Sunday, 28 July 2013

Rum and Raisin Muffins

The heavens have finally opened and I've had to switch my bedroom light on at quarter to five to compensate for the gloom cast by a storm which can't decide whether it can be bothered to make an effort or not. Is this the start of the end of the British summer? Possibly. Who knows. Tomorrow morning it could be back to a week of 30 C scorchers but if not then you could always make a batch of these as a comfort tool. I'd even suggest sticking on a DVD of PotC Curse of the Black Pearl and while Jack Sparrow is being his charming self, apologise and tell him you'll have to eat his rum soaked raisin muffin unless he can materialise in the room right now. Jack (after the number of times I have watched that film I feel that formalities can go out of the window) has never professed whether he likes spiced rum or not but I feel that the amount that has gone into making these will make it acceptable to him. Throw in a bottle of the stuff and a marker pen to replace the Morgan's with Jack's and I'm sure he will be happy. I'll even bake a batch every day for a week if he gets me a pair of his boots. I have a weakness for boots and get a bit sad when I have to put them away ready for the next autumn. A new pair mind. Heaven knows what unhygienic habits pirates have.

The original recipe for these was a banana bread recipe that came to me by the way of my penpal Lesley. I've mentioned here before and we regularly swap recipes though this was probably one of my favourites. The first time I tried it out I did it as a loaf like it said using the chocolate variation suggested. While eating a slice, and enjoying it very much I might add, I realised that it was very similar to a muffin recipe with the whole mixing the combined wet ingredients into the dry ones so this was the nest thing I tried and I swear it made them taste even better. It was the first time I had tried the chocolate/banana combination in a cake and despite finding a multitude of other banana bread recipes since then and vowing to try them all, I know I never will. This is the one for me. Very simple and works every time. Every baker knows the joy that comes from a recipe like that. It makes a perfect base for adaptation too and I've had this one in my mind for a while.

I think I've explained before about my hatred of alcohol that turns into a love affair when it is in food or chocolate and knowing my dad's favourite ice cream flavour is rum and raisin I really hoped these would work out for the both of us. Mum is up for trying most of my baking ideas though occasionally she needs a little convincing (I'm still working on my cheesecake trifle suggestion) so I was good to go with these. I left the banana in because they are well known for making cakes moist and yummy and if the flavour came out strong still I thought it would blend well with the rum and raisin. I only made a half batch too just in case they didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped but no worries there! The drizzly glaze isn't strictly necessary either but I thought it couldn't hurt and it does boost the rumness but it won't be a travesty to leave it off. Whatever your choice, do give these a go. Though maybe leave off the 'Yo, ho! Ho! And a bottle of rum!' song while baking unless you are home alone or with another avid PotC fan! 

150g raisins
150ml spiced rum
3-4 small very ripe bananas
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g caster sugar
100g unsalted Lurpak, cubed and not fridge solid but not very soft

2 dsp spiced rum
4 heaped tsp icing sugar

(sorry, I forgot the ingredients pic!)

At least an hour before you start baking, or even overnight, stir the rum and raisins together and cover the bowl with a saucer. 

When ready to bake, set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan and line a 12 hole muffin tin with muffin cases.

Peel the bananas and slice into a bowl along with the eggs, vanilla and the excess rum not absorbed by the raisins:

Mash really well then stir in the soaked raisins and leave while preparing the next bit.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, stir in the sugar and rub the in butter until it looks something like so:

Quickly mix the mashed ingredients and divide evenly between the cases. The mixture should be a bit lumpy and the cases will be quite full but that's fine and yes it is ok to leave a little bit of mixture in the bowl for yourself if you're really concerned. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 mins then turn the oven off and leave in there for another 10 mins. Cool in the tray on a wire rack for a few mins then remove the muffins and leave to cool completely.
When cold, prepare the glaze. Put the rum in a cup and sift in the icing sugar a bit at a time, mixing until smooth between additions. You can make it thicker or thinner as you wish. Spoon a little onto the centre of each muffin and let it drizzle down the sides then serve as part of a high seas tea.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Chocolate Shortbread Fingers

Is there really anything more wonderful than the shortbread biscuit? I'm not sure there is you know. Oh you might have a favourite meal or baked treat that is as far removed from shortbread as can be but then when you return to the classic butteriness of shortbread you are hard pushed to argue against the delightful simplicity. My mum makes the best shortbread ever. Of course, I respect everyone elses attempts and the fact that others may have a loved one who they say makes wonderful shortbread but for me nobody can come close. Mum doesn't do or add anything unusual to her recipe but there is something that for every member of our family, sets it apart from the rest. Maybe it's love. Mum bakes shortbread throughout the year though a massive load is done at Christmas. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins look forward to any occasion when it might be deemed necessary  for Mum to take some with her to the gathering and even more popular is her Millionaire's shortbread. God it's good. Along with her chocolate cake Millionaire's shortbread is my favourite sweet thing Mum makes.

It always pains me that there are some things that I can't do as well as my mum. It annoys my dad no end that we are so similar, especially when he wants some back up for something but one difference between us is that I have not yet mastered Millionaire's shortbread. I managed it once, with Mum standing over me teaching me how to do the caramel but then the next time I tried on my own I didn't get it quite right. Mind you, it was very hard to convince people at university that the caramel had gone wrong because as soon as I had handed it round it was gone again! That made me feel better about it and I'm sat typing this now with a little smile on my face. I've got a bit better since I did that batch but I don't want to intrude on Mum's territory while I'm at home so I'll have to wait until I go back to uni to have another go. I'm sure my housemate won't mind, as long as I make the base gluten free!

I might not be able to perfect my mum's specialities but one shortbread success I have had is this chocolate version. I followed  the recipe(Ha! Me? Follow a recipe? As if!) given in The Great British Book of Baking by Linda Collister, the book that accompanies GBBO series one, as my entry for the Random Recipes #30 challenge created by Dominic at Belleau Kitchen. It's a great idea for a baking challenge and I wish I had come up with it myself because I have a growing number of recipe books all of which I am in love with no matter how basic they are. Every single one of them is good research!!

The challnege involves selecting a recipe book at random each month and making whatever it falls open on but because it is the 30th anniversary of the challenge, this month it is the recipe on the 30th page on the 30th book which is to be baked. I had to allow a little poetic licence for my counting because my recipe books were arrnged rather haphazardly at the time with some little ones tucked in amongst their big brothers and sisters where they could be easily missed. In the end though I counted to this book and the picture is on page 30 so it qualifies, right? I hope so because these were really very good. I did wonder if the chocolate flavour would ruin the shortbread taste but it didn't at all. The challenge rules state that the recipe can only be changed for dietary or monetary reasons or seasonal availability. Well, cocoa powder is available all year round so I couldn't use that excuse but I did cut the recipe down in proportion to how much butter I had to save money and I cut the biscuits into fingers instead of big wedges for our health. My taste buds would argue in favour of the wedges but thankfully my brain is a bit more sensible in everyday-eating situations. Oh, and I missed the salt out because I see no point whatsoever in putting salt in unnecessarily. I know it is supposed to be a flavour enhancer but if the rest of the recipe is full of flavour then the salt is a waste of time. And I'll say that to any top chef. I'm allowed my opinion and it's not as if I'm saying we shouldn't use salt at all. It's vital in most breads and for me, on cold chicken. Don't ask me why, I just like it! So here you are, mega easy chocolate shortbread with only minimal tweaks to the recipe. Though I can't say the same for the method. Creaming for shortbread is much easier for me!

200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
260g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
Set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan.  Grease your chosen tin if it is a metal one though that isn't necessary if you are using a silicone tray like I did. The size of tin depends on how thick you want your biscuits to be at the end of it. Beat the butter in a large bowl, ideally with an electric mixer until it is very soft and creamy:
 Mix in the sugar until well combined though don't continue creaming like for a cake because you don't wait to trap air in the mixture now. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour and mix again until evenly combined. Gather the dough together into a ball and press it into your prepared tin. Smooth and level with the back of a spoon then mark with a knife into your desired shapes and prick with a fork. No, this doesn't make the shortbread suddenly turn black and white, the lighting was just terrible in this picture!
Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 mins until just firm to the touch, turning round way through the baking time. The exact time may vary quite a lot depending on how thick your shortbread is and how 'done' you want it. Mine looked done but when I turned it out of the tray it was still a bit soft and melty when I tried a piece but that seemed to go really well with the chocolate flavour! Take out of the oven and go over your markings again. Cool in the tin then turn out and devour at will.
Time to put the kettle on!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Fondant Fancies Cupcakes

I know making these cakes in pink may seem a little unpatriotic right now seeing as Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge had just been born and everything, and I probably would have made a special blue one if I'd had some blue food colouring, buuuuut, I didn't. SO I couldn't. But it's ok because us Brits are sticklers for tradition (that easel, the however many gun salute, hordes of people lining the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the royal family) and what could be more British than a pink French fancy? I've loved these, as have many people, since childhood. When we opened a box for a family tea time, predominantly the pink ones were mine, the yellow ones were my brother Christoper's and the brown ones were Mum's. I don't remember which my oldest brother Richard or Dad had, I suppsose they had to make do with what was left but I do remember hoping that there would be a pink one leftover so I could have a second helping! Nowadays my favourite is the brown ones (more chocolately) but I still have a special loyalty for those little pink cakes so there was no other option for the colouring of these cupcake versions.

I got the idea for these when I was looking up afternoon tea things
on Pinterest. I admitted my new obsession with Pinterest in this post here and when I mentioned I had an idea I was desperate to try out this is it. I was looking at all these awfully pretty things and this idea popped into my head. I'm sure someone has done it before but nothing was readily coming up when I searched for it which made me want to try it out all the more. This is actually my second go at these because the firs lot I made a complete hash of. God, it's so embarrassing just to think about it. I was really stupid. They went wrong from start to finish. First the cakes shrunk aftre taking them from the oven, then the buttercream I piped on top looked like footballs and not Mr Kipling inspired at all, I made the fondant too sloppy and the wrong pink and to add insult to injury, the fondant was lumpy. Very lumpy. I had the brightspark idea of using the fondant leftover from the Christmas cake to make the topping expecting to be able to warm it in the microwave and get it to the right consistency. Don't do it. Just don't. It's awful and you will be kicking yourslef big time. I had wrapped the fondant up well and tight but it still went brick solid and I couldn't get the little dried bits out after I had thinned the majority down to make it runny. Never mind I thought, I can pick them off the cakes, so I perservered. After the second cake was covered I gave up entirely and just poured it on, ignoring the lumps and sent a text to my mum at work aplogising for the hideous cakes she was going to have to eat when she got back. I wasn't going to let a bit of sugar beat me though so I waited until I got a chance to go in for round two. I think I made up for it. They are just how I pictured them if I could have made them a little neater. Practice makes perfect though and all that. Unless I get another wonderful idea for fondant icing I'm going to have to make another batch anyway to use up the other half packet I've got because I'd rather it didn't go so rack solid and unusable again. Suggestions are welcome of course! 

Another reason why I was dying to make these was because the Alphabakes challege for July was to create something using the letter F. 

Seeing as 'fhocolate' isn't a real word and I wanted an excuse to make these anyway, the timing of finding out about the challenge couldn't have been better. I know I've cut it a little fine with entering seeing as the deadline is today but I couldn't have shamed myself any more by entering the catastrophe already mentioned. Alphabakes is a fun little challenge where each month a random letter is chosen and you have to bake something with an ingredient beginning with that letter or have a word starting with that letter in the title. You can read all about it here on co-founder Ros' blog The more than occasional baker and the other co-founder and the host for this month Caroline at Caroline Makes. It's a really good challenge and I can't wait for the surprise letter next month.

So here it is, a little bit of childhood reminiscence for grown ups. There has to be something good about adulthood an this is it. All the fun memories and stickiness of the original but in a larger size means the appearance of sophistication but with more cake!

Cake ingredients:
175g butter, very soft
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g self raising flour
25g cornflour 

Decoration ingredients:
250g white fondant icing
red gel food colouring
Apricot jam
40g butter, very soft
90g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 heaped tbsp icing sugar

Beat the butter with an electic mixer until really creamy then beat in the sugar until pale, light and fluffy like so:
 Set the oven to 190 C/170 C fan. Beat the vanilla and eggs into the buttery sugar a little at a time, mixing well between each addition and scraping down the sides regularly. If the mixture starts to curdle, mix in a spoonful of flour. Sift the flour into the bowl and gently fold in with a spatula or large metal spoon:
 Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper muffin cases and divide the mixture evenly between them. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 mins until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean then remove and place on a wire rack for a few mins before taking the cakes from the tray to cool completely.
 When cool brush the cakes with a little apricot jam mixed with boiled water. Really the jam should be sieved first but if you can't be bothered like me then just avoid leaving lumps on the cakes. 

Squidge the fondant packet up a bit to make it nice and pliable. When I was decorating the Christmas cake last year I had to wrestle the marzipan packet off my brother because he was getting a bit carried away. He obviously thought it was Play-Doh.

Break little bits of fondant off and roll into balls. I used 6g pieces but that's because I'm pedantic.
Using a rolling pin or your fingers, flatten each ball out into a thin disc on a surface covered with icing sugar. Drape each disc over something so it forms a little hat shape e.g. the back or a spoon.

Make the buttercream by first beating the butter with the mixer until really creamy then mix in the icing sugar gradually and the vanilla. Continue beating until you get a pale and fluffy buttercream, similar to like when creaming the butter and sugar for the cake. Using a teaspoon, place a small amount in the centre of each cake. You won't need as much as you think and will most likely have leftovers which goes excellently with strawberries. I did start off using a silicone piping bag and small circular nozzle but after about the third one, the nozzle popped out along with a fat sausage of buttercream right onto the cake I was holding. I wasn't best pleased but at least I found it was just as easy to spoon the buttercream on.

Cover each blob of buttercream with a fondant hat and smooth it down so the jam holds it in place. If any buttercream squeezes out just carefully wipe it off and it will be fine.

Break the remaining fondant into lumps in a bowl and start to break them down with the mixer on a slow speed. It might jump about a bit and even escape the bowl but keep at it and it will eventually behave. Add a splash of water to help the process and a tiny amount of colouring. Continue mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl and adding water and colouring until you get the shade and consistency you want. It should be pourable but very thick.

Spoon the fondant over the cakes, encouraging it over the buttercream bumps so everything is well covered. Then mix the icing sugar and water together to get a similar consistency. It's easier to add a bit of icing sugar at a time. Keep mixing it together and it will suddenly go lovely and smooth. Put it into a piping bag fitted with a very narrow circular nozzle and pipe zig-zags over the cakes. Or any pattern you like really if you don't mind it a bit less My Kipling authentic.

Now it's time to bask in the delight of what you have produced. After all that effort relax...

...and enjoy!!


Monday, 22 July 2013

Black Forest Baked Alaska

Yesterday I achieved something that for 4 minutes of my life had me skipping about the kitchen with jittery nerves. Before I get to that though I want to apologise for the terrible photographs accompanying this post. I'm not claiming to have any decent photography skills to talk of normally but what little understanding was present between my camera and I seemed to have disappeared while I was making this. I can only hope it will return, ideally with a more inclination to give me better photos but that is nothing more than a wish. I don't want my camera (it's pink!) to refuse to work with me altogether. 

That photo there might look like nothing more than a pile of meringue plonked on a baking tray to you (yeah, it does to me as well) but that is in fact my very first attempt at on of the things in the baking world that defies all the laws of logic - a baked alaska! Ok, ok, I know the merigue is supposed to be arranged over the cake and ice-cream in artistic swirls but while I was trying to cover everything I started to panic because it kept sliding off the ice-cream. Up until that point I had been relatively calm about the idea of putting ice-cream in a hot oven (!!!) but suddenly I lost it and decided to just just get the whole thing covered and bung it in there and go for the aesthetics the next time. Oh there will definitely be a next time. I've already had several ideas but the one I really want to try involves chocolate and caramel and my secret component which will have to remain a secret until I make it because it will be so obvious, though I guess it would be quite interesting to get people' opinions beforehand about whether they think it will work or not. I'm not going to risk it though and will only do a big reveal when/if it is a success. That way if it doesn't work I can pretend I am talking about something else entirely then when I make something that is worthy to go on here, use that to justify this monologue. See my thinking?!

The idea for this came about when I was telling my mum about one of the several challenges I had discovered. I have already mentioned in this post here for Bramble Berry Jam that I am obsessively eager to enter some of the baking blog challenges ane the one I was twittering on about at the time was the We Should Cocoa challenge created by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog and Chele at Chocolate Teapot who I think have both come up with fantastic names for their blogs. 

This months host is Choclette and the chosen ingredient that must be paired with chocolate is ice-cream. I particularly wanted to enter We Should Cocoa because anything chocolately has me running towards it quicker than you can say 'yum' but I wasn't sure what I could do apart from the Rich Chocolate Ice Cream I told you about earlier this month. Baked alaska had quickly flitte through my mind but I just as quickly dismissed it as being too difficult but when I asked Mum, it was the first thing she came up with, and gave a rather firm response too. When Mum remained enthusiastic about it I thought maybe I could do it after all, so after a bit of quick research regarding the components of a baked alaska and discovering they often include a layer of jam somewhere I decided to go with a black forest theme. I even found some bargain Taste the Difference red cherry jam for 41p (sorry, I had to tell you the price, it was a bargain and nowhere near the best before date) when I had to get a few bits from Sainsbury's though seeing as it was red cherries and I added some sliced strawberries, strictly speaking this should be called Red Forest Baked Alaska. No matter, choose which one you will.

I've been dreading this moment now because the picture I took of the sliced up alaska is so messy I am slightly ashamed of it. Only realising the picture in the book to accompany GBBO series 1, which is where I got the merigue recipe from was not much better than mine, made me feel a little better about it. All the other example I looked at were relatively neat, some inexplicable so. But here it is, please forgive me...

I know it doesn't look as amazing as it should but it tasted delicious as my dad said and I really liked how the different textures went together. The soft sponge cake, the sticky jam and somewhat tangy strawberries,  the melting ice cream and finally the mallowy meringue with a hit of crispness on the exterior. It really was very good and made me realise baked alaskas may be my bakers things that I keep trying different versions of. I would be worth it to keep sampling something like this. The enjoyment was only topped by that meringue being he first one I had made successfully. Whisked egg whites and I don't have a good history.

I'm conscious that this post is getting longer and longer and I haven't even given you the recipe yet so before I leave you to it, let me just mention another challenge I am entering this post for, the No Waste Food Challenge created by Kate at Turquoise Lemons and this month guested hosted by Elizabeth at Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary

This challenge aims to encourage people to create or revamp recipes using foodie that may otherwise have been wasted with this months them being the frezzer stash. I'm pushing it a bit with entering this post for it because homemade ice cream is never going to be forgotten in out house but the little bit that I used for this recipe was leftover from the last time we had a portion each. Mum was all for sharing the last little bit between us but I persuaded her to save it so this recipe was obviously meant to be. It only makes a little alaska but even this provides enough to make share between three as a treat. Or you could multiply the quantities and make more. It's up to you, I only hope you enjoy eating it as much as we did.

Cake ingredients:
1 large egg
 2 oz tub margarine
2 oz caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 oz self raising flour
0.5 oz cocoa
1/8 tsp baking powder
1-2 tsp brandy, cherry brandy or cherry liquer
Chocolate chips

Set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan. Grease a 7" round cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper then dust with flour so it looks like this:

Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl and add everything else except the alcohol and the chocolate chips. Mix it together with an electric mixer for a minute until everything is combined, scraping own the sides of the bowl a couple of times to make sure everything is even. Pour it into your lined tin, level then sprinkle over a few chocolate chips, pressing them down lightly:

 Bake in the preheated oven for around 20 mins until the cake is risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for a few mins then turn out onto the rack, remove the lining paper and brush the cake with your chosen alcohol. Leave to cool completely.

Meringue Ingredients:
 1 medium egg white
50g caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk the egg white with the vanilla until frothy:

Add the sugar and whisk until combined then place over a pan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn't touch the water and continue whisking until the stiff peak stage. This is when you lift the whisk out (turn it off first!) and a peak will form that doesn't fall back into the rest of the meringue. The best way to check if it's ready is to tip the bowl upside down. If it is ok then the mixture will stay put. If not, you will have a puddle of mess. Once ready, remove the bowl from the pan and continue whisking until the meringue is at room temperature. 

Cover and keep cool until ready to use.

To assemble:
Cherry jam
Ice cream

First line a ramekin with clingfilm. I'd suggest a double or triple layer because mine kept snapping as I was trying to pull the ice cream out. Then get your ice cream and squash it into the ramekin, cover and put back in the freezer to firm up again. When ready to assemble, set the oven to 230 C/210 C fan. Cut round another ramekin into the cake you made earlier (or use up a leftover piece) leaving a gap round the edge so you get extra cake if you wish:

Place the cake disc on a lined baking tray, spread with a thick layer of jam and add a layer or sliced strawberries:

Take the ice cream out of the freezer and remove from the ramekin running warm water over the base and sides if need be. Peel away the clingfilm and place on top of the strawberries:

Cover the whole thing with the meringue, making sure everything is sealed right down to the base. If you aren't panicking, create swirls in the meringue so it looks pretty. Place in the preheated oven for 3-4 mins util the meringue has started to colour then remove from the oven and serve immediately. 

If I can get hold of one before next time, I'll be using a chef's blowtorch instead of nervously eating the remainder of the cake while the alaska is in the oven!

Enjoy, you deserve it!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Homemade Chocolate Digestives

As I sit here writing this all I can think about is whether a certain email has arrived yet. I'm waiting to see if I have been selected to go down to London to be on a panel to test out some baking bits and I'm super excited about it to the point where I'm checking my emails every five minutes and also my phone for missed calls despite having had it with me all day. If the lovely people from Eaglemoss Publications or the selection team are reading this then I would absolutely, definitely, 100% travel to London and test/discuss these things with you. Every new piece of baking equipment I get goes through a test and christening process and it would be so  much fun to do this with other bakers. Oops, there I go again, another email check.

It isn't the thought of going to London that has got me so incredibly hooked. I've had a taste of the tourist thing and like it but there are plenty of other places I'd like to explore. It's the thought of travelling on the train and that means only one thing...ADVENTURE!! I absolutely adore adventures and those that are accompanied by a long train journey seem even better somehow. Maybe it's the anticipation, the build of excitement as you get closer and closer to your destination. I took myself off on an adventure to the Edinburgh book festival a couple of years ago and was practically bouncing up and down in my seat annoying the other passengers as we went through the beautiful scenery. I went first class too because there was a really good deal on so I got a few funny looks. Aventures were you end up utterly exhausted at the end of them don't put me off either, it makes it all the better. Otherwise you just end up feeling like you had popped out for the afternoon and got back just in time for tea. That trip to Edinburgh resulted in me treking about the Old and New Town with my friend Lesley (hi Lesley!) all day then finding my way to the book events in the evening, more events the next day before an exploration of the shops and Fringe Festival at which time the sky decided I had stayed dry long enough and made up for it by turning very dark, very mutinous and very, very wet. Even my clothes beneath my rain mac were soggy and I still had a couple of hours to go before I got my train home during which time I had to protect my precious new books from disintergrating. However, it was all worth it. Every single second. Mind you, that is easy for me to say on a warm and breezey day like today!

These biscuits would be perfect to take on an adventure or a picnic. They will allow you to feel a little smug because you have treats which are so much tastier than shop bought digestives you'll just know that the person closest to you will never again look at a packet digestive without being dismayed. If you are feeling very kind you could offer them one as they are a good sharing biscuit too. In fact, they are good for lots of things. Afternoon tea, supper time, arranged nicely in a pretty tin as a present...the list goes on. I've wanted to make my own digiestives for some time now and read quite a few other recipes and blogs as way of research and half seemed to include oats and half didn't. That had me confused because nobody argues that McVities digestives are not atually digestives and yet they don't have oats in. Surely the inclusion of oats or oatmeal makes the biscuit a HobNob? I decided against oats in the end because, whether they were originally included or not, I grew up believing that McVities were the kings of digestives and even if now they have been overruled by the might of home bakers everywhere, they still deserve a modicum of respect. So here you go, make a batch, put the kettle on and settle down to relax for half an hour.

6oz wholemeal plain flour
2oz plain white flour 
1 tsp baking powder (omit if using self raising flours instead)
3.5oz butter, chilled and cubed
2oz soft brown sugar, dark or light
1 tsp vanilla extract
milk to mix
Bournville or another chocolate, one square per biscuit so 20-24 ish
2oz chocolate chips (not needed for the original, see adaptations to come later)
Sift the flours and baking powder into a bowl and add the   butter and rub in until it looks like crumbled digestive biscuits.

Stir in the sugar, add the vanilla and mix in enough milk to bind the dough together. You'll need to squash it together with your hands to bring it into a ball. It should be soft but not dry or sticky.

Set the oven to 180 C/160 C fan and line a baking sheet with baking paper. Split the dough in half and roll out one halfto a few mm thick on another sheet of baking paper. You can save this sheet to line a tray with another time.

Using a biscuit cutter, cut out as many circles as you can and place them on the lined sheet. Squash the offcuts together and repeat until the sheet is full. The cutter size is up to you really. I used one which was about 7cm. Press a fork into each circle in any pattern you wish. These pokey holes helf the biscuits to bake better and not puff up. 

Bake the biscuits in the preheated oven for about 15 mins turning half way through. The exact time will depend on the biscuit thickness and size. When they are golden and firm round the edges, remove from the oven and quickly place a square (half a square if you are being good, two squares if you want adisc of chocolate with a sliver of biscuit) on each one. As it begins to melt push it around to cover the whole surface and when fully melted transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you don't want to cover up the fork patterns, flip each biscuit over before adding the chocolate piece.

While the first tray is baking, prepare the second half of the dough and bake as before once you have a free tray again. 

Now is the hardest part. Ideally you want to let the chocolate fully set before you gobble them up/enjoy them nicely but this may be too long. I know the appeal of glossy melted chocolate was almost too much of a tempation for me. If it is a really hot day the chocolate may not go back to as hard as it was in bar form in which case you'll have to use your best judgement as to when to stop waiting. (It isn't really a good idea to put them in the frisge unless you want a sugar bloom to develop.) If you need the gratification that can only be achieved from a homemade biscuit before the weather wants to allow it so go ahead. No-one who tries one of these will judge you. And after all, you are about to eat the evidence so who will know?!

Happy biscuiting! 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Banana and Date Cake

My name is Laura and I'm a addicted to Pinterest. There, I've said it. Although I am still waiting for that sense that everything will be ok now that I have admitted my secret. I have a feeling that it isn't going to come because all I want to do is get right back onto Pinterest and look at more wonderful things I want to bake. I signed up as a way to promote this blog and although I'm incredibly backward at all this social media stuff for a 22 year old, I've really taken to this platform. There are so many amazing things on there and I love the idea of having different boards for different themes. When I was studying textiles at A level, then Costume Design at university (believe it or not I really did go from costume to chemistry and it's the best decision I've ever made) I intended to makeover a big cork board into an inspiration board and this is exactly what I've done on Pinterest but with baking ideas. It's absolutely perfect for it and it means I don't have to have a massively long bookmarks list on my computer like I used to. So far I've got boards for this blog, pretty things, useful bits and bobs and for stuff I really want to try out at some point baking wise, though the only way I will ever get to try out everything on there is if dedicate my Chemsitry career to making the Philosopher's stone because I don't think I'll be getting the secret recipe off Nicolas Flamel or Dumbledore any time soon. 

Pinterest has even taken over how much of my book I read. Normally I would grab my book (currently Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris) whever there is a chance to sit still to read a few lines but now I grab whichever piece of technology allows me to view Pinterest. Even my mum found it pretty interesting when I showed her you could look up ideas for furniture for my dad to make. Maybe I should try and persuade her to join. Hmmm. Just a thought. I've had so many ideas sparked from there already and I joined less than a wek ago. My favourite idea that I'm absolutely dying to try out came from seeing a pastel arrangement of cakes on a stand for an afternoon tea. I won't say any more at this time though because I want to keep it a surprise and if I don't tell you all about it just yet I can pretend it never happened if it all goes wrong!

This probably sounds like a shameless plug to get you to follow me on Pinterest but truly it isn't. It would be lovely if you did, I'm not going to get any more pushy than I already have with all the buttons and links down the side of this page. So let me leave Pinterest for now and get on with telling you about the banana and date cake. My inspiration for this cake from a recipe for Yorkshire Ginger Parkin that I pulled out of a magazine a couple of years ago that originally came from the Total Greek Yogurt website. I thought a parkin recipe with dates in was a bit different so kept it to try and it was only when I pulled it out of my archives last week that I twigged it wasn't a parkin recipe in any shape or form. Just because it has ginger and golden syrup in doesn't make it a parkin. How dare they falsify a recipe like that?! However, I know that recipes with yoghurt in are really moist and I wanted to do something with the banana that was going brown (another moist cake maker) so I played about with it and this is what I came up with. It's very easy to make and despite the melting method being used you needn't be exposed to the hob being on full blast on a hot day because it works just as well in the microwave. What's more is that the yoghurt doesn't need to be a full fat version either like so many things need to be to work in baking. Also, it is very sweet but because of the fruit in it you can feel as though you are being good so satisfying both the angel and the devil in you.

So there you have it, a cake to make while searching Pinterest. Am I the only one who searches for a multitude of things to make on there? Say it isn't so!

50g butter
70g golden syrup
225g self raising flour
110g dark soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
80g dried stoned dates
1 egg
200g pot low fat natural yogurt

  1. Melt the butter and syrup together in a bowl in the microwave, stirring to mix together. Set the oven to 170 C/150 C fan and line a 8"-9" square cake tin with baking parchment. If you're using a silicone pan like me, place it on a baking sheet. I always give silicone pans a quick sprinkling of flour but it probably isn't necessary.
  2. Sift the flour and spices into a large bowl and stir in the sugar. Chop the dates into small scissors and stir into the flour. Scissors are the easiest way of chopping sticky fruit you'l most liekly find.
  3. Peel, slice and mash the banana well in a jug then mix with the egg and yoghurt. Pour into the dry ingredients with the melted butter ans stir eveything until smooth.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 mins ish until it is golden and a skewer or cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. If it is still hissing a lot when it appears done, turn the oven out and leave it in there for another five mins before taking it out and cooling on a wire rack. Cool for about 30 mins or until you feel confident it won't fall apart then turn out to cool completely on the rack. Cut into pieces and serve. I cut ours into 9 generous squares. 

Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The New Garibaldi

Squashed fly biscuits, flies' graveyards, Garibaldis. Whichever name you go with, and whether you love them or hate them, they are a very traditional British biscuit (harking back to 1861 supposedly) even if they are named for an Italian general. I know, I know, some things really ought not to be messed with. I really couldn't help myself with this though. More so than with other recipes that I've tinkered with so much that they've become my own. In my defence though I made a real effort to make the 'correct' version first. Twice I tried in fact but both times I made the same stupid mistake. As it turns out though it was one of those mistakes that you are so glad you made and it gave me a lovely happy glow inside when I got some feedback from their intended recipient, my grandad.

Shortly before Father's Day this year Mum was deciding what to take Grandad for his pressie when she suggested to me that I make some Garibaldis to take with us on our visit because they used to be a favourite of his. Well, what Mum actually said was 'Have you got a Garibaldi recipe?' to which I replied 'No but you have'. Mum was slightly surprised that I knew what her recipe book collection contained when she didn't but that surprise was short lived when she realised I had been reading them like an ordinary person reads a story book.

Upon going straight to the right book and almost straight to the correct page I was quickly thinking of possible adaptations when I received the warning that every avid baker knows is sensible to heed but very rarely does. That I should get the proper recipe right before I go changing things. So I sighed, shut the book then on the day before we were due to travel set to work staying faithful to the recipe. Until I got to the bit where it said the sprinkle the rest of the sugar on top of the currants before completing the sandwich. I forgot. Genuinely. I swear this isn't some botched cover up lie to excuse me ignoring a tried and tested recipe. It was only my attention which was botched. To remedy the situation I improvised by creating a thick sugar glaze which you'll see below and decided to have another go, keeping the gone wrong batch for my parents and I. Unfortunately I was just as distracted the second time round and made the same mistake so I gave up and convinced myself that I could explain to Grandad they were a modern version. New and improved if you like. I was a little shamefaced when I handed them over but then a few days ago I received the most wonderful feedback I could have asked for. Mum was instructed to inform me that the biscuits were all gone. That is practically a pleading beg from my grandad to make some more. Or a threat to not turn up without some more. It could be either. Although he could have also told me that he wanted a crunchier topping before I arrived yesterday with the batch I did specially for him. Some people are never pleased! Never mind. It still gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the adaptations I wanted to last month while filling up the house biscuit barrel. One batch for Grandad, one for us! So it was worth all that foolishness over not learning from my mistakes in the end. But now my wonderful readers, what do you think? Are Garibaldis the good, the bad or the ugly? And should they remain in their original format or is it ok for an experimental baker to put their own stamp on them? Let me know in the comments bow below. I think the spice makes all the difference even though it is only a minor change. Don't worry though, I won't go as far as demanding their name be changed to Denmans!


125g self raising flour
25g Clover or block Stork or butter
3 tbsp ish cold milk plus some for the glaze
1 tsp mixed spice plus some for the glaze*
50g currants
25g caster sugar
*omit this if you want to go with the original recipe with just my accidental adaptation

  1. Sift the flour and spice into a large bowl and rub in the fat. I promise you the Clover does work. Some people might want the better taste you get from using butter but because there is so little fat in the recipe and the focus is on the currants anyway, I don't think it is strictly necessary. Bind the dough together with the milk. To get the right consistency add the first couple of tbsp then add the remainder slowly. The dough will be somewhat stiff but not dry i.e. you should be able to bind all the little bits together without it being sticky. 
  2. Break the dough into two pieces and roll out each (working on a piece of greaseproof paper is easiest in this case) so it is 2 or 3 mm thick. This should give you some idea of the scale:
  3. Set the oven to 190 C/170C fan. Chop the currants up and mix the with 1 heaped tsp of the sugar. Spread the majority onto one of the rolled out pieces, leaving a border free to be wet with milk. Place the other piece of dough on top pressing down around the edges and sealing with a fork before trimming so the edges are a little neater.
  4. Now to squash the flies. Roll over the sandwich until the currants are practically breaking through the surface. Try to keep it an even shape. It should be a few mm thick by the time you've finished. Again, trim the edges to get rid on an excess of dough with no filling. Squash the offcuts together, roll out, fill with the remaining currants, cover, seal and squash as before.
  5. Slice the sandwiches up into the desired sized biscuits. 13-16 is good. Or if you really love Garibaldis then don't slice them up and serve whole with a cup of tea fit for Hagrid.
  6. Place the biscuits on a baking tray lined with the baking paper you rolled out the dough on. Brush with milk then sprinkle on the reserved sugar mixed with some more mixed spice. There will be enough to do a couple of coats or you could save the second coat until you take the biscuits out of the oven to turn the tray around half way through the baking time. Beaten egg instead of the milk might help to create a thick/crunchier topping too. Use a fork to press holes into the biscuits in your desired pattern before baking in the prehated oven for 15 mins ish, turning the tray half way through. 
  7. Remove the biscuits from the oven when they are golden coloured. Remember they will look more golden than normal biscuits because of the sugared topping. Leave them on the trays for a couple of minutes them remove and leave to cool on a wire rack if can wait that long. I usually like to try one biscuit warm from the oven then one when they are fully cold. I think Grandad might have wanted out visit to be over so he could have one with his next elevenses! 
Enjoy your biccies!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Extra Marble Cupcakes

For this post I was inspired by Manisha Parmer who GBBO enthusiasts will recognise as one of the contestants from the 2012 series. You can have a look at her Facebook page here. A short while Manisha put a fantastic little tip on her page for a simple cupcake decoration that had me questioning why I had never thought of it before. It involves putting chocolates on top of cakes as soon as they come out of the oven so they melt onto the cake - simple, quick, effective but most importantly, delicious. The only minor problem that I had with this tip was that Manisha suggested using leftover continental chocolates. In case I have been a little ambiguous in my previous posts, there is NO such thing as leftover chocolates. Ever. End of. Especially continental ones. They are the best! It's the continental ones that are my favourite variety from Thornton's but please don't ask me to choose which is my favourite from a box. That would be too tough. It swings between cappuccino, Alpini and champagne. Although I am not that fussy that I will turn my nose up at a box of the Classic selection. All chocolate is gratefully received.

Anyway, Thornton's aside, when I read this tip I immediately began to think what cakes would suit sweeties melted onto the top and what chocolates would be best. I had been fancying doing some sort of old school cake for a while hence the marble and then I came across some offers in WH Smiths while Mum and I were choosing our Saturday shopping trip chocolate. Smiths had some of those share bags at £1 and among them were some Bitsa Wispa. I had been forewarned by a pen pal that they were gorgeous but I thought that they would be nothing special. They are only mini bits of chocolate after all. However, I decided to go with them for this recipe because I thought they would be light enough to not squash the cakes while they were firming up fresh out of the oven. All I can say is that, MJ, if you are reading this, I am truly and deeply sorry. You are right. Bitsa Wispa are far superior to normal sized Wispas. And so addictive. Before I had even cracked an egg into the mixing bowl I had sampled five of them and I can't tell you how many I ate in the end. I reserved enough for the cakes and thought if I left three for my mum then it wouldn't be so bad because I wouldn't have finished off the packet. Unfortunately my resolve lasted until I had the cakes in the oven before the packet was back out of the cupboard, emptied and the evidence hidden in the bin. Oh dear I thought, another example of my lack of willpower. It was all I could do not to eat some of the reserved Bitsas. In fact, writing this has made me want to go pull one off each of the remaining cakes.

But no. I will be strong. And just to make sure my strength lasts until pudding time I'll leave you now with the message that I couldn't resist adding a splodge of Nutella to the cakes. It makes for a cake that rewards you for not being showy or elaborate in the construction by giving you an unexpected soft and gooey hug. Tea, cake, bliss.

3 large eggs
175g margarine
175g caster sugar
175g plain flour
splash of milk
45g cocoa powder
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2tsp baking powder
A bag of Bitsa Wispas or similar small chocolates

  1. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with muffin cases and place the eggs, margarine, sugar and flour in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat all the ingredients together for a couple of minutes until everything is combined. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl so everything gets an equal share in the mixing business.
  2. Now would be a good time to set the oven to 190 C/170 C fan. Transfer half of the mixture to a second bowl and mix in the cocoa powder, half the baking powder and enough milk if necessary to obtain a soft dropping consistency. To the other bowl mix in the vanilla extract, the remaining baking powder and again milk if necessary.
  3. Now come the fiddly bit. You need to evenly fill the cases evenly with both the mixtures. You could use two teaspoons, scooping a bit of each mixture in alternatively which is what I did. Or you could fill two piping bag with the mixtures and simultaneously pipe into the cases which I can't decide if that would save time or just create more mess. Depends on your piping skills I suppose. If you are lucky enough to have some, you could even use those funky looking piping bags from Lakeland that have two compartments so you can pipe two different colours of icing to get a pretty swirl. However you do it, once they are filled, swirl a skewer through the mixture to create the marble effect. Whatever you do, work quickly because the baking powder will not wait for you and all the lovely gas it will be creating will be lost to the atmosphere instead of being trapped in the cakes to give them a good rise.
  4. Pop about half a teaspoon of Nutella (or more if you are in need of a bigger chocolatey hug) onto each cake and help it down a little by scooping a little of the cake mix over the top. Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes without opening the door to turn the cakes for the first 18 minutes. I think that is enough time to pass the danger point of the cakes collapsing with the opening of the influx of cooler air from the door opening.
  5. You can't stick a skewer to test of these cakes are done like normal because of the Nutella centre so when they are risen, golden and feel firm but springy to a light touch take the tray out of the oven and place on a wire rack.
    Arrange the chocolates on top straight away.
    You may need to put slight pressure on them so they stick instead of sliding straight off as they become molten. Leave in the tray for a few minutes then carefully lift each cake out to go directly on the wire rack to cool completely. Note that the cakes will cool before the chocolate solidifies again (it melts but keeps its shape as long as you don't touch it). You can of course eat them when just the cake is cool so you bite into bits of liquid chocolate but if you want the toppings to be set you'll have to hold off for a while longer. I struggled not to gorge on one as soon as I'd placed the chocolates on top because they looked so divine sat there waiting for me. On this one occasion though I managed to hold off. But just in case I haven't made it clear yet...

Happy caking!