Sugar Free Banana Bread

This is an unusual one for me. I am all about sugar. I mean, I eat a lot of vegetables too, but when it comes to cake, I am a purist – it’s got to be full of butter and sugar. That’s what cake is about, right?

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A few weeks ago one of my colleagues went on a sugar free diet, and a couple of the others were just generally trying to ‘eat better’…I think we’re always striving for this in my office, but there’s a pretty consistent balance between the amount of cake and the amount of fruit consumed – recently there has been a pretty steady stream of Creme Eggs being consumed. But, I digress! To my colleague, sugar free meant no cake, so I decided to look into making sugar free cake (because an office without sugar is no fun).

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And behold! I found a recipe that I like. This is pretty straightforward, and I’ve played around with it a bit – most recently I have added chocolate to it, because that still counts as low sugar, right? But what I’ve found is that in banana cake you don’t really need sugar. Granted, it makes it look a bit more appetising (for whatever reason this cake has come out a slightly grey shade of brown every time I’ve made it), but it tastes just as good because bananas are super sugary, especially if you leave them until they’re really brown. I’m not going to start advocating a sugar-free lifestyle, but, this banana bread is pretty good if you want to try it.

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Banana & Toffee Cupcakes

The last month has been crazy, full on crazy. I went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and it was glorious. I never get tired of visiting Scandinavia, it’s like this paradise where everything is just lovely and full of coffee and pastries, and they have museum exhibitions about brewing beer (yes!). It also looks like this:

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On returning, we had friends staying for the Bank Holiday weekend, and then had a huge pizza party which was great, albeit very messy, because when you make 3kg of dough, and get your approx. 20 guests to all make their own pizzas, it gets…ugh. My kitchen. It was the biggest clear up job ever, and mad props to Laura and Hayden who did loads of it whilst I was still at the pub. We had some cool pizzas though – including macaroni cheese pizza, potato pizza, and banana and harissa pizza (which surprisingly worked).

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Anyway, now that I’m finally less insanely busy, it’s time to write about those banana and toffee cupcakes I mentioned a while ago. I love banana cake, and I’m always looking for variations to increase its general awesomeness. This is a tale of first world problems, whereby the little Waitrose near my house stopped selling the banana and toffee cupcakes I had grown to love. They still sell them at the one 4 miles from my house, but that is no use to me. So I decided to try and make some myself. I’ve made these a couple of times, and I will say it’s still a work in progress. I think I’m basically hoping that one day they’ll taste exactly like the Waitrose ones, but in the meantime, these work pretty damn well as a substitute.

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2014 – a year of baking

Well, once again this is a bit late due to essay writing. But now I am finally done, and apart from having to go to work the next three days, my Christmas break has officially started!

I didn’t manage to bake anything new or exciting this week though (predictably), just more gingerbread, and some brownies for my housemate’s birthday. So instead, I thought I’d go through all the stuff I’ve baked this year and talk about some of my favourites. 2014 has gone quickly, but looking back to January feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then – not least that I have proven to myself that I can post regularly on a blog for a year (well, I’ve still got a couple of weeks until its officially a year, but let’s call it that anyway).

So without further ado, here are my ten most favourite things I baked this year…

10. Plum Cupcakes – a celebration of all things autumnal!

9. Gingerbread Cupcakes – brought festive deliciousness

8. Rhubarb and Almond Loaf – this was a really good late spring bake, which I made multiple times because it was so tasty.

7. Suksessterte – perhaps the tastiest thing that I didn’t get to eat, but was made in celebration of my lovely friends getting engaged ❤

6. Peanut Butter Cookies – there should always be peanut butter cookies

5. Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels – these are the best breakfast you will ever had. And best snack you will ever have.

4. Peach Jam Scones – peach jam is the best jam ever, and it’s even better when you put it in a scone.

3. Walnut, Chocolate and Honey Tart – I can’t even. Every time I think about this I want to  make it and eat it all by myself

2. Caramel Walnut Upside Down Banana Cake – see above. Also, the tastiest thing I didn’t write a proper post about.

AND THE WINNER IS….

1. The Pancaken!!! – literally nothing will ever beat this – the most frustrating and rewarding thing I have ever baked. I don’t know if I’ll bake another one for Pancake Day 2015. Part of me wants to, and the rest of me is horrified at the prospect of spending hours making pancakes and burning myself repeatedly.

I hope you all had a great 2014, and have a Happy Christmas!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

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It’s now December, which means tis the season (despite the fact that I’ve done Christmassy recipes the last two weeks). I have my advent calendar (Peppa Pig, chosen by my housemate), and we’re putting up our decorations next week! The semester is almost over, which means I have more essays to write, but I’m really looking forward to having a break and have time to catch up on some reading.

For one of my seminars each week someone presents, and whoever is presenting brings cake. This week was my week, and I wanted to make something very seasonal, so I decided on gingerbread cupcakes! These are delicious – and not only because they have cream cheese icing on. I’d never thought about making gingerbread in cupcake form before, and I’m really glad I came across this recipe!

The icing was supposed to have lemon zest in, which sounds like an excellent addition, but I forgot to put it in because I was so preoccupied with my icing becoming lumpy. Try mixing 600g icing sugar into 100g butter by hand – then you will feel my pain. I felt like my arm was going to fall off, and then I added the cream cheese and there were lumps and it felt like a disaster at the time, but once I’d iced them it wasn’t noticeable. Phew. I swear I used to be able to make cream cheese icing without anything going wrong, but the last few times I’ve made it, something has always gone wrong, which has made me reluctant to ever make it again. I probably need a hand whisk back in my life.

The original idea was that I’d decorate these cupcakes with the gingerbread men I made last week. That didn’t happen – not least because I iced the cupcakes so beautifully (if I do say so myself) that I didn’t want to ruin it by plonking a gingerbread man on top. That said, both cupcakes and gingerbread were well received separately – I think if I make the cupcakes again I might make some smaller gingerbread decorations to go on, like little circles or stars or something. Continue reading

Apple Week #2

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I made apple cakes this week! Now that I’ve handed in my essay and things are temporarily slightly less crazy, I managed to spend time baking, and it has been lovely. The first cake I made was a Peyton & Byrne ‘Discovery Apple Cake’ which was delicious and moist, with a hint of cinnamon. The second cake (which literally just came out of the oven) is a Nigel Slater recipe, with raisins and marmalade, which is richer and has a more fruitcake-y flavour, rather than overwhelmingly apple. My house smells of freshly baked cake. Nothing quite like it. Unfortunately my enthusiasm resulted in me taking it out of its tin too soon after it came out of the oven, and it split it half :(. But it is truly delicious, a proper autumnal cake.

I used whisky marmalade in the Nigel Slater cake, which gives it the slight hint of alcohol you get from Christmas cake. If you don’t have some whisky marmalade lying about (kind of unlikely…), then I can definitely recommend you soak the fruit in a shot or two of whisky or rum if you want that extra flavour. Also I find apple cakes are way better made with brown sugar or dark muscavado sugar, because it gives them a more caramel-y flavour that is great with apple.

Christmas is looming now, which means I’m starting to think about all the things I want to bake – I always make gingerbread, because it’s awesome, but I’ve just been looking through Peyton and Byrne and I saw a recipe for honeycomb I’d really like to try. I’m still a little weary of boiling sugar on the hob in this house after my experience making toffee sauce the other week, but maybe I’ll be brave and give it a go. There are a bunch of Christmas themed recipes in Scandilicious as well, which I might write about in the coming weeks.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

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I love sticky toffee pudding. It’s one of those joyously warming autumnal puddings, like syrup sponge pudding, that I could basically eat all day. I’ve never made either of them before though, I’ve only had shop or restaurant versions, and that seemed a shame. So when I saw a recipe for sticky toffee pudding in Peyton & Byrne, I was like ‘game on!’

Unfortunately, it was almost a disaster. Twice. I made the pudding without a hiccup, and then ruined the toffee sauce whilst I was on the phone to my old housemate talking about how terrible letting agents are (because they are awful, horrible companies who pride themselves on taking people’s money for no reason). So that went in the bin. Then I tried again the next day – and the same thing happened. This is the second time now that Peyton & Byrne has let me down, and I’m not sure if it was me doing something wrong, or the hob was too hot (trying to get used to electric instead of gas), or whether the recipe was just wrong. I decided on the latter. Trying to boil water and sugar together just resulted in it drying out and crystallising in the bottom of the pan. I think the water to sugar ratio was wrong, but after it doing it for the second time, I decided that rather than throwing away another 300g sugar, I would attempt to salvage it. So I added cream and golden syrup and butter, and it got better! It took a while of me slowly heating it trying to get the sugar to break down, and also scraping it off the sides of the pan – my housemate found this hilarious. But after a while, it became toffee sauce. And I got to eat sticky toffee pudding, and it was good. Most other sticky toffee pudding recipes I looked at didn’t involve boiling sugar and water, so I don’t know what that was about.

The bodged sauce that I ended up making certainly isn’t ideal though. When reheating the sauce to eat with later portions, it was very grainy (probably due to earlier crystallisation) and FAR too rich. And I really like sweet stuff that’s kind of sickly. But this was just too much. So below is an adapted, untested, but hopefully good recipe for it!

Next week: Marbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart

Sticky Toffee Pudding (adapted from Peyton & Byrne’s ‘British Baking’)

100g chopped dates (or raisins)

80ml hot water

1 tsp bicarb of soda

85g unsalted butter, softened

140g dark muscovado sugar

2 eggs

180g plain flour

for the sauce:

250g caster sugar

75g butter

150ml double cream

3 tbsp golden syrup

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin. Mix the dates, hot water and bicarb together and leave for a few minutes to soak.

2. In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. Add the date mixture and mix well. Gently fold in the flour.

3. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30-40 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and leave to cool whilst preparing the toffee sauce.

4. Put half the cream, sugar and butter into a pan over a moderate heat. Stir regularly, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil for a few minutes until the colour starts to darken and the sauce thickens. Mix in the golden syrup and the rest of the cream. Cut the pudding into squares and pour the sauce over. Reheat when necessary.

Pear and Maple Syrup Cake

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I moved! I’m pretty exhausted after two fairly intense days, one of moving and one of doing lots of induction things at uni. Next week is even busier, so somewhere between endless induction events and all the reading I have to do I’ll have to find the time to bake. I’m still trying to work out my schedule and this is the first time it’s really occurred to me that I have spent the last two months being unemployed, so I haven’t exactly been used to having things to do, and now I have a lot to do, so there’ll definitely be a period of adjustment.

Today I’m visiting my house in Cambridge for the last time. I’ll miss it there – the majority of everything I’ve written about on here was baked in the kitchen there, so if I’m not feeling sad then I’m definitely feeling reflective. But I have an equally good kitchen here in Norwich, so we’ll just keep going I guess. I didn’t get to eat either of the last cakes I baked in the Cambridge kitchen though – I made a Guinness cake for my dad to say thank you for helping me move, and then I made a pear and maple syrup cake which I gave to Oli to share with his colleagues because he likes creating goodwill in the workplace.

Being in the midst of moving when I baked it, I had packed up most of my cupboards, and I realised when I went rifling through boxes that I had in fact run out of maple syrup, but I did have a small quantity of golden syrup left, so I used that instead. It probably didn’t taste quite as good – I can’t be sure, but it appeared to work well as a substitute. The quantity of pear appears to outweigh the amount of cake batter, but once baked it looked really good.

Next week: Sticky Toffee Pudding (I desperately want cold enough autumn weather to make this be like a warming pudding for a chilly evening)

Pear and Maple Syrup Cake (from Tender vol.II by Nigel Slater)

100g butter

50g golden caster sugar

50g light brown muscovado sugar

150g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

3 eggs

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the pears

450g ripe pears

20g butter

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp maple syrup (or golden syrup)

1. Grease and line a deep 20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper. Peel, core and chop the pears into roughly 1cm cubes. Put them in a shallow pan with the butter and cinnamon and let them soften for 10-12 mins over a moderate heat, stirring from time to time. Pour in the maple syrup, let the mixture bubble up briefly then remove from heat. The pears should be sticky and deep golden.

2. Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4. Beat together the butter and sugars until pale and thick. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Add the almonds to the flour. Beat the eggs and milk in a small bowl, then add to the butter and sugar a little at a time, alternating with the flour and almonds. Stir in the vanilla extract.

3. Tip in the mixture into the cake tin and smooth the top. Spoon the pears and any remaining syrup over the mixture. They will gradually sink on cooking to make a sticky layer further down.

4. Bake for 40 mins or until golden and lightly firm. Serve warm in thick slices, with cream and a little more maple syrup.