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:

IMG_4140.JPG

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).

IMG_0687

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.

Continue reading

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!

Pumpkin Muffins

IMG_3322t

Okay, so I lied – it’s pumpkin muffins, not pie this week. And I’m cheating a little because this is from smittenkitchen.com instead of one of my recipe books – BUT I’ve had a really busy week and I’ve got another busy week ahead of me, and I wanted to make something that was still full of pumpkin, but also much easier for me to snack on. And easier for me to quickly make on a Sunday evening because I haven’t had time the rest of the week.

Being a masters student is busy, and I’ve just got a job, so it’s going to be even busier, and, shocking I know, I almost forget to want to bake. But if there is a week when I have enough time to make pumpkin pie before the end of the year, I will. We’ll just have to see how the whole work-study-life balance works out. Enough about me though, let’s talk muffins!

These are super simple to make and they taste like autumn, all friendly and spicy and delicious. I didn’t put the cinnamon sugar on the top because I’m lazy – but in hindsight I definitely should have. These are pretty great as savoury muffins, but if you wanted to make them sweeter, then I’m pretty sure they’d go really well with cream cheese icing (instead of the cinnamon sugar).

The recipe can be found here, and I hope you’re all enjoying your autumn!

Next week is going to be a surprise because I’m so tired at the moment that I can’t decide what to bake next. Zzzzzz

Plum Cupcakes

IMG_3281t

This week I spent a few days staying with Laura in Gloucestershire. Laura lives on the edge of the Forest of Dean, where  everything is beautiful and green and just downright lovely. We picked plums in her garden and made perhaps the tartest plum crumble ever. When I start picking fruit I never want to stop if there’s more to pick – which lead to us picking about 3-4kg of plums – including some that weren’t quite ripe enough…hence the tartness. But the joyous result of my excessive picking was that I got to bring some back home with me! So on Friday I got down to making a small batch of plum jam (also a little tart), which I then used to make plum cupcakes. I still have another 500g or so of plums left, so they’ll be used to make plum pie next week. 

I’m also moving next week, and so I’ve spent the last couple of days going through things and packing stuff in boxes. My room looks bare, and there’s an ever-increasing pile of boxes in my living room. You never realise how much stuff you have until you have to pack it all up. I haven’t even started on my kitchen yet (that’s not happening for another week or two), and so by the time I’m all done, the pile will probably have doubled. I’m trying to reduce the amount of stuff I have, but as a lifetime lover of books and CDs, some things are just too hard to part with. The only good news is that most of the stuff I’ve accumulated over the two years of living here is useful stuff, like kitchenware, rather than just random crap. 

But back to lovely plum cupcakes! Despite my complaints about Hummingbird the other week, I have gone back to them, yet again. I’ve messed about with the recipe a bit though, and I thought the cupcakes looked so good with jam oozing out of the top when I took them out of the oven that I decided not to ice them. They’re sweet enough already, who needs vast quantities of icing? 

Next week: Plum pie

IMG_3283t

Plum Cupcakes (adapted from ‘Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days’ by Tarek Malouf)

This made 12 + 1 tiny one, but I used large muffin cases, so it’d probably make about 16 if you’re making little ones.

120g butter, softened

340g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

360g soft light brown sugar

180ml buttermilk

200g-270g (approx.) plum jam (if you want to make your own, see here)

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5 and line a muffin tin (or two) with paper cases. 

2. Using an electric whisk (or your fingertips), mix together the butter, flour, baking powder and salt until like crumbs. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, buttermilk and 120g of the jam until all ingredients are combined. Add half of this to the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated, then add the rest and mix until smooth. 

3. Fill each paper case 1/3 full with batter, then top with 1 tsp of jam, followed by a similar quantity of batter, so the cases are about 2/3 full (my jam filling ended up a little higher than this). The jam will create a filling as the cakes bake. Bake for around 20 mins, or until the tops spring back when pressed. Leave to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool. 

 

Peach Jam Scones

IMG_2455t

We’ll start with an update on the disaster-chocolate custard from last week: no it never set, yes my wonderful mother still managed to ice it (very runnily by the sounds of it) and put it in the raffle, and they raised £800, hurrah! 

It has been excessively and unpleasantly hot this week. England is not designed to be 32C, and I work in a shop that has the world’s most ridiculous lighting, therefore adding about another 5C to the outdoor temperature. Needless to say, I have spent much of this week feeling very uncomfortable, and the rest of it having freezing cold showers. So, what better to do in this heat than stand over a pan of boiling fruit and sugar?! It was worth it though because peach jam is delicious. 

It feels slightly ridiculous to make an entire batch of jam just to use 70g to put in scones. If it was less tasty I would feel more resentful, but this jam is thick and fruity and you just want to smear it thickly over slabs of bread. It reminds me a lot of the plum jam my mum used to make when I was young and there was still a plum tree in the garden. It was always my favourite. The jam I ended up making was a vastly more simple recipe than the recipe in the book, because a) who knows where to find dried peaches, cos I don’t, and b) I didn’t want to buy Bourbon. Ultimately I decided it would be far easier to use fresh peaches, sugar and lemon juice. The recipe I used is here (I did a half quantity), but I will write the proper recipe out below for those of you that have dried peaches. 

The scones are light and delicious, and are best served warm, split open with MORE peach jam. I don’t know if it’s just me, or my different peach jam recipe, but 70g doesn’t feel like enough, it doesn’t make them peachy enough. Hence peach jam spread on them. Also this recipe called for 3 tbsp of baking powder, which seemed like a horrendous amount to me, so I only used 3-4 tsp, and I think they turned out fine – I mean, they’re not particularly risen, but I’d rather have that than the weird taste too much baking powder gives stuff. 

Anyway, I highly recommend these, even if you can’t stand making jam and you’re lucky enough to find some in a shop instead, use it to make these scones, you won’t be disappointed.

And I end with the big and exciting news that I just bought myself my first ever food processor! So next week we will be having LEMON BARS and lamenting the fact that I’m about to leave my job. 

 

Peach Jam Scones (from Baked in America by The Outsider Tart) – makes about 13x 2.5in scones

Peach Jam

450g dried peaches

225g light brown sugar

175ml Bourbon

120ml poaching liquid

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1. Place the dried peaches in a large, shallow saucepan. Cover with water (about 1l) and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer until the peaches have reconstituted and are very soft. Typically this takes 20-30 mins. 

2. Strain the peaches, reserving 120ml of the poaching liquid. Return the peaches to the pan and mash with a potato masher. Add the remaining ingredients along with half of the reserved liquid. Simmer on a low heat for 15 mins or until the mixture has thickened to resemble set jam. Stir frequently to prevent the peaches from sticking. Add more of the reserved liquid as necessary.

3. Let cool to room temperature before placing in a jam jar to refrigerate. 

The Scones

600g plain flour

115-175g caster sugar (I used 115g because my jam was super sweet, and that’s more than enough)

3-4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

225g unsalted butter, cold and diced

70g peach jam

240-320ml buttermilk (Start with the lower amount, and add more depending on the consistency of your dough)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. 

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Piece by piece, drop in the butter and mix on a low speed until it is unevenly crumbly (you can also just rub the butter in by hand, which is what I did). 

3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the peach jam, followed by buttermilk. Once the dough starts to come together, dump it onto a floured work surface. It can be quite sticky because of the jam. Pat the dough as best you can until it is about 2cm thick. Cut the scones into the desired shape and transfer to the baking sheets. 

4. Bake the scones for 18-20mins or until they are golden brown and firm. Because of the jam they tend not to rise as much. 

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

IMG_2312t

This week the lovely Laura came to visit me. She had just returned from living in Paris for the last two years, and came covered in bags full of stuff. I do mean covered. It was her birthday a few weeks ago, and I sent her a wooden pop-out cupcake in place of a real one, because it’s not exactly efficient to post cake to people living in a different country. However, I did make up for it this week by making her these delicious Chocolate Chip Cupcakes. They have the most incredible chocolate glaze on top, which I was a bit apprehensive about at first, because I don’t remember ever putting egg in icing before, but it turned out beautifully – so glossy and delicious, but not too rich. There was, however, far far too much of it – I think I only used about half of the amount that I made. So later I’m going to be making a sponge cake to use up the rest of it, and the strawberries I picked in Oli’s parents’ garden yesterday.

IMG_2314t

The adorable cupcake cases and toppers came from Jordi a while ago, and I’ve been saving them for some kind of special occasion, and I thought Laura’s belated birthday cake should definitely be it.

These cupcakes are not only delicious, but also a good way of making yourself feel better after seeing ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, which Laura and I sobbed our way through on Thursday night. I think I cried the most out of everyone – at one point I blew my nose quite loudly and people turned around and looked at me. BUT it is an incredible film and everyone should go and see it (except for people with hearts of stone, because you won’t enjoy it).

Next week: Blueberry Cake

IMG_2309t

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (from Baked in America by The Outsider Tart)

Makes 12-14 cupcakes

175g plain flour

340g light brown sugar

3/4 tsp bicarb of soda

115g butter, chilled and diced

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g sour cream

3tbsp whole milk

250g dark chocolate chips/finely chopped chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a cupcake tray with paper cases.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, put the flour, bicarb and sugar. Mix on a low speed until well blended. Add the butter about a tbsp at a time, and continue on low speed for about 2 mins until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Add the egg and vanilla and blend thoroughly. Stir in the sour cream and milk until the batter looks even. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips. Using a large spoon place a heaped spoon of batter in each case until about 3/4 full.

4. Bake for about 25 mins or until the tops feel firm and a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 mins on a wire rack.

 

Dark Chocolate Glaze (this is the full amount, but if you don’t want to have tons left over, I’d do about 1/2 to 3/4 of the quantities below)

60g granulated sugar

175ml water

340g dark chocolate, chips or finely chopped

1 large egg, gently whisked

1. Prepare all your ingredients first so you can add them to the mixture once everything reaches the right temperature.

2. In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a light simmer. If the mixture comes to a boil, wait 2-3 mins before adding the chocolate. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. Allow it to sit in the hot water for 4 mins or so before stirring to combine.

3. Once all the chocolate is melted and combined, slowly add the egg, stirring constantly. The heat from the liquid will cook the egg and you must constantly stir to ensure you get a thick, smooth and glossy glaze. This thickens as it cools so use immediately if for a smooth finish. Either dip into it or pour it on. Otherwise it can be spread on once cooled.

 

Autumn Baking

I love autumn. Autumn autumn autumn, you are my favourite season by far. Cycling in to work on crisp, bright October mornings makes me happy. Leaves changing colour, winter setting in. But the best part is the fruit. Autumnal fruits – blackberries, apples, plums, pears (as well as many more) are fruits which I associate with my childhood – memories of my mum making plum jam and bramble jelly from the fruit in our garden, picking up apples to make apple pies (although there were always far more apples in our garden than we could ever use), and waiting to see if the pear tree would give any fruit that year (most years it didn’t, but when it did, it was good).

I always took autumn fruit for granted, as something that just came with my house. But many years ago the plum tree was cut down, and about a month ago I moved out, missing the blackberries completely, without apples readily available, and not even knowing if the pear tree gave us any fruit this year. So I’ve had to make my own autumn fruit season instead. My first discovery were figs. Figs are something which I have always been unsure of – something which until a few weeks I don’t think I had ever consumed (which meant that I kind of assumed I wouldn’t like them). But figs are GREAT. The first time I bought them I didn’t know whether they were supposed to be soft or not, so picking them out from the market was an interesting process (I decided in the end that as the majority of them seemed to be squidgy, it was reasonable to assume they were supposed to be like that). I took them home and baked them in honey for 10-15 minutes and then ate them with goat’s cheese. So good. After that I made fig jam, which I’ve yet to try, but looked pretty good (and was super easy, my first jam-making experience).

Plum and pear crumble is something else I have been making and consuming on a reasonably regular basis, and I’m planning on making more pear based things in the near future.

Greengages, which are technically only in season during August and September, are still hanging around on my local market, which makes me so happy, because greengages are one of my favourite fruits, but they’re so rarely available to me. I found an excellent recipe for greengage and elderflower muffins in my Scandilicious recipe book, and they were fantastic. The recipe says you can substitute the greengages for plums, which I’m going to try next (I have a lot of elderflower cordial to use up).

In other news, today I registered myself as a sole trader. I am working through applications for the council to come and check my kitchen. I started a Facebook page. Self-promotion is one of my failings in life, so I don’t know how much it will be used, but if you want to like me, click here. All these things feel equally overwhelming and exciting, and I’m not sure where the next few months will lead, but hopefully they will be mostly good. Watch this space.

Greengage and Elderflower Muffins

12 ripe greengages

40ml elderflower cordial

3 medium eggs, beaten

150g caster sugar

200g plain flour

50g ground almonds

1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarb of soda

1/4 tsp salt

200g creme fraiche

50g butter, melted

1. Line a muffin tray with paper cases and preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.

2. Quarter the greengages, remove the stones and place in a bowl. Drizzle the elderflower cordial over them, stirring to ensure they’re well coated.

3. Mix the eggs and sugar together. Put the flour, ground almonds, raising agents and salt in a large bowl and stir to distribute the raising agents evenly. Make a well in the middle and pour in the egg mixture, the creme fraiche and melted butter. Stir 4-5 times to mix everything together, and then tip in the greengages in their elderflower cordial. Mix 4-5 times more. Don’t overmix the batter.

4. Fill the cases three-quarters full, then sprinkle extra sugar on top (brown is definitely best).

5. Bake on the upper-middle shelf for 10 mins before turning the heat down to 190C/Gas 5 and baking for a further 5-10 mins or until the muffins have risen well and are brown on top. Cool on a wire rack. These keep for a couple of days in an airtight container, or you can freeze them in foil for a couple of months – reheat from frozen at 150C/Gas 2 for 15mins.