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.

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.

Emergency Chocolate Cake

It’s 8am and my house is filled with the smell of delicious melted dark chocolate. Finishing off a cake that was requested by Catherine yesterday for today. She didn’t ask for anything specific, and I didn’t have anything in mind either. That was when I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I made a flourless chocolate torte for my friend and now former colleague, Ryan, as a goodbye cake. It was the fastest cake I have ever made (apart from cooking time, which is an hour or so), and all it contained was chocolate, sugar, butter and eggs. So, I thought, why not make another one?

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This time it was a little different – the one I’d made for Ryan was in loaf form, but I wanted to make a proper round cake with icing etc – I found another recipe, this time using ground almonds. It was so quick to make, and this one only took 40 mins in the oven, which was even better. I had meant to do the glaze for it last night, but whilst waiting for it to cool decided it would be a good idea to watch the West Wing in bed, after about 20 minutes of which I fell asleep, only to wake up three hours later and find it was 1am. Not really icing making time for me…

Luckily the glaze is as fast to make as the cake, so this morning I got up, heated some cream and melted the chocolate in it, and bam, done. I think chocolate torte will now be my go-to emergency cake, because not only is it quick and easy, but it tastes really good too.

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Sweden was incredibly beautiful. It was good to spend some time away, and now I’m back and ready to bake more. I love autumn, and I’m really looking forward to being able to make lots of apple, pear and blackberry based things soon.

Recipe for Glazed Chocolate Almond Torte

300g dark chocolate

250g butter

5 eggs

4 tbsp sugar

100g ground almonds

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

Glaze

100ml whipping cream

125g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 160C or Gas Mark 3. Melt the chocolate and the butter in a saucepan until smooth. Let it cool.

2. Beat the eggs with the sugar until foamy. Add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and melted chocolate and mix. Grease a 23cm cake tin and pour in the batter. Bake for 40-45 mins. Let the cake cool in the tin and then remove.

3. Heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat and add the chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth. Pour the glaze over the cake and serve.

Foodie Penpals #2 & Guinness Cake

I always seem to be running late with these posts. It seems inevitable that on the last day of the month when I’m supposed to write these, I am busy doing something else. This time it was preparing for my trip to Stockholm (tomorrow!)

So my second Foodie Penpals parcel was from Cara. I got my parcel quite early in the month, thanks to Cara’s apparently far better level of organisation than mine. Having requested baking related items, Cara put together a lovely parcel for me – it contained: butterfly cake cases, edible butterfly decorations, lemon cake mix, a book of Favourite Norfolk Recipes, and most importantly, fudge!

I finally got around to using the cake mix the other day, and made a delicious lemon cake, topped with lemon buttercream icing, and of course, the butterfly decorations. I haven’t got around to using the recipe book, but hopefully on my return from Stockholm I will be making more time for baking, and therefore have time to use some of the recipes from it. I like that I’m getting locally themed things from my Foodie Penpals so far, it’s nice to receive things which are specific to certain parts of the UK.

Last night I made my third cake for Outspoken Delivery, thanks to the kindness of my friend Catherine. This time a guinness cake was requested, and I happened to find a recipe for such a cake in my Scandinavian baking book, Scandilicious, by Signe Johanson. I was disappointed that I’m not going to get the chance to eat any of this cake, because it smelt fantastic, and can only imagine it will taste just as good. Unfortunately my oven was being its usual unreliable self yesterday, which meant the supposed 35-45 minute cooking time turned into 1hr 15. Not overjoyed with that. But contemplating the possibility of baking it in two tins next time which will hopefully mean it will cook quicker. Or of course I may have moved in to a new house and will have an oven that actually works. This recipe calls for a special Norwegian cheese called brunost – the only place I could find it was in a Scandinavian store in London, and to buy 250g of it when I only needed 30g seemed a bit pointless, as it was fairly expensive. The recipe says you don’t have to use it, so I have opted not to.

250ml Guinness

250g butter

75g dark chocolate

50g cocoa powder

30g grated brunost (optional)

30ml espresso or strong coffee

150ml soured cream

2 medium eggs

350g light brown muscovado sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

275g plain or spelt flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarb of soda

1/4 tsp sea salt

 

ICING

125g butter, softened

150g icing sugar

150g full fat cream cheese

3-4 tbsp whisky

 

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 23cm round cake tin.

2. Warm the Guinness, butter, cocoa, chocolate and brunets in a medium saucepan over a low heat until melted together and foamy. Remove from the heat, stir in the espresso and soured cream and set aside.

3. Beat the eggs, sugar & vanilla in a bowl until pale golden & fluffy. Mix the flour, raising agents and salt together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk the Guinness mixture and dry ingredients in to the beaten eggs in stages, alternating between wet and dry and whisking as you go until everything is mixed together in a dark, smooth cake batter.

4. Pour the batter in the tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 35-45mins (or 1hr15 if your oven is completely rubbish), or until the top of the cake feels springy and firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly. Allow to cool in the tin for 15mins then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely before icing.

5. Cream the butter and icing sugar together until fluffy, then add the cream cheese, 3 tbsp of the whisky and a tiny pinch of slat and beat until smooth. Taste to see how strong the whisky flavour is and add more to taste. (I thought 3 was plenty). You can either ice the cake straight away or put the icing in the fridge to firm up before spreading evenly over the top of the cake.

 

 

Time to sleep now. Airport in 7 hours. Stockholm in 10. Back soon…

Herman: complete

So I finished making my Herman cake. That was…almost a week ago now, but somehow, time has slipped away from me once again, between birthday and interviews and seeing people, a week has passed. 

 

I never got around to taking a photo of Herman. There are still pieces of him left, but it’s just not the same now that he isn’t whole anymore. He did taste incredibly good though. The recipe asked for more cinnamon than I am personally comfortable with (I don’t especially like cinnamon except when in small amounts so it’s not the overpowering taste. However this does not stop me wanting to try that stupid challenge where you eat a teaspoon of cinnamon and have to try not to throw up), so I put less in, but due to whatever, there were still bits of it that tasted very heavily of cinnamon. I worked around it, it was still awesome. So I wouldn’t mind if another Herman worked it’s way back around to me at some point in the future (Laura this is not an invitation for you to return one of your parts to me). 

 

Herman was the only cake that I baked this week, but I received other cake, and plenty of baking-related items for my birthday – cake tins, cupcake cases, icing pens, etc (as well as lots of other lovely things). The first cake I received was made by Laura and Julian, chocolate and banana flavoured, which was lovingly decorated with an owl (made of banana and chocolate buttons) by Laura. I don’t know what it says about me that the majority of things I received were either owl, cat or cake related. Image

I also received vanilla berry cake with lemon icing from my sister today, which was equally awesome.

 

Something I received from my Scandinavia-loving friend Ffi today, was a Scandinavian baking cookbook – including lots of exciting bread recipes, like chocolate soda bread, and Kefir spelt sourdough – and cake and pastry recipes, such as Swedish princess cake, “success tart” and Danish sesame and poppy twists. All look incredibly good.