Saturday, 30 April 2011

Forever Nigella - Street Party

Forever Nigella is a blog event created by Sarah at Maison Cupcake. (Although if you're reading this, you probably already know all about it!) The first few months I didn't manage to take part but this month I was determined.

The theme was "street party", in keeping with the Royal Wedding, and I wanted to make something that everyone likes and could be picked up with your fingers and enjoyed while standing up or perching precariously on a folding chair at a trestle table.

So I made two things that I love, and my husband loves: marshmallow squares and hokey pokey!

Hokey Pokey, also known as honeycomb, cinder toffee or (inexplicably, in some parts of Northern Ireland, yellow man) is one of life's great joys. It's made entirely of sugar and a bit of bicarb and is therefore not good for you, but it's just so yummy! We will be enjoying this sprinkled over some vanilla ice cream. We had intended to have it yesterday, but after a massive tapas feast nobody was able to cope with pudding (and that is VERY unlike me).

Marshmallow squares - these are much nicer than the Rice Crispie versions that come in blue foil wrappers. Marshmallows are my cat's favourite thing, by the way. She is not allowed any of these.

We have my in laws visiting at the moment, and when my father in law arrived pretty much the first thing he said was "hello. Is there any cake?" I fed him a marshmallow square and one of the chocolate coconut slices from a post I'll be doing very soon, and he seemed happy :)

Both of these recipes are from Nigella Express, but they are available on her website: here and here.

I'm really behind with posting at the moment but later today or tomorrow I'll have my entry for this months' Random Recipes, and some photos of inside my fridge!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Happy Easter!

Have you started tucking into your Easter eggs yet? This year I have a Green & Black's egg, a Mars Bar one and a Creme Egg one and I don't know which to open first!

Here's some little Easter cakes I made last week to bring along to my ukulele club. I have a new piping nozzle that's designed for hair and grass, and I wanted an excuse to use it!

They're just vanilla cupcakes with some chocolate buttercream and some tiny tiny mini chocolate eggs that I found in the pound shop. Of course I bought far too many and we'll probably still be eating them at Christmas.

This is the piping nozzle. Sorry it's so out of focus, I really need to take my husband's macro lens out of retirement so I can take decent photos of tiny things...

How are you spending Easter? I'm off to a yoga class in a minute and then we'll be having a picnic by the river so fingers crossed the sun comes back in the next couple of hours! Hope everyone is enjoying the lovely weather and has a great long weekend x

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

We Should Cocoa April challenge - chocolate battenburg

Battenburg, battenberg. How on earth do you spell it? Anyway the theme for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, as hosted by Choclette, was marzipan. I love the stuff. Originally I thought of doing a chocolate stollen but for some reason I just didn't fancy it today, so a chocolate battenburg it was.

Normally I'd have split the mix in half after creaming the butter and sugar and adding the eggs, and added flour to one half and a mixture of flour and cocoa to the other. However I thought that I should probably use proper chocolate in the spirit of the challenge, so I made the whole basic batter, split it in half and added melted chocolate to one half. I don't like it much, I have to admit. I just don't love this cake (although the vanilla bits are lovely!), and for that reason I'm not going to write the recipe, because I don't want anyone to make one of my recipes and be disappointed. Saying that, my husband has gleefully stuffed a slice of it into his mouth and given me a very enthusiastic thumbs up, so perhaps I'm just a bit hard on myself.

I like the little flowers! I made them from the marzipan offcuts with a flower press tool I bought at the Country Living Spring Fair.

So this is my entry and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what everyone else does, because marzipan isn't the very easiest ingredient to pair with chocolate so it should be interesting!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The official birthday cake

Further to the post below, and with apologies to my sister in law's mum for this terrible photo which doesn't do her creation justice, this is the "official" birthday cake for my mum in law's sixtieth birthday yesterday.

I meant to ask for the recipe because the cake underneath was lovely - a really moist, substantial-but-not-too-heavy fruit cake. The little round cake was a plain sponge cake for the fruit cake naysayers.

The icing on the cake

It was my lovely mum in law's 60th birthday yesterday and she had a big party full of family and friends. It was great fun, and we were surprised at just how noisy a bunch of pensioners could be :)

My sister in law's mum made the official birthday cake, and very nice it was - she did a fruit cake, complete with fondant icing and marzipan and lots of cut out decorations. I have a photo on my other camera (a little compact that I never use due to it being a bit rubbish) and I'll share it when I can be bothered to get up and dig it out of my handbag!

I know that a lot of people don't like fruit cake (why though?a good fruit cake is one of the best things in the world) so I thought I'd make a couple of sponge cakes and bring them along, so nobody had to miss out on cake. I did a very traditional Victoria sandwich, with buttercream and raspberry jam, and a chocolate fudge cake, which was just a chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing. I'm not going to bore you with the recipes for the cakes themselves; anyone with half a brain can make a sponge cake. I do however want to share the recipes for the icing, because the icing can turn a mediocre cake into something lovely, or a fantastic cake into a disaster. I hope mine just made a good cake even better!

For both of these recipes, use a big bowl if you're using an electric hand whisk, it stops the icing sugar going all over the kitchen.

Vanilla buttercream (makes enough to fill a cake about 8-10")

100g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp GOOD vanilla extract (no horrible vanilla essence, please)
a few tablespoons of milk

Use an electric hand whisk or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat the butter until it's really soft and fluffy. Add the vanilla and icing sugar and beat it all together. Add enough milk to make the mixture soft enough to spread easily - start with about 2 tbsp and add a bit more if necessary, beating after each addition to mix it in thoroughly.

You can make up a big batch of this and keep it in the fridge for a week or so. Just take it out of the fridge an hour or two before you want it, to let it soften up enough to spread. You can also use food colouring to dye it whatever colour you fancy.

Chocolate fudge icing (makes enough to fill and cover an 8" cake quite generously)

60g good quality dark chocolate
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp boiling water
90g unsalted butter, softened
250g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of hot water.

In a jug, dissolve the cocoa powder in the boiling water. Add this to the melted chocolate and mix together well (it will go a bit grainy, this is normal.)

In a BIG bowl, cream the butter with an electric hand whisk. Add the icing sugar, vanilla and chocolate mixture and beat together really well for 2-3 minutes. I found I needed to add a drop of milk as my mixture was very thick.

Both of these icings would be fantastic on cupcakes too, of course. Or, if you're feeling both greedy and lazy, spread it on a digestive or rich tea biscuit!

The buttercream recipe is mine; the chocolate fudge icing is from Peyton & Byrne British Baking, a book I just acquired a few days ago and which is really, really gorgeous. The typeface reminds me of vintage London Underground posters, the design and layout is absolutely beautiful, the photos make me hungry and the recipes are mostly traditional but all very interesting. It was a £6.99 bargain from the Book People and if you're even slightly interested in baking, this is definitely a book you need to add to your collection.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Here today, scone tomorrow.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a journalist (for all of about a day). Thank goodness I reconsidered my career aspirations - I'd have needed to be much better at thinking up titles!

I see a lot of scone recipes on the internet and in my cookbooks, and they all tend to be quite similar, but I was never really completely happy with any that I tried. Then when I went back to college to study patisserie, my tutor mentioned that housewives (and he used the term "housewives" in a derogatory manner!) use self raising flour for scones, but bakers use strong flour and that's why the scones you see in bakeries are much taller than the ones you make at home. It made sense to me, as the higher gluten content is what helps bread rise so high, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I tried a recipe using strong flour from Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads and it was good but a bit of a faff, so I continued experimenting. This recipe came from James Martin on Saturday Kitchen, although I use much less milk than the lovely James does as I found his dough really sticky and too difficult to work with. I liked the results so much that this is now the recipe I use for the scones I make at work!


450g strong white flour
5 tsp baking powder (yes, 5 tsp, really)
Big pinch of salt
200ml milk
2 eggs
75g cold butter, diced
75g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 220ºC.

Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Rub the butter into this mixture until it looks like breadcrumbs. Mix the eggs and milk together with a fork and add this to the rest of the mixture, mixing it together with the fork, and use your hands to bring it all together.

Turn out the mixture onto a floured surface and knead it lightly so you end up with a soft and rather sticky dough. Use your hands to flatten the dough out to about 3/4 inch thick, and cut circles with whatever size cutter you fancy. Dip the cutter in flour first - this dough is sticky! Don't twist the cutter as you push down, as this will make the dough clump together and it won't rise evenly.

Place the cut out circles on a non stick baking tray. Clump the trimmings together, flatten them out again and cut out more circles, and repeat till all the dough is used up. I use a cutter that's about 3" in diameter and I usually get about 10 scones.

Brush the tops with beaten egg or milk, if you like (or don't bother - for the scones in the photos here, I didn't bother glazing them at all), but try not to let it run down the sides. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the scones have browned nicely on top.

If you like, you can add sultanas, chopped glacé cherries or other dried fruit - use about 100g, and add them to the dry mix before adding the milk and eggs.

I very much doubt that the Women's Institute would approve of the use of strong flour but I really don't care because these are light, fluffy and yummy, and they taste very good indeed when warmed for 20 seconds in the microwave and smeared with the last of the gooseberry jam I made last July!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Waffly good.

I'm so sorry, that wasn't funny at all was it?

But waffles are good. They make breakfast feel like a party.

I already had a waffle maker, of the type that makes thin, crispy, heart-shaped waffles, but this week Lidl had the machines that make the fat waffles with square holes and as I really didn't think it was excessive or unnecessary to own two waffle makers, I picked one up.

Here it is. Shiny!

When I bought the first waffle machine I tried a few different recipes, and the very best recipe I found was on this blog (although apparently it originally came from a Better Homes & Gardens cokbook). It's so good that it has a page all to itself in my little recipe book, a treasured birthday present from a very good friend where I write all my very favourite recipes, but only after I've tried them out and made sure they're worthy to go in my special book!

And here's the recipe as I've written it down. It uses the dreaded cups... but it's worth it.

1 3/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup oil (rapeseed is nice, other vegetable oil is fine)

Put the flour, baking powder and salt into a big bowl and mix together. Beat the egg yolks, milk and oil together, add to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and fold into the rest of the mixture. The batter will be a bit lumpy - this is fine. You don't need to get the lumps out!

Rest the batter for an hour or so if you have time, but this isn't essential.

Heat up the waffle maker and add a ladle full (or however much you need) and cook till crispy and golden brown.

I had mine with maple syrup, my lovely husband had golden syrup drizzled over his, and we both agreed they were yummy :)

Oh and a little tip for you. You're supposed to grease the waffle maker plates with butter. This is far too tiresome. I use Fry Light spray instead. I love this stuff - I never use it for its intended purpose, which is for actually frying stuff, but for greasing baking tins, crepe pans and waffle makers it's awesome. You could of course use an oil spray filled with vegetable oil.

Hope everyone is enjoying this gorgeous weather! We had a barbecue today, as did most of our town judging by the smells in the air and the empty supermarket shelves... I'm convinced that food tastes much better outside!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Good things are better in small packages.

Who doesn't like mini things? Mini muffins, mini eclairs, mini sandwiches. Bite size stuff is good. Bread is good, mini loaves baked in mini loaf tins are even better. And with that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to my mini loaf tin. I bought it in Lidl (in fact I bought two of them) and I love it! These tins are so useful for all sorts of stuff. Great for little brioche loaves, little soft white bread rolls for serving with soup, and tiny lemon drizzle cakes. Anything you can do in a big tin, you can do in a little tin, and it will look cute and make you feel less greedy when you eat it. You can also freeze little things and defrost just one whenever you fancy it.

Today I needed to make something that was very quick and easy, required little to no effort, and felt like a treat. So I dug out Nigella Kitchen. Now I'm not as big a fan of this book as I am of her earlier efforts (How to be a Domestic Goddess is one of my absolute favourites), but this particular recipe alone was worth buying the book for. Nigella's recipe is for coconut and cherry banana bread, but I never have any dried sour cherries so I make it with dried cranberries instead, and I always make mini loaves.


125g unsalted butter, softened (with apologies to my snobbier self, I used the cheap supermarket own brand margarine I hate so much, because I'd run out of butter, and the loaves tasted none the worse for it)
About 500g bananas (weighed with skin on) - a bit over or under is fine
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g dried cherries (or cranberries, or sultanas work well too)
100g dessicated coconut

Grease and base line a 2lb loaf tin, or grease and flour six mini loaf tins, and preheat the oven to 170ºC.

Melt the butter (or horrible margarine) and leave to cool. Mash the bananas in a separate bowl.

Beat the sugar into the melted butter, followed by the eggs and mashed bananas. Then fold in the flour, bicarb, baking powder, cherries and coconut. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin(s).

Bake for about 30 minutes for mini loaves and 50 minutes for one normal-sized loaf. A skewer will come out clean when it's done. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy slightly warm with a cup of coffee and a scraping of butter.

I would like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who's visited my blog and left comments, I really appreciate them. I'm still really under the weather (in fact I think I'm suffering from bronchitis and am going to see the doctor next week) and have been spending most of my time either at work or in bed so I'm still getting around to visiting all of your lovely blogs, and looking at all the other entries for We Should Cocoa and Random Recipes, so please bear with me and don't think I've been ignoring you!
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