Monday, 30 May 2011

Eccles Cakes

Recipe Number Forty Three:  Page 116 &117

I asked Neil the other day what was his all time favourite cake. The answer was Eccles Cakes, so I thought I'd give them a try. I have to admit I was rather daunted by this recipe, the instructions spread over two pages. Mary had even provided drawings as a guide, gulp! The filling looked very simple; it was the flaky pastry that seemed to be the trouble maker. I have made flaky pastry once about five years ago, so I can't really remember much about the process.

I rolled up my sleeves and measured the plain flour into my mixing bowl. I weighed out the butter. It didn't have to be soft for a change; butter should be chilled for pastry. The butter had to be divided up into four equal portions; one of the portions had to be rubbed into the flour. I noticed there was a tip at the end of the recipe; Mary advises that if you want light pastry you should lift your hands well above the bowl when rubbing in. I think I held my hands up a bit too high as some of the mixture didn't make it back into the bowl and had to be scooped off the worktop! I added a squeeze of lemon juice; Neil was horrified I had bought yet another lemon for only a small squeeze of juice! Now I just needed some cold water to bind everything together. The resulting dough was a little dry, but it came good when I kneaded it on the worktop; it didn't take long before it became soft and manageable. I had to roll the pastry into a long oblong. I took another portion of butter, cut it up into small pieces and dotted it over the top two-thirds of the pastry. I had to turn the oblong into a little parcel by folding the bottom third of the pastry up and then the top third down on top. I sealed it up with the edge of my hand as best I could until it resembled an envelope. This was then wrapped in cling film and put in the fridge for fifteen minutes to rest. I also decided that this seemed as good a time as any to have a little rest. However, my little boy had other ideas and we had a rather one sided game of catch!

When the fifteen minutes were up I retrieved my pastry from the fridge and re-rolled it as before. I have to say I didn't find this paragraph of instructions very clear. A more experienced baker would no doubt find it obvious. But, for someone like myself, I did not! Mary says to re-roll the pastry as before, until the remaining portions of butter have been used up then wrap in cling film, put back in the fridge and leave for at least thirty minutes. I wasn't sure if I should use the two remaining portions of butter up in one go, or if the pastry needed to be folded into a parcel again. I decided to use one portion of butter then wrap as a parcel. I rolled the pastry into an oblong, added the last portion of butter, folded it into a parcel and then wrapped in cling film for the fridge.

I ended up leaving the pastry in the fridge for almost an hour; I got distracted by the ‘Formula One’ race Neil was engrossed in! The next task was to make up the filling. This was easy - I like easy! I added some muscovado sugar, currants, peel and spice to my softened butter. It took only seconds to mix it all together; it smelled heavenly. I found a saucer of the required six inch diameter. It was easy to roll out the pastry the first time, but after that it became rather sticky and liked to weld itself onto my rolling pin. I had to place a tablespoon of my spiced mixture into the middle of each of the eight circles, and then bring the edges together to enclose the filling. I used my rolling pin to flatten the cakes; this also made the currants show through the pastry. I brushed each with egg white and sprinkled with sugar. Into the oven my little cakes went.

I found my cakes took a little longer than the suggested time of 10 to 15 minutes; mine were just over 20 minutes. They looked so yummy when they came out of the oven, but we controlled our greediness and left them to cool.

When we finally got to try one we both agreed it was worth the wait. I honestly think these are the nicest thing I have baked so far. I have never been fussed by Eccles cakes before, but now I love them! We ended up having a second straight after the first. I am so pleased with the flaky pastry, it was so light and the filling had just the right about of spice and fruit. This recipe is almost perfect but I feel the paragraph of unclear instructions did let it down a little. These Eccles Cakes may take a while to make, but are so worth it – YUM!
Not that pretty - but VERY tasty!!

Marmalade Cake

Recipe Number Forty Two:  Page 74.

For some reason this recipe has appealed to me for a while, even though I am not a fan of marmalade! It could be because the picture of Mary Berry's marmalade cake looks delicious, or it may be due to glacé cherries appearing first in the list of ingredients that caught my eye, I adore glacé cherries! Last week Neil's parents popped round and I was asked if any of Mary's recipes required marmalade. Neil's granny, who is 91 years young, was worried about using a particular jar of marmalade as it was best before January! These things don't worry me and I don't pass on freebies so I happily took the jar.

I opened my tub of glacé cherries and snaffled a few as I weighed out the required amount. I sliced the rather small quantity of cherries into quarters, gave them a rinse and then laid them out on some kitchen towel to dry. I had forgotten to leave the butter out of the fridge to soften so the next job was to weigh out the butter and then give it a short, sharp blast in the microwave. I got a bit sidetracked and forgot about it. By the time I opened the microwave door in panic, there was a small lump sat in a pool of melted butter – whoops! I left it to one side while I weighed everything else, hoping it might solidify a bit. I needed to add some dried fruit, sultanas and currants. Currants were fine as I had a brand new packet but I had unknowingly run out of sultanas. I popped to the shop; I am always having to trudge over there to collect last minute and necessary ingredients! As it is just a small village shop, they don't always have that much choice, so I wasn't surprised to find that a small bag of mixed dried fruit was all they could offer. I spent some time picking out the sultanas by hand. I know I should have just shoved in what I had, but I always want to follow the recipe to the letter, so I know that I have given it a fair test.

I poured the runny butter in with the fruit, flour and eggs etc. The last ingredient was the all important marmalade. I was a little surprised to see I only needed a tablespoon; for some reason I thought I would need more. Mary does warn at the beginning of the recipe not to overdo the marmalade as it can cause the fruit in the cake to sink to the bottom. So I was very careful! Once I had mixed everything together, I put the rather thick cake mixture into the loaf tin and then into the heated oven. As with most fruit cakes, it took quite some time in the oven on a low heat. After the hour and a half I checked on the cake and was pleased to find it was cooked through and not burnt – hooray, a first time for everything!

I needed another tablespoon of marmalade to top the now cold cake. I warmed the marmalade in a saucepan and then spooned it onto the cake. Once it was set I cut Neil and myself a slice. It would have been hard to notice the taste of marmalade if we had not known it was in the cake. It was very sweet and fruity. The texture was light, but maybe a little dry. The marmalade on top was a nice touch and made up for the lack of the marmalade flavour in the cake itself; but it was very sticky! This was a really nice fruit loaf that was easy to make. If you are not a marmalade fan please still try it - I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Basic White Meringues

Recipe Number Forty One:  Page 355.

Today was just one of those days where I had to accept that I wasn't going to get anything done! My little boy is getting increasingly active; I have to have my beady eye on him constantly. Also, naps were not on his agenda today! So, it wasn't until Neil got home from work that I was able to leave him to entertain the little man whilst I escaped to the kitchen. I was quite nervous about making this supposedly basic meringue recipe. I made meringues years ago and I can't say I enjoyed the experience. I hated piping the sticky mixture and got in a right mess with it. Today is the first time I have dared to try again.

There are only two ingredients in this recipe, just egg whites and sugar; no butter for a change! I gingerly broke the eggs and put the whites into my mixing bowl. Typically, one of the egg shells crushed in my hand, so I had to hold the yolk and let the egg white drip through my fingers into the bowl; I am quite squeamish and pathetic so this made me feel rather queasy! After all the whites were in the bowl, I washed my sticky hands so that I could retrieve my electric whisk. I was feeling even lazier than usual so used my free standing mixer; this allowed me to stand back and observe whilst sipping on a hot cup of tea. Mary says to whisk until stiff but not dry. This encouraged me to pay attention; I stopped the machine several times to check the egg whites were getting to the right consistency. It took quite a lot of whisking until I felt it was ready for the sugar. My heart sank a little when I saw that the sugar had to be added a teaspoonful at a time, yawn!! It was hard for me to control the urge just to chuck all the sugar in and be done with it! However, I resolutely added a teaspoon of sugar and whisked – teaspoon – whisk- teaspoon – whisk – yes very tedious! When the meringue was stiff and glossy, I started to spoon it into my piping bag. I soon realised that the meringue was not as stiff as I had at first thought; if anything I found it to be rather runny. I decided to give it another whisk, but this didn't seem to make any difference. I went back to adding the meringue into my piping bag; I soon noticed that some was leaking out through the nozzle. I hurried over to my awaiting baking trays, trying to avoid meringue dripping all over the kitchen floor! I attempted to pipe the mixture onto the baking paper; I had to do it quickly as I couldn't stem the flow. To be honest, I could have had the same result if I had just used a spoon to dollop it onto the trays, hey ho! I put the meringues into the barely warm oven and left them for the recommended hour and a half.

These meringues seem almost virtuous due to the lack of fat in the recipe - that is until you sandwich them together with double cream! I poured the said cream into a bowl and gave it a good old whisk. At this point our cat took a keen interest in what I was doing! The next job was to collect the now cold meringues from the oven. After the hour and a half cooking time, I'd turned the oven off and left the door ajar as instructed by Mary. By then it was almost 9pm and ‘The Apprentice’ was about to start. The thought of this made me pick up my pace! I peeled the meringues off the baking paper one by one; they came off easily until I came to the baking tray that had been on the second shelf of the oven. Some of them broke when I tried to lift them and were a bit gooey. I should have thought to give them longer to cook as I don't have a fan oven. I sandwiched together some meringues with a good helping of cream and plonked myself in front of the television. Neil and I had one each and we both enjoyed them. We thought they were a little chewy in the middle, but tasted like any good meringue should.

To be honest, I still think they are a bit of a faff to make and wonder if it is worth the effort as very decent meringues can be purchased at a reasonable price. However, maybe I am missing something as I know plenty of people who enjoy making their own and have very successful results. I am looking forward to making Mary's pavlova recipes as they look a bit more fun and, as they are meant to have a chewy centre, I should be ok!!
They tasted good - despite my dodgy piping!!

Recipe Variation: Brown Sugar Meringues

It was a hot day so meringues sandwiched with a thick layer of double cream sounded very appealing. We just needed some fruit to accompany them. We made the most of the glorious sunshine and headed to a 'Pick Your Own' farm. Isaac loved picking strawberries and raspberries but sampling the fresh fruit was of course the best part!

Once home I felt compelled to make a start on my meringues. I knew they would take a long time to cook and I wanted them to be ready for Isaac's tea time. Since making the original recipe I have developed a real meringue love affair. I didn't think much of them to start with but they really are so easy to make and eat. I whisked the few egg whites together until they were stiff which didn't take long at all. Adding the sugar a teaspoonful at a time was of course a little tedious. Once nearing the end I couldn't resist speeding up the process and chucking in the last heap of sugar!!! This time I was to use half caster and half light muscovado sugar. Although the meringue wasn't a pale white it didn't turn as dark as I'd expected.

When making the original recipe I had piped the meringue onto baking sheets, this time I spooned it on. I just couldn't be bothered to dig around in the draw for a piping bag and nozzle!! It was a bit time consuming just using a spoon but I didn't think it any worse than my previous effort.

I found that the meringues took almost an hour longer in the oven this time. Learning from my previous experience I switched the two trays at intervals so they both cooked at the same pace. After the meringues were cooked through and no longer sticking to the paper I left them them to cool in the oven with the door ajar.

By the time Isaac had wolfed down his quiche and salad the meringues were ready. I sandwiched them with a generous helping of double cream and added fruit to wipe out the guilt!! Isaac loved his meringue and would of had more if I'd let him. Neil and I really enjoyed them too. They had a delicious toffee almost treacly flavour. They were crisp and provided a satisfying crunch with each bite. I know I'll be making these again!
I promise I didn't eat both!!!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Lemon Swiss Roll

Recipe Number Forty:  Page 46.

When I started this challenge back in February a Swiss roll was one of the first recipes I made. My thought was to start with something easy and simple. It turned out to be my first disaster! The sponge didn't rise and tasted raw and eggy. I believed the problem was due to my not using a strong and heavy Swiss roll tin and whisking the eggs and sugar by hand with a balloon whisk. This time I was armed with a brand new Swiss roll tin which was both strong and heavy. Also, I am now the proud owner of a rather lovely electric whisk, so I felt quite confident that on this occasion my Swiss roll would be a resounding success!

I lined my baking tray and turned on the oven. I collected all of the ingredients from the kitchen shelves. I took another look at the ingredients and realised I didn't have a lemon. I had brought the ingredients the day before. How I forgot it I'll never know, it is called a lemon Swiss roll after all. I trotted off to the shop and bought a lemon and a few other things I didn't actually need. Huffing and puffing from my brisk walk I headed straight back to the kitchen and carried on from where I had left off!

The eggs went into my mixing bowl along with the sugar and the all important grated lemon zest. I whisked for quite some time before the mixture became frothy and light. Mary says the whisk should leave a trail when lifted out; I made sure that I could see a trail before I turned off the whisk. I could see why the last Swiss roll didn't work. I hadn't managed to get my mixture this frothy and light whisking by hand. Slowly and carefully I stirred in the flour making sure I kept as much air in the mixture as possible. Once everything was combined I poured the batter into my Swiss roll tin and put the tray into the oven.

After ten minutes I checked on the cake and saw that it didn't look anywhere near ready, so gave it another five minutes. By this time it was well risen and golden. It was looking a lot better than my previous attempt. I inverted the cake onto a piece of greaseproof paper which I had generously sprinkled with sugar. Once I had peeled the paper from the bottom of the cake I was disappointed to see that it hadn't risen as well as I had hoped; it also looked very pale in colour. I spread some lemon curd onto the cake before rolling it up. The finished result didn't look very appetising! I tried a slice to see if it tasted as bad as I feared. It was better than the Swiss roll I made several months ago, but not by a huge margin. It still tasted a bit eggy and undercooked. It had risen a bit more but still wasn't up to much! Neil tried a slice and said my Swiss roll attempts were improving. However, he didn't think it tasted thoroughly cooked. So my plight continues. I only have one more Swiss roll recipe to bake from this book. I will make sure I get it right, even if it kills me!!
Hmmmmm....better luck next time?!

Banana and Chocolate Chip Bars

Recipe Number Thirty Nine:  Page 249.

I had been looking at this recipe for a few weeks but had been put off as I don't own a 7inch shallow square tin. I searched in a few shops but could not locate a tin which met all these requirements. However, I could buy a deep 7inch square tin. As I wanted to make these bars so much, I decided that I would risk using a deep tin rather than a shallow one; surely it wouldn't make much of a difference!

I measured the oats into my weighing scales then put the scales back to zero so I could add the wholemeal flour to the oats. As I started pouring the flour into the bowl the scales decided that now was a good time to turn off! Thankfully only a small amount of flour had made it into the bowl, so I could roughly estimate how much more I needed to add. I didn't make the same mistake with the Demerara sugar; I weighed it separately! I mixed all of these dry ingredients together and then rubbed in some butter. Mary says to rub in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. I found it to be quite clumpy and sticky. It felt as though I was creating an ex-foliating face mask; the graininess of the Demerara sugar would work wonders for the skin! I pressed half of this oaty mixture into my apparently unsuitable tin and then located a ripe banana. When I say ripe, I really do mean ripe. It was squashed and black and looked thoroughly disgusting! I said to Neil that I wasn't sure I could bring myself to use it, but I was told it would be fine once peeled. Neil opened the blackened skin to reveal a brown mush, yuck! I could barely slice it, but the other bananas were not ripe so I had to make do. I pressed the remainder of the oaty mixture on top of the squishy banana. I needed a small quantity of chocolate chips to sprinkle over the top. Of course I couldn't resist a handful, just to make sure they were up to scratch! Once a scattering of chocolate chips had completed the banana bars they were ready for the oven.

After the suggested 25 minutes in the oven I checked and thought it could do with a few more minutes. Maybe using a deeper tin means it takes a little longer. After another five minutes my banana bars looked ready. Mary says to leave in the tin until cold, so I did as I was told and left it alone! My tin had a loose bottom so I could push up the base and remove it; this made it very easy to cut into bars. I think it would have been very tricky to remove from the tin otherwise. Now for a taste! These bars are so moreish, you really could eat several in one sitting. The oaty top and bottom are delicious, very crumbly, almost like a flapjack. The banana centre adds a sweet moist middle. It didn't matter at all that my banana was a bit past its best, it tasted perfectly fine! These bars are so easy to make and, as Mary says, they make a great snack – I think both kids and adults alike would love one or maybe two in their lunchboxes. 
So tasty - can't just have one!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Austrian Apricot and Almond Tart

Recipe Number Thirty Eight:  Page 273.

I have been eyeing up this recipe for a couple of weeks now; the combination of marzipan and apricots encased in a sweet pastry sounded delicious. I realise that marzipan has featured rather heavily over the last few weeks, but I love it and could no longer resist making it.

When looking through this recipe, I felt confident that it was fairly simple and shouldn’t take long to make. The first task was to make the pastry. I measured out the flour and icing sugar and then opened a packet of butter. With all this butter I am consuming, I feel certain it is starting to make my hips expand. My trousers feel a little tighter than they did last week. So, with this in mind, I left my packet of butter on one end of my long kitchen worktop and the weighing scales on the other. When I needed more butter, I had to work for it! I am pretty sure that, with all the trekking back and forth, I must have burnt off the equivalent of eating a large slice of this tart. As the butter had to be chilled for this pastry, it took ages to rub it into the flour and icing sugar; my fingers were close to getting cramp. When I had finally achieved ‘breadcrumbs', I could stir in the beaten egg and work it into a soft dough. Again, this seemed to take an eternity. The resulting dough was very soft and a bit sticky; it glued itself to my fingers! I put the dough into a plastic bag and popped it into the fridge so that it could chill for half an hour.

After the half hour was up, I had to roll out just over half of the pastry. I started off OK, but I had to roll it very thin to make my circle large enough. As the flan tin was ten inches, I needed my circle to measure twelve inches (to cover base and sides) – easier said than done. When I went to peel the pastry from the worktop, lots of holes appeared. It took several attempts and a lot of patching of holes until I was happy with it. I trudged over to the weighing scales to measure out the marzipan. I located my grater and grated the marzipan into the pastry case. I had never thought about grating marzipan before and what a sticky experience it proved to be! I opened my cans of apricot halves and laid the halves out on some kitchen towel and placed another piece on top to mop up the juice. The apricots ended up on top of the marzipan layer. The tart started to look very appetising. I retrieved the rest of the pastry from the fridge and rolled it out so that it was large enough to cover the top of the tart. Again, I had the same problems with the pastry – it was so fiddly to work with. It didn’t look that great, but I was so fed up patching up an ever increasing number of holes that I didn’t really care anymore! Into the oven it went. I sat down to steady my nerves!

After thirty-five minutes I checked on my tart. I was feeling a lot calmer until I saw that the tart was still looking anaemic. Mary Berry warns to keep an eye on the pastry as it burns easily. Well, I certainly did not have that problem. I gave it another ten minutes and even turned the oven up a bit and still it would not brown. I decided it didn’t matter if it wasn’t golden brown; it looked cooked and we wanted to try it! Neil and I had a warm slice each and the first thing we both noticed and mentioned was that the marzipan was overpowering. We couldn’t taste the apricots at all, which was a real shame. The pastry was light and crisp and I was surprised that my patching job had worked as there were no leaks. Hooray!

It was a pleasant enough tart, but you have to LOVE marzipan. It took a while to make, due to the flimsy pastry, so I would need to set aside more time to make it so that I do not get fraught!

My anaemic tart!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Cornish Fairings

 Recipe Number Thirty Seven:  Page 204.

As we had headed over the border into Cornwall to visit the Eden Project, I thought it would be fitting to make these little Cornish Fairings! It was fairly late in the evening but, through the kitchen window, I could see some large white ducks waddling about quacking happily to each other! Even though I was rather distracted by this lovely evening spectacle, I concentrated as best I could and got on with the biscuits.

I measured all the ingredients into the bowl of my scales. The spices which are added smelt delicious. Even though we are a fair way off the festive season, I came over all Christmassy! I rubbed the now very soft butter into the spiced flour; it took no time at all before it resembled breadcrumbs.

The next job I had not been looking forward to at all. I am developing something of a loathing for golden syrup! Most recipes which require this ridiculously sticky substance seem only to need a fairly small amount. I get smothered in syrup glue for almost no reason; that is how it feels to me anyway! I heated up the rather small dollop of golden syrup and poured it into my ‘breadcrumb’ mixture. I mixed the combined ingredients together with my hands. I felt my feelings mellow towards the syrup as it made the dough warm and soft, a pleasure to work with as I had such cold hands!

Mary Berry says to roll the dough into balls the size of cherries. I rolled twelve plump 'cherries' and placed them on my baking tray. I had to make the biscuits in two batches as I had only brought along one tray. Mary advises that, after ten minutes, I am to take the biscuits out of the oven and bash the tray on a hard surface. This makes the biscuits crack and spread. I would have provided a strange sight to any passer-by, bashing my baking tray on the oven hob! After my biscuits had received a good old bash, I put them back in the oven for a further five minutes. Apparently these Cornish Fairings can become hard and too crisp if overcooked. I stayed close to the oven so that I could whip them out quickly if they started to burn! Once out of the oven, the biscuits cooled in next to no time and Neil and I were soon tucking in. They were crisp, but not overdone; they had a very slight chew in the middle. The taste is fairly similar to a ginger biscuit but I could make out the other spices too. They would go very well with a cup of tea and a sit down! We didn’t really know what to do with all the cake and biscuits as it was only the two of us able to eat them. We came close to asking the ducks to help us out!
Lovely with a nice cup of tea!

Devonshire Apple Cake

Recipe Number Thirty Six:  Page 178.

To demonstrate my commitment to the challenge, when on holiday in Devon I could not be kept from baking! We stayed in a self catering farm cottage and, although I expected the kitchen cupboards to hold most basic cooking utensils, I still insisted on taking most of my own things; I really was just missing the kitchen sink! I should have been upset if I couldn’t have made my cakes, so thought it would be better to be safe than sorry. 
After fishing out my ‘Baking Bible’ and traybake tin from one of the many bags, I looked in the well stocked kitchen cupboards for a mixing sized bowl. Unfortunately, the search was fruitless and my weighing scales became multi-purpose. I estimated I could just about fit all the ingredients into the weighing bowl and mix them together. With some apprehension I looked at the electric fan oven. I silently pleaded to it, asking for it to be kind to me. Using a different oven always worries me! 
I started on the job of peeling my cooking apples. As they were such big apples, I only needed to peel two. I sliced the apples thinly and squeezed some lemon juice over them. I had forgotten to leave the butter out to soften so I was very pleased to see that I needed to melt it; it took a while to melt as there was so much of it. I can’t get over how much butter I am using lately. I buy on average two packets each week! 
I measured all the dry ingredients and then used the same bowl to mix everything together. I added the beaten eggs and melted butter to the bowl. The contents came close to overflowing as I carefully mixed it all together. I added a teaspoonful of almond essence. Mary Berry says to use almond extract but I didn’t have any with me. The cake batter, which of course I had to try, tasted overwhelmingly of almonds – whoops!

I was running out of room in the modestly sized kitchen. I had to take up every available surface, so I ended up resting my ‘Baking Bible’ on my little boy’s highchair so I could still follow the instructions! I had managed to squeeze my traybake tin onto the very edge of the worktop. I poured half of the almondy cake mixture into it and then arranged the apple slices on top. The apple slices had by this point turned an unappetising brown colour, even with the lemon juice marinade! I scraped the bowl and managed to find enough cake mixture to cover the apples. A generous sprinkle of almonds and my cake was ready for the oven. Neil was disappointed when I told him that the cake would take an hour and fifteen minutes; he had hoped for a slice a little sooner!

After the long wait, I was glad to finally be able to take the tin out of the oven. I was very relieved to see that it wasn’t burnt but, as the finishing touch is a sprinkling of sugar, I could have easily hidden any burnt bits! Mary Berry says the cake is delicious warm with some cream or fromage frais. Even though I must come across as a right old greedy guts, I would never normally add such things to a cake. However, on Mary’s advice, we bought some cream! So, whilst the cake was still a little warm, I cut us a slice each and poured a little cream over them. I swear I could feel my waistband tighten just looking at my bowl of calorie loaded loveliness! After just one bite I was in heaven; no, not due to a heart attack! The sponge was very light with a hint of almond; the apple layer gave an extra sweetness. I tried a much smaller slice later on when it was cold. I agree with Mary, the cake is much nicer warm. I think the apples make the cake moister when warm, but they do not have the same effect once cold. The result is a much drier cake; maybe it is more a dessert than a cake. I just had to try it with custard the next day! 
Heaven in a bowl!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Chocolate Chip Brownies

Recipe Number Thirty Five:  Page 100.

To say I was looking forward to making these was an understatement. I hadn't baked anything chocolatey for an entire month and was having severe withdrawal symptoms. Due to a serious chocolate addiction, I have of course made brownies on many previous occasions. The recipe I would normally use is Mary's slightly richer version which uses melted chocolate, instead of cocoa powder. I was rather disappointed to see this recipe did not require me to add melted chocolate, so no crafty nibbles on the leftovers!

This recipe was incredibly simple and straightforward. A generous amount of butter - I think over a block of butter can safely be described as generous - and even more sugar. I had chest pains just looking at the ingredients! Add to the butter and sugar some cocoa powder, flour and eggs and that is your main set of ingredients taken care of. The last little bit needed to complete the brownies is of course the chocolate chips, hence the name! I have a little confession; the full 100 grams never made it to my mixing bowl. A few didn't want to come out of the packet, so I ate them! Once the 95 grams of chocolate chips were added I could beat it all together. Everything was going so smoothly until I caught the bag of flour with my elbow and it fell onto the floor. It let out a plume of floury dust as it landed. I suppose I should be grateful I didn't lose the entire contents on the floor. After sweeping up the flour that had escaped, I could carry on and tip the brownie mixture into my ready lined traybake tin. I was a little surprised by how thick the mixture was, unlike the richer recipe which was much runnier. At this point I did panic a bit and re-checked the recipe; I had been distracted by my son who was practising his cough and wanted me to cough in reply! Thankfully I had kept my wits about me as everything was as it should be, phew! I put my brownie into the oven and then came to the difficult but vital job of licking the bowl, it was so delicious, I couldn't imagine how the cooked brownie could possibly beat it. I had to quickly throw the bowl into the washing up to make it inedible.

I caught the brownie just before it started to burn. It didn't look that inspiring to be honest. I was tempted to take it straight out of the tin to have a better look but I resisted the urge. Once the brownie was cool, I lifted it out and then cut it into slices. Neil was hovering next to me as I took the all important photos; he was very impatient to try it. He ended up having three slices, one after the other. I showed a little more restraint and had just the one. Oh my goodness me, they are utterly divine! Light, seriously chocolatey with a lovely crisp topping, the cake is almost mousse like. I am so pleased with these brownies, they may knock a few years off my life but hey, who's counting?!!
Chocolate brownies equal utter bliss!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Sultana and Orange Traybake

Recipe Number Thirty Four:  Page 180.

I asked Neil if there was anything particular he'd like me to bake this weekend. He fancied some sort of traybake; this sultana and orange combination was soon decided upon as he loves oranges.

Here is another cake where all the ingredients are 'thrown' into the bowl and mixed. This always cheers my soul, so I merrily 'threw' all but the sultanas and orange zest into the bowl. I had to have a good old rummage in the kitchen cupboard to find an already opened packet of sultanas. I think they may have been there for some time as the sultanas looked a bit dry and wizened. At this point, I had a distinct feeling that I was being watched. I glanced through the doorway into the living room to see a little face peering at me. Our little boy appeared quite curious to know what I was doing. I soon found myself sitting on the kitchen floor grating the zest of two oranges so he could see what I was doing. It didn't take long for him to realise that this wasn't a particularly exciting spectacle, so he went back to chewing on a toy. The zest was the last ingredient I needed to add to the bowl, so out came my electric whisk. Once everything had been blended together, I poured the cake mixture into my tin and then put it into the oven.

When I came to take the cake out of the oven, I was a little disappointed to see that it hadn't risen very much; it looked distinctly flat. As I had used the zest of two oranges for the cake, I thought I might as well use the juice to make the orange glacé icing that Mary had included at the bottom of the recipe. Otherwise I could have just sprinkled the cake with Demerara sugar and finished it there. But no, that would have meant less washing up and I couldn't have that! So out came a packet of icing sugar. As well as sifting it into a bowl, I also managed to smother seemingly everything in the kitchen with a fine dusting. The combined icing sugar and orange juice made a glistening and thick paste! As I spread it on to the top of the cake, I immediately wished I hadn't. The icing peeled the top layer of the cake off, which of course mixed into the gooey icing. So, what should have looked like an appetising and delicious treat actually looked rather messy; cake crumbs intermingled with icing is not a good look. I did what I could to salvage the situation and most of the slices didn't look too bad in the end. I, on the other hand, was smothered in sticky icing and ended up muttering choice words under my breath!!

When it came to tasting the cake, Neil said he couldn't taste the orange, whereas I said that was the first thing I noticed! The texture of the cake was nice and moist. The sultanas had sunk to the bottom and I do wonder if adding them to the cake made it a bit too sweet. Those who are worried about Neil's health due to all his cake eating can rest assured. He ran a 7km race yesterday and came 31st out of over 400 competitors, so I feel that proves you can have your cake and eat it! 
I didn't eat both!  These are the two best looking slices!

Cheese Scone Round

Recipe Number Thirty Three: Page 323.

I fancied making something savoury; it made a nice change after all the sweet things I have made and eaten lately. I was feeling quite hungry as I started baking this at lunchtime. I hoped it wouldn't take long to prepare as my stomach was complaining loudly.

Neil had kindly bought the things I needed for this recipe. I had written him a list after carefully checking our messy, overflowing kitchen shelves. I thought I already possessed some mustard powder, but as it was nowhere to be seen it got added onto my list. When Neil put the new packet of mustard powder away his hand went straight onto the old packet, typical! In my defence I would like to point out that his superior height is an added advantage. Neil saw me add the mustard powder to my bowl of flour and couldn't believe the small quantity; just half a teaspoon! I needed even less cayenne pepper, just a quarter of a teaspoon. I recently purchased a set of measuring spoons; they are so useful. I would probably have used too much if I'd used a normal teaspoon. Once all my dry ingredients were stirred together, I added in most of the grated mature cheddar cheese and poured in the milk and egg. I was very tempted to add a touch more milk as the dough was so dry; it was hard to bring it all together. However, Mary says the mixture should be soft not sticky, so I held back. Once I tipped the dough out onto the worktop and gave it a bit of a knead, I was glad I hadn't added the milk. It very quickly turned into soft and manageable dough.

I rolled the dough out into a thick circle and marked it into six wedges. Onto the baking tray my cheesy circle went! The last touch was to brush with milk and sprinkle with the remainder of the grated cheese. It took 15 minutes in the oven, so from start to finish this recipe only took about half an hour.

When the cheese scone round came out of the oven the wedges were not very well defined, so I gently marked it into wedges again. I have to say it smelt absolutely delicious. As my stomach had obviously sensed that the prospect of food was edging closer, it made me tuck into a slice whilst it was still warm. I was feeling generous, so also cut a slice for Neil and spread the wedges with margarine, which melted quickly into the warm scone, yum! Neil's first comment was that it was very cheesy, perhaps a bit too cheesy. This comes from a man who eats a heck of a lot of cheese. I did use the seriously strong cheddar; maybe it was a bit too strong! I have constant hay fever at the moment so I couldn't really tell. We both noticed the scone had a bit of a 'kick' to it due to the mustard powder and pepper; that is a really nice touch. I should love to make this again, maybe next time I won't use such a strong cheese. It is very moreish; I may just go and have another slice!
A touch on the cheesy side - but very moreish!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Banana Loaf

Recipe Number Thirty Two: Page 307.

The reason I came to make a banana cake was due to an abundance of over ripe bananas. My son and I share one between us most days and Neil is also rather partial. Overnight it seemed that our bunch of bananas turned almost black; they did not look very tempting. When flicking through my now slightly scruffy Baking Bible, I happened across this recipe. Here was a great way to use up a few bananas. Apparently, you can freeze bananas if you are not ready to use them, another handy tip from my Facebook page, please keep them coming!

I started this recipe later than I intended. As usual the day just went too fast and seemingly little was achieved! I was almost ecstatic to find that the recipe used the all in one method. This meant that the cake took next to no time to make. The only thing that took any real time was peeling my bananas and mashing them. As they were so ripe, I barely had to put any effort into the mashing as they just fell apart. I have to say mashed banana looks quite revolting; best to try not to think about what it resembles! When I had finished mashing, I tipped the puréed banana into my mixing bowl along with all the other ingredients. Using my electric whisk, I made sure everything was well blended and then popped the mixture into my prepared tin. My mother-in-law kindly gave me some loaf liners, so I didn't have the hassle of lining the tin with greaseproof paper. I always make such a mess of it!

The cake cooked in the oven for an hour. As seems to be a now common theme, the cake was a little burnt. Oh well, I quite like the crunch! Neil said the cake had risen very well in the centre but not much at either end; if given an end it would be a raw deal! We tried the cake whilst it was still warm; we both commented on how moist the cake was. You can really taste the banana and it is quite sweet. It is a very nice cake, but I had a feeling something was missing. I have seen banana cakes with a chocolate icing – now you're talking!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Large All-in-one Victoria Sandwich

Recipe Number Thirty One:  Page 40.

Chances are if you have a Mary Berry book you have used her recipe for a Victoria sandwich. When I was fairly small, I used to make this for every family birthday. Surprisingly no one seemed to tire of it! As I haven't made this for some time, it was a rather pleasant and nostalgic revisit of an old friend.

At first glance I presumed that this cake wasn't too unhealthy. However, after re-reading the ingredients, I decided that, as it uses very nearly a whole packet of butter and the same amount of sugar, that actually it might be best to just have a small slice. Though, if you think like me, you might count the strawberry jam as one of your five a day!

This recipe uses Mary's all-in-one method. This makes life so much easier. Normally you would be expected to cream the butter and sugar together, and then watch with horror as the mixture curdles with the addition of the eggs. Thankfully, we are spared this despair as all of the cake ingredients get measured into a bowl and beaten together at the same time. Once the beaten mixture is nice and smooth you put it into the tins and bake for about 20 minutes.

I made the mistake of using fairly cheap cake tins. I didn't think it would cause much harm, but I lost some of the cake as it stuck to the tin, so it looks a bit patchy around the sides. Apart from that minor defect, I can't believe how well the cake rose in the oven, it is huge!

Once the cake had cooled, I could spread a generous amount of jam on one of the cakes. I noticed that most of this particular jar of jam seemed to contain a large quantity of strawberry stalks. I didn't really fancy eating those, so I got rather sticky picking them all out! Once the jam was stalk free, I carefully placed the other cake on top and sprinkled the surface with caster sugar.

I have the house to myself at the moment and have just indulged in a sneaky slice. I really can't get over how light and moist it is. It really does taste as good as I remember. I would like to put forward the suggestion of eating it with a fork, unless you have a rather large mouth. As it rises so well, it is almost impossible to manage without one! 
Yes, I did manage to eat the whole slice!
Well, I am getting closer to the 50 mark but I still have such a long way to go, eeeek!  Just to let you know, I have decided to bake two things at the weekend, updating my blog on a Monday evening.  I shall bake one thing on a Wednesday and update my blog again on a Thursday evening.  This should break things up a bit!!! Thanks again for your support :-)

Recipe Variation: Lemon Victoria Sandwich

I love anything lemony so this cake sounded right up my street. Mary's Victoria sandwich cakes are so easy to whip up. Everthing gets shoved into a bowl and whisked together to form a smooth batter. For this variation I had to grate in the zest of a lemon. This nearly didn't happen as I managed to forget all about the lemon sat next to mixing bowl! Just before I divided the mixture between the two sandwich tins I remembered - phew, just in time.

Once the cakes had cooked then cooled I sandwiched the two together with a good helping of lemon curd. I love lemon curd. This time it came from a jar but I did make my own once and it was so much nicer than shop bought. One day I'll get round to making it again!

Soon I was having a huge bite of cake, then another, and another! I could of done with a stronger lemon flavour in the sponge. Perhaps I'll add the zest from two lemons next time. The filling was of course divine. Now I can't make up my mind if I prefer the original recipe or this one.

This cake was a huge hit with Isaac. After his small slither he kept asking for more. As I ate my large slice my bump was very active. I think it was performing Riverdance in there!!
Mmmmm... cake!

Recipe Variation - Orange Victoria Sandwich

My final Victoria Sandwich variation and I couldn't wait! This basic recipe is still one of my very favourites. So easy and quick to make and tastes delicious. What more could you wish for?! I've never tried an orange version before but I couldn't imagine that it would be anything other than tasty.

I put the quickness of the recipe to test as I made it about an hour before leaving my parents house (on the Isle of Wight) to catch the ferry home. I shoved all the ingredients into the bowl. The only difference to the original recipe was the addition of orange zest. A quick whisk and the smooth mixture was ready for the lined cake tins. The cakes rose beautifully in the oven but were sadly cursed with a wrinkly skin!

I am not a huge fan of marmalade but it was Mary's chosen filling. I sandwiched the by now lukewarm cakes together with a modest helping of orange marmalade. Neil had already packed the camera away in the car so had to unpack it for the all important photo shoot! Time was running short so I cut a slice, wrapped it in kitchen towel and shoved it in my already bulging handbag. The rest would be shared between my family.

When sat on the boat wondering how to pass the impending hour I remembered the cake in my bag. Of course it was a bit squashed by now! We all had some each and it didn't last long. We all loved the subtle orange flavour but perhaps the marmalade was a little over powering. I knew Dad would like it as he LOVES marmalade. Maybe next time I'll try making an orange curd instead.  All in all another yummy Victoria Sandwich.
A very quick photo!


Recipe Number Thirty: Page 121.

Ahh, the Royal Wedding! After watching the service on television I felt an urge to make some cupcakes in honour of the happy couple. I asked Neil, who is much more artistic than I am, if he would be happy to draw some little flags for the cupcakes. We were too mean to buy cocktail sticks so ended up using matches with the flags stuck onto the striking end!!

I have never been a cupcake kind of girl. However, I know how popular they are; they seem to be very much in fashion at the moment. Looking on the internet I am often amazed and wowed by the beautifully decorated cupcakes people make. I wish I could make things of a similar nature, but I have never been very good at decorating cakes and making them look pretty. I was, however, feeling a tiny bit creative and these moments don't last long, so I thought I had better hurry up and make the cupcakes before the moment passed!

I was delighted to see how easy these cakes are to make. I love Mary Berry for her all in one method! I just had to add all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. I was a little surprised that a few tablespoons of milk are included. Maybe this creates a lighter sponge. I beat all the butter, flour and sugar etc. together with my beloved electric whisk until the mixture was smooth. I had already put paper cases into my 12 hole muffin tin. I used four blue and red cupcake cases and eight white muffin cases. I had purchased an ice cream scoop after a kindly soul suggested it to me on my Facebook page. This makes it a lot easier to get the mixture into the paper cases, such a handy tip. I was worried I wouldn't have enough mixture to go around but, after much scraping of the bowl, it appeared it would be just about adequate. I popped the tray into the oven and left the cakes to cook for 20 minutes. I was really pleased when I took my cupcakes out of the oven; they had risen so well, much better than I had expected.

I left them to cool on a rack whilst I made up the butter cream icing. I made a mistake by using a fairly small bowl. It was hard to sift the icing sugar into it. The worktop and my trousers got a nice dusting! The next problem came when I tried to beat it together with the butter. I tried to place a tea towel around the bowl, but still lots of icing sugar escaped. I had to admit defeat and got my large bowl out of the cupboard. I was annoyed as this equated to more washing up. However, it did make it a lot easier and far less messy. I added an extra tablespoon of icing sugar as I hoped this would make up for all that I had lost!

I didn't realise how tricky it would be to get the butter cream neatly onto the cupcakes, it was quite fiddly. It took me a lot longer than it should have! I put the finished cakes onto my pretty cake stand. The last time I used this Cake Standa few people asked where they could get it. It is from Amazonat the bargain price of £10.44. I put some of Neil's delightful flags on top of the cupcakes. I had bought some Smarties with the thought of adding some red and blue ones to the tops of some of the cupcakes. Pah, I only had two blue and four red Smarties in the packet. I had forgotten that they do other colours too!!!! They don't look exactly like what I had in mind. Maybe not quite fit for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but I am a little bit proud of them! They are so simple to make but taste great. The texture is so light; maybe the addition of milk does make a difference. I can't recommend these cakes enough!
Not that exciting but I am quite pleased with them!!

I think that making cupcakes could indeed become a little addictive. I loved making these; maybe I am a cupcake kind of girl after all!

So tasty!