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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The Reintroduction

Welcome. It’s been about 18 months since I last did this properly. I’ve resolved now to reform the habit, and stick at this. During the time I’ve been gone, I forfeited my domain, and now find it taken away from me. That’s kind of cool though, because I’d been wanting to drop the ‘bakery’ part of the name for a while (we’re now theplumtree.co, in case you didn’t notice). Not that this isn’t going to be about cake any more, because that would be pure madness. But, maybe sometimes it’ll be about other things too. I also considered starting afresh in a new place, but then I thought, hey, I’ll have to go somewhere else to find the link when I want to reminisce about the time I made a crepe cake. That’s no fun.

So, here I am. I’ll be doing some baking, and then writing about it. I’ll be doing this at least once a week for the foreseeable future. I feel like it’s good to make a commitment right at the start, no shitting about. People have asked me a lot about doing this again recently, and now after all the moving about and having my mind consumed and zapped by postgraduate study, I am ready again.

The evidence of things I’ve cooked over the last 18 months can be found on my Instagram, if you’re interested (lately it’s more pictures of pizza really), and I’ll probably keep putting other stuff up there too. A few days ago I made some not-photogenic banana and toffee cupcakes. This weekend’s task is to make some more photogenic ones. See, you already have something to look forward to, and so does my stomach. Good.

Laters.

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!

Hot Chocolate

IMG_3367tA short one this week, because I am once again in the midst of essay madness. Christmas is coming up quick, and I’m also trying to make all the edible presents I’m giving to people. I started a tradition last year of making up boxes for people with proper gifts but also lots of cute bits and pieces, like gingerbread families and peppermint creams and that kind of thing. This year (spoiler alert for anyone who thinks they’re getting gifts from me) I have made hot chocolate powder. As you can see above, I’m putting it in spice jars and making them look festive, which is giving me even more joy than usual because it is a break from trying to write about cultural appropriations.

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It’s really simple to make. Ingredients > blend > done.  Unfortunately I haven’t got to try any yet, but I can just tell it’s going to be amazing. The recipe comes from the lovely Deb at Smitten Kitchen, and can be found here. I need to go and buy marshmallows tomorrow so I can make myself a cup.

 

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

Gingerbread

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I realised last week that even though I feel like I talk about gingerbread a lot, I’ve never actually shared a recipe for it on here. It’s December tomorrow, which means Christmas is just around the corner, and I’ve started making preparations – I even wrapped my first presents the other night! Yet, bizarrely enough, as I was making gingerbread dough the other evening, I kept hearing the sound of an ice cream van going around near my house playing its jingle. Who buys ice cream when it’s late November and 6 degrees? I have no idea, but I see ice cream vans all the time in Norwich, so I guess someone must be doing it.

Gingerbread has many recipe variations, and I’ve amalgamated my own based on various recipes I’ve seen and tried over the last couple of years. It might not be the ultimate gingerbread recipe (if such a thing exists), but it’s the one I like. I think it’s pretty much up to you the amount of ginger and other spices you use, and whether you use treacle or golden syrup or both – it has slightly different results. I prefer to use a small amount of cinnamon and nutmeg along with ginger because I think it gives it a better depth of flavour.

Some of this gingerbread has a decorative role to play in what I’ll be making for next week – gingerbread cupcakes!

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Gingerbread

350g plain flour

1 & 1/2 tbsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tsp baking powder

100g butter

150g dark muscovado sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp golden syrup

2 tbsp black treacle

1. Sift the flour, spices and baking powder together, and rub the butter in until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Stir in the sugar (if the muscovado has lumps in, try to get rid of them). Whisk the egg, syrup and treacle together and then add to the flour mixture. Knead together to form a dough.

2. Wrap the dough in cling film and put in the fridge for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

3. Remove the dough from the fridge, cut in two (it’s easier to roll out the dough in two batches, this makes it less likely to dry out). Roll out the dough onto a floured surface until it’s about half a cm thick. Cut out your gingerbread men, or whatever shape your gingerbread is going to take, place on the tray and bake for 10-12mins. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Allow them to cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Ginger and Lemon Biscuits

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Uhhhhhh… I think I just found my favourite biscuit EVER. These are so beautiful. If you like ginger biscuits, these are even better. The hint of lemon is just wonderful, and it works really well. I’ve been drinking a lot of herbal tea recently, and when I was feeling a little under the weather the other week I bought some ginger and lemon tea (best mixed with honey). It made me feel so much better – pretty powerful flavour! But then I was flicking through my recipe books looking for Christmas ideas, and these stood out. I figured it was worth a try, and that ginger and lemon might be nicer together when mixed with sugar and flour and golden syrup instead of hot water. I was not wrong.

The original recipe says to use freshly grated ginger instead of ground ginger, but I found the crystallised ginger to be so strong that I thought having fresh ginger on top of that would be too overpowering (it also meant I didn’t have to try and find ginger root from somewhere).

If you’re not a huge fan of ginger, then I think these can probably be adapted to be lemon and honey biscuits instead (another great tea). Swap the golden syrup for honey, and the crystallised ginger for candied peel, and either leave out the ground ginger or swap it for vanilla extract or something. I’m hoping to try this next week. Also, a lot of biscuit recipes say you should refrigerate the dough for a while, and usually I don’t bother, but in this case the dough is really soft, so that time in the fridge is pretty important.

I think I will be making many a batch of these in the run up to Christmas…and I’ll have to try not to eat them all myself.

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Ginger and Lemon Biscuits (adapted from ‘Scandilicious Baking’ by Signe Johansen)

125g softened butter

125g brown sugar

1 egg

50ml golden syrup

50g crystallised ginger, chopped

3 tsp ground ginger

zest and juice of 1 lemon

200g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Mix the egg, golden syrup, ginger, lemon zest and juice together in another bowl and the flour and baking powder together in a third bowl.

2. Alternate between adding wet and dry ingredients to the butter mixture, mixing as you go until it starts to form a dough. Refrigerate the dough for 1-2hrs.

3. Preheat oven to 190C/Gas 5 and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Using a teaspoon, place small lumps of mixture on the sheets, leaving about 4-5cm between each one. Bake for 8-10 mins until golden, and allow to cool on a wire rack.