Hummingbird Bakery Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie

So now that we are into February, and the month of luuuuurve, the shops are full of Valentine’s Day themed cards, gifts, edibles and whatnot. It’s the time of year when, in theory, I like to go all-out and bake a bazillion pink cakes festooned with love hearts and sprinkles.

Anyway, thanks to getting distracted by all the other delicious things to bake out there, the pink/hearts/sprinkles thing never really happens. So this year, I decided the blog needed something V-day themed, but would happily satisfy my cravings for all other things cakey, chocolatey and so on.

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I remembered these raspberry cheesecake brownies, first tasted at the Hummingbird Bakery oh, approximately seven years ago (ugg feeling old) and a favourite of mine until they somehow dropped off the radar.

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I had a pack of cream cheese, some whipping cream, chocolate, plenty of eggs…so hey, it was as if it was fate.

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Last time I was somewhat health-conscious so used low-fat everything and sugar alternatives. This time, I just went with the full whammy. You only live once, eh?

The recipe for these is pretty much all over the internet. You can find it here and on various blogs where everybody raves about what a great brownie/cheesecake/raspberry cream/mysterious thing-of-joy it is. I divided all the ingredients by three, and baked it in a loaf tin. Otherwise there would be far too much raspberry cheesecake brownie lying around for our own good! They’re tasty, perhaps not as amazing as I remembered but then I’ve come down with a bit of a cold so my tastebuds are a little faulty this week.

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Want some other Valentine’s Day themed bakes? Check out my red velvet cupcakes, baci di dama or decorated sugar cookies.

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Hazelnut Butter and Milk Chocolate Cookies

Imagine those delicious chocolate pralines, the ones that always disappear first in any luxury chocolate selection box. Then imagine them transformed into a crispy, chewy, nutty cookie, generously studded with moreish, melting chunks of milky chocolate.

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As well as a lot of chocolate, there’s quite a cookie theme going on this month. These were inspired by the peanut butter cookies I made last year. I had a big stash of hazelnuts left over from 2014, so I got out my mini-blender, and blasted a bag of roasted nuts into a nut butter, ready to make into something to nibble on.

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The batter for the cookie dough was quick and easy to make. I mixed it up after dinner, then popped the mixing bowl in the fridge to rest overnight. The next day, I scooped out the dough, and hey presto! Freshly baked cookies.

I mixed in milk chocolate chips, but you could easily go with dark chocolate, or even more hazelnuts to ramp up the nutty flavours even more.

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Hazelnut Butter and Milk Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Makes 10-12 cookies

  • 110g lightly salted butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 90g light brown sugar
  • 120g hazelnut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 170g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g milk chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 170˚C.

Beat the butters and sugars together, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Finally beat in the flours, bicarbonate of soda, and the chocolate chips.

Use an ice-cream scoop to transfer balls of cookie dough onto 2-3 baking trays. Keep plenty of space between each cookie as they will spread! Bake in the oven for approximately 12 minutes. Leave to cool before transferring onto a cooling rack.

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Chocolate Stuffed Cookies

I’ve also got a little confession to make. Despite my previous protests, I’ve actually made it all the way to Season 4 of Game of Thrones. It’s still a little too gory for me, but a lot more watchable than I gave it credit for at the beginning, and I definitely prefer it to the books. Also, despite my previous assertions, I have seen cakes crop up a few times, although their association with the inspid Sansa doesn’t go a long way with me.

Anyway, today’s post is not about Sansa’s favourite lemon cakes, but a particular favourite of mine – palm-sized cookies, stuffed full of chocolate. If you have a mild addiction to Ben’s Cookies, these will provide you with some respite.

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Based on a Hummingbird Bakery recipe, they’re almost like brownies in a cookie, rich and utterly delicious.

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They more than made up for my iffy week of commuting. Driving to work everyday is proving a massive pain in the backside. Prior to this year I had never driven in London before, and considered myself a pretty decent driver. I guess driving in the Big Smoke is a whole different kettle of fish. After being slapped with two parking tickets and several near-misses, I was starting to wonder whether I should be on the roads at all!

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Oh for the days when I could walk everywhere! I guess London has its ups and downs. I don’t have the luxury of walking everywhere anymore, but I do have some yummy cookies to keep me company whilst I fume in the rush hour traffic jams.

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Autumnal Apple Pie

I went on a run on Saturday, keeping it short because I’ve sadly come down with another stonking cold. A grumpy old man HARRUMPHED me loudly as I waited for him to cross through a gate with his dog. I have no idea what made him so cross as I’m fairly sure I wasn’t giving off any signs I was desperate to overtake him – no running on the spot for instance.

It made me wonder why people sometimes get so cross about bumping into runners? We don’t take up the whole road, and we don’t slow cars down. We don’t tend to jump red lights, and we tend to be lone rangers rather than roam in packs.

That’s not to say that most encounters I’ve had are like this. Most people I meet are very friendly. We either nod in acknowledgement of one another’s pain or say a cheery hello.

Anyway, back home, we’ve collected quite a few of the first windfall apples, so after my run, I got stuck into making an Apple Pie.

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I’d love to say that I was inspired by this week’s Great British Bake Off episode, but in fact, I’ve been hankering to make one for a while. What a coincidence, eh?

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I have to say I didn’t pick a good weekend for pastry-making. It was warm, and muggy, and humid. Not so much Autumn as Indian Summer. So the pastry was a bit sticky, and hard to work with. Just for a change, I sealed the pastry by pressing by thumb evenly around the border instead of using a fork.

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As I stewed the apples down for the pie, it occurred to me that different varieties of apple behave very different during the cooking process. Bramleys cook down to mush very quickly. I used a mixture of varieties, so my apple filling became a combination of applesauce and chunks. I like my apple pieces to hold their shape in a pie, but this meant that the apple mixture filled the pastry case very compactly, with no gap between the pastry lid. Next time I think I might try using a combination of Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious, with one Bramley thrown in to create a little bit of sauce.

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Despite the heat, the pastry also turned out beautifully, crumbly and short with no annoying shrinkage.

With my cold, I sadly couldn’t really taste the pie. However, I am assured by tasters with a functioning olfactory system that it was good! I think next time I bake a pie, I’ll pick a weekend that’s a bit nippy, and dashing with rain outside. It’s the perfect dish for a cosy night in.

Peanut Butter Cookies

I love that the sun is still out when I get home from work these days. It’s even inspiring me to do more exercise after my long commute. I can go out, destress, bask in that last bit of evening sun, then the purpley hours of twilight, and come back to savour these nutty, chocolate-stuffed cookies.

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These are based on the much-loved Hummingbird Bakery peanut butter cookies. I’ve swapped a few things around, halving the recipe, reducing the sugar (I found the originals too sweet), throwing in some wholemeal flour, and upping the chocolate. There can never too much chocolate in a cookie 😉

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Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes 12 big cookies

  • 110g butter
  • 120g peanut butter
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 80g wholemeal flour
  • 40g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 75g dark chocolate, chopped coarsely

Preheat the oven to 170˚C.

Beat the butters and sugars together, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Finally beat in the flours, bicarbonate of soda, and the chocolate chips.

Use an ice-cream scoop to transfer balls of cookie dough onto 2-3 baking trays. Keep plenty of space between each cookie as they will spread! Bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Leave to cool before transferring onto a cooling rack.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cake. A hit-and-miss bake for me.

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The deep red colour of red velvet cake is oddly appealling. I first ate one at the Hummingbird Bakery, and I rather liked the unusual taste – a little bit of vanilla, hints of chocolate, and something else I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the red food colouring. The quantity that goes into these cakes is always quite horrifying!

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Last time I tried these, they didn’t rise properly, and they tasted a little funny. This time they rose like a dream. They were almost a little too light. I know it’s traditional, but I’m tempted to get rid of the step where you mix bicarbonate of soda with vinegar, and replace this with baking powder.

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Originally I was going to pipe the icing on, but I put the wrong nozzle on the piping bag, so in the end went for Hummingbird Bakery style swirls. I feel there was still a little something missing in the taste of these, though they were certainly better once cold, and the icing had set properly. I’m not sure what – I have seen lots of rave reviews for the Hummingbird Bakery recipe (which is what I used) but I might have to try a few others and compare them all.

Still they photographed well. I totally missed the boat for a Valentine’s Day post, but simply couldn’t resist a bit of a romantic theme for these. Come on, they’re red cakes! So out came the rose, and the petals, and I had my fun. Oddly for this time of year, and considering the stormy weather, there was still one perfectly formed red rose clinging to the bushes. So there it went into the photo. Mwah, mwah. Feel the lurrve.

The Return of the (Carrot) Cupcake

Currently re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s amazing how many new layers you can uncover about a book when you pick it up again after years. I’d never noticed before quite how funny Austen’s satire genuinely is.

Going back to oldies but goodies, after a long hiatus, I baked cupcakes. As anything with a bit of autumnal spice is floating my boat at the moment, it was time to grate the carrots!

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The first time I made these carrot cupcakes, I forgot to add any baking powder. They’d already been in the oven, so cue gnashing of teeth and googling “what-to-do-with-unrisen -cakes” (but in the end the family human dustbin ate them). Batch 2 fared better, I didn’t forget any raising agents, and they puffed up like little cakey beauties.

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The Hummingbird recipe remains my favourite – see this post for all the reasons why. I got 7 cupcakes out of my mixture, which is based on one third of all the ingredients in the full carrot cake recipe.

Carrot Cupcakes

  • 1 egg
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 25ml milk
  • drop of vanilla extract
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/3 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g carrots, grated
  • 30g walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Beat the egg, sugar, oil, milk and vanilla extract together with a whisk until smooth. Sieve over the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt, and fold in with a large metal spoon. Fold in the carrots and walnuts. Fill the cupcake cases, and bake for 20 minutes until springy and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Ice when cold, I used the standard Hummingbird Bakery cream cheese icing. I’m a bit weird, and it’s a real waste of food, but I’m one of those people who love slathering a cupcake with icing (it looks prettier, see?) but then I scrape it all off when it comes to the eating. Sorry.

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Despite the cream cheesyness of the icing, do not refrigerate these cupcakes. The cooler temperature for some reason I cannot fathom, makes the sponge lose some of its light fluffiness. You have been warned.

The Perfect Carrot Cake

With autumn, it’s all about the spices, and the cakes made out of the allotment glut. While I have, as yet to bake anything with courgettes, pumpkins, or squashes, I am very fond of good old carrot cake.

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The recipes I tested were stupendously varied. And here they were:

  1. The Hummingbird Bakery carrot cake
  2. The Hummingbird Bakery carrot cake, adapted
  3. BBC Good Food yummy scrummy carrot cake
  4. Ottolenghi’s carrot cake
  5. Geraldene Holt’s Cakes

The first recipe I made was the Hummingbird Bakery one, which I enjoyed very much, although the quantities did make for the most enormous cake of truly American-sized proportions. This was a few years ago, when I first started baking, and although I loved the recipe, one niggle was the large volume of oil that was going into the cake. I read on the internet that others had managed to cut it down substantially, so I did that, replacing the lost volume with milk instead. It worked beautifully – I had a light risen sponge, with shreds of carrot running throughout, studded with walnuts.

BBC Good Food have a recipe that has hundreds and hundreds of positive reviews. Not all that different from the Hummingbird recipe, I was anticipating great things. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.   Like the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, it relies upon a very large volume of oil, and here, I could really taste it. Eau de vegetable oil was not appealling. Plus points – it was indeed moist and fluffy, and certainly had potential for improvement.

Ottolenghi obviously always gets thumbs up all over the internet, and his carrot cake has been cited as a favourite by loads of food bloggers out there. It was a nice sponge, but I just didn’t think it was as tasty as the Hummingbird recipe. I did make a very small sponge (what with testing so many recipes) so perhaps I shall try and make a full-size version in future and see what that is like. Additionally, I also feel many Ottolenghi recipes improve with keeping, so this may be a cake to make, and wait, before judging.

Geraldene Holt’s recipe looked promising. It doesn’t use oil, which is a change from the recipes above, instead relying upon melted butter. The cake is packed full of orange zest, dried fruit, and nuts, and at the end, is much denser than any of the recipes above. My testers liked it, but I felt that it didn’t seem like carrot cake anymore, and seemed closer to a Christmas fruit cake, or a hot cross bun. I did use the wrong sugar, and perhaps a lighter one would have produced a more desired taste, but this wasn’t what I was looking for from a carrot cake.

So final verdict? Well, it was overwhelmingly in favour of the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, in its adapted form, which got the most ticks in the box.  I really love, love love this recipe, and will be posting it up soon!

Pretty Chocolate Cake

Why do I cook?

Well, there are a lot of reasons.

To feed, to nourish, to make people happy, a sense of achievement, copying what the masters do….

And there lies the problem. Sometimes I put myself under huge amounts of pressure, feeling like I have to achieve a certain degree of proficiency before serving a dish in front of everyone. Even when it’s a familiar recipe like a sponge cake – I can obsess at lengths over the decorations, symmetery, neatness, smoothness… and how much the filling oozes out of the middle.

In pursuit of perfection, this can sometimes involve repeating one dish over again so many times that I become thoroughly sick of it. And then it loses some of the spark that made cooking fun in the first place.

So I say – no more. It’s important to realise that you can’t achieve proficiency in all areas of life, and to be amazing at cooking is to be a chef, which I most certainly am not. And remember that even they have their weak spots. After all, you don’t employ them to cook every cuisine under the sun, do you?

Sometimes it is perfectly normal to need 2 or 3 tries before you get the hang of a technique. Some flops are inevitable, while you work out the consistency the fudge is supposed to achieve, or the rise of the bread, or slapping the cake with icing. Often, after a long hiatus, I forget to perform little tricks of the trade such as freezing or chilling a cake before icing it, or using a cake scraper to get a really smooth finish. Yet there have been times when I’ve made and decorated perfectly good cakes without using any special techniques, armed with just a butter knife and a paper plate.

Last week was a bit of a funny one.

I just let myself relax, and take a break from everything. No pressure to do anything at all.

What freedom.

So what did I actually end up doing?

Well aside from going to work (unfortunately non-optional), I snoozed a fair amount, read some excellent novels that Amazon has been kindly flicking my way via “My Recommendations” and caught up with old films. No baking, no cooking, nothing strenuous at all. I had essentially monotomous meals consisted of heating up a tin of soup, toasting a bagel, or quickly frying an egg, and guess what? It was BLISS.

Anyway, that interlude of peace wasn’t going to last very long, but then I got back into the kitchen, whacked on the oven to bake this fabulous cake, and you know what?

It turned out perfect first time!

Hurrah!

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The sponge is a Peggy Porschen recipe,  invitingly dark, chocolatey and divinely scrumptious. Originally I was going to make a white chocolate ganache, but somehow my hands worked separately from my head and I found myself whipping up my trusty Hummingbird Bakery chocolate frosting. It worked a treat, and I liberally sprinkled the top of the cake with my collection of pink sugar decorations.

I have to admit that making buttercream icing is not one of my favourite tasks. It’s sticky and messy and goes absolutely everywhere. However, it’s so tasty that it’s always got to be worth it.DSC05327

 

The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

It’s been a year since I purchased the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I’m a big devotee of the actual bakery, but it was a long time before I made the step to emulating the cakes I’d bought there. I can genuinely say that it was through this book that baking really took off for me as a real hobby.

This is a cookbook that really divides opinions, as can be clearly seen in the Amazon.co.uk customer reviews. After all this baking and making, I can safely say that now I have my own firmly set opinion when it comes to the Hummingbird Bakery recipes.

Firstly, the good. The cookbook is gorgeously set out, with mouth-watering photography. The recipes are clearly laid out, and there is a good range and quantity of different recipes. It makes you want to dive in and start baking straight away.

As many of the Amazon reviewers have said, the method for many of the recipes is definitely a bit strange, and it does take a while to get your head around that. I find that personally, it’s very much a game of luck whether the cupcakes turn out fluffy or not. I still can’t work out what I’m doing differently in the method each time. When they work, they are wonderful, but there are a lot of other non-Hummingbird cake recipes that I would say are equally as delicious, and give much more consistently successful results.

Chocolate Cookies

Also, these recipes are definitely not for anybody calorie-conscious! They are full of hefty amounts of sugar, butter and cream cheese. And by hefty, I really mean that. The rocky road recipe calls for 1.4 KILOS of chocolate (not including all the chocolate bars and marshmallows, and other bits that go into it).

Red velvet cake - stunning but stodgy

So what can I say? Some Hummingbird recipes are amazing. I love their frosting recipes, and their peanut butter cookies are divine. On the other hand, the black bottom cupcakes, brooklyn blackout cake, and their chocolate-chip cookies are terribly disappointing! Because so many of the recipes that I’ve made out of it have been so good, I think it was definitely worth buying, and I’m glad that I have such a lovely baking book to introduce me into the world of cakes. Now it just remains for me to bake through the rest of my vast collection and see what wonders lie in store!