dia de los muertos skull pie

© Nick Loven

Aiiiieeeeeee! A savoury dish on *my blog*?!!

Continuing our quest to work through a haul of 65 small-to-medium pumpkins, and in a bid to enter an instructables.com contest, I made Halloween pie! Well, Nick's the filling genius of this particular recipe but I think we'll all agree that the star of the show is my expertly crafted skull! It's actually incredibly simple to make, requiring just a little tin foil and some shaping magic! 

I don't know if I managed to enter the instructables contest after all that, there were major issues with the "publish" step (those pesky CAPTCHAs, even more pesky when they don't show up!), but we did at least get a delicious and entertaining dinner out of it! This savoury pie is perfect as a main course, bulk it up with some veg or another side if you're feeding more that 3 lightly hungry people! You can, of course, make the filling whatever you want, but we have loads of squash and no meat in the house at the moment so veggie casserole style filling it is!

© Nick Loven

Lydia's Dia de los Muertos Skull Savoury Pie - 2 hours. feeds 3ish, for more add a hearty side dish!
Shortcrust Pastry 
225g (8oz) plain white flour, plus extra for dusting
50g (2oz) unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for construction
50g (2oz) lard or veg shortening (or just make the whole 100g up with butter)
2 eggs
splash of water - I used about 2tbsp

Filling: - adjust this to your liking, we go nuts over rosemary!
1 medium brown onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5cm discs
13 mushrooms (I used white button mushrooms), cut into quarters
half a small pumpkin, chopped to 1.5cm chunks
2 large sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp gravy granules
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
splash of worcester sauce
1 tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp celery salt
¼ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp dried sage
¼ tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper to taste

You'll also need a pie dish about 7.5 - 9 inches in diameter

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

The key to a good shortcrust pastry is not to overwork it, otherwise it'll turn out chewy instead of melt-in-your-mouth light. Rub the fats into the flour (either with your fingertips or by cutting through the mixture with a knife) until you get a bread-crumb like texture. To this add 1 lightly beaten egg (leave the other egg for an egg wash later) and add the water a bit at a time, while stirring / working with your fingers, until a dough is formed. You won't need very much water - about 2 tbsp was all I needed.

Cut off one third of the dough and flatten both dough balls into discs. Wrap in food wrap / place inside two food bags and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, start preparing the filling.

Heat the oil in your pan and throw in half of the fresh rosemary (chopped, stalk removed), and your herbs.

Add onions and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring.

Next, add the tomato puree, then the garlic, followed by the rest of the veg. Stir well and cook, covered, on a high heat for 5 minutes.

Boil about 250ml water and add to the pan - only enough to reach halfway up the veg in the pot. Reduce heat to medium.

Add the gravy granules, Worcester sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir well, pushing the veg down into the water, place the remaining rosemary sprig on top and continue to cook, covered.

After about 7-10 minutes remove the rosemary and continue to cook covered until the carrots and pumpkin are almost done - about 10 more minutes. Give it a taste and adjust the herbs as necessary. Finally, uncover and cook on low to medium to allow the filling to reduce (liquid to evaporate a fair bit).

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4).

Shape two pieces of foil (each about 50cm long) to form the cheek indentations and fix in place on the pie dish with a piece of butter.

Roll out the large disc of pastry on a floured surface, to fit the diameter and depth of the pie dish.

Lift the pastry onto the rolling pin and gently place into the pie dish, easing it into the nooks and crannies with your knuckles. Put the dish back in the fridge.

Roll out the large disc of pastry on a floured surface, to fit the diameter of the pie dish.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk
Cut out eyes and the nasal cavity and roll out the cut-outs of pastry into a long thin rectangle, and cut rectangles out for the teeth. Make about 20 that are almost square and 4 that are slightly thinner, for canines.

Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush onto the pastry lid in a smile shape, and arrange your pastry teeth onto it.

Transfer your pastry onto a baking sheet and refrigerate until needed.

© Nick Loven
Once your filling is ready, there'll be only a little liquid left. You can either leave the filling to cool to room temperature, which will prevent the filling from melting your pastry and result in a slightly better structure, or you can work quickly (I was hungry so didn't wait, and it turned out fine)!

Ready? GO!

Place the filling in the base and distribute evenly.
Brush the pastry edges with beaten egg.
Place the skull-shaped top, erm... on top, and seal the edges.
Trim the excess.
Brush the top with beaten egg - be careful around the teeth as vigorous brushing may dislodge them!

Bake in your preheated oven for 45-50 minutes until nicely golden.

Remove from oven and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before releasing the skull (I loosened mine from the dish, slid it out and peeled away the foil) and digging in!

© Nick Loven

pumpkin cake with honeycomb meringue frosting

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

I promised a super-awesome pumpkin cake with honeycomb frosting using this puree of awesomeness, and by golly gosh I think I'm about to deliver. This cake is incredibly light, with an airy, meringue-based buttercream to match, and the flavours work beautifully together. If you prefer a heavier recipe, or really really love pumpkin cake, why not try last year's Pumpkin Cake with Orange and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting?  

Other than the bit of self promotion up there I'm not really in a rambly mood, so without further ado

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Lydia's Pumpkin Cake with Honeycomb Meringue Frosting
1 egg
2 egg yolks (save the whites for the frosting)
400g (~350ml, 1½ cups) pumpkin puree (to make your own, see this)
330g (just under 2¼ cups) self raising flour (or add 2 tsp baking powder to every 1 cup plain flour if no self-raising)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg or mace
1½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
pinch salt
300g (2 ¾ sticks, 10.6oz) butter
50g (¼ cup) soft light brown sugar (or replace both sugars weight-for-weight with caster sugar if you don't have brown - 180g - 1 cup)
130g (¾ cup) muscovado sugar

Honeycomb Meringue Buttercream
100g (just under ½ cup) caster sugar
50g (2 tbsp, 1/8 cup) golden syrup
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), sifted and ready to tip into the syrup at a moments notice
150g (1 ⅓ sticks, 5.3oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 170°C (375°F, Gas Mark 3) and grease two sandwich tins (8 inch / 20cm) with butter.

Lightly break up the eggs and egg yolks, and mix into the pumpkin puree. Set to one side.

Mix the dry ingredients (but not the sugar) together and set aside.

Cream the butter and the sugar till light and fluffy, then slowly add the pumpkin/egg mixture (together with a couple of spoonfuls of the dry mixture to prevent curdling), while mixing.

Add the rest dry mixture and mix until smooth.

Divide among your pans and bake for 40-45 minutes until the centre of each cake is springy and there's a slight fizzing sound. Leave cakes in the tins for about 5 minutes before transferring, upside down, on a wire rack to complete cooling.

For the frosting, first prepare the cooling area for the honeycomb by greasing well a rectangle of tinfoil. It's best if you keep the foil as smooth as possible, otherwise the honeycomb will set into these creases and removing the foil will be... "frustrating". I leave mine flat to aid with the no creases agenda, and find my honeycomb doesn't roll off, but if you're worried about over-exuberant lava-hot honeycomb froth then you could fold the corners up to form an open box or place the foil inside something heat-proof.

Place the egg whites into a scrupulously clean mixing bowl and make sure the whisk you're using is also clean (I swirl boiling water around / through them, and inevitably, over me). Whisk on medium speed until you reach a soft peak consistency - i.e. when you lift the whisk out of the bowl, the egg whites form peaks that are slightly floppy.

Bring the sugar and the golden syrup to a simmer over a low heat, stirring. Once it starts boiling, stop stirring. If you have a candy thermometer, boil the mixture until it reaches 121°C / 250°F. If no thermometer, it'll be a rich amber colour and quite frothy, and will take about 3-4 minutes on a low heat once it's started bubbling properly. At this stage add half of the hot syrup to the egg whites while whisking, pouring down the side of the bowl so it doesn't splatter against the whisk. You might need someone to help you with this step if you don't have a free-standing mixer. Once the syrup is in, keep whisking the mix on slow to medium speed until it's close to room temperature.

not ready yet
© Lydia, 
In the meantime, put the syrup back on the hob and bring up to about 153°C / 307°F and a good caramel colour. If you don't have a thermometer, have a glass of cold water handy and test whether you're up to temperature by dipping the handle of a spoon in the syrup, then straight into the water. If the caramel cracks (either hear it or see it), it's at "hard crack" stage and is ready. If no crack, no ready yet. I really struggle with this, even with a thermometer. A little overcooked and the honeycomb will be burned, but undercooked, the resultant honeycomb will be jaw-stickingly chewy. Good luck brave soul. There is a particularly informative article about honeycomb here.

Once the syrup is caramel-y and up to temperature, toss in the bicarb and mix it in thoroughly but lightly, and quickly. If you don't mix it in thoroughly and / or haven't sifted it first, you'll end up with lumps of salty disgustingness in the honeycomb. On the flip-side, I find that if you mix too roughly / too much / too slowly, the froth cools and collapses and you get a very chewy, not particularly aerated honeycomb. Joy. Immediately tip onto your prepared foil and pop in the fridge to cool.

Once your whisking meringue mix is towards room temperature, add the softened butter bit by bit, whisking until well incorporated.

When the honeycomb is cooled, break it up and mix half into the buttercream, reserving the rest to decorate the cake.

To assemble, sandwich together the cooled cakes with the buttercream and, just before serving, decorate with the honeycomb.

Your cake will be fine for a week (I'd keep it in the fridge owing to the meringue-based buttercream), but be aware that the honeycomb will absorb moisture from the air and become soggy. It'll start to absorb water from the air immediately, so store in an airtight container, some sites recommend in the fridge.

Enjoy autumnal yum!

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

unsweetened pumpkin puree

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Ahhh Autumn. The pumpking harvest. Such orange joy.

Nick loves growing giant pumpkins. I favour small pumpkins I can do stuff with (eat) other than stare at in bewilderment and fear. This year in the final throes of our allotmenting, we semi-compromised and planted a giant amount of edible pumpkins. The harvest came in last week and, contrary to my hopes, I stared at in in bewilderment and fear. 65. 65 pumpkins. Sixty. Five.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

We carved two, gave away one (so far), made pumpkin pies, pumpkin curry and Moroccan couscous with several, and the rest are currently storing. Luckily many of them are small enough to eat in two meals between the two of us. Pumpkin pies and cakes are a great use for pumpkins at the moment, evoking the autumnal snuggly warmth I've been anticipating, and you can get through a fair amount of pumpkin in this way.

Pumpkin puree is intermittently difficult (and always expensive) to get hold of in the UK, here are some very simple guidelines detailing how I made puree with one of our larger pumpkins. The benefit is that this puree is totally unsweetened, unlike the canned varieties, making this a healthier alternative as you are in full control of the sugar in your bakes. I used a "crown prince" pumpkin for this, any pumpkin will work though, as will butternut squash, but the nuttier and more flavoursome the pumpkin, the richer and more flavoursome the puree will be. I prefer to stay away from more watery pumpkins which I worry will produce too watery a puree.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Lydia's Unsweetened Pumpkin Puree - guidelines

Pumpkin (mine weighed just under 2½ kg)

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F, Gas Mark 6). 

Chop the pumpkin into even sized chunks (or even thickness slices), about 1 inch thick. You don't need to remove the skin at this stage (but do remove the seeds!)

Bake at 200°for 30 minutes before decreasing the temperature to 150°C (300°F, Gas Mark 2) for a further 30 minutes. 

Keep an eye on the pumpkin and if it's drying out, put some boiling water in a tray in the bottom of the oven. This is most likely with electric and fan ovens.

When the pumpkin is done, you'll be able to pass a blunt knife through the chunks quite easily. 

Allow to cool completely, remove the skins and blend in a food processor adding water bit by bit to achieve a thick consistency that totally holds its own. I ended up adding about half a litre of water in total, but this will vary depending on what variety of pumpkin you used and how much it dried out in the oven. 

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

I had to process in several batches and several times, which was a total pain in the arse. The result was still a tiny bit lumpy but that's fine for me. I ended up with 1140g of puree, equivalent to about 3 cans of shop bought stuff. Admittedly I was not expecting to get so much puree from this pumpkin, next time I'll definitely only use half. It'll store happily in the fridge in a clean jar for just over a week. You could also freeze it in cubes, but may find that it separates on defrosting - mixing it well after defrosting may help it come together again.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

I'm currently working on a super-awesome pumpkin cake with honeycomb frosting using this puree of awesomeness, watch this space!

strawberry & pink peppercorn cupcakes

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

I've always been intrigued by pink peppercorns, having an intense love for pepper in general, but have never had the opportunity to try some. On Gloucester Road in Bristol, there's this amazing little store that sells an amazing array of flours, wheat germs, herbs, spices and breakfast cereals from "help yourself" bins. And they had pink peppercorns. So I bought what I thought was a modest amount, but actually was a reasonably hefty amount. Oops, I guess.

Not knowing what something tastes like is a bit of a problem when trying to figure out what other flavour best to pair it with, and while I could have easily tried some it seemed to make more sense to bring it up at a party and gather suggestions. Nicola suggested strawberries, I loved the idea, and so the strawberry and pink peppercorn cupcake was born (Thanks Nic!).

I know strawbs are no longer in season, to be honest I made this back before strawberry season and it's taken me this long to get back into photo processing so I missed the season completely, but no matter, they're delicious. Nicely strawberry-y with a spicy kick, and actually I was convinced I'd messed up by using too much pepper - the buttercream is overly peppery on its own, but with the cake itself it mellows out nicely and works rather well.

Interestingly, pink peppercorns aren't actually related to black pepper, but were so named after their appearance and flavour. Personally I'm not sure I believe that wikipedia entry even if the BBC does seem to back it up, but I'm too lazy to go and look it up properly.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Lydia's Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn Cupcakes (makes 12)
200g (~8oz) strawberries
~50ml (just under ¼ cup) plain yogurt
60g (slightly more than ½ stick, 3.88oz) unsalted butter
150g (⅔ cup) caster sugar
1 egg
150g (1 cup) plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1½ tsp white wine vinegar

175g (1 sticks, ¾ cup) unsalted butter
300g (1½ cups) icing sugar
¼ tsp crushed pink peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F, Gas mark 3), and line a cupcake pan with 12 cases.

Puree the strawberries and reserve 2-3 tsp of the juice for the frosting. Top the rest with enough yogurt to bring it to 120ml (½ cups).

Whisk the butter and the sugar till pale and creamy.

Still beating, add the egg.

Leaving the baking soda out for the time being, fold in the rest of the dry ingredients in 2-3 goes, alternating with your strawberry yogurt.

Finally tip in the bicarb, add the vinegar and quickly fold them in, ensuring they have been fully incorporated.

Immediately divide among your 12 cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and you can hear them fizzing.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

For the buttercream, combine the butter and icing sugar, then beat until very light and fluffy. 

Still beating, add a teaspoon of the reserved strawberry puree and check it has incorporated well without the mixture separating - the puree is quite acidic and will react with the butter to give an unappetising curdled appearance if too much is added, so err on the side of caution!

Add the rest of your puree a smidge at a time until you think the mixture can't take any more acidity. The tipping point for me was only 2tsp.

Finally fold in your crushed peppercorns (they're probably too wet to grind in a pepper grinder so use a pestle and mortar or crush them under the flat of a large knife) and once your cupcakes have cooled completely, pipe or spread this fiery deliciousness onto your strawberry bases.


© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

oat and pistachio biscuits

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Ahhhh oats. Oaty oat oats. They're amazing and I love them.

There's hardly a dearth of oat biscuit recipes out there, with plenty of variations on the glorious gooey oat cookie and the humble yet sustaining flapjack. There's even oaty biscuits that end up being quite cakey.

My lovely neighbour brought over some homemade oat biscuits like no other I'd ever eaten. Instead of the usual cakey / gooey cookies these were crispy and crunchy with a good chewiness on the inside. They were heaven. One day I'll ask her for the recipe but in the meantime I decided to try and figure out how they were done.

The "Advanced Bread and Pastry" book (my personal baking bible) kindly lists how different ingredients affect the final biscuit (or any baked good for that matter). For a crispy, snappy biscuit it's important to have either very low or a very high sugar content with the granules being as large as possible to minimise its hydroscopic properties,  not to have too much fat, and not to beat too much air into the mixture - the less the better. A lower temperature for a longer time will also help to dry them out. It was also suggested to use a higher gluten flour (like bread flour) as the gluten will help to keep the mix a little drier and prevent it from spreading. With this in mind I put together what I thought would be a good recipe and chucked a few pistachios in there for good measure (why not?).

While these didn't turn out like my neighbours', I now have a better idea what to try next time (far less butter, possibly no flour), and these were amazingly moreish. Fancy a biscuit? Better take three. Just don't kid yourself that they're healthy!

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Lydia's Oat & Pistachio cookies - makes about 22
220g (8 oz, 1 cup) butter or margarine
275g (1¼ cup) granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g (⅓ cup) bread flour
300g (3⅓ cups) oats
75g (½ cup) pistachios (roasted and salted, about 150g in shells)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (fan oven, 300°F, increase by 10°C or 20°F for gas ovens, gas mark 2-3) and line a cookie sheet with baking parchment

Chop a third of the pistachios and leave the rest whole.

Mix the butter and sugar together by hand until just combined - you don't want to incorporate much air.

Stir in the eggs and vanilla extract, then beat in the flour.

Fold in the oats and pistachios (both chopped and not).

Shape into rounds about 2 inches in diameter and just under an inch thick.

Bake for about 60 minutes until lightly browned and you can lift it off the sheet cleanly with a knife and the cookie has firmed up.

Cool on the sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

pina colada biscuits (cookies)

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Blimey! Another cocktail-based-bake and another easy one!

Spurred on by how well received the old-fashioned cocktail cake was, I decided to go for another cocktail-based recipe. Also, while I admit I love spending hours over a cake, the quick-and-easy recipes are great to have on hand too, especially on a Tuesday post-work need-tea-and-biscuit sort of time.

So I forgo the usual babble in favour of getting down to the recipe, aiding in a earlier cup of tea and mildly- alcoholic-biscuit-joy for you. Aren't I lovely?

By the way, a biscuit in the UK is not something your pour gravy over or eat like a bread roll, it's a cookie. Though in the UK, "cookie" denotes the soft and squidgy cookie, not the firm and snappy cookie. But I digress.

Lydia's Super Easy Pina Colada Biscuits (about 30-35)
Coconut Biscuits
225g (8 oz, 1 cup) unsalted butter or margarine (I used Stork)
125g (scant ½ cup) sugar
250g self-raising flour (1⅔ cup, if you don't have it, use plain flour plus 2 tsp baking powder)
¼ tsp salt
50g (about ½ cup) dessicated coconut

Pina colada frosting/glaze
There's actually 2 kinds of glazes / frosting here. The written ingredients are for the thinner glaze pictured at the very top and bottom of this recipe, the thicker one (photo just below) will need twice the amount of caster sugar, pineapple juice, rum and coconut described below (but roughly the same about of icing / powdered sugar).

60g (¼ cup) caster sugar
75ml (scant ¼ cup) pineapple juice
2 tbsp rum (coconut rum, if you have it)
30g (5 tbsp) dessicated coconut
about 180g (1 cup) icing sugar

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

For the cookies, heat the oven to 160°C (electric/fan oven, 180°C gas oven, gas mark 4, 320-350°F)

Beat together the butter and the sugar.

Add the flour, salt and coconut, and stir / beat in until just combined.

Spoon or pipe (the batter is quite stiff though!) onto baking trays slightly smaller than a ping pong ball.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until lightly golden.

For the frosting, combine the caster sugar, pineapple juice and rum in a pan and bring to the boil.

Bring to the boil over a medium heat and boil for about a minute to reduce slightly (2-3 minutes if you want the thicker frosting in the photo just above the "methods" section), stirring occasionally.

Stir in the dessicated coconut, then allow to cool slightly before stirring in the icing sugar. The amount you need will vary depending on how thick your syrup got and how thick you want your final frosting / glaze to be. I needed 14 tbsp to get to the thick frosting consistency sort of like lumpy yoghurt, and the thinner glaze surprisingly also needed roughly that amount (the syrup was far far thinner in that version).

Spoon or pipe over the biscuits and allow to set before digging in.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

rhubarb & vanilla cupcakes

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

It's rhubarb season again!

Yep, I've been on the silent side, I've just started a new job and have been too distracted with the move to put enough effort into creating new stuff, but I'm back! To ease myself back in, and as thanks for the generous gift of rhubarb from my colleague Andy, I'm rehashing a recipe done once before and tarting it up to turn it from an everyday bake to a special cupcake.

The classic pairings for rhubarb, as far as I'm concerned, are ginger or custard, and the custard was calling to me. Well, a sort of custard. Given that custard is basically vanilla in flavour, I opted for a super vanilla-y white chocolate buttercream with a rhubarb swirl to top this off. And vanilla sounds more decadent than custard. 

This recipe originated as the Sticky Rhubarb Drizzle Cake, which makes a nice, un-frosted casual bake should you wish to go for the mildly healthier option instead.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Lydia's Rhubarb and Vanilla Cupcakes (12)

300g (2-3 stalks) rhubarb (if you have more, great!)
¼ tsp lemon juice
225g (9oz) butter or margarine
225g (1 cup) sugar
4 eggs
250g (1¾ cup) self-raising flour

White Chocolate & Rhubarb Buttercream
about 50g (2oz) caster sugar
100g (3½oz) white chocolate
140g (5 oz) unsalted butter
200g icing (1 cup confectioner's) sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
vanilla seeds, if you have them 

Chop 250g of the rhubarb (leaving approx 4 inches of one stalk for later, or more if you have more) and place in a pan on a medium heat with the lemon, covered, for approximately 10 minutes. Strain gently through a sieve - but don't squeeze it, you need a juicy pulp to keep the cake batter moist. Keep both the juice and pulp for use in the recipe.

Chop the remaining rhubarb (up to 200g) into small chunks (about 1cm³) and set aside for later.

Preheat the oven to 160°C (electric/fan, 180°C gas -mark 4, 320-350°F) and line your cupcake pan with cases.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 

Add the eggs one at a time while beating, adding a little of the flour between additions of egg if the mixture becomes too runny.

Fold in the flour and rhubarb pulp from the juice extraction process. The batter should have a good dropping (but not pouring) consistency, if it is too thick, add a little of the extracted rhubarb juice.

If you had lots of rhubarb, at this stage set aside about 48 chopped pieces (4 per cupcake) and fold the rest of your rhubarb into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Place the remaining chopped rhubarb on the top and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the tops are golden, you should be able to hear a fizzing sound.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk
While the cupcakes are in the oven, prepare the rhubarb drizzle by mixing the rhubarb juice with up to half the weight in sugar (I had 100g (4oz) juice and added 50g (2oz) sugar, if you want a tarter flavour then start with ¼ of the weight of rhubarb in sugar), and bring to a low boil over a low heat to reduce to a syrupy consistency. This will take about 10 minutes. The hot syrup will thicken as it cools, you're aiming for a watered down / warm honey consistency.

For the buttercream, melt the chocolate in a bain marie / double boiler (or melt in a bowl above simmering water, being careful not to allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Set aside to cool to body temperature.

© Lydia, punge.blogspot.co.uk

Beat the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla extract, cooled chocolate, and the vanilla seeds if using.

Swirl in your rhubarb syrup (I had just over 2 tbsp) delicately so that it doesn't mix completely with the rest of the buttercream, and pipe onto the cupcakes once they've cooled.


totally gay old-fashioned

© Nick Loven

Vic and Ange are back in the UK! We stayed with these two fabulous women on our American adventure in 2011 and are ecstatic to have them back, naturally there was a massive family gathering, naturally I made a cake, and naturally it had to be somewhat alcoholic.

On asking Vic what her favourite cocktail was I got a response of "Vodka Martini, up with a twist, stirred not shaken". In cake form that means lemon drizzle with flavourless alcohol so I pushed her further, and got an answer of "Old fashioned" - bourbon with orange bitters. Now that's more cakeable.

© Nick Loven
Of course, we had to make ourselves several old-fashioneds in order to best figure out how to put this into a cake. There's something very butch about this cocktail, I felt positively powerful in the groin region while enjoying it, and I felt the cake needed to maintain as much "rraaargh" as possible to avoid being a disappointing shadow of the cocktail it was meant to emulate. That made the choice between a full on drizzle-style sponge and a light, airy genoise a relatively easy one, and also pushed me towards a more savory whipped cream rather than oh-so-sweet buttercream filling.

The cake is essentially a rich orange drizzle cake sponge using full on old-fashioned cocktail and orange juice drizzle and sugar dusting to give a sugar crystal crunch, and layered with orange and whiskey marmalade and whipped cream (laced with more cocktail!) before being adorned with jewels of fragmented meringue - rainbow coloured in honour of our guests. You can leave out the meringue but I love the fizz of it!. This really is an "ermahgerd" of a cake.

Meringues lovingly OCD'd by Nick
Nick Loven

Lydia's totally gay old-fashioned cocktail cake
Cake Batter
225g (8oz, 1 cup) butter or margarine
200g (¾ cup) brown sugar - I used half soft light brown sugar, half light brown muscovado sugar
280g (scant 2 cups) plain flour
© Nick Loven
6 eggs - 3 separated and 3 whole. If you're not making the meringue topping, use 4 whole eggs instead.
2 oranges - zest and juice required
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

"Old-fashioned" drizzle
4 dashes angostura bitters (don't worry it you don't have bitters, just leave it out)
100ml (4 oz, just under 7tbsp) bourbon whiskey (I used Jim Beam)
6 tbsp granulated sugar

3 egg whites
180g (1 cup confectioner's) icing sugar, sifted
Food colouring, if using (I used gel food colouring, worrying that liquid colouring will damage the meringue structure).

600ml (2½ cups) double (heavy) cream
4tbsp icing sugar
1tsp vanilla paste / seeds of one vanilla pod (optional)
50ml (2 oz, generous 3 tbsp) bourbon
6-8 tbsp marmalade with peel, I handily have homemade orange and whiskey marmalade that I'm a little bit addicted to.

orange peel to decorate

© Nick Loven

Preheat the oven to 160°C (roughly 310°F, Gas mark 2-3) and grease and flour two 7 or 8 inch cake tins.
Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg yolks, 1 tbsp of the flour, and the 3 whole eggs one by one, while mixing.

Fold in the dry ingredients together with the zest and then finally mix in 2 tbsp of the orange juice.
Separate into the two tins, smooth over (your batter should be quite thick) and bake for about 40-45 minutes.

Just before the cakes are ready, prepare the drizzle by mixing the bitters, whiskey, sugar and 4 tbsp of the squeezed orange juice in a saucepan and heat until it boils. Boil rapidly for about two minutes to reduce to a syrup.

When your cakes come out of the oven, immediately prick them all over (I use a knitting needle) and spoon half the boiled cocktail mix over each of the cakes.

Leave the cakes to cool in the tin, turn the oven down to 140°C (275°F Gas Mark 1) and leave the oven door open for awhile to help it cool for the meringues.

To make the meringues, line a baking tray with baking paper. Whisk the whites and sugar in a very clean bowl (any fat traces will prevent the egg whites from whisking up properly) until you get soft, shiny peaks. If colouring your meringues, separate the meringues into as many bowls as you're using colours. Mix in your colours and spoon onto the baking sheet, and once your oven has cooled to 140°C, bake for about 40 minutes then turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there to cool.

If using meringues, leave assembly until just before serving otherwise they'll go soggy.

Whisk the double cream until you have soft peaks, then fold in the sugar, vanilla seeds / paste (if using), and whiskey. Crush your meringues lightly.

Cut your cake layers in half lengthways, and reassemble as a 4-layer cake with marmalade and cream between the layers. Cover the whole thing with the cream and the rest of the meringue.

Finally decorate with the orange peel and prepare yourself for the wide-eyed, cocktail-loving joy.

© Nick Loven