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March: Guinness Cake

This month's recipe from our in-house baker, Amy, is for Guinness Cake. Whilst the cake may not taste too much like the Irish stout (thankfully), we think the dark, chocolaty sponge with cream cheese frosting resembles the look of the beer perfectly! The recipe is adapted from one by Nigella Lawson.

250ml Guinness
250g unsalted butter
75g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
142ml sour cream
2 large eggs
1tbsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the frosting
300g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
125ml double cream

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/250°F, and grease and line a 23cm round cake tin.
2. Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan, add the butter and heat until melted then whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream, eggs and vanilla together and then pour into the pan before whisking in the flour and bicarbonate of soda.
3. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack.
4. When the cake's cold, remove it from the tun and put it on a plate before starting the icing. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve the icing sugar over the top and then beat them both together. (Or you can do this in a food processor, blitzing the un-sieved icing sugar first to remove lumps before adding the cream cheese)
5. Add the double cream to the mixture and beat again until it forms a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of a pint of Guinness.

February: Red Velvet Cake

250g plain flour
2 tbsps cocoa powder, sifted
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 heaped tbsp Christmas-red paste food colouring
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 large eggs
175ml buttermilk
1 tsp cider vinegar

For the frosting
500g icing sugar
125g cream cheese
125g soft unsalted butter
1 tsp cider vinegar
Chocolate sprinkles
Red sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C/gas mark 3. Grease and line two 22cm sandwich tins.
2. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in a bowl.
3. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar, beating well, and when you have a soft, pale mixture beat in all of the food colouring and vanilla.
4. Still beating, add the eggs and the dried ingredients.
5. Beat in the buttermilk and the vinegar and divide between the two cases. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
6. Leave them to cool on a wire rack and do not ice with frosting until completely cold.

For the frosting
1. Sieve the icing sugar (or whizz in a food processor) to remove lumps.
2. Add the cream cheese and butter and whisk to mix. Pour the cider vinegar and whisk to make a smooth icing.
3. Ice the cake using a spatula. Sandwich together and frost on top.
4. Decorate with chocolate sprinkles and red sugar, optional.

January: Carrot Cake

325g plain flour
225g granulated sugar
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
225g dark brown sugar
4 medium eggs, room temperature
200ml vegetable oil
450g carrots, peeled and finely grated
68g walnuts, chopped

For the frosting
340g cream cheese, slightly softened
85g unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 tsps vanilla extract

1. Set a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 190°C / fan 170°C / gas mark 5. Grease and line two 23cm round cake tins. Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl and whisk to mix; set aside.
2. Place the brown sugar ina large mixing bowl and use a large rubber spatula to work in the eggs, one at a time. Whisk in the oil.
3. Whisk in the dry ingredients about one third at the time. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the carrots and the nuts.
4. Divide the batter between the prepared tins. Bake until risen and firm, 40 - 45 minutes.
5. Let the cakes stand for 5 minutes in the tins, then unmould to racks, turn right side up and cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1. Put the butter and cream cheese in a bowl and beat with an electric whisk at medium speed until completely mixed, about 3 minutes, stopping and scraping the bowl and beater.
2. Decrease the speed and add the icing sugar one third at a time, beating until absorbed after each addition.
3. Beat in the vanilla and increase the speed, beat until smooth and light, 6 - 7 minutes. Use straight away to sandwich the two sponges and cover the cake.

December: Mince Pies

8oz plain flour
1¾oz ground almonds
3oz icing sugar
3oz margarine
3oz unsalted butter, soft
1 egg yolk

1. Heat the oven to 200°C / fan 180°C. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.

2. Mix the ground almonds, icing sugar, margarine, butter and egg yolk in a large bowl to form a dough.

3. Roll the dough into a ball, cover in cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for an hour.

4. Remove the dough from the fridge and dust work surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is about 1cm thick. Using a round cutter, cut out 12 circles for the bases. You may need to re-roll out the dough. Then, using a heart or star shaped cutter, cut out 12 tops.

5. Place the rounds into the baking tin and lightly press down to fit in the moulds. Add a heaped teaspoon full of mincemeat to each one. Then, add your tops to the mince pies. Dipping your finger in water, lightly press on the edges to seal each one.

6. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes until firm and golden. Remove and leave on a wire rack to cool. Once cold, dust with icing sugar for decoration and place in a cupcake case.

 November: Christmas Cake

600g sultanas
350g prunes, chopped
350g glacé cherries
2 small dessert apples, peeled, cored and chopped
450ml cider
150ml brandy, plus extra for feeding
4tsp mixed spice
200g unsalted butter, room temperature
175g dark brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
150g ground almonds
300g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
400g marzipan icing
3 large egg whites, plus 1 extra for the berries
500g icing sugar
Mixed fresh berries, to decorate
Caster sugar, for frosting

1. Put the sultanas, prunes, glacé cherries, chopped apple, cider, brandy and spice in a large saucepan, bring slowly to simmering point over a medium-low heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid had been absorbed.

2. Remove from the heat and leave to rest overnight at room temperature.

3. Preheat the oven to 160°C / fan 140°C / gas mark 3. Double-line the cake tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, cream the butter and cugar together until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs a little at a time.

4. Fold in the fruit and ground almonds, then sift the flour and baking powder, and fold into the mixture.

5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, cover with fold and bake for 2.5 hours, or until a skewer insterted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool.

6. This cake is best made around 6 weeks before Christmas. If you like, you can continue to feed the cake up until you are ready to decorate. Once a week, prick the cake all over with a fork and drizzle a tbsp of brandy all over.

7. When you are ready to decorate, cover the cake with the marzipan icing; roll it out until it is about 0.5cm thick and place on top using a little apricot jam to secure it.

8. Whisk the egg whites in a clean, dry glass or metal bowl with the icing sugar for about 10 minutes until stiff, then spread on top of the marzipan. To decorate, make frosted berried by dipping fresh berries in beaten egg white, then in caster sugar and leaving to dry.

October: Banana Bread

250g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
85g unsalted butter, plus a little extra
150g light muscovado sugar
3 medium-large ripe bananas; the riper the better!
100ml plain yoghurt
2 eggs
85g chocolate chips / chopped walnuts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Grease a 900g silicon loaf tin (line if it is not silicon).

2. Sift the baking powder and flour together into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

3. Mash the bananas with a fork, or potato masher, then add to the dry ingredients with the yoghurt, eggs and walnuts / chocolate chips (if using). Beat with a wooden spoon until well combined. Spoon into the loaf tin, level the top and make a slight dip in the centre.

4. Bake for 1-1¼ hours, or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. It will keep for up to a week in an airtight container.


September: Chocolate Beetroot Cake

250g plain chocolate, broken up
3 large free range eggs
200g light muscovado sugar
100ml sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
½ tsp baking powder
50g ground almonds
250g raw beetroot

For the icing
150g plain chocolate
100g icing sugar
100g soured cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Grease a 22cm round, loose-bottomed cake tin with a little butter and line the base with baking paper.

2. Place the chocolate in a bowl and set over a pan of gently simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt slowly until smooth, then set aside to cool.

3. Place the eggs, sugar and sunflower oil in a large mixing bowl and whisk together, using an electric hand whisk, for about 3 minutes until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Stir in vanilla extract, the sift over self-raising flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and gently fold in, together with the ground almonds.

4. Using a pair of rubber gloves, peel and grate the beetroot, then squeeze out the excess liquid. Fold the beetroot into the mixture with the cooled chocolate, until thoroughly mixed.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour. Cover with foil if the cake browns too quickly. Test the cake by inserting a skewer into the centre to see if it comes out clean. Cool for a little while, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

6. For the icing, place 150g plain chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Allow to melt gently until smooth. Set aside to cool, then beat in icing sugar and soured cream until you have a thick, creamy and spreadable icing. Spread it over the top and sides of the cooled cake and serve.

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