Tag Archives: food

Cakery Bakery: the only pumpkin chocolate chip cookie you will ever need

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Yesterday night we skipped off to watch Ender’s Game at the cinema (which I loved). And so, in the spirit of dramatic sci-fi narration, let me say this:

there are some recipes that will CHANGE YOUR LIIIIIIFE.

And this is one of them.

Thanks to a lovely friend being wonderfully generous with the contents of her store cupboard, I now have more cans of pumpkin than I know what to do with – or I would, if I didn’t like pie so much. When I found this recipe claiming to be the best pumpkin chocolate chip cookie ever, I was ready to break into my stash and take that sucker down. (Sorry, that’s the sci-fi voice coming out again. Down, Harrison, down.)

The ingredients are almost all cupboard staples, with the exception of molasses (I use Lyons’ black treacle, Britishers) and canola oil (I use rapeseed oil, Britishers, though I’m pretty sure ordinary vegetable oil would work just fine). The method is a throw-it-all-in-and-mix type, which always makes me happy. It was all done in a jiffy, even with Henry trying to stick his face in the treacle.

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Two notes about the mixing:

- put in the oil first, then use the same cup measure to put in the molasses. Black treacle is stickier than Satan’s armpit, but with a residual layer of oil in the bottom of the cup, it slides out into the bowl without a problem. And – this is very important -

- re. chocolate chips: go plain, or go home. And always, always put at least a third more in than you think you’ll need.

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The mixture is unpleasantly brown and clingy, but just wait till their ten minutes in the oven are up. These things puff out into glorious, golden mounds, cracked along the top like fault lines and studded with melted chocolate chips. If you don’t take care ladling out the dough, they can very easily be as large as your face. Crack one open and they are cakey and slightly chewy – like good gingerbread, almost, but without the ginger. Curiously, the pumpkin doesn’t come through very strongly, though they’re not at all tasteless. What they most remind me of are those German Christmas cookies: the same spices and the same texture. Magnificent, in other words. And the batch made thirty-five.

Store in a tin, and eat at your leisure. But even thirty-five of these babies won’t last long. I do not think there is a better cookie in the whole of space and time. And that’s not even Harrison Ford talking.

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The recipe for these cookies is courtesy of heynataliejean.com, and can be found here. Do it. DO IT NOW.

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Autumn love #3: the pie’s the thing

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One of the advantages of not frequenting Pinterest – apart from having no burning desire whatever to upcycle my plumbing – is that we’re almost done with October and I’m still hugely excited about pumpkin recipes. I scoped out Waitrose a couple of weeks ago for canned pumpkin (there were five tins and I only took three, which I thought was supreme self-control) and it’s been sitting in my cupboard and winking at me since then. Yesterday I finally got an afternoon where the toddler/baby/naptime stars aligned, so we opened the pumpkin cupboard and let those babies run free, FREE.

Pie first. Of course. I unimaginatively use the recipe on the back of the Libby’s can, and a pastry recipe courtesy of my sister-in-law (Fannie Farmer’s originally, I believe, and reproduced below) that is the veritable bomb.

I love every bit of this: stretching springy pastry dough over the pie dish, the mud-squelchy sound when the pumpkin tips out of the can into the bowl, mixing the spices, and – ahem – drinking the left-over condensed milk. From a glass. Don’t judge me.

There was a bit of leftover pastry, too, and Hen made himself a tiny jam roly-poly. Watching him wielding his miniature rolling pin and then scoffing his prize in front of Finding Nemo was the cutest thing ever. Teds would’ve been jealous, but he’s not the type.

The pie’s gone, by the way.

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Pastry recipe:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
3-7 tablespoons cold water 

Mix flour and salt, then add shortening and mix in using two knives, dragging in opposite directions. 

Add cold water until it starts coming together, then roll out on a floured board. 

(Makes enough for a 9-inch dish). 

See here for a step-by-step, from the first time I made it. Happy baking!

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Five cakes for five occasions

Five Cakes post

This week we have discovered that the more people you have in a house, the longer you can keep a cold virus going. We just keep throwing it between us like a frisbee of snotty sadness. I’m a lot better at catching colds than I am at catching frisbees (twice in a week, now! I am the virus winner!), which is oddly making me feel a little better.

Anyway, after I’ve run through painkillers and melodrama, dessert is my third stop during cold season. I had to choose three of my favourite desserts to bring to an activity last week, and I just hope you never have to make such a wrenching decision, dear readers. So much good cake. So much. [tears.]

So I thought I’d try to be useful, and suggest a few shortcuts. Here are five cakes perfect for five occasions – and it should go without saying that all of them will improve your average snotastrophe NO END.

the birthday party: white chocolate and brownie torte

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This is ideal birthday fare: it’s the easiest thing in the world and looks far more impressive than it should (good for crowds), but needs eight hours in the freezer, so can’t be made on a whim (hopefully your loved one’s birthday hasn’t come as a surprise). And with only three ingredients, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it.

I inherited this recipe from my mother-in-law – if you recognise where it’s from, let me know so I can credit it!

Ingredients:

300g white chocolate

600ml/1 pint double cream

250g brownies (I use one of those boxes of mini brownies in the bakery section at Tesco)

cocoa powder

Method:

Line an 8-inch Springform tin with greaseproof paper.

Break the chocolate into pieces, and melt in a pan with 1/4 pint (150 ml) of the cream. Let it cool once it’s melted.

Crumble the brownies into pieces, and pack into the bottom of the tin (not too hard!).

Whip the remaining cream (3/4 pint, 450 ml) into soft peaks, then fold in the chocolate mixture.

Spoon into the tin, clingfilm and freeze for 8 hours (or overnight).

Transfer the torte to the fridge 45 minutes before serving. Dust with cocoa powder.

Read the full run-through here.

the valentine: Sophie Dahl’s flourless chocolate cake

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I may be just shallow, but nothing says true love to me like the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE YOU’VE EVER HAD. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot, and this is the one I keep coming back to. Without flour, the cake relies on whipped egg whites to rise, which makes it moist (I hate that word, but when it fits…) and puddingy. Creme fraiche and raspberries on top, while deeply offending Mr Jeffcoat, counterbalance the chocolate nicely, and prevent it from being too sickly.

The recipe is here, and you can read about the first time I tried it here. The only thing I’d add is that putting chocolate in a food processor always broke my food processor, and cutting it up finely was achey and time-consuming. Just melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave, and follow the recipe from there.

Mmmm. Romance.

the church social: lemon bars

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I do this every time: sign up to bring a dessert to some activity or other, and then forget until the last minute. I owe my friend Kathryn for this revelation: soft shortbread underneath squidgy lemon-meringue-style topping that tastes like happiness. One tray can be sliced into as many pieces as you need, and you can dress it up in individual cupcake cases if need be. Timothy always requests these to bring into the office on his birthday, at which point one of his coworkers described them as ‘like a lemon snog to the face’. I cannot give any better recommendation than this.

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup butter (this translates to about 226g)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour (I use about 3/4 plain flour and 1/4 self-raising – did it this way by accident once and it worked well)

Filling ingredients:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar, any kind
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup flour (self-raising, I use)
1/4 cup lemon juice
Rind of 1 lemon, grated

Method

For crust -
1) Cream butter and icing sugar.
2) Add salt and flour, and mix well.
3) Pat into a 9 x 13 inch lined baking tin. Bake at 170 C for 15-20 mins.

For filling -
1) Mix all ingredients and pour over hot crust. Bake at 170 C for about 25-30 mins. It should be light brown on top and a curd-like consistency.
2) When done, sprinkle with icing sugar. Cut into squares when cool.

Read the full run-through here.

the Sunday lunch: Nigella’s ice cream cake

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Och, this one is amazing. Ice cream mixed with biscuits, chocolate and honeycomb, frozen into place and then covered with hot chocolate and butterscotch sauce. Ideal for Sunday lunch because it’s dead easy, and you can fill it with whatever your family or guests like best: peanuts, chocolate chips, different types of biscuit, favourite chocolate bars – even fruit, if you must.

Nigella’s recipe is here, but it’s not an exact science: just a tub of ice cream, your favourite things, and a Springform tin. The recipes for hot chocolate sauce is here, and the butterscotch sauce is here. One would do, but using both makes it a thing of beauty.

Read the full run-through here.

the comfort eat: cinnamon roll cake

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I speak here as someone obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without the patience (or breadmaker) to make them. I first made this on a rainy afternoon with friends, so heavily pregnant I looked like a giant cheeseburger, and I swear to you I nearly buried my face in it. It’s another tray bake (though you could put it in any shaped tin you like) which is somewhat dangerous: you start off virtuously with a small square, and before you know it, it’s half gone.

The recipe is from The Girl Who Ate Everything, and it’s here. I use a cream cheese frosting rather than her suggested icing, which is at the bottom of the page, here (I generally halve this recipe, because it’s insane). And while I’d recommend checking the cake after the recommended 25-30 minutes, it actually takes just over an hour in my oven. Maybe it’s an altitude thing.

Read the full run-through here.

Head cold, I spit in your face. And eat cake. So much cake. [tears.]

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Cakery Bakery: Cinnamon roll cake

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I finished work on Friday. Not forever, but for long enough. Oh, it was like being let out of school before the long summer holiday, only with several hundred added Braxton Hicks. I bought a newborn car seat, in celebration (by heck do I know how to live). And then I made a cake.

It felt like a conquered mountain in itself, this cake. Baking is rather difficult at present, with a) Henry trying to get his tongue into the egg whites and b) all of this foetus to carry around. And I am generally obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without a breadmaker can never be bothered to go through with them. Well, have a look at this: cinnamon roll cake, from The Girl Who Ate Everything (still working my way through her website. Still in love). It’s like a giant cinnamon roll, but without any dough palaver. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

It didn’t go entirely smoothly, I admit. It started well: the cake mix is one of those wonderful throw-everything-in-a-bowl-and-press-go types, which always makes me happy. I used my free-standing mixer, but a handheld electric one would work just as well. That part is over and in a baking tin before you can say LITTLE BOY, PLEASE MOVE YOUR FACE AWAY FROM THAT EGG.

Then you prepare what the recipe calls topping, but is more like filling: cinnamon, soft butter, brown sugar and pecans all mixed together. My butter wasn’t quite soft enough, so I prepared the pecans separately, thinking it might be easier to whisk without them (it was). The instructions said to put tablespoonfuls of the filling on top of the cake mix, then use a knife to ‘marble’ it in. Well. My filling spoonfuls sat on top of the cake mix like daubs of cold peanut butter, and clearly weren’t going to marble anywhere at all. I ended up mashing them in any old how. It was messy, and left my cake looking like it had a bad case of acne (especially once I put the pecans on top), but we forged on.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Then came the real trouble. In the oven for 25-30 minutes, said the recipe. Which I did. I took the cake out, poked in a knife, and was utterly horrified when a lava-flow of grease came flooding out. I realised it was the butter/sugar solution, partying away on the inside. Who on earth would want to eat a grease cake?! I put it back in for another ten minutes. No grease this time, but lots of raw cake mix. Another ten minutes. And another ten. Thirty-five minutes after the recipe said it would be done, it was done. I wasn’t at all sure it would be edible, by this point.

Thank goodness for cream cheese frosting. The recipe gives instructions for a glaze that looks like a thin form of icing. But cinnamon rolls need cream cheese frosting, yes? It just feels right. I used this recipe, halved. It’s the sort of thing I can happily eat from the bowl, with a spatula. I would eat it on toast. I would probably lick it off a wall, to be honest, but for the time being it was jolly lovely on the cake.

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The verdict, then:

Deliciousness: Do you know, after all that, it was wonderful. Extremely fluffy, gloriously messy and crumbly. I don’t know why it took half an hour longer in the oven than it should’ve done, but it didn’t suffer for it. The filling makes sandy little cinnamon blobs in the middle of every slice, and the frosting and pecans together are lovely.

Complexity: If I can work out the correct oven time, it’s a cinch: measure, mix, dump in a tin. So much easier than proper cinnamon rolls. Now I have an ominous feeling.

Washing-up pile: Two bowls and some cutlery. Nice and easy (not – um – that I actually did the clearing up. Thanks, kitchen wonders!).

Casualties: Here is a life lesson – you don’t want to wipe a ladleful of sugar/butter/cinnamon out of a toddler’s face and hair. Ever. That stuff clings.

Oh gosh, it's not going to come off. Is it?

This was the moment I realised it wasn’t going to come off.

The recipe for cinnamon roll cake is here, and the frosting I used is at the bottom of the page here. Go go go!

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Cakery Bakery: Strawberry cream puff cake

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We made it to May!

I don’t have any maypoles handy, and I’m not keen on the idea of gathering nuts, in May or otherwise. But, do you know, it feels like an awfully long time since I made some cake. It being May and all, we decided to bake something appropriate for sunny weather. THIS MEANS STRAWBERRIES.

I discovered, recently, a great recipe website called The Girl Who Ate Everything. Her chicken taco soup is now one of our evening staples. And today we decided on this: a strawberry cream puff cake. What is a puff cake, I wondered? Even now I’m not really sure what the answer is. The base is somewhere between eggy pudding, souffle and pastry. It’s topped with a cream cheese/whipped cream frosting, and lots of strawberries. And it tastes amazing. This is all you need to know.

The cream puff layer comes first. You melt butter, water and sugar in a saucepan, bring it to the boil, then dump in a load of flour and stir like billy-oh. Boiling sugar always makes me nervous, and so does adding flour to anything on the stove, but it turned into a kind of play-doh mixture without any explosions. Three eggs and a whisk later, the mixture is done. You pour it into a springform tin and it goes in the oven. After 25 minutes, the thing is golden brown, gigantic and making a valiant effort to climb out of the tin. You stab it several times with a toothpick to squash any of that nonsense, and then put it back in for a bit. Done, and done. I do love a cake that’s supposed to sink in the middle. It makes a nice change.

The cream cheese topping is cream cheese, icing sugar, heavy whipping cream (I substituted double cream, Englishers) and a bit of vanilla. The recipe also says orange zest, but I didn’t have any ready-made and couldn’t be bothered to grate some, so I missed it out. I don’t think it suffered without it. That goes on the cooled cream puff base – do wait till it’s properly cool, or it’ll melt horribly – with chopped strawberries on top of that. Like the Girl Who Ate Everything, I chopped my strawberries while the base was cooking, and put them in the fridge with a bit of sugar until they were needed. They sat in their own syrup, and were lovely.

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Henry spent a good half hour afterwards licking the beaters and trying to clean out the cream cheese bowl with a spatula. I’ll remember that for later.

I think possibly I undercooked my base a little – it was definitely more eggy pudding than pastry at the bottom – but it was delicious anyway. The cream cheese topping is wonderful (you can ask Henry’s vest). And strawberries, well. It felt like the perfect end to a sunshiny day.

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Deliciousness: Make it now. Oh alright, finish reading this first. THEN go make it.

Complexity: Not only was it very easy – the crumply base is the sort of thing that is supposed to look artfully dishevelled, so it’s hard to get wrong – but the ingredients were primarily items I already had. Which is always a nice bonus.

Washing-up pile: You guys, I haven’t washed up in two days. I have no idea how many of those eighty-seven items are baking related.

Casualties: Unless you can overdose on cheesy cream, I think we’ll all be fine.

The recipe for this cake is here. Go go go!

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It’s my birthday, and I wished for this

This, being…

one insomniac coughing fit so energetic I blew out an eardrum (brills)

two naps, three boxes of chocolate, four new books (better)

one cafe breakfast and a bottle of the best French lemonade we ever had

one birthday cake made from piled-up scones-and-cream-and-jam

and one boy in tractor wellies, one boy popping the buttons off my coat, and one boy holding my hand under the table.

I’ve never had a birthday where I felt worse and enjoyed myself more. Seriously, these boys. They make my twenty-eight.

(I would also really like to be in bed at this point, but I’ve got another fifteen minutes till my next bout of cold medicine. So, like, a million photos? Yep, good idea.)

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Ten tips for winning over your fussy eater: toddler edition

Oh, my friends, here we are again.

These days, cajoling food into Henry’s mouth has just become part of our family landscape. When we were in London on Friday, he took an unexpected liking to the tiny bowl of pasta we’d ordered for him, and ate almost all of it. He hates pasta. He also hates eating in public (too much else to look at). We were so delightedly gobsmacked that we couldn’t stop talking about it, and took ten thousand photos. Three days later, I’m still greeting Timothy at the door with ‘Dude. I can’t BELIEVE Henry ate that pasta’.

A sweet victory. Also a short-lived one. From where I’m sitting, I can see at least seven peas and a potato he hoped he could hide without me seeing.

I had an arsenal of mealtime strategies I used when he was a just-weaned baby. Now he’s a toddler, the game has changed a little, like this. Did I tell you he’s learned to say ‘no’? Yeah, there’s that.

1. Pick your moment; prepare the ground

For Henry, eating is still a matter of temperament. Sometimes he feels like it; sometimes he doesn’t. After much trial and error, I’ve learned the signs: he doesn’t want to eat when he’s just woken up, or very tired, or in the middle of something. He needs to be pre-warned. So I start explaining that it’s time to eat about twenty minutes before he ends up in the high chair. And then I explain that I’m making his sandwich. And then I explain that he can have a yoghurt afterwards if he eats the sandwich. If he doesn’t have a fair crack at the sandwich, he doesn’t get the yoghurt. It means I’m rabbiting on through most of lunch, but it manages his expectations, whether or not he’s practising selective hearing at the time.

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2. Think continental

Life is not normally neat and organised for us. But the rub is this: he definitely eats better when we’re at home and when we can take as long as we like over meals. Often I’ll put something down on the tray with him screeching indignation, and then fifteen minutes later, if I leave him to his own devices and don’t look bothered either way, he’ll start eating it. So whenever it’s possible, I think continental: long, lazy meals in a relaxed atmosphere. Cheese is optional (he doesn’t like it. Is he my child?!).

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3. Serve in courses, with the good stuff first

This was the one, transformative idea I took from the Bringing Up Bebe book. When is he hungriest? Right at the beginning. When is he most likely to eat the fruit and veg you need him to eat and he, apparently, needs to throw against the wall? Right at the beginning. I serve all his meals like this: I bring him vegetables right at the start (a mug of peas, a few red peppers, some oranges or grapes), and leave him there picking at them for ten minutes while I make the rest. If he eats nothing else, at least he’s had the good stuff. If he doesn’t eat even that, at least you tried.

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4. Force the first taste, then back off

This one still in force from last time. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s screamed to high heaven when I’ve come at him with a spoon, only to change his mind once he tasted it. Most days I have to pin him down to get the spoon near him. Then I leave him to decide whether he likes it. The house rule is still that he has to try everything once.

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5. DIY rules

Sometimes I think he’s throwing a fit over the food, when actually he just wants to use the spoon himself. This involves a certain amount of sacrifice on the part of his outfit and the nearby wall. If it means he eats more, I don’t mind. I can’t speak for the wall.

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6. If at first he hates its guts…

…keep on pushing it. Apparently a child needs to eat a food twelve times before they genuinely dislike it. I don’t force it into his mouth if he seems completely disgusted, but I do serve it again the next week. I’d like to say I’ve had some success stories with this method: the truth is that his dislikes are so random I can’t keep track of them. I live in hope, though. There was one time he ate raw tomato.

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7. Treat in treat-sized quantities

Now he’s past his immediate babyhood, I don’t believe in refusing him cake, chocolate or other dessert-type loveliness, or the occasional fast-food outing, or nice drink. This is where joy can be found, after all. If we’re eating it, it’s not really fair to say he can’t have it because it’s unhealthy. And I think that children who are never allowed treats at home tend to gorge until they’re sick in other places. But make them treats, not staple foods (ARE YOU LISTENING, SELF).

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8. Snack not, lest ye be disappointed

Another still-truism. His appetite is tiny (apart from that one time in London, with the pasta, etc etc). This is an especially hard principle to stick to now I’m pregnant and snacking ALL THE FREAKING TIME, but the fact remains: when he eats between meals, he doesn’t eat meals. I do a lot of secret eating these days.

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9. Big it up

I hope that one of the things we can bequeath to Henry eventually is an enthusiasm for food. Until that appears, I try to look and sound majorly excited about everything I serve him. Sometimes, just asking him for some and letting him feed you is enough to convince him that it’s worth trying. Sometimes. And other times, you just feel like an idiot, cheering for celery. But here’s the thing…

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10. Don’t panic

Can we be very serious for a moment? It’s ok. It’s really ok. You’re not a bad parent. Some kids don’t like to eat, and anything you can get into him is a triumph, some days. If you’re genuinely worried about his energy levels or bowel movements, see your doctor or health visitor. But I have never (ha!) in my life (haha!) worried about Henry’s energy levels (oh, stop!). There are days when he refuses everything and screams the house down and I find the nearest pillow and cry. But as long as he’s drinking plenty and eating some, I try not to worry. You shouldn’t either. It’ll all be fine.

From today. The tear on his face is real, in case you thought I had it all figured out.

From today. The tear on his face is real, in case you thought I had it all figured out.

(Ten tips for winning over your fussy eater: baby edition is here. I suspect we’ll be seeing each other again when I post the edition for five-year-olds, but let’s pretend I’ll be posting ‘Ten meals to cook for your sophisticated little gourmet’, instead.)

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How to do pancake day like you really, really mean it

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Listen up, suckahs! We tend to get very serious about pancake day in this house.

No, let me rephrase. I tend to get very serious about pancake day in this house. I do not believe in restricting pancake consumption, no indeed. But a day when you can have pancakes for dinner just because history says so? I am on board.

Here then is your basic pancake low-down for this evening’s festivities.

Crepe-style pancakes

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the mix:

All you need for these is a good Yorkshire pudding batter – thin pancakes are made from basically the same stuff. Mine’s here. And it’s glorious, because eggs, flour and milk all tend to be found in most people’s houses, which means you can always have either Yorkshire puddings or thin pancakes as a spur-of-the-moment snack (I DO THIS, DON’T JUDGE).

the making:

Use the best, newest frying pan you’ve got for these, because the flatter surface you can find, the easier they are to make. I use just a tiny bit of oil to begin with, and if your pan’s a bit older you’ll need to keep refreshing it as you cook. The hob should be on medium heat (4 out of 6 in our house). Once the pan has heated up for a few mins, pour a ladleful of batter into the centre, swizzle until it covers the whole of the pan bottom, and leave it. Don’t try to move or lift it until the edges are juuuuust starting to curl up. Flip if you’re feeling snazzy. Use a spatula if you’re not. Shouldn’t need more than three minutes a side, depending on your oven, but cook them until they’re as pale or brown as you prefer.

the topping:

Truly, my friends, the thin pancake is a canvas for your wildest dreams. You can load it up as much as you like, then eat it rolled up or unfurled. Here’s the stuff we like the best.

- lemon juice and granulated sugar (for the purists)

- lime juice and granulated sugar (for the purists who want a wild time)

- melted milk chocolate and raspberries

- melted milk chocolate and chopped bananas

- whipped cream and strawberries (oh my)

- golden syrup and chopped bananas

- melted white chocolate and blueberries

- melted white chocolate and pineapple chunks (obscenely good, this one)

- an inch-thick spreading of Nutella, and nothing else.

Fat American-style pancakes

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By which I mean the style of pancakes that are fat and come from the US, not pancakes specifically for fat Americans. Hope the hyphen’s in the right place.

the mix: 

I confess, six months ago we stumbled across an add-water mix from Costco, and have never looked back. But this recipe is also a good one. The main difference is the addition of baking powder (which makes them rise), sugar (which crepes don’t generally need), and a higher ratio of flour (to make the batter thick).

the making:

You can get away with a craggier pan for these, as they’re smaller and more robust. Tim likes to use butter rather than oil to grease the surface, and it gives them a slightly crusty, buttery patina that works brilliantly. Ladle a spoonful of thick mixture into the centre of the pan, and leave it until the top side is bubbling. They rise a little in the cooking, which is always exciting. These shouldn’t take more than a minute per side – again, depending on your oven.

the topping:

I am a purist myself when it comes to these: maple syrup and butter in large quantities, and bacon if you can get it. Otherwise, baking fruit or chocolate chips into the batter is a nice alternative: thinly sliced bananas or blueberries are lovely. Drop the batter in first, then the fruit on top – and then jiggle the batter a bit so the fruit is mostly covered, otherwise it’ll burn when you flip it.

Happy eating, my lovelies! Stuff your good faces. We did.

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Cakery Bakery: Boston cream cupcakes

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I always have the best of intentions when I start to bake.

Well, no. Sometimes I have the best of intentions. Yesterday I did. I should bake something practical, I thought. I’ve got those frozen raspberries I need to use up (Failed Henry Experiment No. 736). Or, maybe something healthy. Something with oats in? Oats and frozen raspberries and OH MY GOOD GRAVY WAIT A MOMENT.

Hummingbird Bakery Boston Cream Cupcakes. Otherwise known as cake with custard inside.

Could I repeat that a moment? Cake. With custard. In. Side. And chocolate frosting on top. Do you know how I feel about custard? I drink it from the jug. The raspberries never stood a chance.

Learning to make custard from scratch is one of my baking goals this year, but it didn’t feel like Friday afternoon was the right goal-busting moment. So I bought a can of Ambrosia and the whole thing was as easy as you please.

The sponge was a quick job: the recipe said to mix all of the dry ingredients plus the butter in a free-standing mixer, and as it happens, these days I have one. If you haven’t, a handheld mixer or even a food processor would do the same job. The wet ingredients come after, then you’re done. It’s a thinnish, wet mixture that you then spoon into baking cases until they’re about two-thirds full. I quite like using an ice cream scoop for this job, but only because it makes me feel a bit special.

The sponges go in the oven for fifteen minutes or so, during which I made the frosting. It’s butter rubbed into icing sugar and cocoa powder, and then whisked together with milk. For the life of me, I can’t mix butter into icing sugar without inhaling half of it, so I use my fingers. Then once the cupcakes have cooled it’s time for the assembly.

These cupcakes are very similar to the chocolate fondant cakes I tried last year. You slice the top off each cake with a sharp knife, fill the space with custard, then replace the top after trimming it a little and cover the whole thing with frosting. I am not a natural froster and it felt like it took forever. But then it was done, and oh hello my darling, it was goooood.

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Deliciousness: apart from the obvious genius of filling a cake with custard, this is an excellent recipe. The sponge is very light and soft, and the chocolate frosting is surprisingly lovely (I’m not usually much of an icing fan).

Complexity: well, I cheated. I expect that making the custard would be the hardest bit. Using shop-bought stuff made the process much quicker, and the rest of it wasn’t hard at all.

Washing-up pile: Henry dumped an entire cutlery drawer into the messy sink halfway through. So, seventy-four?

Casualties: We survived. Hurrah!

This recipe is from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book; it’s also online here. But buy the book if you can, because it’s lovely and you deserve it.

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Cakery Bakery: Cookie-dough crumble

Otherwise known as: The Dessert That Gets Weirder The More You Think About It But Is Actually Really Nice And, Moreover, Very Easy Indeed.

We had people over for dinner on Wednesday evening. It was a long, busy day and I didn’t have time to bake for dessert. So I found this, which has to be one of the quickest, throw-together puddings I’ve ever tried. And you never know when you might need one of those.

Fruit crumble with cookie dough on top sounded like an idea straight from the mind of Zeus when I first found it in my BBC Good Food book. I love crumble AND cookies, and the only two ingredients were ready-made, so it couldn’t be easier. We ran out to the supermarket at ten to five and bought two pots of ready-made cookie dough, and a carton of frozen fruit (the recipe suggests forest fruits, but I’m not a huge fan, so got some strawberries and blueberries instead). Yessss. The sausage, apple and sage pie was ready for the main course – best pie in the universe, in case you’re wondering; that one definitely came from the mind of Zeus – and now this wonder for afterwards.

Then I started thinking about it. Chocolate chips… and frozen fruit? Wouldn’t the fruit go all watery in the oven? How well would that mix with chocolate chip cookies? To make matters worse, I’d automatically bought custard to go with it, and the thought of combining partially-cooked chocolate chip cookie + possibly watery strawberries + custard, of all things, CUSTARD made me feel a little funny.

It was lovely to put together, though. I added sugar to the frozen fruit, thinking it might otherwise be a little tart. Then I pulled off bits of cookie dough and pinched them together on top, cobbler style. Beautifully satisfying, and it looked fabulous.

We ran into some baking difficulties when it came to the cooking time (it wouldn’t be Wednesday without them, would it?). The recipe said 20 minutes, but once we took it out, the cookie dough was still sludgy and partially cooked. We left it another ten minutes and matters hadn’t improved much, but we were on a deadline so ate it as it was. I think the dense supermarket cookie dough might have been to blame: next time I’ll make dough from scratch and see if it helps. Because, in fact, it was delicious. The fruit did produce a lot of juice underneath, and the cookie topping was more the consistency of cement than cookies. But for some reason, it worked. I try not to argue with stuff that tastes nice.

I’d be interested to try it with fresh fruit, as well, but not yet: buying that many strawberries out of season might actually bankrupt me.

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(I’m afraid I didn’t get a photo after it had been in the oven. Since the dough didn’t cook all that well, it looked quite a lot like this. But hotter.)

Deliciousness: Weirdly irresistible. Would’ve been even better with a proper cookie texture on top.

Complexity: An assembly job of five minutes or less. You could keep the ingredients in your freezer and have it at short notice whenever you jolly well fancied.

Washing-up pile: One oven dish. Yes, really.

Casualties: It was heavy stuff, and we ate too much of it. Then spent the whole evening afterwards groaning in trouser-straining discomfort.

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