Mouthful and a half, that title, eh?
If spending a weekend afternoon sheltering from rainy London doing some baking isn’t a big ol’ HELLO AUTUMN, I don’t know what is. Baking seems to be taking over the world these days, eh? I joined a gang of food and lifestyle bloggers for an afternoon at L’Atelier des Chefs by St Paul’s station, hosted by Currys, Neff and those good eggs at Joe Blogs.
After arriving to hellos, sandwiches and much-needed coffees (guys, I drink coffee now. I KNOW), we were ushered in to the kitchen area to get started on our bakes. The lovely guys from Neff gave us a quick demonstration of their ovens and seriously, I never realised there was such a thing as ‘oven porn’ until now. Maybe it’s old age approaching (haa), but I’m severely coveting the idea of having a nice kitchen these days. An induction hob, with a magic-seeming door that tucks in under the oven itself. And, most importantly, A SELF CLEANING FUNCTION. Game changer.
Once we’d all got a bit turned on by ovens, we split into groups to make our hazelnut torte creations. With a top squad featuring Connie, Carolin and Kate (who blogs some amazing veggie and vegan recipes, btw!), we totally had this baking business in hand. Aprons on, ingredients prepped, and chef Fab (who was actually fab) to show us the way, we set about getting busy in the kitchen.
It’s actually a super easy recipe, and between us we all contributed to putting it all together. I felt my minor role of ‘mixing up the coffee’ in the beginning was rectified by the frankly terrifying task of cutting the cake in half once cooked without ruining the whole thing. Nerves. Of. Steel.
If you want to have a go yourself (you definitely do), here’s the recipe:
For the cake: 55g toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped, 110g butter, 110g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 110g self-raising flour, 1 tablespoon milk, 1 teaspoon instant coffee.
For the filling: 2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and sliced, apricot jam, zest and juice of 1/4 of a lemon.
Decoration: 55g icing sugar
- Seperate the egg white from the yolks. Beat the egg whites until they’re fluffy. Using a stand mixer if you have one, cream butter and sugar together, then add the egg yolks and self raising flour.
- Mix the instant coffee and milk, and add this and the hazelnuts into the mixture
- Fold egg whites into the cake mixture.
- Bake for 25-30mins until firm and springy to the touch.
- To prepare the filling, place the apples, 2 tablespoons of apricot jam, lemon zest and juice into a saucepan. Cook gently until apples are soft, then leave to cool.
- Cut the cake in half and fill with apricot jam and cooked apples. Sprinkle icing sugar on top. Done!
Once we’d baked and painstakingly filled our tortes, it was time to make them look Instagrammable beyond our wildest dreams. I love sharing food photos and spend ages working out the angles, lighting, etc etc. But those meticulously styled shots that make the simplest cake look like a work of art still seemed a bit beyond my reach.
Until now, anyway.
We were treated to some lessons in styling our food by Carol Poirot, who specialises in food styling and photography. Seriously, you have to check out her Instagram, her flatlays are just a whole new level of incredible. With a demonstration, she managed to put together an amazing scene where a humble torte became an incredible autumnal image. And I totally have some tips from her to share with you!
(Although this post and these tips are focused on food, most could be applied to a variety of genres – beauty, books, lifestyle, etc etc.)
- Fabric is a great way of making an image more pleasing on the eye. Sometimes, a simple off-white piece of material makes all the difference. Also, play with texture and colour to see what works.
- Think about your surfaces – instead of a standard, plain cake stand, Carole’s wooden one really upped the autumnal vibe.
- When you’re shooting food, ingredients make great props. For the cakes, we used apples and hazelnuts to demonstrate the recipe itself.
- See also: flowers. Really great for emphasising the season and just looking damn lovely. Hell, why not even put your flower cutting shears into the image? Go crazy – you can always remove things if you decide it’s ‘too much’. Basically, who doesn’t love a good ol’ flower shot on Insta?
- When it comes to composition, consider the heights of the objects in the frame. A really tall vase of flowers next to a low cake, for example, is pretty jarring. Instead, try mixing objects of different sizes.
- Photos with ‘movement’ are great for drawing the eye. Whether it’s a trail of hazelnuts and apples leading from the front of the frame to the cake, or an actual ‘hand in frame’ – the concept of movement adds depth and dimension to your shot.
- When it comes to colours, a colour wheel is super helpful in putting your shot together. Generally, the easiest combos to go for are analogous shades (next to each other on the wheel) or complementary shades (opposite each other on the wheel).
- The exception to colour wheel theory is nature. If nature says colours go together, they go together!
Once we’d styled our cakes, it was time to get shooting. Carole took us through some basics of food photography (something I’ve posted on in more detail here), including how awesome aperture priority is for foodie pics. I usually opt for aperture priority when I’m shooting anyway – put simply, the lower the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. Which makes for that pro-looking blurred background look. Super helpful if your kitchen’s as messy as mine.
Lighting is also really important – Carole told us that she doesn’t like shooting at all without natural light. You don’t have to take your food shots in your kitchen, you can always easily take your setup to the place with the most light. And it means you can keep your ISO low, which results in less ‘graininess’ to contend with in post production.
If you really have to take photos without much natural light, Carole told us that it’s better to underexpose the image slightly then fix in Lightroom/whatever you edit with after than put the ISO up too high. Tripods are also great for still life photography like this, as you can take longer exposures which equal more light going into the camera, without having to worry about shaky hands. Although, it’s probably a tad odd to whip one out when you’re in Pizza Express with your mates.
Finally, after styling and snapping a million pictures, it was time to tuck in. And it was delicious. Usually, I’m a chocolate fiend when it comes to cakes – but the hazelnut, apple and apricot flavours worked together so well. Definitely the perfect autumn cake, to be consumed with a cup of tea in front of a cosy fire. Or with prosecco, as we did. Either works.
After my awesome day of baking, I definitely intend to delve more into the world of cake making, and up my Instagram game and blog photos with Carole’s tips. Also, L’Atelier des Chefs is such a cool space – I totally want to do one of their cooking classes soon as well!
What are your favourite autumn baking recipes?
*Hazelnut torte recipe courtesy of Neff/Currys. I was a guest of theirs at L’Atelier Des Chefs for the event.