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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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.

 

Sticky Chocolate Pudding

IMG_3329tI ate too much today. Since I moved I don’t get the chance to cook for anyone but myself very often, which is kind of miserable because it’s more difficult to do big extravagant meals for one person. But this weekend Oli was visiting, so I made Sunday roast and chocolate pudding today, which was glorious and made me feel slightly sick afterwards. We ate about 7 hours ago, and I’m still not hungry. I think the chocolate pudding really finished it. Definitely one of the richest things I’ve ever eaten (which seems less surprising considering it’s originally a Nigella Lawson recipe – woman of excessive amounts of chocolate). There’s probably enough there to last me the rest of the week – it must be consumed in small portions with plenty of cream to dilute the chocolate.

It’s an unusual recipe, in that, pouring half a litre of water on top of the mixture before putting it in the oven seems like a strange thing to do, but somehow during the cooking process it transforms into a glossy and delicious chocolate sauce. So rich. If you’re looking for comfort food on a cold autumn evening (especially now the clocks have gone back) – this is a good bet, just make sure you’re not eating it alone!

Next week, it’s Halloween! So I will be making toffee apples. I hope. My last encounter with toffee didn’t go too well, so I’m hoping this time it fares better.

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Nigella Lawson’s Sticky Chocolate Pudding (from ‘Real Food’ by Nigel Slater)

150g self-raising flour

25g good quality cocoa powder

200g caster sugar

50g ground hazelnuts (I used almonds which work just as well)

75g dark chocolate, chopped

180ml full-fat milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

40g butter, melted

1 egg

for the sauce:

180g dark muscovado sugar

120g good quality cocoa powder

500ml very hot water

1. Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, ground nuts and chocolate in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, butter, vanilla extract and egg. Pour into the bowl containing the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

2. Pour the mixture into a large, buttered soufflé dish, about 20cm in diameter. Mix the muscovado and cocoa together and sprinkle on top of the pudding. Pour the hot water on top – there is no need to stir – and put into an oven preheated to 180C/Gas 4. After 35-40 mins the pudding should be firm and springy. Serve at once with cold double cream.

Coffee and Chocolate Loaf

IMG_0588tThis week has been a mixture of boredom and awesomeness. I’ve spent a significant portion of my time trying to find a job in Norwich, which has involved filled out a LOT of boring personality quizzes in order for various large companies to discern whether I am employable (spoiler: I’m not). The rest of the week has been spending time with Oli and my awesome friends and drinking a little too much beer. I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself at the moment after I spent yesterday going to all of my favourite pubs in Cambridge. Seven pubs in one day is not particularly achievable. But we played an edition of Trivial Pursuit from 1983, ate great food and drank awesome beer, and my friend Rosie made me flapjacks and gave me a lemon thyme plant as a going away gift which was super lovely <3.

I made this chocolate and coffee loaf yesterday morning, and whilst it was in the oven I went to have brunch at my local pub. .I was pretty happy because I managed to time my return perfectly, and it was just done when I got home. A lot of recipes for loaf cakes say they’ll take an hour or whatever, but then actually turn out to take much longer. Not this one though!

It’s basically like a rich, dense but moist chocolate cake. The coffee is more like a subtle hint than an overpowering flavour. I put more coffee than the original recipe suggested because I felt like the coffee taste would be masked by all the chocolate. I’d like to try making it again substituting the milk for more coffee to see if it balances out the flavours more. But it’s pretty delicious as is, and great to eat with a cup of tea. Highly recommend this as a mid-morning cake for coffee with friends.

Next week, I will be leaving Cambridge. I haven’t worked out when I’m going to make this yet, because I’m to-ing and fro-ing a lot this week, but at some point I will be making Pear and Maple Syrup cake. I will be impressed if I manage not to miss this one

Coffee and Chocolate Loaf (adapted from ‘Hummingbird Bakery: Cake Days’ by Tarek Malouf)

190g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

130g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

140g soft dark brown sugar

50g caster sugar

3 large eggs

60g cocoa powder

1tsp baking powder

20ml whole milk

2 tbsp strong coffee (brewed and cooled)

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3, then grease the loaf tin with butter and dust with flour.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are mixed in properly.

3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder, then pour the milk into a jug, add the coffee and mix together. Add the dry ingredients to the cake batter in two batches, alternating with the coffee milk. Mix well after each addition.

4. Once all ingredients have been incorporated, beat until batter is smooth and even, then pour the mixture into the loaf tin. Place in oven and bake for approx. 1 hour or until the sponge is firm and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool for a while in the tin before turning it out on to a wire rack.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

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I’ve had an awesome but crazy busy few days, and so as I start writing this I still haven’t iced the cake I’ve made this week. It’s kind of been a disaster. I got up early yesterday morning to make the cake before I spent the day sitting by the River Cam, drinking beer and eating BBQ. I left the ‘chocolate custard’ to make until this afternoon, which I’ve spent at my parents’ house. I’m pretty lucky I did, because otherwise I don’t think I would’ve made the chocolate custard at all. My mum basically made it for me after I had a cornflour-related incident and then kind of gave up a bit. It is now cooling, but still isn’t set. I’m posting this now because the chances are that by the time it is set, it will no longer be Sunday. 

The moral of this story is, don’t make complicated icing/custard when you’re incredibly tired, and don’t mix water with cornflour like I did – i.e. pouring all the water into the cornflour, then going to stir it and realising it was solid. Panic ensued, and I had to call in reinforcements to salvage it (because there wasn’t another 200g of cornflour, and in villages on Sunday evenings there is nowhere to buy more). My mum managed to get it to a roughly ‘thick glue’ consistency, and then came the horribly laborious process of adding it to the chocolate mixture, without it going lumpy. Over about an hour both me and my parents took turns stirring it, but as soon as we increased the heat it would start to go lumpy. It was ridiculous. Never make this custard, just make icing instead. 

Anyway, I’m watching the end of the World Cup Final, with dwindling hope of finishing the cake. It was supposed to be a donation to my mum’s friend’s Strawberry Tea Fundraiser for breast cancer, so I’m hoping that come morning the custard will be set and my mum will be able to ice it. Oh dear! 

There were some cakes that were completed this week though. I made Millionaire’s Shortbread for my friend Rachel’s birthday. Laura came to stay and we made delicious brownies today. And my sister baked me an awesome lemon birthday cake (see above). Fingers crossed for more success next week when I will be making peach jam scones. 

If you want to make this cake, it’s in the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I would type it here, but I feel like I shouldn’t be encouraging people to make it as it has failed so miserably for me (cake excluded I suppose). 

Blueberry Cake

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A belated Happy Father’s Day to my father, to whom this cake was given (albeit a few days late). I cycled a 25km round trip to give him the cake, which I think kind of makes up for its lateness. On said cycle ride, I was yelled at by a woman who seemed enraged that I had only stopped to give her directions, not to have a conversation with her. Sometimes, people be crazy.

The cake was delicious, dense but moist, and most excitingly it was ring-shaped, because this was the first time I have ever used a bundt tin (many thanks again to Seb who has gifted me many a baking thing – especially as I never would’ve bought a bundt tin myself). I don’t think I realised quite how massive the cake was until I tried to lift it into the oven – despite having a hole in the middle, bundt cakes involve one hell of a lot of ingredients (like, half a dozen eggs). It’s gone to a good home though, and actually, has probably been eaten already.

I bought the cheapest blueberries I’ve ever seen to make the cake – on Cambridge market they were doing 2 punnets for £2.00, and I was like, that’s amazing! So I took them home, and naturally, it was too good to be true, because after leaving them in the fridge for a day, quite a lot of them had gone mouldy and I had to pick through and salvage what I could (miraculously, the amount I saved was exactly 250g, the precise quantity I needed for the cake!)

Earlier this week I made a strawberry cake and used up the rest of the chocolate icing left over from the cupcakes last week. One good thing about that icing is that if you can’t use it all at once, and you come back to it a few days later once it’s all hardened, it melts really easily and returns to its former consistency ready for you to pour too much over the cake you made so that it ends up all over your counter (see here). The strawberry cake was just a basic sponge with about 100g of mashed strawberries added, and it was GREAT. I’m trying to make the most of summer fruit season, so I’ve been consuming lots of strawberries and raspberries and jealously watching as my blueberry plants bear fruit back in my parents’ garden. I did have a joyous half hour or so last week though, picking strawberries in Oli’s parents’ garden, only to then find a rash all over my arms. Hayfever is really NOT my friend this year. All in all though, summer is shaping up to be pretty good. Birthday week soon, and in 6 weeks I will be in Canada! A lot of baking to be done, and a lot to look forward to.

 

Blueberry Cake (from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook by Tarek Malouf)

350g unsalted butter at room temperature

350g caster sugar

6 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

450g plain flour

2 tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder

280ml sour cream

250g fresh blueberries (plus extra to decorate if you want)

icing sugar, to decorate

~ you can use cream cheese icing to cover the cake, but as I think it’s pretty tasty without, I’m leaving the icing off the recipe here~

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Put the butter and sugar in a mixer with a paddle attachment and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

2. Beat in the vanilla extract, flour and baking powder until well mixed. Add the sour cream and mix well until everything is combined and the mixture is light and fluffy. Gently stir the blueberries in by hand until evenly dispersed.

3. Pour the mixture into the prepared ring mould (note – grease the tin LOTS) and smooth over. Bake in a preheated oven for 40 mins (or an hour in my case) or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cake to cool in the mould before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar.

 

Next week: Little Blueberry Pies