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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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.

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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Pumpkin Muffins

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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

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.

Plum Cupcakes

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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

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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.