Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Quick Cheesy Nutty Wholemeal Bread

This turned out to be a breakthrough bread. The reason being that it is the first loaf that I have made that my mum would call fancy that she has actually enjoyed. Mum even taking some to work for her lunch which is high praise indeed. She didn't even realise that it was a bread that hadn't been kneaded so I was saved the look of disgust I received last time I tried the recipe. (My mother is a stalwart traditionalist. Not kneaded bread? What a notion!) I thought the original was fairly successful and with practice comes progress but as always I decided to mess about with the recipe instead of getting it just right first. However, this time I seem to have got lucky and didn't have a disappointment. I was so glad I waited to have my lunch until the bread came out of the oven because I was dying to try some warm, and particularly to get the crust. The hardest part was resisting the urge not to rip into it as soon as I took it out - it would have been burned fingers and mouthes all round.

My rubbish photography doesn't show the lovely golden colour!

It seems rather unfair to take credit for the whole recipe when all I did was to add a few extra ingredients. James from this years Bake Off is the original creator and the recipe can be seen here. I only used half quantities for my experiment and used a 1lb loaf tin because I really didn't know if my idea would work and I didn't want to be left with a large loaf to throw to the birds if it did turn out to be a flop. Warm or cold, it goes lovely with a little salted butter but I also reckon it would make a good soup acompaniment. Maybe tomato to go with the cheese? Or chicken or vegetable? I would've like to have tried any of these but I finished it off today at lunch so no can do. Now this is where about 50% of the population will hate me. For lunch I put it with Marmite and tomato slices. Remember now, each to their own!

Recipe - sort of.

At stage one of James' recipe, add 50g of grated cheese. I used mild cheddar because that is all we had in but normally it would have been Red Leicester. A mature cheddar would give a more pronounced flavour but I see no reason why you can't use your favourite hard cheese as long as it retains some flavour after cooking. Try to remember to put the cheese in at this stage. It's harder to incorporate it after you have mixed it together as for stage 2. I found that out.

Carry on as the recipe states, giving an extra 5 of the scrapes each time as described in stage 3. This isn't anything to do with the added cheese - I just thought I'd give the gluten a bit more chance to develop and it must have worked because Mum thought it had been kneaded as normal. The stated 15-20 sscrapes might be adequate for you - mine just might not have been as vigorous. Either way, you still save your arms much effort.

While waiting for your dough to reach the end of stage eight, grate another 30g of cheese and mix with 30g each of sunflower seeds and chopped walnuts. If you really like cheese you could easily add some more. Once your bread has finished prooving, gently brush the top with beaten egg. Try not to let it drip so far down it touches the tin if you are using one because you don't want to glue your bread into it. You don't want to have to rip it apart to get it out. Once coated, sprinkle on your crunchy mixture, scooping up any bits that drop off for another go. Now it's ready to go into the oven. I baked mine at 220C for 20 mins then 10 mins at 200C with the loaf out of the tin and directly on the oven shelf. Cool on a wire rack, waiting at the very least a good five minutes before slicing and enjoying.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Smooth Bramble Berry Jam

*UPDATE July 2015 - I made this jam again and took much nicer photos this time. Have a look here. *

Recently I've been thinking of ways to make my blog better and while I was snooping around the all-knowing internet I came across the Woman and Home list of 100 best blogs. Some of the featured blogs (so very jealous of these writers) mentioned baking challenges and I felt rather silly because I hadn't thought of taking part in these before despite having heard before now that they exist. Plus they sound like lots and lots of fun. One of the several challenges on my list to enter is the Tea Time Treats Challenge run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked, both of which are rather lovely blogs. 

July's challenge, hosted by Karen requires entrants to submit something yummy that contains fresh fruit. This bramble berry jam I made last year tasted lovely even if it was a little, errr, thick and although it is another month until the berries will be ready again for round two I'm hoping it will still be a suitable post for my first ever blogging challenge. In my book, jam is definitely a tea time treat because it can go with so many tea time things. Toast, sandwiches, scones (under or on top of cream, you pick), in cakes, in biscuits, jam tarts......I really want jam on toast now, this minute. Sigh. I would have another go at strawberry jam for the challenge instead but I never have the chance. I always eat them before I can put them away let alone prepare them for jamming. Though I'm going to have to make more of an effort to restrain myself if I want to experiment with that cheesecake idea I've got.

Anyhoo, here it is, my experience of making bramble berry jam. And because I can't get you a berries picture until next month, here is a picture of the baby apples on the tree in our garden instead. Hmm, I wonder if apple and bramble berry jam pie would work?

My mother has the patience of a saint. An unbelievably-so-patient-practically-comatose saint. The reason for this? Last week I was bored reading my newly arrived copy of Chemistry World magazine so on a whim I put on my rain mac and took myself off blackberry picking, to the great disgust of my German Shpeherd Cassie whom I left behind. I felt rather guilty at this but this is the same fluffy monster who pulls every time she goes on a lead, whines incessantly while you are stood outside the pharmacy with her waiting for Dad's prescription and just when you are walking to the village without any plastic bags decides it's a good time to... well I'm sure you can imagine. So I'm  sure you can imagine why I didn't want to be holding the lead while balancing precariously over bramble bushes and stinging nettles to reach the best fruit. I know wild fruit is nature's bounty and everything but why are birds so inconsiderate that they eat the berries that right on the edge of the bushes instead of those that are too high up or in the middle of a mass of thorns? After an hour of trudging around the edge of a muddy field getting blown about by the wind and bitten by brambles I had gathered about 2lb of fruit an headed home. I was pretty tired by this poitnt and had had enough of looking very silly to any members of the public who happened to walk by as I was out so I went home to thaw out (yes, I really did have to thaw out in August, thanks to our wonderful British weather) with a biscuit before letting the fun really begin. Mum arrived home to me boiling the berries in their juice and washing water with her kitchen upside down around me and her favourite wooden spoon dyed purple. Her only words were "Something smells nice, I can smell blackberries." Cue me with a sheepish grin. 

Toast will be on the menu for a while!

This recipe required a lot of faffing about but I really think it was worth it. You get a jam with a lovely flavour though and no pips, or, if like me you are using a sieve with a tear in the mesh near the rim then a very few. I had to do the jam in stages because I had a chicken pie to cook as well and the food shopping to do but by supper time we were all eating gorgeous, if a little thick (my fault!) blackberry jam on toast. Yummy!

Granulated sugar
(You'll need 3/4 lb to every 1 pint of puree you yield)

1. First of all get yourself a big pan. I used the base to the pressure cooker (wonderful inventions!) and then fill it with hot water and a massive squirt of washing up liquid as soon as I'm done so I don't have as much scrubbing to do.

2. Pick over the berries to get rid of any nasty ones or bits of unwanted foilage. If whilst doing this you come across any insects, try not to throw the ones you are holding around the kitchen sides. You will only have to pick them up. Trust me, I know.

Freebie fruit

3. Rinse the berries in a collander and tip into the big pan. I added maybe a couple of tablespoons of water because I didn't trust there was enough water from washing for the next bit.

4. Starting on a low heat, slowly bring the berries to the boil, then reduce the temperature to a simmer, cover and stir occasionally. I bashed the berries about a tiny bit to release some juice while I was waiting for them to boil because I still wasn't convinced there was enough water from washing. Simmer for 15 minutes.

5. Press the now mushed up berries through a sieve and collect the puree, discarding the bits that won't go through. I was determined to get a high a yield as possible so I pressed as much through as possible, scraping it off the underside of the sieve each time to allow more through, then maybe 3 or 4 times I put the remaining pulp into another bowl while I rinsed the sieve and started again. This stopped the sieve from getting clogged up with seeds and whatnot. Once you think you get can't any more puree/your arms are top tired measure the volume of what you've got and weigh out how much sugar you need. I got a smidge over 1 pint from 2lb of berries so I needed 12 oz of sugar. However, ever since making it I have the awful feeling I used a whole 1lb of sugar but it's a bit late now.

A pretty good yield I thought

 6. Wash enough jars in hot, soapy water and place on a baking tray. Warm the sugar in the oven at 110C and heat the puree until boiling then remove from the heat and add the warmed sugar. (Turn the oven to 140C and put the jars in the oven when you take the sugar out. This sterilises them.) Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved - thankfully this happened quite quickly for me which I was surprised about as I forgot about warming the sugar so it didn't get very long in the oven. 

7. Whack up the heat and rapidly boil the fruity sugariness until a sugar thermometer reads 104C. The book I used actually says 106C/220F but the BBC Food website gives 104C/220F. Choose whichever you believe. Okay so that isn't particularly good advice but I'm guessing that with all baking and cooking there comes a point where you have just got to use your own judgement. This recipe originally came from a rather old book so you would think it has the support of time but lots of other places, including the BBC Food website have tested recipes so someone somewhere has got their conversion wrong. I suppose if you aren't confident in your own decision then it is only really a problem if you are using a digital thermometer instead of the traditional ones with have different stages already marked on. My mum's sugar thermometer is very old and much loved so I just go with the marking that says 'Jam' and be done with it. As much as I love Mum's thermometer, I am dying to get my hands on a digital thermometer so I don't have to hold my had over a busily steaming pan, getting burned by all the jam splashes. Digital thermometer goes in, takes a reading and comes out again. Easy. Even better would be a themospatula from Lakeland which hopefully I'll get to buy on Friday when I go shopping at Meadowhall. Then I can stir and watch the temperature at the same time. Double easy. In theory!

8. Anyway, if you don't have a suitable thermometer another test you can do is the cold plate test. Before starting place a stack of plates in the fridge then when you think the jam is ready take one out and put a teaspoonful of jam on it, taking the jam pan off the heat. Leave for a minute then gently push it. If it wrinkles the jam is ready but if not put the pan back on the heat to boil for a few more minutes before trying again. 

9. Once you are happy the jam is ready, take the pan off the heat and the jars out of the oven. Place the jar lids in the sink and pour boiling water over them. Spoon the jam into the jars (right to the top) or if you are sensible and have a jam funnel, use that. It will save a lot of kitchen side wiping later on. 

10. If you have some, place waxed discs over the jar tops. If not, then cut a rough circle of baking parchment, place over the jar tops and trim so it is just a little bigger. Obviously waxed discs give a better seal but I didn't have any so had to make to. Carefully so as to not burn your fingers, pick up the lids and waft around in the air for a bit to get rid of any water drops. (Using a tea towl to dry them is more likely to introduce  nasty stuff to the so far sterile jars, which you want to do as little as possible. You want to keep the jam mould free as long as you can.) Screw the lids onto the jars and pop the jars in a safe place to cool down.

11. Clean up.

12. Eat toast and jam, jamm sandwiches, swiss roll, jam roly-poly, jam sponge... Mmmmmm.

Things to remember when making blackberry jam:-
* It is not a good idea to go blackberry picking in a knee length dress. Brambles hurt! The scratches on my hands are now healed but the big one across my leg hasn't yet.
* Blackberry juice, puree and jam gets EVERYWHERE. Be prepared to be srubbing pans and utensils and wiping sides continuously.
* I promise you, you do not need any lemon juice. I know it is quite unusual in a jam recipe but early blackberries/brambles are a medium pectin content fruit so the lemon juice isn't needed to add it. I kept questioning the book (The Complete Farmhouse Cookbook by Yorkshire Television) I was using, especially when Mrs Beeton used some in her version, so I added just a teaspoon and ended up with very thick jam.
* Remove any pale items of clothing or cover with scruff clothes. (See point two).
* It's all so worth it.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Coffee and Walnut Cookies

Coffee and walnut is one of the ultimate classics of cake so me being meddlesome me wondered if I could make the same flavour work in a biscuit. Now I'm sure quite a few other people with a lot more baking knowledge than me has had the same idea and come up with some wonerful recipes that wouldn't need altering but where would be the fun in usig one of those? So one day when the biscuit barrel was looking forlornly bare I flipped through my exponentially growing and found a recipe for walnut crumbles in the series two Great British Bake Off book. Ignoring the sensible thing of trying out the recipe as written for the first time I threw myself straight into turning them into coffee and walnut cookies, which to be honest required very little imagination to do. The first attempt gave a nice but pretty weak flavour so this time I used Camp coffee because it was an old faithful from my childhood, most often used by my mum in a chocolate fudge cake. It was a little better but for those who aren't a fan of drinking coffee (like me) this is probably adequate. I wasn't sure how much liquid I could add to a biscuit recipe but the 1tbsp I used this time seemed to work fine so for a stronger flavour I'm sure 1 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1tbsp boiling water, or even 1tbsp espresso would work fine. Hey, you could even do a batch of each alongside each other to create a rainbow of coffee flavours!

Coffee and Walnut Cookies - perfect for a TEA break!
Makes 27 ish (including one to sneakily try before presenting to anyone else. Well, you know, cooks treat and everything.)

100g unsalted butter, really soft
90g caster sugar
50g demerara sugar
1 large egg
1tbsp Camp coffee/other coffee essence/granules dissolved in 1tbsp boile water/espresso
250g self raising flour
85g walnuts

1. Set the oven to 180 C or 160 C fan and line 2 or 3 baking sheets with baking paper. I love doing this because they slide straight off - so much easier than when a light greasing wih butter fails.

2. Beat the butter and sugars until just mixed with an electric mixer (why bother wasting energy usinng a spoon when technology is available), whisk the coffee flavouring of choice with the egg then beat that into the sugary buttery loveliness too. 

3. Chop the walnuts finely or grind in a blender. I used the grind function on Mum's blender which just happens to do the exact same motion as the smoothie, crush, mayo, milkshake, puree and batter. Just be careful that you don't turn the walnuts into a paste. I like them sort of rougly ground - not so big that they hurt Mum's teeth but not so small that you don't get the occassional larger piece which gives a lovely tecture to the biscuit. When you're happy with the walnuts work them into the previous ingredients with the sifted flour. A spoon or spatula is good for this but feel free to use your hands if you like - I usually give it a good final squeeze/knead right at the end for luck to make sure everything is well mixed together.

4. Now it's time to form the biscuits. For 27, each one should weigh 23g with a little bit leftover to try raw. Well, everyone does it with cake mix don't they?! (Of course, if you aren't obsessive like me you don't need to do any weighing at all. You'd be eating your biscuits so much quicker this way.) Roll each piece of dough into a ball and flatten to a disc less than 1cm thick and place on the trays. Sorry I can't be more exact with sizes but I didn't go so far as to measure diameters and thicknesses! Don't forget to leave space in between them as they do expand. 

5. Put in the oven for 13-15 mins, rotating the sheets half way through. You want to get a more golden colour to the biscuit with darker edges - difficult to judge when the dough is already brown from the coffee. Just be careful the biscuits don't catch and scorch. Annoyingly the first batch I made didn't at all but the ones today did on a few. Naturally I destroyed the evidence of the worst one - scorched evidence tastes rather nice!

6. Once done, leave on the tray for five minutes than transfer to a wire cooling rack. Here is a good time to put the kettle on and maybe try one warm while you are waiting. Or better yet, get someone else to make the drinks while you arrange the cooled biscuits on a plate, snaffling some away where appropriate. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Chocolate Whisky Cupcakes with Ganache Topping

I had planned to begin this by telling you all how I was sat here writing while eating a slice of freshly baked brown bread made from a recipe by James Morton - one of the guys from this years Great British Bake Off, but the thing is that I've already eaten it. It was far too nice to wait. (Have a look here if you want.) I was a bit sceptical about it as I have not had much luck with bread recipes other than my mum's white one and a wholemeal tin loaf by Paul Hollywood but the whole lack of kneading thing was attractive so I gave it a go. Plus I got to use my pink dough scraper. It proved (seriously, no joke intended there) to be a very productive morning and the bread tasted lovely and was pretty light despite not having to kill my arms for ten minutes in the kneading process. I love time saving techniques.

For the health conscious among you there is no butter in this bread recipe but I more than made up for it with the amount I allowed to melt onto the beautifully warm crust. Aplogoies to my dad but I really couldn't save it for you this time. However, I do wonder if you could add other ingredients to the dough. Say, medium oatmeal, or maybe even crushed Weetabix for a different texture. Or.. NO, STOP MESSING WITH THE RECIPE!!! I really need to learn when to leave a recipe alone. Apart from this one. I really do think I have finally found the right recipe to make the perfect chocolate whisky cake. I have been looking for the right one for over a year now and eventually came to wonder if using my mum's amazing chocolate cake recipe with extra liquid would work and thankfully it most certainly does. This is a cake that is made every Christmas, holiday, birthday, visit from my brothers, return from university after thinking I'd screwed up the all important exam in my favourite module...well you get the idea. Plus, if it gets a chance to keep, it gets richer and more moist with age.

As I've said, I wasn't sure if the recipe would take the extra liquid but at the same time it was really important that I got a good whisky flavour. I added about 3 tbsp and let Dad be by second opinion. His response was "a gnat's b*****k more" so with a little trepidation I added another tbsp and warned Mum that if it was too strong it was not my fault. Surprisingly the flavour in the cake after baking wasn't strong at all but I apparently didn't need any more in because the flavour in the ganache definitely compensated. The cakes turned out to be really light so I don't see any harm in trying to add another couple of tbsp next time but hey, that's just me! The ganache was a little too sloppy so I'm altering the quantities a bit for the recipe here but oh my, the original made the most gorgeous acompaniment to strawberries. I'm pretty gutted that the last lot of strawberries I bought weren't all that brilliant probably signifying the last lot until next year now (I stand firm on this one - I will not buy anything other than British strawberries - it seems wrong somehow). I've always thought ganache was pretty special but then I sampled the batch I made for the cakes (naturally) and was taken a whole new level, with only a single tbsp of whisky. I'd even say it is better than Nutella, and that really is saying something.

Makes 16 muffins or one 8" cake (I used hald quantities to experiment with)

10oz caster sugar
6oz soft margarine e.g. I Can't Believe it's not Butter
3 large eggs
1 rounded tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp water
6oz vanilla yoghurt e.g. Activia creamy
8oz self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2.5oz cocoa powder
4tbsp (maybe a couple more) whisky, whichever brand you like

300g Bournville
200ml double cream
2tbsp whisky
1 heaped tbsp apricot glaze heated and mixed with a splash of water so it is good and runny

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C for the big cake or 190 C for the muffins. Grease, flour and base line two 8" sandwich tins with baking paper or place 16 muffin cases in muffin trays. I used normal ones from Asda but as you can see some of them lurched over the sides so it's a good job I had greased and floured around the holes first. Those pretty tulip shaped cases might be better to stop this because I don't think the cakes should be made any smaller.

2. Place all the cake ingredients (preferably have everything at room temperature first and don't forget to sift the dry ones) into a big bowl  and mix with an electric mixer on a low speed until combined, then stop, scrape down the sides with a spatula and continue to mix on high until the mixture is lighter in colour. This will take a couple of minutes maybe.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between the two sandwich tins or the muffin cases - about 75g each if using the latter. Yes, I really do weigh things to this extent! Bake in the oven for 25 mins ish (big cake) or 20 mins ish (muffins) then cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before either turning out the big cakes onto the rack or taking the muffins out of the tray to cool completely.

4. Chop up the chocolate and place in a bowl then heat the cream in a small saucepan until the first bubble appears. Pour the cream onto the chocolate, cover the bowl and leave for five or ten minutes, then give it a really good stir until the chocolate is all melted and mixed into the cream. Add the whisky and mix again until well combined and the ganache is smooth. Here is a really good point to have a taste then when you are sure it is okay, cover the bowl again and pop into the fridge until the ganache is much thicker but still soft enough to pipe. Make sure the cakes are fully cool before you start finishing and decorating.

5. If using the big cakes, sandwich together with a buttercream of your choice - believe it or not, one made with soft margarine is perfectly adequate here. Brush the tinned down glaze all over the big cake or just on top of the muffins. Spread the ganache (I find a silicone spatula best plus an angled metal spatula for finishing off) over the top and sides of the big cake or fill a piping bag with large star nozzle and pipe a swirl of ganache onto each muffin. Please ignore the dodgy piping in the pictures. I have a severe lack of skills in that area!

Any leftover ganache is best eaten immediately. I wouldn't take the risk that someone else gets hold of it first if I were you.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Apple and Almond Traybake

I rather enjoy getting things right. I'm sure everyone does, but I particularly like getting things more right than someone who has got paid to make up a recipe and have it published in a popular magazine. *Cough* Baked and Delicious *Cough* Every 4 weeks or so when my subscription issues arrive I always stop whatever job I'm doing and have a quick flip through mentally noting what things I would really like to try so I can compare with Mum's things when she has a look through. It's only after doing this that I calm down and read the magazines through properly. When issue 32 arrived and both Mum and I liked the sound of this cake I made it at the first opportunity and it was popular all round. However, me being my meddlesome self felt there was room for improvement. There seemed to be a lot of faffing about in the creaming method stated and although melting hard toffees with milk makes a lovely caramelly topping, it didn't seem totally necessary. So I had a play. Dad hasn't tried it yet because he has been eating boiled fruit cake but Mum said straight away that it was perfect, much better than the original, and it even had a lovely lingering smell that had waited for her to come home from work. Plus it was so much quicker and despite using less ingredients I ended up with a cake which was the same depth. I stuck to the silicone cake pan that came with that issue just for old times sake.

Here we go.

4 large eggs
200g soft margarine (I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter but I'm sure any suitable for baking would be fine)
25g demerara sugar (demerara goes really well with apples to give a little hint of caramel)
175g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
125g ground almonds
1/2 tsp almond essence
1tsp baking powder
1 large bramley apple
10g flaked almonds
10g demerara sugar

*Also, cake tin roughly 9 inches square, greased and lined if not using a silicone one. You could use a larger one and get flatter cakes but you would have to adjust cooking times/temps.

Right, this method is really easy.

Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan and place all the ingredients except the last three in a bowl, preferably with the baking powder on top so it isn't in contact with any wet ingredients. (You want to keep all its rising ability in tact until you are almost ready to put the cake in the oven.)

Peel and core the bramley apple and cut into little pieces. It's hard to say a size but be careful not to get them too big or they will sink. I sort of sliced each quarter up then sliced horizontally  to get little cuboid pieces then did a few random chops on the board. I'd say no bigger than 1cm x 1cm pieces. Get some more flour, a heaped dessertspoon or so, and toss the apple pieces in it. (I've no idea if this stops them from sinking but it is supposed to work with cherries.) Set the chopping board aside while you mix the cake ingredients together. Using an electic mixer start on slow until everything is combined, then scrape down the sides and continue on fast until the mixture is lighter in colour. 

Working quickly but gently now so you don't knock the air back out that you have just whisked in, slide the apple pieces off the board into the bowl and fold in with a spatular or similar until the pieces are evenly distributed throughout. This is much better than the original recipe which had slices of unpeeled apple layed on top of the cake which ended up leathery and awkward to cut instead of keeping the slices in shape. Silly idea!

Pour the mixture into the tin, level the top and place the levelling implement into the bowl to lick later. 

Sprinkle the 10g each of flaked almonds and sugar over the top of the cake and place in the middle of the oven. If you are using a silicone tin, you might want to put it on a baking sheet first for ease. Bake for 40-50 mins, until the cake is golden and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Now this is a bit I find annoying. Oven setting can vary so much you have to get to know your own and adjust timings to suit. As a guide, our oven is a fan one and I had it in for 30 mins, turned, 15 mins, then another 5 with the oven off because the tester was clean but the cake was singing a lot still.

Once you are happy the cake is done, place on a wire rack and leave for 10 minutes or so before turning out of the tin onto he rack to cool fully. You don't want to turn it out too early or it may be too fragile still and break up. Cool completely before cutting into 12 pieces. 

Enjoy with a cup of tea! Or in my case a cup of barely warm milk and water that has barely been introduced to the tea bag. Whichever way you enjoy it, I hope you have fun.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Chocolate Smartie Cookies Volcano

Apart from strawberries the thing I really like most is chocolate. This means that any cake or biscuit that contains chocolate in either cocoa or sweetie form is going to be an instant winner with me so you can imagine how much I wanted to try these biscuits when I received my copy of 'A Passion for Baking' by Jo Wheatley and found them. I haven't made Smartie cookies in yonks and for some reason I never had the very simple idea of making the biscuit part chocolately too. Well, I can confirm it is a very good idea.

I made these last Saturday when there wasn't really a lot for me to do apart from to read. Normally this isn't a problem for me but I really wanted to be doing something a little more active and I certainly wasn't going into the garage to help with clearing up the mess caused by the flooding. (Yes, thank you Yorkshire Water for making sure the drains were unblocked and in good working order AFTER water had come up all over the garden and into the garage.) My Dad is great but with regards to his garage, I have refused to go in there for some months now seeing as I don't like climbing over things to get further than an inch through the door, nor coming out with my clothes cake in dust. When I discovered that we were nearly out of biscuits I decided that reaching up for the flour and sugar counted as being active so then the most difficult thing was to choose between these biscuits and the chocolate peanut butter cookies. 

These were fun to make but I didn't make them quite as big as the recipe stated. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved to have eaten biscuits as big as small dinner plates which these would have been if I had made the 10 stated in the recipe instead of the 39 I did (about 30g each in case you are curious) but I would have felt a little guilty at eating something that large as a treat/snack. Plus of course, there is always the thing in me that says I must fiddle about with a recipe. I don't think I have ever followed a recipe 100% to the letter. I don't know what it is about me but there you have it. It doesn't really matter in this case though as the biscuits turned out to be very popular. The only slight thing is that Mum said they had a strange smell but that may just have been her imagination. I did wonder if that was because of the amount of cocoa in them (or possibly just my cooking, either way they still tasted lovely and we have eaten many) because the whoopie pies I made last week contained a lot of cocoa and in my dearest father's words "Errr. Eugh! These smell disgusting. They smell like the carpet did last week." Considering the aforementioned flooding, that isn't a compliment. Love you too Dad.

Having said all that the best thing about these cookies was the bit in the method which says to take the baking trays out of the oven half way through cooking and give them a sharp tap on the side to flatten the balls of biscuit dough. Bash, bas BASH! went mine just for the stress release which was very fun. It was my own falt that I didn't get to watch them flatten too much because I had again meddled and flattened them slightly myself before putting them in the oven. 

I decided to use crushed Smarties mini eggs instead of normal Smarties, and put the whole lot in the mixture instead of using half to stud the tops because I still have a whole load of Easter chocolate leftover from when I went mad the week after the Easter weekend. I will not try to had the fact. Bargain chocolate is something I can resist even less than normal chocolate. I reckon I must have got about £60 woth for £15 so I don't think anyone can blame me for my rampage. Come to think of it, I'm sure I have some Milky Bar mini eggs left which I could use instead. I'd leave them whole this time though, or put them in brownies. That would work well with mini Lindt eggs too. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

There are some things that will be always be difficult to explain and I think whoopie pies might be one of them. You would think it would be easy to figure out their origins wouldn't you? I mean, to me it looks obvious that one day someone thought to hell with fairy cake cases and just blobbed piles of cake mix onto some baking trays (lined of course, let's not get carried away here) and then stuck them together in pairs with some buttercream once they were cooked. This is extremely hypocritical coming from me but sometimes the simplest explanation really is the most accurate. According to Baked and Delicious magazine there is a possibility that these little cakes were named for the 'whoopeeee!' noise American farmers made upon opening their lunch in the fields and discovering the treats that their wives had lovingly made for them. Really now, that is just silly.

I have been dying to try making whoopie pies for ages seeing as I didn't believe the first ones I made could possibly be right. To add to that I finally got hold of The Hummingbird Bakery's Cake Days book which has some amazing recipes in. Someone on my course very kindly let me borrow the previous Hummingbird Bakery publication which I fell in love with so when I discovered this book and that it contained even more recipes, I was having it. Furthermore, after receiving my results this year I was determined to celebrate by treating myself to some baking goodies from Lakeland and a whoopie pie tin was one of them. I cannot recommend one of these tins enough - I gave it a little greasing and flouring and the cakes lifted off perfectly - even better than those I put on a lined baking sheet. That is the only downside of the tin - it only allows for 6 but the recipes in the book make 10. For anyone considering buying one, don't, get two but hurry because they are in the sale.

Not being sure how difficult these would be to make I chose the simplest variation but really these should be called Extremely Chocolatey Whoopie Pies because of the 80g of cocoa in the mixture. They are really easy to make though. Whisk the egg and sugar together until pale and thick (this is my favourite bit of making a roulade!), mix the yoghurt, milk and vanilla together in a jug then mix into the egg/sugar along with the melted butter. Finally, sift the dry ingredients together and (here is the most difficult bit) mix into the wet ingredients in two batches. Yes, I know I sound stupid saying that is difficult but if  your mixture starts crawling up the beaters of your electric whisk you will see what I mean. I can only assume it was because the mixture is much thicker than a normal cake mix so the blobs don't spread into one big cakey blob in the oven. I ended up finishing the mixing in with a spatula once I had scraped as much as I could off the electric whisk. I hope the same thing doesn't happen to anyone else, but just in case I thought you might like the warning. Needless to say I ignored the bit about putting the bowl in the fridge for the mixture to firm up. I don't want to be baking cake bricks thank you very much. 

The recipe says it makes 8 to 10 cakes/pies but as a rough guide and if you like to measure quantities out when making individual cakes like me, then each blob needs to be about 34g to make 10 cakes. This allows for some of the mixture being lost any equipment that it wants to remain stuck to. It also means you have some left over to lick from the spoon/bowl. Never a bad thing.

My cakes had 13 minutes in the oven but I think they could have done with a minute less to allow them to be a bit more moist. That may be the correct texture though, again being down to the amount of flour. I will find out when I make the next lot. 

The filling is amazing. It is a cross between normal buttercream and the marshmallow filling you get in these gorgeous things. Does anyone else see if they can get all the filling out without breaking the chocolate shell after the initial bite? No? My youngest brother once took the biscuit base off one, scooped out the filling then aligned the chocolate back onto the base. Pure skill I tell you. Anyway, this hybrid filling is from the addition of marshmallow fluff to normal buttercream. I've only seen an American brand of the stuff but you can get it from large supermarkets, or off Amazon. You will use more than you think though because it is very lightweight. If you do find it, buy a few. There are lots of things you could do with it, though I still haven't tried a fluffernutter sandwich. If you do use marshmallow fluff as a filling though I would suggest you don't skip the chilling bit if the recipe states to do so because marshmallow fluff on its own likes to escape. Mum made a cake for my middle nephew when he became lactose intolerant and used it for the filling. It seemed to work fine at first but when we came back to the cake a while later we found the top had slid off and the marshmallow fluff was in a puddle around the cake. With the whoopie pies though, it set with only minimal dripping, but I think that was more from me pressing the top half down too much. I only used half the quantity of filling the book said which is ample with enough left over to treat yourself but if you wanted the sugar rush, you could make the whole lot, use half for the cakes and eat the rest yourself. Forget the calories. In fact, if you dip fruit in it, it wouldn't count anyway. I haven't tried this version but normal buttercream goes fantastic with strawberries.

If Mum doesn't guilt trip me into making another Victoria sponge I might try another whoopie pie variation next - coffee and walnut or Nutella. Neither are in the book but then I do like to experiment. Hmmm...

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Two Lemon Drizzle Cakes

 I am sat here typing this with a bag of thinking fudge sat next to me. Thinking fudge is like revision chocolate in that it is supposed to help you to think of brilliant ideas and get on with what you are suppose to be doing but in the end it just makes you eat it before you have done much work at all. So you have to go get more of said fudge/chocolate/biscuits/cake and the cycle begins. Oh, and you get your keyboard or writing implement of choice in a very sticky state. But it is ok because it tastes good and you are getting on with things. Sort of. I can hardly eat thinking fudge while standing in the kitchen watching Mum make a fruit cake to a recipe on the side of a sugar packet that I think sounds interesting and want to try. I would be told that I am either crowding up the kitchen or am blocking the light. The least hindrance I cause, the quicker I get to try this cake and I really want to try it.

Thinking fudge is really easy to make. Basically you take any fudge recipe and do it wrong. For example, I used the fudge recipe from The Pink Whisk after I randomly said to Mum while I was washing up 'I really want to try making fudge'. Mum said well make some then. That is one of the great things about my mum - she will always let me have a go at something. I was a little disappointed when it didn't work but one of the other great things about my mother is that she immediately said I could try it again - once I'd eaten the current lot. Now, the devil side of my brain was all for eating the lot in one go but the angel side said shut it - this might be an oxymoron but my angel side has a very loud voice.

Anyhoo, seeing as my thinking fudge bag is now empty I suppose I should start writing about what I am supposed to be. After I have cleaned my keyboard.

Right, so lemon drizzle cake one. 

This is one of Dad's favourite cakes that I make. I won't start gloating and say it is his absolute favourite because I think that is cut-and-come-again cake which is undoubtedly Mum's area. I hadn't made a lemon drizzle cake for ages and what with Father's Day coming up I thought it would be nice for Dad to have it for a surprise. I wanted to make it perfect for him but while mixing it all I could think about was the stereochemistry of the molecule that causes lemons to taste of lemons i.e. limonene. That is being a chemistry stuent for you.

The recipe is pretty much universal so I think it's ok to put it on here. You need:-
175g tub maragrine e.g. Stork
175g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
2tbsp milk
finely grated rind of two lemons
For the drizzle bit:
Juice of 2 lemons, strained
115g/4oz caster sugar (or 3oz if you like it a bit sharper like me)

  1. Take the ingredients that are in the fridge out of the fridge so they can come to room temperature - this reduces the risk of curdling and is good practice for nearly all baking.
  2. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking paper and switch the oven on and heat to 180C or 160C fan.
  3. Place all the ingredients in a big bowl and mix using an electic mixer on the lowest speed until all combined then scrape down the bowl and mix on high until the mixture is paler in colour. Without being there to show you it is a bit difficult to describe when to stop mixing because if you over whisk the cake will rise and then drop. Oh how many times that has caused my frustration.
  4. Pour the mixute into the prepared tin and bake for 45mins to 1 hour. Remember all ovens are different so yours might take less or more. Just don't open the door within the first 20 minutes or your cake will most likely sink. I think I turned mine around after 30 minutes then gave it another 15 minutes. Once done, place on a wire rack for a few minutes, then turn out of the tin and peel off the lining paper.
  5. When the cake is almost cooked, put the sugar and lemon juice for the drizzle into a bowl and pop in the microwave for 10-20 second intervals, stirring in between each - you want all the sugar to be dissolved. Once ready and the cake is out, poke the cake all over the top with a skewer or a cake tester like me and brush on the drizzle. Your can repeat the brushing periodically and stop when you think no more will absorb or you have had enough. Let the cake cool fully before enjoying. You can get 8 generous or 10 normal slices out of this and it keep well because of the drizzle.
So now I've spent half the day talking about one cake, here is the other.

I was tempted to put it in a square tin instead but thought that I'd make an attampt at following the whole of the recipe for a change. It came about when Mum and I were trying to think up ideas to use bits up in the fridge. There was some cream that we weren't sure if it was turning or not. Mum thought it smelled odd and refused to taste it to find out for sure and seeing as I have no sense of smell to speak of, I was no help (Seriously, I had to all but shove the cut in half lemon up my nose to get the tiniest bit of a scent. Not very helpful for the profession I'm going into, or for baking!) I remembered the lemon drizzle recipe from the new book Mum bought when we went to Meadowhall (Gorgeous Cakes from Marks and Spencer's) called for soured cream so I made sure it was sour by stirring a sprinkling of lemon juice into it. No really, that is ok to do, just like if you can't get hold of buttermilk, just use milk instead. I thought the recipe sounded interesting and Mum didn't feel like baking so I did it and although the verdict was that lemon drizzle one was more lemony this was a fun change for the mixing and baking part. Some people when they find a recipe that they know works will refuse to even contemplate a different one. I agree that is the more sensible thing to do but there is something ingrained in me that I have to a) mess with a recipe to give it my own twist and b) collect dozens of variations of the same recipe just in case I can find one which improves on the last. Stupid Virgo perfectionism.

Seeing as this isn't my own recipe I'm not sure I should post it but here are a few pointers in case anyone buys the book, which I think was £6. It's got some lovely sounding recipes in, including a triple layered Rich Chocolate Rum Torte. Yum.
  • The recipe uses oil instead of a solid fat so you must measure it by volume (150ml/10tbsp) not by weight (5fl oz). If you measure out 5oz of oil you will actually get more than you need because oil is less dense than water, the same reason why it floats.
  • I'd suggest using the zest of two large lemons instead of the one to get a stronger flavour and maybe a bit more juice, say 6tbsp instead of 4.
  • Muffin recipes use oil and you aren't supposed to mix those for long unless you want a tough, heavy muffin. I wasn't sure if the same would apply to this cake so I compromised and mixed for a little longer than I would muffins but less than for an all-in-one sponge. It seemed to work fine.
  • Where the recipe says 'stir over a low heat until just beginning to bubble and turn syrupy' for the drizzle bit, I'd suggest ignoring the 'turn syrupy' bit and take it off the heat as soon sa it starts to bubble. I carried on heating because mine bubbled long before it started to thicken but once it cools, it thickens a lot so mine ended up more as a glaze than a drizzle. I reduced the sugar a bit too for a sharper taste. 
I'm really pleased I tried a different version of the lemon drizzle not only for the fun but because I got to Christen Mum's new recipe book, and the pre-cut baking paper discs to line tin bases with. It is always an honour to be the first to use something new. And I'd highly recommend the paper discs. It isn't lazy, it's conservation of energy!
Oh god, Mum has just came upstairs and said the cake will take a couple of hours. Plus cooling time.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


I'm sure that most people reading this will remember some point of their childhood when they had to pester their parents to let them do something and then feeling an immeasurable amount of happiness when said parents relented. This funny shaped loaf is the product of my incessant pestering of my mum until she said "Yes, I want you to make that". Well I wasn't getting a straight answer so I had to keep trying didn't I? I should explain. Both my parents are very supportive and will for the most part try anything I make as long as it hasn't got tomatoes in (for Mum) or spaghetti (for Dad). However, my dearest mother is what I shall term a traditionalist. She is a very mummyish mum who favours farmhouse cooking and shuns anything that is not staring-you-in-the-face British. For a long, long time Mum refused to even contemplate a recipe if it wasn't in pounds and ounces and more than once I have had to sit with a calculator and translate an ingredients list (1 ounce = 28.375g to be most accurate). I have been trying to get her to buy some didgital scales for months so when I came home from university for the weekend  one time and saw some on the kitchen table I nearly fainted from shock. It is only now that Mum may possibly consider using them to follow a recipe in 'foreign lingo' without my conversions and only if it is one she really wants to do. The trusty and very old Salter balance scales in the cupboard need not fear that they will be retired in the near future.

Brioche is something I've wanted to try for ages, mostly because I didn't have much of a clue what it was, so when I saw a free mould was going to be included with issue 29 of Baked and Delicious I got very excited. It has taken me about two months to persuade my Mum that it wasn't so much as foreign muck as harmless French and when she tried some for supper the night I made it, I think even she was pleased I had. Dad was just pleased I'd baked. 

The enriched bread is very soft and light with a lovely buttery taste and goes really well with strawberry jam.  If you can get hold of it I'd recommend Marks and Spencer's strawberry conserve. It's worth the cost, trust me. (Once I've had chance to play around with the homemade version, I'll post the recipe for that on here too.) It didn't fry out as quickly as I expected either but I still tried it toasted with jam and, well, all these cereals that go on about them being a good way to start the day, I reckon they have it wrong. 

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting the brioche to turn out properly but it seems to have apart from the smaller top half of it being lopsided which I tried to disguise with my minimal photography skills. I haven't had much luck with bread recipes before you see. Fingers crossed that I've passed a turning point when I made hot cross buns at Easter. I ignored the bit in the recipe which says leave to rise for an hour or so until doubled in size. Mum judged the rising then despite my growing impatience, and I'll follow her rules in future because they turned out pretty decently.  I let the brioche go to about four times its original size (about 2 hours in the warmish airing cupboard) until the dough just started to dimple. Of course, everyone will have their own bread rules but now I would follow these even if master baker Mr Paul Hollywood said I was wrong, unless I was pushed for time of course. Just remember that enriched breads (more sugar and fat I think that means) are more difficult to rise so do a such recipe on a day when you can chill and not panic if it doesn't go perfectly to plan. Baking rarely does.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Weetabix Cake

Occasionally the fancy takes me to make an attempt at being healthy, but only very occasionally. Everyone who knows me is well aware of how much I like cake and chocolate and biscuits. In fact, pretty much the only things I like more than these are strawberries. Thankfully strawberries are extremely healthy so I take advantage and eat as many as I can get my hands on during the few months that I can get hold of British strawberries. You are going to have to trust me when I say I can eat a LOT of strawberries in one sitting because for the time being I am not going to post the picture of my 9 month old self, sitting on our front lawn surrounded by several baskets of strawberries shoving as many as possible into my face. The only thing that has changed in the years since then is that I can now eat my favourite fruit with a little more decorum. Until someone tries to steal one. I would rather give up my monster jar of Nutella. The only reason why I won't be yakking on about many recipes with strawberries in is because the said ingredients would never make it into the bowl with the other ingredients. 

So, back to the recipe. I first heard about Weetabix cake from someone on my course at university, my initial reaction being one of disgust immediately followed by intrigue (which just happens to be the same reaction of both my parents when I said I was making it.) When I found a rather large box of Weetabix on a really good offer in Morrison's and it fell conveniently with my latest foray into limiting how much cake I ate, I decided to save in a little plastic tub all the flaky bits that fall off when you attempt to take out a couple for your breakfast instead of crushing them to start with. By the time I finished uni for the summer I had enough for the cake and had persuaded my mum that it wouldn't be so bad to try it. The result was something that was enjoyable enough to not throw out to the birds and seeing as the cake didn't peak during baking, I was doubly pleased. It might not look over-exciting but after I have added some orange zest and some chocolate (and removed some of the sugar because this version was agreed to be very sweet by both my parents as well as myself) I'm hoping that it will go on 'the list' as my dad puts it to make again. My development ideas are going to have to wait a little while though because there are lots of other cakes I'm dying to try first. It will never win any awards for visual impact but some of the most simple cakes to make can be some of the best. It's also a brilliant way to use up cereal that might have been taking up room in your cupboard for a while if you have phases of eating different ones.

Hope you enjoy!

300g self raising flour
225g caster sugar
200g raisins or other dried fruit (I used a 1:1 mix of raisins and glace cherries)
2 Weetabix, crushed
1 tsp mixed spice
275ml milk
1 medium egg, beaten 

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl then mix in the egg and milk. Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin and bake in a preheated over at 130 degrees Celsius/110 fan/ gas 3 for 1 hour 15 mins. Once cooked (a cocktail stick or skewer should come out of the centre clean) put on a cooling rack and after 5 or ten minutes take out of the tin and remove the lining paper. Slice and serve once cool.

Notes: The first time I did this I had it on 110 fan for about 1 hour 35 mins. You might need to rotate the cake periodically depending on your oven but it probably isn't a good idea to open the oven door in the initial 30 minutes or the cake could sink if it behaves like spongier recipes. Strictly speaking this isn't my recipe - I got it off the netmums website. I've only put it on here because I've seen the same one on other websites so I wasn't sure which was the original. But yes, you did read right, there is no fat added like most cakes. (Hooray!)

In case you were wondering, my healthy eating lasted for less time than it took me to finish the big box of Weetabix.