On Trying, part II

For the last few years I have made January a full-vegetarian month. This year is no different, and it’s usually about this time that I write something about it. Last year I wrote about how much I hate labelling myself as something based on the food that I choose to eat. And now I feel that enough time has been dedicated to wondering if I’m making good food choices (although, realistically, I will continue to think about it frequently) – I’m going to widen my view a little.

Not eating meat is one of the most straightforward ways of cutting your carbon footprint. But what about the other stuff? Waste is a huge problem, but much more challenging to tackle because it’s pervasive – most things are packaged in non-recyclable plastic, things are single-use, disposable, made for ultimate convenience. Whilst I think we’re pretty good at recycling and reducing waste in our house, I know there are ways we can do better. So this is what I’m going to be looking at this year. By no means am I going to end up with a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle – I know others advocate this, but for me, in the same way that I don’t think I’m capable of being vegan, I don’t think I’m capable of living zero waste. So instead, I am going to start where I am and look for the changes that can be made. Finding sustainable alternatives to the least sustainable products that I use, finding better companies to purchase from who align more happily with my values. I’m hoping that small steps like this will make for more lasting change. I’ll still be writing about baking, but I’ll be writing about this too.

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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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.

Resolutions

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So it’s 2015 now, and as usual I’ve made a handful of resolutions, which will no doubt be varying in their successes. One thing I’ve resolved to do that I’m fairly confident I will be successful in though is my resolution for this month, which is to be vegetarian. Last year I started thinking a lot more about the impact we humans have on the world, and what I could potentially do to reduce my carbon footprint. Eating less meat, for me personally, is the best way I can do that. The amount of resources needed to produce a kilo of beef could produce 7kg of grain. In a world that suffers from declining availability of resources, such as water, and where millions of people are still starving, the quantity of meat we are producing is insane. It’s not viable.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying meat to consume at home, however, when I eat out I find it far too easy to choose the meat option, just because vegetarian options look comparatively dull. So I’m pushing myself to make the more difficult but better choice. I’m also trying to be more adventurous with my vegetarian cooking. Having grown up being fed meals that were pretty much always meat-centric, trying to get out of the habit of thinking of vegetables as a side dish has been a challenge, and that mixed with a student budget has resulted in some of the stuff I’ve been cooking of late being a bit lacklustre. If anyone has any recipes for amazing but cheap vegetarian food, I am all ears!

This year I’m going to be trying to do some savoury recipes as well as all the cake, so this vegetarian thing might help with that. I don’t have any recipes to report this week, it’s been New Year and I’ve been spending time with friends and just relaxing and reading a lot, because I have nothing to do until next week when lectures start, which I predict will be driving me crazy by the end of tomorrow. But anyway, I wish you all a happy 2015!

Until next week, x

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

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.