Simnel Cake

 

Spring

Hello, folks! Happy Easter – it’s not a festival that I tend to mark much, apart from generic delight at having a few days off work and a hope that the sun will shine, but this year I decided to mark it with cake. Much as Easter is a little similar to Christmas in many ways, but without the pressure and/or fun of presents, this is basically a Christmas cake but without the long time spend waiting for the booze to settle in during the long dark days of winter. This is a lighter, cheerier, springy-er version all round. I do like the fact that it has marzipan in the middle!

So, what’s been going on since I last blogged? Well, I handed in the posh bound copies of my thesis, as pictured above, and I had confirmation through that the OU were happy to confer upon me the title of Dr back in December! I will do the full graduation ceremony thing but not until quite late this year, just because of when the dates for my local ceremony have been set. (October 28th, I must think of a suitable cake to bake!)

So, now what? After ten years of PhD, I managed less than a month before signing up for another OU course, but this one is much more fun – photography! It’s only a short, 10 week introduction but I’m loving it so far. Some of the photos above are ones I’ve used in my assignments. I’m never going to be an expert but I enjoy the process of hunting down images that make me smile.

And, of course, getting back to baking after a long, long pause. Because this cake reminded me of Christmas, I put my December 2015 playlist on while I was baking (all hail Spotify and my obsessive habit of making a playlist for every month!) and, well, I’ve not listened to that playlist since December rolled away and I had other songs to listen to. So, while I was stirring the batter, it was a bit of a shock to be reminded that in amongst my festive tracks, I’d added one of the songs that was due to appear on David Bowie’s ‘new’ album, and when it started playing it stopped me in my tracks. ‘Lazarus’. A song about someone rising from the dead, listened to at Easter, sung by someone who died just a few days after I added that track to my playlist. For a moment, all the colour went out of the day and I went very, very cold. I thought I’d shaken off the shock and upset from that death, but music can be amazing at making things come back and bite. What a loss.

It’s been a long, cold winter and I’ve not been very good at being happy. Wish I knew how to do better at that, but I don’t. Still, here’s a cake for a day where we’re forecast thunder but at the moment it’s sunny and bright. Eventually the sun comes out.

Simnel Cake (based on St. Mary’s recipe here)IMG_5458

Ingredients

  • 100g/4oz glacé cherries
  • 225g/8oz butter, softened
  • 225g/8oz light muscovado sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g/8oz self-raising flour
  • 225g/8oz sultanas
  • 100g/4oz currants
  • 50g/2oz chopped crystallised ginger
  • 2 lemons, grated zest only
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice

For the filling and topping

  • 1-2 tbsp apricot jam, warmed
  • 1 wodge of marzipan, courtesy of Grandma Lay’s recipe

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/280F/Gas 2. Grease and line a 20cm/ 8in cake tin.

  2. Prepare the marzipan according to the recipe above.
  3. Cut the ginger into large chunks.

  4. Place the ginger in a bowl with the butter, sugar, eggs, self-raising flour, sultanas, currants, candied peel, lemon zest and mixed spice and beat well until thoroughly mixed. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin.

  5. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll it out to a circle the size of the tin and then place on top of the cake mixture. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top and level the surface.

  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 2½ hours, or until well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch. Cover with aluminium foil after one hour if the top is browning too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

  7. When the cake is cool, brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out half the remaining marzipan to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. Mark a criss-cross pattern on the marzipan with a sharp knife. Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls.

  8. Brush the marzipan with beaten egg and arrange the marzipan balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then carefully place the cake under a hot grill until the top is lightly toasted.

 

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Mince Pie Flapjack

Winter 15

My favourite three little words at the moment are ‘Academic requirements met’.

I saw that in the subject line of an email that came in on Thursday and it’s one of the best emails I’ve ever been sent! It means, finally, that I’ve done all the work that I need to do, and the OU have decided that my research meets the standards set for a PhD. I can’t quite believe it! At every stage, particularly this year, I’ve been sure that someone official was going to pop up and say ‘You know what, no. Daft idea, rubbish execution, written like a five-year old – we’re pulling the plug.’

But they didn’t! To be honest, I should have known  this since August, as I only had some minor corrections to make after my viva but there’s still that nagging bit of doubt. So now they done, and they’ve been checked and I’m good. All I need to do now is get several copies printed and handed in for the library to put on their shelves (!!!) and I’m done.

This is fantastic news for me, of course, but also for my long-suffering husband, because it means I get more time to bake. These are for Jef, with love.

Yesterday, Jef was wondering why, in a world of Lotus biscuit spread, Malteser’s crunchy chocolate spread and nutella, don’t we have a spreadable version of mincemeat that could be used in sandwiches. A fair question – I’ve heard of people spreading leftover mincemeat on hot toast, perhaps with a bit of marzipan grated over the top, for an indulgent Boxing Day breakfast, but the sandwich spread issue seems to be the presence of those lumps of suet. Mincemeat needs heat. So I decided to try a filled flapjack approach to see how that would work.

Mince Pie Flapjack with orange and cinnamon icing (Based on this recipe here)

IMG_5061

The icing came out slightly more pink than I expected

(Makes 12-16, depending on how large you slice them)

Ingredients

For the flapjack and filling

  • Your chosen mincemeat. I made a batch of pies last weekend using half a jar of Waitrose’s spiced mincemeat so allow 200g or so for this flapjack
  • 100g mixed dried fruit (I used currants and sultanas)
  • 3 tbsp whisky
  • 250g butter
  • 3 tbs golden syrup
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (I used this cinnamon spiced one)
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 500g oats

For the icing:

  • 200g icing sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tsp orange juice

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/170ºC fan.
  2. Charlotte recommends lining a baking tin with greaseproof paper but I had a silicon baking tin so used that instead.
  3. Put the dried fruit and whisky in a small bowl and microwave for 30-60 seconds, until it steams nicely. (If you were organised, you could just leave it to soak the night before – I wasn’t!)
  4. In a large saucepan, melt the butter, sugar and syrups together, stirring occasionally.
  5. When melted and well-combined, remove from the heat and stir in the oats.
  6. Make a base layer of the buttery oat mixture in the bottom of your tray, pressing down very firmly.
  7. Spread the mincemeat in an even layer across the base.
  8. Drain the boozy soaked fruit and sprinkle over the mincemeat.
  9. Add the remaining oat mixture and again, press down firmly.
  10. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
  12. While the flapjack is cooling, sieve the icing sugar and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the orange juice and stir to give a thin icing.
  13. Drizzle the icing over the flapjacks when they are completely cool and leave to set.
  14. Slice into 12 or 16 pieces, and enjoy with a mug of tea. Or pose with a twinkly Christmas tree!

IMG_5056

 

 

 

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Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

I love that 10 minutes from my desk, I can be walking in the countryside.

I love that 10 minutes from my desk, I can be walking in the countryside.

This feels like the first autumn in years that I’ve actually been able to enjoy. For ages now, feeling stressed and overwhelmed has meant that a change of season has meant time is running out and I’ve not done enough. It feels very very strange not to have that massive invisible clock ticking away at the back of my mind – strange, but nice! It’s meant I’ve had time to start baking and cooking properly again, to use my lunch breaks for walks in the countryside around the OU, and to really notice all the little changes in the trees, the light, and the quality of the air that indicate we’re moving to a colder season. I’ve said before that Milton Keynes becomes breathtakingly beautiful in the autumn as the city of trees turns red and golden, and this year looks like it’s going to be particularly stunning. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more this year, because I have time.

Autumn also means – Mum’s birthday, and Jef’s birthday! Mum’s isn’t until early October but last weekend was our closest visiting opportunity to the big day so I made a cake. Oh, what a cake. I’ve been a fan of the Little Loaf blog for a while now, and have had this recipe for a show-stopping chocolate layer cake bookmarked for just this event😀

Kate uses Jack Daniels in her recipe and while I know that would go down well, some of my party aren’t that partial to its smoky edge, so I went for the smoother, gentler burr of Glenmorangie. It worked beautifully in the buttercream, syrup and chocolate truffles. Oh, that buttercream! The addition of the condensed milk – or it might have been the whisky – did something magical in turning it mousse-like and glorious.

This is probably the best cake I’ve ever made. I’m so proud of it! Thank you to Kate for the recipe! Happy birthday, Mum.

Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

Baking before breakfast again

Baking before breakfast again

Original recipe here, and followed to the letter, with the exception of swapping Glenmorangie in, instead of the Jack Daniels.

Ingredients:

For the cake

  • 340g plain flour
  • 525g golden caster sugar
  • 128g cocoa powder
  • 2 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 375ml full fat milk
  • 188ml groundnut oil
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 375ml boiling water

For the whiskey syrup

  • 100ml water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50ml whiskey

For the buttercream

  • 150g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 350g icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp whiskey, or to taste

For the ganache

  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 250ml double cream
  • 100g light brown muscovado sugar

Method:

For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line three 20cm cake tins.
  2. Sift the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk for one minute to combine. You could also do this using an electric whisk.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs then add the milk and groundnut oil. Pour into the dry mixture and whisk for two to three minutes until well combined.
  4. With the whisk running, add the boiling water to your mixture a little at a time until combined. The batter will be extremely liquid.
  5. Pour into your prepared cake tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 – 35 minutes, or until the tops are firm and a skewer or toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

For the whiskey syrup

Parsley, Mum's 3rd child ;)

Parsley, Mum’s 3rd child😉


  1. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Add the whiskey and simmer for one minute more then remove from the heat.
  2. Trickle the syrup over the top of each cake while still warm then set aside to cool completely.

For the buttercream
Make sure your butter is nice and soft. In a stand mixer or using an electric whisk, beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and whisk to combine, then add the condensed milk. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, slowly incorporating the whiskey until fully combined.

For the ganache

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.
  2. Heat the cream and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for one minute.
  3. Remove the cream from the heat and allow to stand for one minute – pouring it directly over the chocolate will cause it to split. Once it has rested, pour over the chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy, using a rubber spatula or whisk.
  4. Set aside for thirty minutes or until it has cooled to a spreadable consistency

To assemble the cake

  1. Smear a small amount of whiskey buttercream on a serving plate or cake stand. Place one round of cake on top. Slather over half the quantity of whiskey buttercream, top with a second round of cake and repeat. Top with the final round of cake and smooth any buttercream that has squidged out the sides.
  2. Dollop your ganache on top of the cake then use a spatula or palette knife to spread it down and round the edges. Use a slightly heated palette knife for a smooth finish.
  3. (Steph) Despite applying the ganache like I was plastering a small cottage, I had rather a lot left over. I added another generous splash of whisky, stirred it in and put the bowlful of now-very-alcoholic chocolate in the fridge to chill. I then rolled tea-spoons full of the mix into balls, rolled them in cocoa powder and lo – chocolate truffles for the top of the cake. Well – one or two might have ended up in the cook rather than on the cake! *hic*  
Alight and glowing

Alight and glowing

Look at those layers!

Look at those layers!

Happy birthday to Mum!

Happy birthday to Mum!

The Cake.  In all its truffled glory.

The Cake.
In all its truffled glory.

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Dulche du Leche Salted Caramel Brownies

Garden

Hello again. Oh, what a summer it’s been. A few of you probably saw this post when it went up in July – I’d planned it ahead to post on the day of my viva, but things went awry and the viva ended up postponed until August. As you can tell from the writing here, I’d geared myself up for the event and was thoroughly shaken when it didn’t actually happen. I definitely didn’t think about my blog! And it’s only now that I’m getting back to thinking about baking again – and blogging again too🙂

So, I’m putting this back up for completeness. I’ll finish off the story of my viva in later posts – I’ve got quite a few new bakes to write up and share…


This is a bit of a sneaky post. Forgive me. The premise of this blog has been me procrastinating about working on my PhD – and if you’re reading this, it means that it’s July 15th and about now I should have finished my viva and know whether or not I’ve passed. (There are only a handful of people in the whole world who knew the date beforehand. It’s daft of me, but I wanted to keep it secret because I have a horrible fear it’s not going to go well.)

Of course, I’ve queued this up in advance so this will probably end up being the post of crushing, heart-breaking, appalling disappointment that has been the subject of every single nightmare I’ve had since I submitted the thesis on March 22nd. It’s not even funny – I’ve had nightmares where I’ve found that the content includes swearwords, where it includes random holiday photos in the place of my graphs and tables, and even where content from this blog got mixed up with the real text!

It’s something of an understatement to say that I am petrified about my viva. Smugly, I had always thought that if anyone gets to the point of submitting the thesis, the viva should just be a ticky-box exercise where friendly examiners chat through the work you’ve done and agree you’re a competent researcher. That might be the case for some people, but I think it’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I do not expect to pass.

But that’s ok. It has to be. It just needs to be over. I’ve not had much in the way of happiness or relaxation since March. I’m just so scared, all the time. I have had weekends wiped out by panic attacks that take away my ability to think straight. I cry, most days, and I haven’t been able to feel happy, it has been a very long time since I smiled. Every morning, I wake up terrified about my viva, and it’s physically hard to make myself get up and get through the day of my proper-job – which is also difficult and stressful. I’ve been a right royal pain in the arse to my loved ones, friends, family and colleagues because I’m so miserable. (So sorry, all.)

[By the way, there is no counselling or support available for part-time PhD students at the OU. I checked, back in December.]

However today goes, it’s an end where I can stop feeling that my life is constrained, limited, defined and damaged by my choice to do a part-time doctorate. I’ve given up so much, broken so many things, closed off friendships, relied too heavily on friends and family, (and pissed them off mightily, I’m sure!) and probably given up any chance of being a parent. Ten years. For something I honestly expect will be a failure.

Sorry, folks. This is the fear talking🙂 Either way, afterwards I’m going to get more time to bake!

So. Those brownies I lured you in with in the subject line. These were made exactly three weeks before VIVA DAY. And the scenic photos above were taken that day too. It’s too late to wish me luck, but please be kind if/when the outcome isn’t a pass. Thank you.

Dulche du Leche Salted Caramel Brownies

Here’s the recipe – not mine! The original is at this site: http://maisoncupcake.com/dulce-de-leche-brownies/

INGREDIENTS
  • 175g good quality dark chocolate
  • 175g butter cubed
  • 25g good quality cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g caster or soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g plain flour
  • ½ of a 397g tin of Carnation caramel or dulce de leche
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Pre heat the oven to 180ºC
  2. Place the chocolate, butter and cocoa powder in a microwavable dish and cook on HIGH MICROWAVE for 3 mins*. Remove from the oven and stir well, put to one side to cool.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs sugar and vanilla extract together for 2 mins until light and creamy.
  4. Add the chocolate mix and continue to whisk until well combined.
  5. Fold the flour through with a metal spoon.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin. Using a teaspoon add blobs of the caramel all over the surface of the brownies. Then using a sharp knife or skewer, run it around in swirls for a marbled effect.
  7. Bake in the oven for 25 mins. When cooked it should be dry on top but still slightly gooey and fudgy inside. Don’t be tempted to leave it in the oven any longer.
  8. Allow to cool in the tin, and then cut into squares.

Brownies

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Banana, Pecan and Ginger Muffins

A collection of photos from over the winter - a sunset, a moody church, a padlock, a path, bright daffodil, a skull in a tree, and three tiny glimpses of snow!

A collection of photos from over the winter – a sunset, a moody church, a padlock, a path, bright daffodils, a skull in a tree, and three tiny glimpses of snow!

Hello! It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been busy working on the last chapters for my thesis – I’m back on track to hand everything in by the end of March which is terrifying, unbelievable and wonderful all at the same time. However, it’s not really left much time for baking. Today was an exception – these only took 5 minutes to mix up and 20 to bake and I’m so glad I did. They’re delicious.

These are a mix between a Nigella recipe and a Delia idea – I’ve stolen the muffin base from Nigella, and the topping from Delia. Never mind, I added lots of other bits to it to make it mine🙂

Banana, Pecan and Ginger Muffins with Pecan Streusel Topping

The crunchy topping really makes these special...

The crunchy topping really makes these special…

Makes 8 muffins

Ingredients

  • very ripe or overripe  bananas 
  • 125 ml vegetable oil 
  • large eggs 
  • 100 grams soft light brown sugar 
  • 150g strong brown bread flour
  • 30g crystallised ginger
  • 50g finely chopped pecan nuts
  • 175g plain flour 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 20g pecan nuts
  • Another teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 20g soft brown sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and put 8 paper cases in muffin tins. I needed 2 tins as mine are only 6 hole ones.
  2. Mash the bananas by hand or with a freestanding mixer. Still beating and mashing, add the oil followed by the eggs and sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Chop the pecan nuts finely – add 50g to the mix, reserving the rest for the topping. Stir in the crystallised ginger too.
  4. Mix the flours and bicarb together and add this mixture, beating gently, to the banana mixture,
  5. Spoon it into the prepared papers.
  6. Mix together the reserved pecans, cinnamon and sugar to give an even crumbly mix of nuts, sugar and spice. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of this over the top of each muffin.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15–20 minutes, by which time the muffins should be dark, rounded and peeking proudly out of their cases. Allow to cool slightly in their tin before removing to a wire rack.
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Chocolate Birthday Cake

Quadruple layer chocolate cake!

Quadruple layer chocolate cake!

I made this for Angela’s birthday – I was really happy with how it turned out! It was very quick and easy to make, and looked stunning. I went for the square tin because that’s the only one I could find in a rush, but it would work well in two round tins too. The recipe suggested 22cm ones.

Moody-looking cake under my new cherry tree light

Moody-looking cake under my new cherry tree light

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Wonderful Chocolate Ganache (Original recipe here)

Ingredients

With all the candles lit

With all the candles lit

For the cake

  • 225g/8oz plain flour
  • 350g/12½oz caster sugar
  • 85g/3oz cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 250ml/9fl oz milk
  • 125ml/4½fl oz vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250ml/9fl oz boiling water

For the chocolate icing

  • 200g/7oz plain chocolate
  • 200ml/7fl oz double cream

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Look frantically for the cake tins you should be using, find a silicone brownie tray instead, decide that will have to do!
  2. For the cake, place all of the cake ingredients, except the boiling water, into a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, or electric whisk, beat the mixture until smooth and well combined.
  3. Add the boiling water to the mixture, a little at a time, until smooth. (The cake mixture will now be very liquid.)
  4. Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool completely, still in the tin, before icing.
  6. For the chocolate icing, heat the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat until the chocolate melts. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk the mixture until smooth, glossy and thickened. Set aside to cool for 1-2 hours, or until thick enough to spread over the cake.
  7. To assemble, turn out the cake then slice in half across its waist and then again down the centre to make four equal pieces.
  8. Place one of the neater pieces on a serving plate. Spread a little chocolate icing over it, then sandwich another on top. Repeat until you have a  stack of four layers.
  9. Spread the rest of the icing all around the outside.
  10. To give a nice, shiny and smooth appearance, heat up the blade of a knife in boiling water, then wipe dry with kitchen roll and use to smooth the icing all over the top and sides of the cake.
  11. Garnish with candles, and admire!
Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

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Black Forest Brownies

Heron

There’s a tin of cherry pie filling at the back of my baking cupboard. I don’t remember buying it but I’ve recently had a clear out and have been wanting to do something to use it up. It’s the sort with cherries in a thickened syrup-y sauce so made me think of black forest gateaux… but with Jef tenaciously fasting three days a week there’s little point in making a great big cake. How about… muffins? Nah. Hmm. Brownies? I had a look online for recipes and quickly realised that the pie filling was not going to work – a 400g tin, too much for a pan of brownies. It would end up as chocolate cherry soup. So, it went back in the cupboard for another day but by then, the idea of black forest brownies was firmly set in my head so that’s what I made.

So, on my last post I mentioned I’d been out a-walking? Well, I wandered past the pond I’d found in Shenley Church End and heard a quacking so went to look: two ducks scolding each other. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a heron standing perfectly still on the other side of the water, looking for all the world like one of the statues I used to sell at Past Times. Then he turned his head and I knew he was real. We eyed each other up for a moment and I took his photo a couple of times. Then he decided he’d had enough of being admired, and took to the sky, as you can see from the photos above. (The yellow one top-right was me playing around in iPhoto! See, now I’m going to have to write a story about herons or cranes or birds, just so I can use that as the cover…)

Black Forest Brownies (original recipe here)

Schwartzwalde - um - brownies!

Schwartzwalde – um – brownies!

Makes ~24 mini bites,  or ~12 more substantial brownies.

Ingredients

  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
  • 4 tbsp cold, strong coffee – I’ve been experimenting with fridge brewed coffee so used some of this
  • 100g butter, softened
  • 200g light soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g plain flour
  • 150g fresh cherries, pitted and halved (This is most of a punnet but with enough left over for the cook to enjoy a handful!)
  • 75g dried cherries. (I used some nice morello ones)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, fan 160°C, gas 4. Grease and line an 18cm square cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Melt the chocolate and coffee together in the microwave. (I thought it might end up grainy – it didn’t!)
  3. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with a hand-held electric whisk until light and pale. Gradually beat in the eggs, then add the flour and the melted chocolate/coffee and mix until smooth.
  4. Fold in the cherries – fresh and dried – and pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 40 minutes. (The original recipe suggested an hour. Madness.) Allow to cool completely in the tin then dust with icing sugar.
  5. Carefully remove from the tin and cutting into the desired number of squares.
Relaxing on the lawn

Relaxing on the lawn

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Turning Season Cookies

Bright splashes on a misty day

Bright splashes on a misty day

I had a long, long walk today. Partly my fault, I’d stupidly left my purse at home and had to go back and get it, but I also wanted to revisit some of places I went the last time I posted here and see how they looked in the autumn. We’re well beyond half-past September and I’m surprised by how green everything still is: barely any blaze of autumnal colour yet, just the odd splash of crimson here and there. I walked and listened to the sort of music I probably should have grown out of years ago and planned what I was going to bake and thought. It was a very, very good day.

Good also because after a couple of long, frustrating months going back over some sections of my thesis, I’ve turned a corner and I’m finding some really interesting results😀 I’m genuinely excited every time I sit down to work at the moment and that’s quite wonderful.

Two bakes happened this afternoon – these cookies, and some rather lovely brownies that I’ll write about in a separate post. I’d wanted to make something cinnamon-y and warming, and when I saw that Sainsbury’s are doing some dried sultanas and apple pieces already infused with the spice, I knew I was on to a winner. These are very soft, gooey cookies – not a crunch to be found. But they’re quite lovely. And perfect for a misty autumn afternoon.

Turning Season Cookies (original recipe here)

IMG_3500

Board full of biscuits, unimpressed cat in distance

Makes 7 large cookies

Ingredients

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180 C / 160 C (fan assisted) / gas 4. Grease a large baking sheet
  2. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar together until soft.
  3. Add the egg and cinnamon powder and mix well
  4. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, Graze porridge portion, spicy sultanas and apple pieces, and raisins and mix together before adding to the butter mixture. Stir in the honey from the Graze portion too🙂
  5. Drop heaped dessertspoonfuls of the cookie dough onto the baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden
  6. Remove them from the oven, they should be golden but will still seem a tiny bit soft to the touch. Leave them on the tray for a minute (this lets them settle slightly) before transferring them to a cooling tray to completely cool. Store in an air tight container.
'They look rather tasty, human!'

‘They look rather tasty, human!’

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Green Tea Cake

Reading and Wandering

Reading and Wandering

I had a really nice morning yesterday. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny July morning so I took myself off for a walk to the next estate – ostensibly to do a bit of shopping but I also wanted to explore and see if I could find a ‘reading garden’ mentioned in the last parish newsletter. With some help from a local friend on Facebook, I tracked it down but on the way managed to find a lovely peaceful pond thronged with baby moorhens and a beautiful 12th century church. The reading garden itself was a lovely quiet space, with a herb garden, a shady bench and lots of young apple trees. I could just imagine how beautiful it will be when they mature, a stunning urban orchard. There are lots of photos from yesterday on flickr here and  I’m hoping to go back later in the year and take some more pictures in different moods. It was a real pleasure to explore, wander and think. A bit like being on holiday already!

Today’s bake was inspired by the cake that Jef brought back from Japan for me last year. It was a green tea sponge, studded with chocolate chips and it had a lovely light cream filling. I remember how fond The Roleplayers were of the green tea macaroons way back when so thought they might be brave enough to try another green tea creation. Ah, and the cherry jam addition – that’s all mine🙂

Green Tea Cake (original recipe here)

Green Tea Cake

Green Tea Cake


Serves 8, generously sliced

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 40g self -raising flour
  • 50g dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon green tea powder (aka matcha)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp water

For the filling

  • 4 tbsp cherry jam
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon green tea powder

Method

Prep:40min › Cook:10min › Ready in:50min

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C / Gas mark 4. Grease and line a 30cm x 30cm swiss roll cake tin.
  2. Mix the green tea powder (1 to 2 tablespoons [I used two!] depending on the intensity you want) with water, until it’s about the consistency of mustard. Add more water if necessary.
  3. Using an electric beater, mix the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons sugar until they are light and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add self-raising flour and continue to mix for another minute.
  4. Add green tea paste and stir to mix.
  5. Add chocolate chips and distribute evenly.
  6. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites at high speed for 4 to 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat for another minute.
  7. Gently fold the egg white mixture into the green tea cake mixture until evenly mixed.
  8. Transfer into the swiss roll tin, smoothing it out to make sure they are no large air bubbles.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown on top.
  10. Lay out a large piece of greasproof paper on a flat surface. Turn swiss roll out onto the paper and remove the paper lining it was cooked in. Leave to cool completely.
  11. While the cake is cooling, add green tea powder and sugar to the cream and whisk until it is spreadable.
  12. When cake has cooled, compare both sides and use the best looking side for the outer side of the cake. Place the nicest side face down on the paper.
  13. Spread jam evenly on the cake, followed by the cream.
  14. Carefully use the paper to roll it up. Place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
  15. Complete by cutting off the ends to make them even.

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Maple, Peanut and Cinnamon Biscuits

Hello, June!

Hello, June!

Orange blossoms are my favourite flowers. I have an immense & immortal version in the garden which makes me smile every year with its beautiful blossoms and amazing scent. Early June is the classic time for these flowers to open – they have what is for me a timeless scent, instantly evocative of childhood and home. Some floral scents you can bottle – roses and lavender and lilies all have their artificial analogues but a proper mock orange blossom like this one? I’ve never found a perfume that captures their scent, it’s only really available straight from the flower for a vanishingly short period of time every year. All the more precious and ephemeral. I could start musing on the nature of time and how it seems to pass faster every day, but I won’t. I’ll get work done as quickly as I can so I can sit under the orange blossom and enjoy today’s moment. (And that, my lovely people, is about as Zen as I get and probably means it’s about to rain any moment!)

I was in a rush yesterday morning but wanted to make some biscuits. Here they are.

Criss-cross cinnamon and peanut and maple biscuits

Criss-cross cinnamon and peanut and maple biscuits

Maple, Peanut and Cinnamon Biscuits (Makes around 20 – original recipe here)

Ingredients

  • 200g salted butter, softened
  • 50g peanut butter
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 50g chopped peanuts
  • Pinch sea salt

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.
  2. Mix softened butter, peanut butter & caster sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
  3. add egg yolk,  vanilla extract & maple extract and briefly beat to combine.
  4. Sift over plain flour and stir until the mixture is well combined – you might need to get your hands in at the end to give everything a really good mix and press the dough together.
  5. Stir through the chopped peanuts and sea salt.
  6. Scoop the mixture into 20 large balls onto a non-stick baking sheet. Space well apart, as they will spread.
  7. Flatten slightly with a fork, rotating to give the cross-hatch shown in the photos.
  8. Bake for 12-15 mins, then transfer the soft, warm cookies to a cooling rack to firm up.
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