Yes, Halloween is coming up, and so I thought I’d offer up a few ideas on decorating cakes with a Halloween theme.
Now, I’m no cake decorator myself – fingers too fat, too little patience – but even I managed the above (I’m loving that the ghost one is all fuzzy!) which is both immediately recognisable and almost completely lacking the need for any degree of skill whatsoever. If you can roll out royal icing and squeeze a tube of black gel icing, then these are the Halloween cakes for you!
Hiding modestly underneath all this spookiness is actually a really delicious chocolate cake, which is so easy to whip up, you don’t even need a mixer. The cake also has the advantage of actually improving if kept for a couple of days. You can either make two regular sized cakes, or as here, it will make 24 cupcakes.
Chocolate Sponge Cake
150ml vegetable oil
150ml natural yoghurt
60ml golden syrup
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
225g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
- Line 2 12-hole bun tins with paper cases.
- Put oil, yoghurt, syrup, caster sugar and eggs in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.
- Sift flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl. Mix well.
- Pour the mixture into the paper cases, filling them 2/3 full, leaving about 2cm of paper case visible.
- Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack.
Apricot glaze, or apricot jam that has been warmed and sieved
Ready made Royal/Fondant icing
1 tube of black icing – mine is sparkly!
Icing sugar for rolling out the icing
- Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the apricot glaze/jam. This will help the icing stick.
- Break off a piece of icing, roll into a cylinder 3-4cm long and place it on the middle of the cupcake, standing on its end. This will give the ghost some height.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut a 10cm square.
- Drape the square of icing over the cylinder and arrange the folds.
- Using the black icing, paint on two eyes and a spooky mouth.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut a 10cm square.
- Drape the icing smoothly over the top of the cake.
- Press gently around the edge, and the stiffness of the paper case will cut through the icing, neatening the edges.
- Press the excess icing together and save for re-use.
- Using the black icing, draw 4 or 5 circles on top of the cake.
- Draw a toothpick through the wet icing from the centre of the cake to the rim, making the spider-web pattern.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut strips 1cm wide.
- Arrange the ‘bandage’ strips in a random pattern over the top of the cake, leaving a gap for the eyes.
- When the cake is covered, use 2 M&Ms for eyes and add a black dot to each.
- Use a knife to trim and neaten the ends of the icing strips.
- Roll the icing out thinly and cut a circle the size of the top of the cake. Cut round a lid or a jar.
- Carefully put the circle of icing over the top of the cake.
- Cut a thin slice of Kiwi fruit and remove the skin.
- Put the slice of Kiwi fruit flat onto the top of the cake and use the tube of black icing to fill in the ‘pupil’.
- NB The fruit is juicy, and so will begin to ‘ooze’ after about an hour. You might want to bear this in mind when timing the decorating. Alternatively, this might be just the effect you’re after!
- You will need 2 marbles for each skull-shaped cupcake.
- As soon as the cakes are out of the oven, slide two marbles (one each side) down between the paper case and the tin, so that one side of the cake is squashed into the shape of the jaw. As the cake cools, it will then ‘set’ into the correct shape.
- Once the cakes are cool, cover with a thin layer of rolled icing and use the black icing to draw on the facial features.
Cost: £1.70 (cake only, October 2011)
 If you’re making skull-shaped cupcakes, leave the cakes in the tin and slide in the marbles.
Today is a bit of a two-for-one deal – there’s a lovely recipe for pulled pork and also an awesome serving suggestion.
Another pulled pork recipe I hear you cry? Yes, I know it’s barely a couple of weeks since the last one, but whilst the other recipe was almost elegant in its simplicity, this recipe shows how, with the addition of a few ordinary ingredients, you can create a dish of an altogether different character. Lets call the previous dish a Level 1 recipe. This one moves it on a bit to Level 2, with a dark, rich and spicy cooking liquid. Level 3 would bring even more intensity of flavour with the addition of a dry spice rub – we’ll get to that sometime later.
I grew up in the orchards of Herefordshire (not literally you understand – gimme a break here, I’m trying to be lyrical), and so to me, the link between apples and pork is a natural one. In the old days, pigs would be allowed into the orchards to eat up all the windfalls, and this would add flavour to the meat. The British custom of eating apple sauce with pork isn’t just an idle tradition – the acidity of the apples helps counteract the fattiness of the meat (see also vinegar with fish & chips, mint sauce with lamb, gooseberries with mackerel). Throw in some cider, cider vinegar and Bramley apples and this is a veritable pork-apple-festival on your tastebuds!
This is also another of my favourite types of recipe – set it and forget it in the slow cooker. The only downside of this low-maintenance style of cooking is having to endure for hours all the wonderful smells wafting through the house. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you could always use the oven on very low – for example 80-100°C – but it would require a little more effort (sealing the roasting tin with foil and basting every hour or so) to ensure the joint didn’t dry out.
Apple-Baked Pulled Pork – serves 10-12
2-3kg of pork shoulder joint(s) – boned and rolled if preferred, but bone-in is also fine. Whatever can fit in your slow cooker. I use 3 x 1kg joints.
2 medium onions
2 Bramley cooking apples
300g dark muscovado sugar
150ml apple juice
60ml Worcestershire sauce
60ml Dijon mustard
120ml cider vinegar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Peel and roughly chop the onions.
- Peel, core and chop the apples.
- Put half of the apples and half of the onions into the slow cooker.
- Arrange pork joint(s) on top and scatter the rest of the apples and onions over.
- Mix all of the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and warm over gentle heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Pour liquid into slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 12 hours.
- Remove the meat and allow to drain in a sieve.
- When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and fat (the meat will just fall apart) and discard.
- Cover the meat with foil and keep warm.
- Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and reserve the apple and onion pieces.
- Place the liquid in the fridge/freezer for 30 minutes to cool. As it cools, any fat will rise to the surface and solidify. It can then be easily removed.
- Lift the solidified fat from the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon and discard.
- Pour the cooking liquid into a pan and add the apple and onion pieces. Use an immersion blender (or alternatively a liquidiser) and puree to a smooth consistency. Bring to the boil and simmer until it has thickened to your liking.
- Pour over the prepared meat and serve.
Alternately, make some delicious Tiger Rolls and some Apple & Fennel Coleslaw and serve up the awesome sandwich in the picture above. Not only are the flavours amazing, they compliment each other perfectly. Make the sandwich with the undressed meat and then drizzle with gravy to your liking. The contrast in texture between the cool crunch of the coleslaw, the hot, piquant, melt-in-the-mouth pork and the ‘crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside’ Tiger Bread make these sandwiches a cut above the rest.
Cost £1.20 per person (August 2011, Pork £4 a kilo)
If you’re going to bake your own bread, you could do worse than start with this one – it doesn’t require kneading, it only needs a very short, single rise, and you can have a batch of three loaves cooling on a rack in an hour and a half! The recipe has been around for almost 70 years – read on to find out more about it and its creator!
Heroines of Cooking: Doris Grant (1905-2003)
Tireless campaigner for healthy eating and the promotion of unadulterated foods, Doris Grant was a champion of fresh, natural ingredients and the minimal processing of food, and she maintained a running battle with major food companies in the UK for more than 60 years.
Almost crippled with arthritis in her youth, Doris found relief from her symptoms by following the food-combining diet of Dr. William Hay. With her health restored, Dr. Hay encouraged Doris to write her own book for the UK market, and thus began her publishing career. Alongside her many best-selling books, she is immortalised as the creator of The Grant Loaf.
Originally, The Grant Loaf was a mistake. While teaching herself to bake in the 1930s, it was several months before Doris realised she had not been kneading her bread dough. It didn’t seem to have made much of a difference to the loaves, and was a great deal easier and quicker than the traditional method, so she included her ‘mistake’ in her 1944 book Your Daily Bread. Here, with only a few adjustments, is that original recipe.
The dough ends up a lot wetter than traditional dough – so wet in fact, that kneading would be impossible if it weren’t already unnecessary. The bread itself is firm without being brick-like, and has a wonderfully nutty flavour as well as making great toast. I bake it in our house as our everyday bread, including sandwiches and packed lunches.
This recipe makes three loaves for two reasons:
1. It uses a whole bag of flour at once – no messy half-bags to clutter up your cupboards and spill over everything.
2. It makes sense, as well as efficient use of the oven, to cook more than one loaf at a time and the additional loaves can easily be frozen for use later.
The Grant Loaf
1.5 kg (1 bag) stone-ground wholemeal bread flour
2 sachets rapid-rise yeast
1 litre + 300ml warm water
25g muscovado sugar (or any brown sugar, or honey)
3 loaf tins (25cm x 10cm x 7.5cm)
- Put the flour into a large bowl and place in a gentle oven to warm. It doesn’t much matter if you don’t warm it, but it does speed up the rising.
- Put the sugar and salt into a large jug and add half the water. Stir to dissolve.
- Grease the bread tins using cooking spray or oil.
- Mix the yeast into the warmed flour and pour in the sugar/salt mixture, then add the rest of the water.
- Stir until the flour is fully mixed in. This is probably easiest to do using your hands, but using a utensil works well, also. Personally, I use a large two-pronged wooden fork from an otherwise unused set of salad servers, because the prongs move easily through the wet mix. I regularly manage to whip up a batch of this bread without touching the mix with my hands at all! Remember: you’re only mixing, not kneading – so as soon as all the flour is incorporated, stop. The dough will be much more moist than traditional bread dough – more like a fruit cake mix or thick, badly-made porridge.
- Spoon the dough into the bread tins, making sure it’s evenly divided – each tin should be approximately ¾ full. If you want to measure by weight, it’s approximately 950g per tin.
- Set the tins on a baking sheet somewhere warm to rise by about 1/3, until the dough is just above the top of the tins and nicely rounded. It should take no more than 30 minutes. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to have a double oven, then put the baking sheet onto the shelf in the top oven while the main oven heats up. NB Don’t put the tins onto the floor of the top oven – even if they’re on a baking sheet – it will get too hot. Otherwise, anywhere warm and draft-free will do.
- Preheat the oven to 200C, 180C Fan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then turn the baking sheet 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes for a total of 50 minutes.
- Remove the tins from the oven and tip out the bread. Arrange the loaves on a wire rack.
- Put the loaves back into the oven for 5 minutes to crisp up the crust.
- Cool on the wire rack.
Variations: This method can also be used with brown bread flour, for a slightly lighter loaf.
Cost: £1.50 (July 2011) – 50p per loaf