.

I tried some arty drizzling and then decided it looked better spead all over! I was going for a Jackson Pollock effect which I didn't quite pull off!

And the result... even if I do say so myself this was a pretty amazing cheesecake. Everyone loved it, second helpings were had, requests were made for me to make it again and it was generally agreed that the blackberry topping was definitely worth doing, the sharpness offsetting the sweet cheesecake. If there was one critisism, it was that the base did not stay crunchy but it still tasted fantastic and I have already made it again for one of our book club members... and her response was "I want to pass on rapturous thanks from all seven very happy cheesecake eaters - absolutely delicious". I can see this being one I will make again and again.

And should you wish to try this yourself (I promise you won't regret it) here is my version of the recipe:

Blackberry with Scotch Cheesecake (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need a 9" (23 cm) springform pan. Preheat the oven to 190 deg C (170 fan), 375 deg F

  • 140g sifted plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 112g butter
Either in a food processor or by hand rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it is the texture of breadcrumbs. Spread this mixture into the unbuttered pan and press down with your fingers or the back of a spoon to make a firm crust. Bake for 20 -25 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile prepare the filling
  • 550g Philadelphia cream cheese (don't be tempted to buy the light version)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Drambuie
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 150g caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 200g frozen blackberries
  • 415g sour cream
  • Put the lemon juice and rind into a small bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl and using a hand mixer, beat the cheese until soft and smooth.
  • Beat in 1 teaspoon of vanilla, the Drambruie and cinnamon followed by the 150g sugar
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Carefully butter the sides of the pan by brushing a little melted butter down the sides to the top of the crust.
  • Pour the mixture over the baked crust and then evenly place the blackberries, one by one, over the cheese mixture, gently pushing them down so they are partly submerged.
  • Bake for 35 - 40 minutes until the sides of the cake have risen and browned  but there is still a wobble in the centre.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile mix the sour cream with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence. When cake has stood for 20 minutes pour the sour cream mixture over the top and bake for another 5 minutes.
  • Cool in the tin before turning out and then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
If you want to add a fruit topping, in a small saucepan heat up 150g blackberries with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a couple of tablepoons of sugar, to taste. Simmer until the fruit is soft and then push through a sieve to make a thin puree. Allow to cool and add a dash of Drambuie before artistically splattering over your cake!



Sunday, 14 August 2016

A Snapshot of my week

I seem to have settled into a regular routine of baking and other domestic chores of late, so it was an unexpected surprise when I was asked to demo for Art Van Go at the Festival of Quilts at the last minute. Having only a couple of days to gather supplies and decide what to demonstrate certainly focuses the mind but after rearranging some other commitments I arrived at the NEC on Thursday morning raring to go!

I travelled up with Anna Pye, my friend, neighbour and talented printmaker and we both had a fabulous day. We talked to people all day long, demonstrated some of our artwork and generally had a wonderful time. This is before the doors opened to the public.

I was stitching these little brooches... if you want to give this a try yourself you can find a tutorial to buy here in my Etsy shop.

Meanwhile, there have been three birthday cakes this week... this one for a friend who is a keen blacksmith in his spare time. His reaction when he saw the cake made it so worthwhile.

A rather serious looking cake for a young lady who has political aspirations... but the serious exterior hid a frivolous cake inside. A strawberry daiquiri sponge... three layers of vanilla sponge soaked in a strawberry rum syrup and sandwiched together with a lime buttercream and rum soaked strawberries!

And finally another layered sponge cake today. I've a couple of days off before more birthday cakes next week.

There was also more farm shop baking this week and this was my table on Friday morning. The cakes and jam are selling well at last.

And today I managed a couple of hours in the garden. Since breaking my ankle I've not been able to do much gardening. Although Stewart cuts the grass he's no Monty Don... and the weeds have taken over, so much so I decided that one bed needed clearing competely. I hadn't bargained on help from my under gardener though, who proved to be very good at digging, although perhaps a little too enthusiastically!

What... me?

Monday, 8 August 2016


One of the perks of supplying cakes to the farm shop is sometimes, Linda, the owner turns up with a glut of some over ripe fruit or another. Four weeks ago it was a big bag of black bananas... there was a lot of banana cake that week. A week ago she brought me twelve punnets of strawberries that were just turning past their best. As I was about to go away for a few days I chopped them up and put them in the freezer... all 6kg of them!

Today I decided I ought to do something with them so I began a jam making marathon... prolonged because the first batch didn't set. Strawberries are not very high in pectin so it is not easy to obtain a set, especially when the fruit is over ripe. I used jam sugar with added pectin, plus some lemon juice:
1.5 kg strawberries, 1.25 kg jam sugar, juice of one and a half lemons

And eventually after boiling it all up I've ended up with 35 jars of softly set Strawberry Jam, which will now find its way back to the farm shop

And while I was stirring and simmering I remembered a book I used to read to my boys when they were little...they loved the story of Mr. Castle and his jam making exploits.

A super efficient stay at home Dad, Mr Castle makes plum jam from the fruit tree in his garden. As more plums drop he makes more and more jars of jam until eventually he is fillng every container in the house from the tea pot to flower vases. The family end up eating jam with every meal - jam in their porridge, jam in their lunch time sandwiches, jam roly poly after their dinner... "Their days were full of jam eating and their nights of dreams all dripping with jam." Just as they finish their last pot of jam they hear the thud of a plum falling on the roof... a whole year has past and it all starts again!

I've kept a box of all the favourite picture books from my boys' favourites too, I love a good picture book... so I was delighted to find I had kept our copy of "Jam".
 I think I might have made quite enough Strawberry jam for one year though!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

As One Door Closes...

I'm back this evening from a fun few days at Missenden Abbey for the last summer school with Adult Learning. I've been going to the Abbey for about 17 years as both a student and a tutor and have stayed in many of their study bedrooms... all perfectly comfortable and functional, even if the bathrooms tend to be a bit snug. So imagine my surprise when I was given the "Abbey Suite" on Sunday evening. I had a huge bedroom with a bed that was wider than it was long, a very roomy bathroom along my own corridor...

and a living room with a second TV. I felt like royalty!

I was teaching a Stitched Graffiti Art class to a small group of only six ladies and on the first day we had a bit of a warm up by using the machine as a painting tool and they produced this wonderful selection of little brooches.

As well as enjoying the teaching and the wonderful surroundings of Missenden Abbey itself, one of the other things I love is being able to walk in the surrounding countryside when I am there, something I've not been able to do on my last couple of visits due to being on crutches. So I was looking forward to some nice walks this week but unfortunately it has been a bit wet and drizzly for the past few days. However this morning the sun made an appearance so I had a stroll up to the parish church after breakfast and before class started.

The views over the valley are beautiful and I took a few moments to take it in and watch a pair of Red Kites hovering and soaring over the churchyard before heading back past the Roald Dahl memorial bench... I've written more about it here.

Back in the classroom, each student worked on their own designs for a "Graffiti" piece and although they need finishing off at home, these are the wonderful results:

"Create" by Sue in a fabulous font

"One in a Million" by Barbara... a special gift for her husband

"Cheers" by Valerie... very cheerful!

"Not One Hectare More" by Wendy... a comment on the destruction of the forests of Borneo

"Perspective" by Janet. I think this says much about me that my eye picks out the P and R and I see "Prosecco". Once Janet has finished the outline there won't be any confusion about what it says!
"Cats Rule" by Pasqua in a lovely crisp font.

And so it many ways it has felt like an ending but the atmosphere at the Abbey this week hasn't been down beat bacause as one door has closed another has opened. Although this is the end of Missenden Abbey Adult Learning in its present form, two of the adult learning staff have started a new company that will be running creative courses over weekends in the coming year.

The website of Missenden School of Creative Arts will be live very soon but you can go there now and register an interest, which means you will be the first to hear about new courses as they are added. And with a bit of luck I'll be back in Great Missenden next spring!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Five on Friday... By the skin of my teeth!

What a silly expression that is... Skin of my teeth! But I've made it just about with still a few hours of Friday left. As ever ideas for blog posts pop into my head and just as quickly pop out again and I don't seem to get around to them. So instead a rapid round up of my week under the guise of Five on Friday, before I head off teaching at my last ever summer school at Missenden Abbey next week.

1.Birthday Cakes

Two special birthday cakes that speak for themselves really. These are my favourite type of cakes to make and decorate... a bit of a challenge and fun to do.

2. Crochet

One of the benefits of Open Studios being so quiet was I had hours and hours to read, sew, knit... and crochet. Which means I have finished my Frida Kahlo blanket. This was going to be the subject of a blog post all of its own but I've run out of tiime this week and you can pretty much see what it looks like thrown over the sofa. I'm pleased with the way it has turned out but I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with it now!

3. The Farm Shop

For four weeks I have spent a whole day a week baking cakes and cookies for the farm shop and the response has been luke warm to say the least. What seemed to sell one week was left on the shelf the next and each week I was bringing back home as much or more than I sold. I was at the point of thinking maybe it wasn't a great idea but this morning I delivered a whole batch of mini loaf cakes. Nothing else, just loaf cakes in different flavours. And I got a message earlier this evening that they have flown off the shelf... like hot cakes! So guess what I've done this evening... yep, made a load more to deliver tomorrow! 

4. Hector

My little puppy has started to look like a grown up dog! He is only just four months but look how much he has grown! We've moved from puppy class to puppy cadets and he continues to make us laugh... and occasionally despair. But it is lovely to have a dog around the house again.

5. What... no five

Does it count to leave you with more cake? Or am I bending the rules of Five on Friday? But cake has suddenly become such a significant part of my life I fear I am going to bore you with cake... and just when you've had enough... even more cake
These cherry bakewells were made as part of a big order of cakes for a friend this week

Joining in with Amy for Five on Friday

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Create Art with all your Heart

A couple weeks ago when I was teaching my Stitched Graffiti class, one of the students brought in a copy of this book - The Art of Whimsical Lettering. I don't often buy new art books these days but I liked the look of this so decided to treat myself.

It's full of some fabulous ideas for using lettering creatively... The sort of thing I can happily lose several hours over! I decided as this was my last weekend of Open Studios I wouldn't let the lack of interest in my first Open Studios weekend get me down and in a fit of enthusiasm I made a special menu of the cake and cordial available.

And then I got totally absorbed and carried away and made a wrapper for my collection tin too.

By the end of Saturday I wondered why I had bothered... Seven hours sitting around all day for just three visitors! Don't get me wrong, those three visitors were very nice and very much appreciated... But three? Really? I'd thought twelve in a day on the previous weekend was pretty poor given that in all the time I've done Open Studios I've averaged twenty five people a day. Suggestions that it might have been the weather/school holidays/Wimbledon/formula one/Tour de France etc didn't really go far to explain what was happening because Cambridge Open Studios always takes place over four weekends in July, so it always coincides with school holidays and Wimbledon etc. and in ten years I've seen every cold, hot, wet and windy weather combination you can imagine. It just felt utterly soul destroying. But I got up this morning and being a bit like Tigger, always ready to bounce back, I decided to follow my own advice...

Which was just as well, because today the house was buzzing! Visitor numbers were still lower than usual but there was a constant trail throughout the day. People stopped to chat, asked interesting questions and have booked on my classes. They sat and ate cake, talked to each other, patted the dog, gave generously to my charity box... And have even bought art! It has lifted my mood and I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

After all... I've got my new lettering obsession to keep me occupied now!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Cake For Breakfast...

Despite the dog's attempts at picking all my vegetables I am still managing to be over run with courgettes! Every year is the same and you would think I would learn that two plants is quite enough... but no!

So faced with a glut of courgettes and given that one of the choices for this month's Cake Slice Bakers was a "Zucchini Loaf from Seattle" there was no contest really. One of the other cakes this month was an extravagant Black and White Layer Cake consisting of six layers of two different types of cake plus buttercream which just seemed like too much effort without the excuse of a special occasion, but the other two choices - A Sour Cream Coffee Cake with  cinnamon and nut topping and a Blueberry Surprise Cake both sounded very tempting. All cakes are taken from Maida Heatter's Cakes

But no... the cougettes needed using up so the zucchini cake it was. It was a really simple cake to put together and although the batter seems very dry and thick, by the time the grated courgettes are thoroughly mixed in the batter becomes much more manageable.

I found the mixture was two much for one of my regular sized loaf pans so filled two instead. Details of sizes etc. are in the recipe below.

The smell in the kitchen while they were baking was just amazing but then I find anything with cinnamon has that effect. And the resulting loaves were well risen, crusty and brown... with no traces of green courgette!

Probably unnecessary but I added a simple glace icing and some walnuts just to pimp it up a little bit as one of these cakes is probably destined for the farm shop this week.

But obviously the other one had to be sampled for the sake of this post!

So I confess... I have had a slice for breakfast this morning. But it is so full of courgettes and walnuts it is practically a health food isn't it? It's not like I just had buttercream for breakfast, which has been known! Just don't remind me when I complain I can't shift the weight gained since breaking my ankle.

It is a delicious cake full of moisture and flavour and I would definitely make it again. In fact there are so many courgettes I might even make another couple of these today to go in the freezer.

And should you wish to try this yourself (I can definitely recommend it) here is my version of the recipe:
Zucchini Loaf From Seattle (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need one large loaf tin (10" x 5" x 3") or two smaller tins - mine were approximately 8" x 4" x 3" (20cm x 10cm x 7cm) , lined or buttered well and dusted with  breadcrumbs. (See method here )

  • 420g sifted plain flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 450g coursely grated courgettes (zucchini) I used four cougettes but do weigh them as sizes do vary!
  • 220g  vegetable oil
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 112g walnut pieces
  • Preheat the oven to 350 deg F, 180 deg C, 160 deg fan.
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, gently beat the eggs to break them up and add the vanilla, oil and sugar mixing well to combine
  • Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix well.
  • Stir in the grated courgette until thoroughly mixed and then fold in the walnuts
  • Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for about an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (If you are making one cake Maida says to bake for and hour and 45 minutes which seems a long time so keep an eye on it!)
  • Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool in the tin for about ten minutes before turning out to cool on a rack.
  • Once cool add a simple glace icing (125g icing sugar plus 1 tablespoon warm water makes enough for one cake) and some walnut halves... this is entirely optional!