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My latest offering was supposed to bring Christmas cheer to several people – including my newly volunteered taste tester, Laura – but due to the inclement weather, I was snow-bound at home and the husband saw his opportunity to steal the box of finished goodies and hide them.  A new batch will be baked and distributed next week!

And sadly,  no picture to show their cherry-jewelled beauty.  Must track them down soon as a coffee isn’t the same without one of these at its side.

Ingredients

  • 220g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 35g finely chopped dried apple (Sainsburys sell a lovely chunky one, far better than those horrible foamy apple rings)
  • 65g roughly chopped dried sour cherries
  • 90g white eating chocolate, coarsely grated

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180c (160c fan)
  2. Grease a large baking tray
  3. Whisk the eggs and sugar until combined
  4. Sift in the flours and add the apple, cherries and white chocolate and mix until formed into a stiff dough.
  5. Divide the dough into two and roll into log shapes approx 30cm (12″) in length
  6. Place logs on tray and bake for about 30 mins.
  7. Remove from oven and leave to cool for around 30 mins.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 150c (130c fan)
  9. Using a serrated bread knife, slice the logs diagonally into 5mm thick slices and place on ungreased baking trays
  10. Bake for 15 minutes then turn the slices over.  Turn the oven off.
  11. Return the trays to the oven for at least another 15 minutes to finish drying out.

 

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When you’re halfway through a five hour recipe, being told “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time, I’d be just as happy with shop-bought” really isn’t what you want to hear.  Resisting the temptation to hurl the mixing bowl across the room, I perservered with my attempt at making baps.

You see the husband is a fussy creature.  He doesn’t like crusty bread (strange person).  He’s happy with what my mother refers to as “pappy” bread – Hovis or Allinson, medium-sliced and choc-full of chemicals to help it last indefinitely.  He doesn’t get that proper, fresh, home-made bread only lasts for a couple of days (mostly because I’ve eaten it all by then) and so my efforts are generally wasted on him.

Undeterred by his preference for soft, shop-bought rolls, I decided to have a go at making baps to go with the home-made burgers we’re having for tea (he’d probably rather have a Maccy-D’s if I’m being honest).  Having scoured the ‘net for a recipe, I found lots of praise for Dan Lepard’s floury baps.  Dan has a baking column every week in the Guardian, but seeing as how the paper is too intellectual for me, I was more than a little nervous of the marathon of a recipe he proposed.

But it was worth it.  Well I think they’re great anyway.  I have yet to find out if the husband appreciates my efforts, but Abigail snatched half of a still-warm, buttered bap from my hands and didn’t drop a single crumb as  she munched it into oblivion.

This is the recipe – totally untweaked as I was a little sceptical as to whether or not they’d work.  Definitely a weekend recipe worthy of thick slices of maple-cured bacon and tomato sauce or a nice, fat juicy sausage or two – “Oooh, Matron!”

For the yeast ‘sponge’

  • 1½ level tbsp (12g) cornflour
  • 525g strong white flour
  • 1 sachet easy-blend yeast
  • 450ml warm water

For the dough

  • 50ml water
  • 75ml milk
  • 75g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 level tbsp (15g) cornflour
  • 275g strong white flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2½ level tsp salt

First make the sponge. In a big bowl, toss together or sift the cornflour and flour. Add the yeast, pour in the water, stir to a soft dough, cover and leave to rise for two and a half to three hours.

Next, make the dough. Bring the water and milk to the boil, then remove from the heat, add the butter and set aside till warm. Pour into a jug and top up with water to make 200ml. Toss together the cornflour and flour, add the sugar and salt, and mix. Beat the buttery liquid with the yeast sponge until combined, add the dry ingredients, then mix to a firm dough. Give the dough three 10-second kneads on an oiled surface over 30 minutes, then leave, covered, for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan-assisted)/425F/gas mark 7.

Divide into nine 150g pieces, shape into balls on a floured surface, place on a paper-lined tray, flour the tops, cover and leave to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, until almost doubled in volume. Bake for 25 minutes. Leave until cold before removing from the tray.

 

Whoopie pies have had a lot of press lately and I’ve finally decided to jump on the bandwagon and see what they’re all about.  Having gone through a cupcake phase and exhausted myself with the different sizes and flavours I can create whilst simultaneously emptying the baking aisles of both local supermarkets of their stocks of coloured sprinkles, I figured I needed to try something new.

Having done a bit of research into the method, I finally settled on a recipe from the Joy of Baking website.  In a nutshell, Whoopies are made from a thick sponge mix that you place in dobs on a baking tray and bake to get the characteristic cookie-shaped halves so I wanted to make sure I got a basic understanding of a decent recipe first before I start tinkering.

And what a delight they are.  I knew I was onto something special when I had that first illicit lick of raw batter from the bowl.  Had I not had to pacify a rather grumpy baby, I’d probably have curled up on the sofa and just eaten the whole bowlful without bothering to cook it.

I chose to use my own recipe for the filling – basic buttercream made with 80g salted butter at room temperature (the salt is important to counteract the sickly-sweet Baileys), 250g icing sugar and then instead of the usual 25ml of milk, I used 50ml (naughty!) of Baileys.  Now my mother will baulk at the idea of ruining such good cake-age with Baileys (she can’t stand it) but they’d work equally well with softly whipped, fresh cream and morello cherries, reduced down with a little apple juice and mixed spice to make a lovely cherry compote.

The picture really doesn’t do these little beauties justice.  In my opinion, Whoopies are the librarian of the cake world.  They look quite unassuming and plain, but don’t be fooled by the mild-mannered exterior.  Underneath is a vamp, ready to rock your tastebuds and leave you wanting more!

Ingredients makes approx 15 (30 sponge halves – provided you don’t eat a lot of the raw batter first!)

For the sponges

  • 230g plain flour
  • 75g cocoa
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 170g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 1medium egg at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 60ml buttermilk
  • 120ml lukewarm black coffee (note to my mother – you can’t taste the coffee, it just intensifies the flavour of the chocolate!)

For the buttercream

  • 80g salted butter at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 50ml Baileys

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190c (170c fan)
  2. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment
  3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cocoa into a bowl and mix well.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat the egg into the butter mixture, then stir in the vanilla essence.
  6. Add a quarter of the flour mixture to the batter.  Mix slowly, then add a third of the coffee and buttermilk mix and combine.  Repeat until all the flour and coffee mix is used (finishing with flour mixture)
  7. Drop tablespoonfuls onto the baking trays about 2″ apart.  Wet your hands and smooth the tops.
  8. Bake for 10 mins then transfer to a cooling rack.
  9. For the filling, beat the icing sugar and butter together using an electric mixer until it forms a crumb-like mix.
  10. Slowly pour in the Baileys until you have a smooth, soft buttercream.
  11. Use the filling to sandwich together the sponge halves.

Whoopie!!

When I was growing up, we always had a cooked breakfast on Sundays.  Monday to Saturday was toast or cereal, but Sundays always involved eggs (in various styles), bacon and sausages and was always something to look forward to.

Sadly in these enlightened times of trying to control my weight (and failing miserably at the moment!), and having a husband who will not be swayed from a routine of home made granola or Weetabix even on high days and holidays (nope not even my birthday or Christmas day), looking forward to breakfast was a thing of the past.  Until I started Miss A with Baby Led Weaning.

I decided to make our own breakfast tradition of pancakes and fruit at the weekends and have found that home made Scotch pancakes and strawberries are a regular crowd (of one) pleaser.  For variety, I’d tried several recipes for American pancakes but they always seemed stodgy and tasteless as I try to avoid added sugar for Miss A (so no lashings of glossy maple syrup for her).

However this morning, I happened across a recipe for banana and pineapple pancakes where the fruit is in the batter rather than on the side.  Judging by the sad looks on the faces of my two dogs as they discovered that there was nary a scrap of food under the high chair, I’m guessing that we’ve finally cracked the American pancake problem.  And I can confirm they taste even better smothered in maple syrup and could probably be enhanced by some lovely crisp bacon.

Ingredients

100g self-raising flour

100ml milk

1 egg

1 tsp baking powder

1 dsp golden caster sugar (I relented a little, but this serves four)

1 tsp mixed spice

1 medium banana – finely diced

50g fresh or tinned pineapple – finely diced

 

Method

Combine the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and sugar in a bowl and mix well.

Beat the egg into the milk and the whisk into the flour mixture until you have a smooth, thick batter.

Stir in the pineapple and banana and leave to rest for five minutes.

Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add a little sunflower oil and a knob of butter.

Drop large spoonfuls of the batter into the pan – I found two dessertspoonsful worked best.

Cook until bubbles start to appear in the batter then flip carefully (as the top will still be runny) and cook for a further two minutes on the other side.

Serve with sliced banana and maple syrup or creme fraiche.

Well it’s been some time since I blogged because I’ve been banned from cake making for a while to prevent the husband from pilfering my home made goodies when he’s had a little too much vino rosso and has the munchies.

Having mastered the art of the low-salt, leave-in-the-fridge-to-rise-overnight white loaf for Abigail, I decided to turn my hand to a different kind of bread for me.

I love the onion bread they sell in Morrisons but it seems such a waste to buy a whole loaf just for me. So what did I do? Decide to make a huge loaf of cheese and onion bread, knowing full well that the husband will turn his nose up at it (until he bothers to try it when he’ll declare that it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten and can we have it every day).

Having failed with a cheese and jalapeno loaf a few weeks back, I this time chopped the cheese into minute chunks which seemed to work far better as when they were finally kneaded in, they didn’t keep poking holes in the side of the bread like last time. It was then doused with a liberal sprinkling of grated cheese, ovened and wow! It smelt good and tastes even better.

Ingredients

  • 250g strong white flour
  • 250g strong brown flour (I used Allinson super soft brown flour)
  • 1 sachet fast action dried yeast
  • 10g salt (although you could get away with 5g as the cheese is quite salty)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 300ml warm water (1 part boiled to 1 part chilled)
  • 75g Double Gloucester – finely cubed
  • 25g Double Gloucester – grated
  • 1 small red onion – finely diced.

Method

  1. Put flour, salt and yeast into a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Make a well in the centre then pour in the water and olive oil.
  2. Combine to make a soft dough and then knead for at least ten minutes (or cheat like I do and use a free standing mixer with a dough hook attachment).
  3. Place in an oiled bowl covered with oiled cling film in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (approx 1 hour).
  4. Tip onto a lightly floured bread board, oil your hands then knock the bread back.
  5. Flatten the bread out then place half of the onion and cubed cheese into the middle third of the bread. Fold over the two remaining thirds then knead until well incorporated. Repeat with the remaining cheese and onion.
  6. Shape into a rounded loaf and place on a floured baking tray. Cut a deep cross in the top and then sprinkle with the grated cheese.
  7. Leave to rise for an hour then bake at 200C for 25 minutes until browned and the base sounds hollow when tapped.

It’s been a while since I last blogged.   That’s not to say I haven’t been baking, just a little busy and not made anything worth blogging about.  Well there was the bread I made to go with the plum jam from the other day, but I’m sure I’ll do that sometime soon as it’s a fantastically simple recipe that I plan to make for my little one to eat when she’s old enough to tolerate wheat gluten (seven days left and counting!!)

Anyway, I digress.  My lovely grandad gave me another batch of plums last week but having ruined my stock pot making the plum jam the other day, I had to explore other avenues of use.  Some were stewed for the baby to nosh on (Baby Led Weaning is fun but VERY messy) and the rest have been used in a Plum Praline Cake which is baking as I type.

I was inspired to do this after a friend of mine made a fantastic looking apple and blackberry crumble cake from the BBC Good Food website.  Hers looked much better than the one in the picture though!

The result was a fab cake that could be served warm with some top quality vanilla ice cream or eaten cold.  It was a little soggy and unstable when I tried to relocate it to my cake tin – possibly due to using lots of small victoria plums because I wanted it to have a nice plummy taste.  I’m sure those huge tasteless purple things that the supermarkets are always pedalling would lend for a less damp cake but would lose the wonderful flavour.

And as I’m not usually a fan of hazelnuts, I can heartily recommend using them for the praline topping which gives the cake a lovely crunch to counteract the plummy, sogginess inside.

Sadly my stupid iPhone chose to delete all my pictures from the past three weeks when I tried to take a picture of the cake.  You’ll just have to trust that it looks as good as I say it tasted :o)

Ingredients

  • 200g hazlenuts, skinned and lightly toasted
  • 500g plums stoned and halved (maybe use slightly less, say 400g as per my comment above)
  • 200g butter at room temperature
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1tsp baking poswer
  • 2tbsp demerera sugar

Method

  1. Heat oven to 160c fan (180c for non fan ovens)
  2. Base line a 9 inch spring form cake tin with baking parchment.
  3. Reserve a few hazlenuts for decoration and blitz the rest in a food processor.  Keep two tablespoons of the chopped nuts.
  4. Roughly chop half of the plums.
  5. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  6. Beat in the eggs.
  7. Fold in the flour and baking powder.
  8. Stir in the ground hazlenuts and chopped plums.
  9. Pour the mixture into the tin then top with halved plums.
  10. Mix the remaining whole hazlenuts with the reserved chopped hazlenuts and demerera sugar then sprinkle over the cake.
  11. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until golden and firm.
  12. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes.  Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

My grandfather offered me a “few” plums from the tree in his back garden that he planted a couple of years ago to make some stewed plums for the baby.  What I didn’t realise was that a “few” meant “a few pounds”.  Now of course, fruit is good for her, but she’ll be eighteen before she works her way through that many plums.  And you should’ve seen the mess she made with just three stewed plums this morning!

So I decided to make jam and some fresh bread to go with it.  I’ve been wanting to try a recipe for white bread that I found on the Good Food website for some weeks as I intend to be all domestic goddess-y and make all the bread Abigail has as there is far too much salt in commercially produced bread.  It’s a very interesting recipe because you have the option of leaving it to do its first proving in the fridge overnight!  Never heard of that before.  Usually I struggle to find somewhere warm and draught free for my bread to rise in so being able to put it into the fridge is a bonus.  Only worry is it’s risen so much in the first hour that it may have consumed the entire contents of the fridge by the time I take it out tomorrow.

Anyway, bread proving, I decided to tackle the jam.  Jam doesn’t seem to be too big a deal.  If the fruit has enough pectin (which plums do) there’s no faffing about.  You just use equal quantities of sugar and fruit, a little water and Bob’s your uncle.  I even shelled out for the special preserving sugar which says “This sugar is less likely to burn whilst cooking” and used my shiny new sugar thermometer to keep an eye on it.

Jam finished and jarred, I noticed it hadn’t set very well so after consulting both my mother (an ex-chef) and Delia (not in person, you understand) I found I just needed to boil it again and add some lemon juice.  I checked the original recipe to see what if I’d missed anything in the first place, but other than using the special jam-making sugar rather than regular granulated, the only other thing I’d done was to stir the jam (I was worried that it would stick) and the recipe said “Do not stir the jam under pain of death” (or similar).

So I re-boiled the jam, added the lemon, didn’t stir and less than five minutes later, my jam is burnt, my stock pot is ruined and I’ve no jam for my unbaked loaf in the morning.  Sob…sniff…

Time to hang up the apron or just stick to baking, me-thinks.

***********************

Update (07/09) – well I rescued one jar of jam from the four that I started with and baked my loaf the following morning.  Despite the dough coming out of the fridge feeling colder than a polar bear’s nether regions and it not seeming to rise back to occasion after being knocked back (sounds like a typical man!), it exited the oven with a pretty decent crust and worked quite well with the jam.  Of course, having watched the “Bread” episode of the Great British Bake Off, I now know there were a myriad of things wrong with the loaf, but for bread that spent the night in the fridge, it weren’t ‘alf bad.

An old friend of mine recently asked me why I wasn’t taking part in the new BBC series “The Great British Bake-Off”.  Well, firstly, I didn’t know it was even happening til I saw the second episode advertised on the Beeb as I’m not generally allowed near the telly in the evenings now the football season has started and secondly, to be honest, I wouldn’t have the confidence to do so.

So I watched the two previously aired episodes on BBC iPlayer and sat there thinking “I could (mostly) knock this lot into a cocked hat.”  I was astounded by the guy who cut his scones out at about 1cm thick and then wondered why they didn’t rise very well.  And they put him through to the third week?  I’m sorry but surely the fragrant Mary Berry has mislaid a marble or two or said bloke is giving backhanders to “Silver Fox, Master Baker” Paul Hollywood.

Of course, I am well aware that “Baking” is a fickle mistress as the two evicted contestants from this week proved.   Last week, one of them seemed a dead cert to win, but this week she was unceremoniously cast out due to her soggy choux buns.  So I had to try this feat for myself to see how hard it really was.

Choux buns are an ideal base for a pudding for the husband as well.  He’s diabetic and as it’s diet controlled, he really has to watch his sugar intake (a single teaspoon-worth in a cake can render him ill for a day or two) so the no-sugar buns with a light, whipped cream and fresh fruit filling is a perfect pudding for him.  That’s if there are any left by the time he gets home!

As always, I consulted my trusty Mary Berry complete cookbook and then researched various other recipes and came up with what I thought was the best of all worlds.  In her book, Berry suggests baking the buns for 10 mins @ 220C then reducing the temperature to 190c for another 10 mins.  Yet on the show, she said you should take them out, puncture the bases to allow the steam to escape and return them to the oven for another ten minutes to dry out.  She’s obviously “improved her technique” since publishing the book.

I chose not to do the return to oven thing and think I’m glad I didn’t.  The middles of mine are ever so slightly soggy, but if I’m honest, I like them this way, rather than when they are crisped to within an inch of their lives.  I guess it depends how long you’ll leave them sitting round with the cream in the middle (which might render a crispy inside, beautifully soft) and what you want to top them with.  But, they’d’ve got me kicked off the GBBO.

Anyways, it really isn’t that difficult to make choux!  The hardest part is resisting scoffing the entire batch of profiteroles and doing enough running to burn off all those calories.

IngredientsMakes 12 small profiteroles or four large buns

  • 60g butter
  • 150ml water
  • 75g plain flour
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • fresh fruit, whipped cream and chocolate sauce (not optional for non-diabetics!) to serve

Method

  1. Cut the butter into cubes and place in a pan with the water.  Heat until the butter melts and then bring to boiling point.
  2. Sift in the flour and the salt and mix vigourously until it forms a ball in the middle of the pan.  Leave to cool to room temperature.
  3. Heat the oven to 180c.  Prepare a baking tray with greaseproof paper (or a fab Lakeland non-stick liner)
  4. Pour in a third of the beaten egg and mix thoroughly.  It will look like the mixture won’t combine, but don’t panic it will do eventually (unless you’re having an unlucky day!)  Repeat until all of the egg is incorporated.
  5. For profiteroles, spoon teaspoonfuls of the mix onto the tray leaving room to spread (about 3-4cm) or for large buns (“Bags of Wind” as my grandad calls them) divide the mixture into four piles.
  6. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes until risen and golden.
  7. Remove from the oven and use a teaspoon handle or sharp knife to poke a small hole into  each bun to allow the steam to escape.
  8. If you want super crispy choux buns, return to the oven for another five minutes.
  9. Leave to cool then fill with whipped cream and fruit.  Pour over the chocolate sauce before serving.

And for my next trick, I shall be attempting macarons.  Watch this space…

My mum was a chef before she had me and then had her own catering business when I was tiny so I grew up watching her cook all manner of things.  Baking days were the best because there were always plenty of spoons and bowl to lick but I especially enjoyed the thick paste she used to make Viennese whirls.  More often than not, she made Viennese fingers rather than the adorable little whirls, but they were invariably shrouded in lovely plain chocolate at the ends to counteract the over-sweetness of the rich, buttery biscuit along with the gloopy buttercream and jam filling.

You rarely find these little gems for sale these days.  Mr Kipling makes them, but I find them exceedingly dry and they taste so…well…processed.  Which they are.  Other places make them too crunchy.  But they should just melt on the tongue and take the minimal amount of effort to eat.

Not a problem!  I’ll just make my own.  First I consulted Mary Berry (sadly not in person), then I had a quick Google to find out a rough guide for making them and hey presto, today I’ve produced a lovely batch.  The recipes didn’t mention that I’d only get eight biscuits – well six decent sized ones and two that my grandma would have proclaimed were “for the dog” – so only four paired whirls.  Enough to test that the recipe works.  Sandwiched them with a little buttercream I had left over from my latest batch of cupcakes and some of the Polish cherry jam you can buy from Lidl, which is THE BEST JAM EVER!  As an aside, said jam takes my Bakewell tart to a whole other stratosphere according to my boss.

Didn’t chocolate dip these ones as we’ve been out for the day and I wanted to try them out to check the biscuit consistency was right before wasting good chocolate.  Am thinking that these will be gifted over my next few visits and experiments made with different flavoured jams and/or butter cream fillings.

The recipe below should yield sixteen biscuits or eight paired whirls.  Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 150g plain flour, sifted
  • 50g icing sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • few drops vanilla essence

Method

  • Preheat oven to 190c.
  • Cream together the butter , vanilla essence and icing sugar.
  • Sift the flour with the salt and gradually add to the butter mixture.
  • Lightly two baking sheets then using a 1″ star piping nozzle, pipe whirl shapes about 3cm in diameter.
  • Bake for 12-15 mins until golden.
  • Cool on the tray then sandwich with buttercream and jam.  Can also be half-dipped in melted chocolate.
Viennese Whirls

Viennese Whirls

Overripe bananas?  Why, turn them into a banana loaf of course!  Note to self…must stop buying bananas and purposely leaving them to become too ripe just so I can bake a banana loaf.

Just to be different this time, I omitted the pecans I normally use and frosted it with a cream cheese frosting (I used 100g of left over butter cream I had and added 35g of cream cheese, beating them well together with a wooden spoon)

Ingredients

  • 140g butter, melted
  • 280g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 bananas (approx 200g)  mashed – best when completely yellow with some brown spots
  • 2 eggs
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1tbsp mixed spice
  • 100g chopped pecans (optional)

Method

  • Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin (or grease and flour the tin although this can make the outside dry)
  • Preheat the oven to 170c
  • Beat together the sugar and the eggs using an electric mixer.
  • Add the bananas and mix well.
  • Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, mixed spice and salt and mix on a medium-high speed until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour in the melted butter and beat on a slow speed until incorporated then beat for 4-5 mins at high speed.
  • If using nuts, stir in using a wooden spoon.
  • Pour into the tin and bake for approximately 1 hour until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes then turn out on a wire rack.
  • Serve whilst still warm or leave to cool completely and top with cream cheese frosting.

Nom…nom…nom…!

Spiced Banana Loaf