Thursday, 31 May 2012

Wholemeal Ginger Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Nine:  Page 87

I've entered this wholemeal ginger cake into my Facebook Poll on numerous occasions and the poor thing has never been chosen. At school I was always picked last for sport teams so I couldn't help but feel sorry for it!! It was the ginger cake’s time to shine. I already had everything needed within the depths of the kitchen shelves so I was ready to make a start.

Before the baking could commence we first had to scuttle along to the hairdressers. Rather conveniently it is only a five minute walk away, so we didn't have far to go. This time it was Isaac's turn for a trim. He always wriggles and squirms as much as possible, so I'd tucked a biscuit into my bag as a bribe! As soon as Isaac realised where we were heading he started to utter “No...No” in panicky tones. Thankfully, once through the door, he relaxed and even sat beautifully on my lap. Funnily enough he didn't even attempt to eat the biscuit; this was probably for the best as it was soon smothered in hair! To make up for the ordeal we had a splash in the paddling pool on our return home. We even ventured to build a wonky sandcastle in the sandpit!

Once Isaac was in bed I padded into the kitchen to make a start on the ginger cake. I wasn't sure why I'd had to leave the butter to soften as it was about to be melted in a saucepan. Life moves in mysterious ways! I poured a large quantity of golden syrup into the pan to join the butter. As I was adding so much I tilted the tin and let it gush freely. This was a mistake as it gushed out a bit too freely and the whole lot nearly ended up in the pan. It took a while for me to spoon a substantial amount of sticky syrup back into the tin! I was surprised that granulated sugar was also to be included. This was surely going to be a very sweet ginger cake! After measuring in the sugar, I moved on to the marmalade. As I was using just one and a half tablespoons, I wasn't sure of the point of adding any at all! The last ingredient to make its way into the pan was some milk. I prayed we would have enough; I hadn't expected to require quite so much. Thank goodness I found a full bottle when I went to the fridge!

Now that everything was in the pan I put it over a very low heat and waited until the sugar and butter had melted. I took it from the heat to cool a little while I got on with sieving self-raising flour and spices into a clean mixing bowl. The wholemeal flour didn't need to be sieved so I simply stirred it in at the end. I broke a few eggs into a glass and gave them a light beating with a fork. After I'd finished I noticed tiny pieces of egg shell floating on the surface. I thought I'd be there forever fishing them all out, but I found that the fork picked them out surprisingly well!

I checked on the butter and syrup mixture; it was still scalding hot. I wanted to avoid lumpy flour so left it a little longer and got on with making myself a cucumber sandwich. I've loved cucumber sandwiches since I was tiny and they are still my favourite sandwich filling. Maybe that's why I love afternoon tea so much! The buttery mixture was still hot when I finally poured it into the bowl of flour and spices but I was bored of waiting and my lunch was calling me. I quickly added in the beaten eggs and then mixed the runny mixture together with a wooden spoon. Of course my flour went lumpy, so I had to rely on my little balloon whisk. After a few seconds of frantic whisking it became smooth. I was a bit concerned when the mixture started to bubble on the surface – what had I created!! I poured it into the lined traybake tin. On the way to the oven I nearly lost half of the mixture on the floor as it sloshed dangerously up the sides of the tin.

The ginger cake would need an hour and a half in the oven so I settled down to eat my lunch. As soon as my bottom had hit the sofa our cat decided she was desperate to go outside. Keen to avoid any nasty accidents, I hurried to the back door. I managed to step right into a pile of sand that had been walked in from the sand pit. I wasn't too bothered about the mess as it provides an excellent exfoliant. My feet have never been so soft!

After leaving a trail of sandy footprints back to the sofa, I was able to wolf down my lunch and then catch up with this blog. The smell wafting from the kitchen was glorious; a deliciously gingery scent. When I went to check on the cake I was saddened to see that it had burnt along one side. I would have to cut it off.

Once the cake was cold I could get on and ice it with a lemony icing. All that I needed to do for this was to combine lemon juice and icing sugar together. I haven't used icing sugar for a while and can't say I enjoyed revisiting it – such messy stuff! After smothering the worktop and floor with a fine dusting of sugar my icing was complete. I smothered the top of the cake with the thick icing. I decided against using the optional chopped stem ginger as decoration. I have scattered it over other ginger cakes from the Baking Bible but, personally, I don't like the way it looks! I decided to leave mine plain.

I was soon digging in and taking a large bite of cake. The flavours were surprisingly light. I could taste the ginger clearly but it was by no means overpowering. The texture was a little on the dry side due to being overcooked! Fortunately the yummy lemony icing helped moisten each mouthful. This is a lovely light ginger cake for those who don't want too much of a gingery kick!
I must of been leaning to one side when I took this picture!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Apricot and Almond Meringue Gateau

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Eight:  Page 364.

As it was such a toasty warm day, I wanted to make a fresh and summery treat. A slice of cake just wouldn't cut it; I was on the hunt for a fruity dessert. When I came across this recipe for an apricot and almond meringue gateau I knew that I had struck gold. It sounded absolutely delicious. The amount of work required was a little daunting but it sounded as though it would be well worth the effort.

I already had most of the ingredients but still needed to get some dried apricots and double cream. Isaac was desperately in need of some new shoes so we decided to spend our morning traipsing around shops in the scorching heat!! It was some time before our wilting bodies arrived home. I was well and truly cooked! By late afternoon I had just enough energy to shuffle into the kitchen to make a start on the meringue.

Making the meringue itself was relatively straightforward. I simply had to whisk the egg whites until stiff, and then add a teaspoonful of sugar at a time. It was hard to resist the urge to tip in the whole quantity of sugar in one go and forgo the boredom. Once or twice I dared to add two teaspoonfuls at a time – I like to live life on the edge!! After all the sugar had been added I carried on whisking until the mixture was very stiff and standing in peaks. I was really proud of my meringue. I think it's the first time I've managed to get the peaks to stand to attention; they usually flop! The last ingredient for the meringue was the ground almonds. When I'd read the recipe header I had assumed that almond essence would be used for flavour, so I was pleased to be using the real McCoy! I carefully folded the ground almonds into the thick meringue and then spooned the mixture onto two lined baking trays. Mary says to spread into circles 8 inches in diameter. To avoid odd sized meringues, I had located a ruler and measured two equal circles. Get me!!!!

As the meringues cooked for just over an hour on a very low heat, I resumed my position on the sofa and fanned myself with a magazine (Isaac is frightened of our desk fan)!! When the cooking time was complete I went to check on the two meringues. Mary says they are ready when they peel away from the paper. Thankfully she's kind enough to point out that we shouldn't worry if they stick in the middle as it is a sticky meringue. I was relieved to hear this as both mine were sticky and, as I moved them onto a wire rack, they cracked and broke apart. If this had happened when I'd first started this challenge I would probably have burst into tears and given up. I must have learnt to laugh off mistakes as I just sighed “Oh well”!

Now it was time to make the apricot filling. I tipped a small quantity of apricots into my smallest saucepan, along with some water and a strip of lemon rind. I was to heat this gently for about twenty minutes or until the apricots were very tender. While they cooked I went outside to play. On our shopping trip we'd seen a combined plastic sandpit and paddling pool on special offer. We couldn't resist as it would be perfect for this weather. Isaac wasn't sure about the sandpit so, in an attempt to reassure him, I made sandcastles and sieved the sand. I had a great time! He soon warmed to the paddling pool once he'd overcome the initial chill. He LOVED splashing his poor mummy and was in absolute fits of giggles. Eventually I had to leave the fun and take my soggy body back into the kitchen to check on the apricots.

A waft of burning hit my nostrils as soon I walked in through the door. On close inspection, the pan had boiled dry and a delightful brown coating had glued to the bottom. The apricots were of course inedible – whoops! I brought out another small pan, (this time non stick) and started again. Thank goodness I had enough apricots. This time I was careful to keep a watchful eye on the pan! Once the apricots were tender I plucked them out and placed them into the blender. There wasn't enough for the blades to catch hold of, so I ended up adding the water from the pan plus a little more from the tap. That did the trick and I soon had smooth (well almost) purée. It smelt delicious.

I measured more water into the pan and tipped in some granulated sugar. Once the sugar had dissolved, I squeezed in a little lemon juice and boiled it steadily for three minutes to make a sugar syrup. This would be put to use later, so I left it on the side to cool.

Funny how a meringue is low fat until you add the artery clogging cream! I poured a hefty amount into a bowl and whisked it until it was just holding its shape. At this point a dripping wet child padded in through the back door in floods of tears. My first thought was that Isaac had hurt himself. I picked him up, forgetting that he was soaking wet, nice!!! I didn't feel quite so sorry for him when Neil informed me that Isaac didn't want to come inside and leave his paddling pool. The world as Isaac knew it was over! Thankfully, it doesn't take much to cheer up a toddler and, a few minutes later, I heard him happily splashing in the bath and Neil singing to him at the top of his lungs. I'm sure our neighbours look forward to bath time!

Now I just had to finish off the dessert; I was nearly there! I folded one-third of the apricot mixture into almost all of the cream. My mouth was literally watering as it looked so good! I sandwiched the two flat and broken meringues together with the apricot cream, performing first aid as I went. Now it was time to carry out the finishing touches. I dusted over some icing sugar, then piped rosettes around the edge of the meringue using the remaining cream. The last little bit of apricot purée was not to be forgotten. I diluted it with the sugar syrup. It was to be used as a sauce. I tried to take a decent photograph. However, the meringue, cream and dusting of icing sugar made for a very white dessert. I found it impossible to take a passable photo! I wasn't too fussed as I was keen to dive in and have a taste.

It was just as I imagined it would be – absolutely divine! We all loved it. I believe the key reason for its success is the perfect combination of the almond and apricot flavours. They worked beautifully together. It is the perfect summer dessert. It was perhaps a little faffy to make but it really was worth it.
Just realised that the plates don't match!!!!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Lime Lattice Cookies

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Seven:  Page 199.

I love limes; they have such a delightful, sharp and refreshing flavour. I don't think I've eaten lime cookies before though! As just the zest is required in this recipe, Mary suggests using the juice for either drinks or for adding to whipped cream. I loved the idea of squeezing myself a zingy drink. The weather is lovely and hot at the moment, so no doubt it would be guzzled down quickly!

I was feeling rather hot and bothered first thing in the morning. Thankfully Isaac mostly amused himself. He spent ages playing with a small strip of tin foil! He ripped it into several pieces, scrunched them up and placed them on the sofa. He lifted his hands above his head and then, with all his might, gave the sofa a good whack! This of course made the foil balls leap into the air. There were lots of giggles! Once the foil had lost its novelty appeal we got ready for the swings. It always takes us ages to get out of the house and today took even longer due to a sunscreen application. Isaac didn't help matters as, every time I touched him, he fell to the floor laughing!! We spent ages at the park. It was so nice not having to worry about squelching in mud; I even wore my flip flops. Summer must be here!!

Coming home and putting on the oven wasn't really my first choice. I was so hot I would have far rather folded myself into the freezer compartment! Unfortunately, these cookies would not make themselves and I was looking forward to having a nibble. Reading through the recipe, they didn't look as though they would take long to make - always a bonus.

Before leaving for the park I had taken the butter from the chilly confines of the fridge. As I measured a modest amount into the mixing bowl I wasn't surprised to find that it was barely solid! After tipping in a small quantity of sugar, I was able to cream the two together. Due to the ultra soft butter this was no hardship, and I was able to beat the mixture with just a wooden spoon. It was creamy and smooth within moments.

I only needed to include two more ingredients. First I tipped in some self-raising flour and then I moved my attention to the limes. I required the zest from two. I don't think the fruit itself was particularly ripe as they were as hard as bullets! The scent of zingy limes was rather overwhelming as I grated off the rind. It certainly cleared my sinuses! Now I was ready to mix it all together and form a dough. I was able to achieve this with the wooden spoon before moving on to my hands to bring the last few crumbs together. It was a soft dough and not in the least bit sticky. It was easy to divide up and roll into walnut sized balls. I placed the green speckled balls, spaced well apart, on a baking tray. The biscuits looked savoury rather than sweet. The green zest looked like chopped herbs!

I was to create a lattice pattern on top of each biscuit with a skewer. I don't have a skewer, well, not that I'm aware of! I tried a few different things but finally settled on using the prong of my little cake tester. It was very thin but, as I pressed it into the dough, I simply wriggled it from side to side to create a more definite indentation. It worked a treat.

I placed the two trays of biscuits into the oven and left them to cook for about ten to fifteen minutes. Mary says to leave until just starting to turn golden. I am not a big fan of making biscuits purely due to the cooking aspect! There is such a fine line between undercooked and burnt to a crisp. Mine usually burn! The smell of lime became even more pronounced as the cookies cooked. I managed to get both trays out of the oven just before they turned golden. Now it was time to transfer from the trays onto a wire rack to cool. Thankfully each cookie completed the journey unscathed!

I was so pleased that the lattice pattern hadn't completely disappeared. Some of the lines were vaguer than others but they still looked pretty! It didn't take long for them to cool down and I was ready to pounce. These cookies are dangerously moreish. They aren't chewy as I thought they might be; they have a crumbly melt in the mouth texture. The lime flavour was gorgeous but not overwhelming like the smell! These cookies are so easy to make and it’s really quick to whip up a batch. These are high up on my make again list!

Just as a footnote I would like to add that a mouthful of lime cookie combined with a square of milk chocolate is utter heaven!!! Next time I'll be adding chunks of chocolate for sure!
Speckled biscuits!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Apricot and Orange Cheesecake

Recipe One Hundred & Ninety Six:  Page 384.

I love a good cheesecake. In fact I don't think I know anyone who doesn't adore a buttery biscuit base and creamy cheesecake topping. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water! This particular recipe sounded delightfully fruity and was sure to be packed full of flavour. I was left deeply distraught when I looked past the recipe title and read through the list of ingredients. I wouldn't be able to eat it – sob!

Firstly, the cheesecake is set with gelatine. I am a vegetarian so wouldn't have felt happy about eating the end result. However, I could no doubt have found a substitute such as arrowroot and still turned out a decent cheesecake. My problem was that it contained cream cheese and raw eggs. Raw eggs are a big ‘no no’ when pregnant. As my hopes of gorging on cheesecake were dashed, I decided to go ahead and use gelatine. This meant that there was no need for me to alter the recipe. It was difficult to summon up much enthusiasm to slog over something I wouldn't be able to sample! It was a real effort to force myself into the kitchen.

Neil had to take Isaac into the living room so that he wouldn't be around to witness the making of the biscuit base. Isaac adores biscuits in any form but particularly digestives. There was no way I could get the packet out in front of him!!! First of all I melted a small quantity of butter in a saucepan. While the butter gave in to the heat I grabbed a large freezer bag and popped in the biscuits. Not one piece of biscuit escaped the might of my rolling pin! Once I had a bag of crumbs I could tip them into the pan of melted butter. I quickly added a little Demerara sugar to sweeten the mixture and then stirred to combine. I pressed the thin layer of delicious biscuit crumble into a nine inch tin. This was going to be a big cheesecake. Neil would certainly have a lot to get through!!

I left the biscuit base to set while I got on with what appeared to be a complicated topping. There seemed to be a lot to contend with! First of all I found a small bowl and measured in a little water. I was to sprinkle over some powdered gelatine. I glanced at the instructions on the box. Just to confuse they differed from Mary's entirely! Of course I didn't dare deviate from the recipe; I obediently followed Mary's precise instructions! While I left the gelatine to 'sponge', I retrieved a packet of dried apricots from the cupboard and fished a carton of orange juice from the fridge. You can always be sure to find orange juice in our fridge. I religiously drink a glass a day for my goodness! I was too lazy to dig out another saucepan, so I simply rinsed the biscuit crumbs from the one I had already used. I tipped in the whole apricots and poured over the orange juice. Once over the heat, I had to bring the juice to the boil then leave to simmer for five minutes or until the apricots were suitably soft. Mine must have been as tough as old boots as they took about twenty minutes!

By now Isaac was sitting in his high chair (also known as his throne) observing my baking activities. As he munched through his pile of toast he took an interest in what I was getting up to. He politely said ‘Hello’ to the honey as I measured three tablespoonfuls into the blender and ‘Goodbye’ when I placed the jar back on the shelf. He was forlorn to discover that the two pots I took from the fridge were not yoghurts. However, he was easily distracted with the lid from the cream cheese and he watched keenly as I scraped the contents of the pot into the blender. Next it was time for the sour cream. I had originally bought some to accompany a chilli which never came to fruition. It was a good job that I'd found a use for it as it was just about to go beyond its best before date!!

Now for the eggs, which needed to be separated. I collected the whites in a clean bowl and placed them to one side. The yolks headed straight to the blender. Something was missing; I looked around the kitchen but couldn't think what it was. Thank goodness I re-checked the recipe as I nearly left out the key ingredient! I hastily tipped the apricot and orange juice into the blender. Mary doesn't mention draining off the orange juice so I could only presume that it should be included. I hoped I wouldn't live to regret the decision. The concoction in the blender did look rather runny! After a quick blitz the resulting mixture resembled a delicious milkshake and smelt divine.

Next I had to sit the small bowl of gelatine over an equally small pan of simmering water. It didn't take long for the spongy gelatine to melt into a liquid. I was then able to pour it into the cream cheese and apricot mixture. Suddenly I didn't fancy that milkshake anymore!

The last instruction was to whisk up the egg whites adding caster sugar a little at a time. My feet were really beginning to ache by this point! Once the meringue was very stiff I could fold in the apricot mixture. It was a challenge to combine the two together. It was some time before the lumps of meringue disappeared.

Now I was ready to pour the mixture over the top of the biscuit base. There was a lot of topping and some sloshed up the sides of the tin as I placed it into the fridge. I decided to leave it to set overnight and add the finishing touches the following day. I needn't have worried that the mixture was too runny as, half an hour later, it was perfectly firm. The gelatine had certainly done its job!

The following day and it was time to finish off the cheesecake. I just needed to warm some apricot jam and spread it over the top. Mary says to mark the cheesecake into ten wedges, whip up some double cream and place a dollop on top of each wedge. I was relieved that there was no need to dig out a piping bag! It didn't look very tidy or professional. However, Neil would be the only one eating it and I didn't think he'd care! For decoration I was instructed to add a small ratafia biscuit on each section of cheesecake. I had not been able to find any mini ones in the shops, so I'd settled for some cheap little oat biscuits. They looked kind of similar! I made sure I saved a few for myself so that I had something to nibble on while Neil stuffed the cheesecake!

Neil took his job as chief tester very seriously. He reported back that the biscuit base was delicious but there wasn't enough of it! The cheesecake topping was lovely and light and very moussey. The flavour of apricot was a little overpowering, but he thought that this was due to the thin layer of jam spread on top. He thought it to be an unnecessary addition! I think he enjoyed it as he happily wolfed down two slices! Isaac ate a good quantity too and he told me that it was very tasty, so at least he can help his Daddy out. I'm currently working my way through the oat biscuits and cream which decorate the top – yummy!
Wish I could of had a slice!!!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Madeira Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Five:  Page 39.

Mary's Madeira cake is the very first recipe within the pages of the Baking Bible. It is where it all begins! Although I've eaten shop bought Madeira cake in the past I've never ventured to bake my own. I found the few that I tried to be rather plain and dry. I assumed that any home baked effort would lead to the same results, so I never gave it a second thought. So many bakers consider this to be a staple cake recipe - a regular visitor to their cake tin. I feel a little ashamed having to admit that this is my first attempt! I suppose that we must all start somewhere; I was looking forward to giving it a try. I hoped it would not turn out as plain and dry as I feared!

Over the past month or so catching a glimpse of sun is quite a rarity, so I was most excited to wake up to glorious sunshine. I had to take advantage of the wonderful weather. A trip to the park was in order. It was a little on the chilly side when we first set off but, by the time we'd arrived at the swings, it was baking hot. Isaac was glad to be free of his coat and was soon charging around. He didn't want to go on the slide or climbing frame; he just wanted to run. His Daddy has taken part in plenty of marathons, so it must be in his genes. It certainly doesn't come from me!! I took the time to take in the views. It was so nice to see leaves back on the trees. At this time of year everything is new and such a lovely fresh shade of green.

After we had said goodbye to the park it was on to the shop. I needed to get some bread, eggs and some sweeties to boost my flagging energy! Isaac is well known in the shop for his sunny smile and constant singing. We weren't in there for more than ten seconds before his fan club flocked around him; he, of course, lapped up all the attention!! He won't be able to fit his head through the door soon!

By the time we were home the sunshine, along with a couple of chewy sweets, had given me enough energy to carry straight on and make the cake! I thought I should take advantage of this strange sensation as no doubt it would soon fade!!

In her short introduction Mary makes a point of mentioning that it is essential that the butter has a creamy spreading consistency. It was obvious that I should take this instruction very seriously, so I'd left the butter out of the fridge over night. It was indeed very soft when I came to weigh it into the mixing bowl. I required the same quantity of sugar. I really should have bought some more at the shop as I only just had enough. I hope I remember to buy some on my next trip but it's highly unlikely!!!

At this point I realised that Isaac was unusually quiet. I peeked into the living room. He was sitting on the floor merrily ripping a piece of kitchen towel into tiny pieces. Messy, but at least he was happily occupied! I collected the self-raising flour on my way to the scales. I shook it from the bag and, just as I was about to reach the exact amount, a great heap fell out. I had to grab a spoon and hastily put back the 60g excess! Next it was time to retrieve the ground almonds. I keep mine in an old screw top jam jar. I spent what seemed like an eternity trying to open the lid. I tried prising it open with my hands; this hurt quite a bit, so I moved on to whacking the lid against the side of the worktop. I even attempted to open it with a knife! Eventually it admitted defeat and I was able to unscrew it. After adding the modest quantity of ground almonds into the bowl I very gently screwed the lid back onto the jar!!

I grabbed the box of eggs from the shopping bag which was still on the floor. I'd completely forgotten to unpack it; luckily I hadn't bought anything frozen! Once I had cracked in a few eggs I moved on to the last ingredient, a lemon. My lemon was super sized. The biggest I had ever seen! Normally I make sure that I grate off every last bit of rind but, on this occasion, I wasn't fussed if I missed a few bits! Now I had all of my cake ingredients in the bowl I could bring out the big guns and use my electric whisk. As usual Mary is quite particular with her timings. I was to whisk for one minute. I really should invest in a stop watch!!! After the minute was up the thick mixture was perfectly smooth and ready to go into the lined cake tin.

It went into the waiting oven for about half an hour. After the half an hour I was supposed to place a thin slice of citron peel on top. The citron peel had put me off making this recipe before. I had looked into making my own and had had an unsuccessful search in shops. It suddenly dawned on me that I was putting in a lot of effort for one single solitary strip of citron peel. Quite frankly there are more important things to worry about it! I noticed in another of my Mary Berry books that she'd used a few pieces of chopped candied peel on a Madeira cake instead. I have plenty of candied peel on my shelves to use up, so that would have to do! So, after the half hour cooking time, I pulled the tin from the oven, sprinkled just a few pieces of peel onto the middle of the cake and then placed it back into the oven for just over half an hour.

I was disappointed when I took the cake from the oven; it was a little too golden brown for my liking! If only I had checked it a few minutes earlier! I left it to cool in the tin for the suggested ten minutes and then tipped it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Thankfully, my cake didn't sink. However, Mary includes a handy tip for cakes which do. For a sunken fruit or Madeira cake Mary suggests turning it out onto baking parchment on a cooling rack upside down. The action of gravity and the weight of the cake will level the top while it cools. I had never thought of doing this but will be doing so in future should the need arise!

When the cake was cold I cut a slice for me and Isaac to share. It wasn't dry or plain as I had feared – in fact far from it. It was light but at the same time a dense and robust cake. The only dry bits were the edges, which were a little bit crunchy due to being over cooked! The discreet almond flavour and the hint of zingy lemon unsurprisingly combined beautifully. They are a match made in heaven! This cake really exceeded my expectations. It just goes to show that you can't compare shop bought to homemade!
Doesn't look great but it was a lovely cake!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Basic All-in-one Sponge Traybake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Four:  Page 173.

There are several varieties of traybake recipes within the pages of the Baking Bible. I really should have started off with this one. As the title suggests it is plain and basic with no added extras. It is a great traybake to start off with. Unfortunately, I'd let greed get the better of me. I couldn't resist making the more interesting and tastier varieties first! However, on a day when I could barely keep my eyes open, I was relieved to have such a straightforward recipe to fall back on. This was perfect!

Isaac woke us up bright and early and, despite it being the weekend, there was no opportunity to roll over and go back to sleep. Some months ago Neil had signed up for a fun run at the spectacular Blenheim Palace. He wished to arrive an hour or so before the start of the race, so we were out of the house bright and early. As we approached the grand gates of the palace a sign for the run caught my eye. It said the run was on the 13th ; I felt sure that it was in fact the 12th! I checked and we were indeed a day early! I may be shallow, but I was devastated to have missed out on a lie in! Ever the optimist, Neil said we should get tickets and walk around the gardens. The sun was shining for the first time in about a month, so it seemed the sensible thing to do. Isaac enjoyed kicking the little stones on the gravel paths and I was delighted to see a swath of bluebells in flower. It was beautiful. We walked for several miles and then headed back to the car to get Isaac home for his lunch and nap.

When we arrived home I decided to lie on the bed for a few minutes to rest my legs and I ended up falling asleep for half an hour. I awoke to a rumbling tummy, so went downstairs to forage for food. Neil took pity on me and made yummy cheese on toast along with a welcome cup of tea. Although very well received they did little to wake me up. I therefore lay down on the sofa and slept for another hour. Apparently I snored!!! All of this makes me sound extremely lazy. I feel I should point out to those who are not aware that I am 15 weeks pregnant and not just a complete layabout!!!

I'm not a good napper and I woke up feeling even worse than before. Isaac, however, awoke full of beans and was bouncing all over the place! I hoped that a spot of baking might wake me up and make me feel better. It usually cheers me up! With my little assistant following behind, I shuffled into the kitchen. I quickly lined the tin and then started to weigh all of the ingredients into my mixing bowl.

First of all I added a terrifying amount of butter. It is amazing that I still happily tuck into all these cakes after seeing what goes into them! The same amount of sugar was then measured into the bowl. It was hard to keep my concentration as I had to keep an almost constant rendition of “Oranges and Lemons” going. It's Isaac's new favourite song and I'm expected to perform it whenever it is requested!! I also had to contend with tins of chopped tomatoes and soup rolling around my feet. It was quite an assault course to retrieve the flour. After tripping on a tin and stubbing my toe I finally made my way back to the scales. I had to weigh in the self-raising flour. A couple of teaspoonfuls of baking powder made their way into the bowl, swiftly followed by the eggs. I nearly jumped out of my skin when Isaac suddenly shrieked “EGGS” he was overcome with excitement!! I managed to crack four into the bowl, without losing any shell into the mixture. There is a first time for everything! Last of all I extracted a large bottle of milk from the fridge. My number obsessed little assistant kindly helped me count four tablespoonfuls into the awaiting bowl.

Neil said he would take Isaac out for a late afternoon trip to the swings. This was good timing as Isaac isn't too fond of my electric whisk; the noise worries him. When they left I turned on the machine and gave the mixture a good mix. I was surprised by how long it took for the mixture to become smooth. The butter was suitably soft but took ages to break up. Eventually it became lovely and smooth and I was able to tip it into the waiting tin. Into the oven it went; it would need to cook for around forty minutes. This gave me plenty of time to sit down. It was nice to sit and do absolutely nothing in the peace and quiet!!

The cake smelt delicious as it cooked. It was well risen when I extracted it from the oven and I was eager to dig in. Unfortunately I had to wait for the cake to cool in the tin before I could have a taste. More's the pity!

Neil and Isaac were tired from their adventure at the park. I thought they deserved a little slice of cake to help restore some energy!!! As I cut up the cake into slices I thought it a shame that it looked so plain. I decided to follow the suggestion of dusting over some icing sugar which did help give the cake a bit of a lift.

We all enjoyed this cake as it was lovely and light and it was nice to have something plain for a change. Perhaps it could have done with a few drops of vanilla extract to give it a bit more flavour. This cake could easily be dressed up for a children’s party with some simple butter cream and sweeties!

This is a great basic cake for those days when you just want something easy and tasty.

Plain and simple but yummy all the same!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Orange Wholemeal Victoria Loaf

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Three:  Page 314.

This cake sounds remarkably healthy. Not only does it help push us towards one of our five a day, it also has the added goodness of wholemeal flour. The prospect of a wholemeal cake would have horrified me when I was a child. It would have sounded far too nutritious!! What a change twenty odd years can make. I couldn't wait to tuck into something so seemingly wholesome!

Due to this wet and miserable weather, Isaac and I were stuck inside once again. He's really missing his trips to the swings so, to pass the time, we turned on the computer and logged on to Skype! We spent ages chatting to my parents and Isaac planted lots of kisses on the screen! We live some distance apart, so it is great for Isaac to be able to see his “Nanny and Bampy” and stay in touch.

After Isaac had scoffed a mammoth lunch, I grabbed my Baking Bible and laid it out on the kitchen worktop. Isaac observed from the living room. I think he was too full to run around, which made a change!! As I scanned through the list of instructions I was delighted by the simplicity of the recipe. Another of Mary's wonderful ‘all-in-ones’!

The butter had been sitting on the worktop softening all morning. I know I shouldn't become smug, but I'm getting so much better at remembering to soften butter. It's only taken me about 190 recipes to get there!!! Neil had kindly bought me some Kilner jars to store all my different types of sugar, nuts and dried fruits. He is desperately trying to bring some order to the chaotic kitchen! I confidently strode over to the cupboard to pluck the jar of light muscovado sugar from the shelf. A sense of unease spread though me as, although I easily located various jars of sugar, the only one not in evidence was light muscovado. Uh oh! I spent some time checking the shelves, starting at the top and working my way down. I pulled packets and jars forward to peer behind. Of course, some while later, I found the sugar on the bottom shelf, tucked behind a jar of pasta sauce and a tin of chickpeas! Hooray – I was so pleased that I felt tempted to tap out a jig. However, I sensibly thought better of it and went to weigh the sugar instead!

I wished that this recipe had called for more eggs. The milkman delivers half a dozen every Friday and I am running out of places to store them! I went to open a box only to discover that I'd been sent medium instead of large. Tsk, tsk! As I had several boxes to choose between it wasn't a problem. I'll have to make a gigantic omelette to use up the smaller ones! I cracked two eggs into the mixing bowl and then turned my attention to the flour. I required the same quantity of wholemeal and self-raising white flour. As with all the other ingredients, the amounts seemed so small. I wasn't sure how the mixture would ever fill a 2lb loaf tin and I wondered if perhaps a 1lb tin would be more suitable! The last ingredient to be included was the all important orange. Only the zest was required. Neil often eats an orange in the evening (I know, very rock and roll) and I felt sure that he wouldn't mind peeling a bold orange so it wouldn't be wasted.

All that was left was to give the mixture a good old beating with my electric whisk. Mary says to beat for two minutes or until smooth and well blended. It really did take about two minutes to combine. To begin with it was quite lumpy and stiff. However, the mixture lightened considerably in colour and was much looser after the time was up. Reassuringly Mary mentions that we shouldn't expect the mixture to fill the tin. This was such a relief, as it didn't look as though there was anywhere near enough! I spread it out as best I could and placed it into the warm oven.

I was a bit taken aback when I picked Isaac up to take him to bed. As I lifted him into my arms he suddenly exclaimed - “Juicy”. I wasn't really sure how to take that! Thankfully things were made clear when he carried on to say “Juicy...... orange” He must have caught a whiff of the zested orange!

I left the cake to cook for the suggested forty minutes. When I returned to the oven I was pleased to find that it had risen and was cooked through. I tipped it straight out onto a wire rack to cool. Although it had doubled in size it was still on the small side. Whilst it cooled I wolfed down my lunch at startling speed. Luckily no one was here to witness such an unattractive sight!

I went back to the kitchen to make the icing. Again the quantities of ingredients were on the modest side. I beat together some butter, icing sugar and a tablespoonful of marmalade. As the total amount was so small I didn't bother with the electric whisk and simply used a wooden spoon instead. Once smooth, I piled the icing on top of the cake and smoothed it out with a knife. It didn't look particularly exciting but I was looking forward to sampling a slice all the same!

As soon as I'd finished one slice I found myself reaching for another. Just a slither of course! This cake really ticked all the boxes for me. It was light and beautifully moist. The wholemeal flour worked well with the standard white. I expect if only wholemeal had been used the resulting loaf would have been too heavy. The flavour of orange was subtle but came through more strongly in the icing. Adding marmalade to the icing worked wonders; the flavour was delicious. I feel sure that I will make this simple and tasty cake over and over again. It is one of my favourites from the Baking Bible. It really is a cake that the whole family can enjoy.
Might not look very exciting but I loved it!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Boozy Fruit Cake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety Two:  Page 68.

I haven't made a fruit cake for some while. I often hesitate to make them due to the large number of ingredients required and the lengthy cooking time. However, I still have plenty of fruit cakes left to bake and I don't want them all to be left until the end. It certainly wouldn't make for a very thrilling conclusion!

Our weekend was expensive. Our car was at death’s door and it would cost more than it was worth to fix. We had to get a new one fast! The man at the showroom looked bemused when we arrived with all but the kitchen sink. We had to make sure our enormous pushchair and two cars seats would fit. Isaac wasn't fussed about being shoved in and out of cars. He was ecstatic to be clutching a stone he'd found on the forecourt!! We are now the owners of a large family car. Boring and predictable may be, but really the most practical choice!

I didn't get started on the boozy fruit cake until Isaac's tea time. He sat munching his way through Marmite on toast while I got baking. Unfortunately, I first had to do my least favourite job of lining the tin. This time it was even more challenging as I had to line both the base AND the sides, not with one layer but two -argh!! As my every move was being closely observed by a 22 month old, I was careful to keep my frustration to myself. I glued on a smile and pretended that grappling with greaseproof paper and a buttered tin is in fact a great way to spend an afternoon!

I couldn't find a clean sharp knife to chop up several handfuls of dried dates. I ended up using a blunt knife from our cutlery drawer. Suffice to say it took plenty of elbow grease to saw my way through the tough dates. Mission accomplished, it was time to locate a decent sized saucepan and start weighing in the ingredients. For a change I'd actually remembered to take the butter from the fridge hours beforehand. However, I didn't understand the point of softening the butter as it was to be melted in the pan!! Instead of using sugar I was to add a good quantity of golden syrup. Isaac's little feet kicked with excitement when he witnessed the sugary syrup tumble from the tin into the awaiting pan!

I trotted over to the fridge and pulled out a large bottle of milk. We get through so much that I was relieved to see that there was more than enough for the recipe - no need for a dash to the shop! I poured a substantial amount into the pan to join the syrup and butter. I hoped I'd have enough room for all the dried fruit; things were already looking a bit tight!

I collected the raisins and sultanas from the shelf. When Isaac saw the raisins he kept repeating the word over and over again. He must have remembered them from the snack packs I'd bought him a few months ago. He'd refused to eat the sweet treats and wanted to play with the boxes instead! As he had shown some interest, I placed a few raisins onto his tray before busying myself with finding and weighing the currants. When I turned back I was amazed to see him happily tucking into the raisins. Maybe seeing me use them had sparked his curiosity!

Chopped candied peel was the last fruit to be included. I am not a huge lover of candied peel. It would be playing only a small part in this cake so I doubted if I would even notice its existence! Last into the saucepan were some chopped walnuts. I had cheated a little and bought some already broken. This meant I could add them quickly and just break up the larger pieces with my fingers. I placed the fit to burst saucepan onto a low heat and waited for the butter to melt. Once this was achieved I turned up the heat very slightly and let it simmer gently for about five minutes. The smell wafting through the kitchen was delicious. It reminded me of Christmas pudding; it was hard to resist shoving a spoon into the pan and scoffing the lot!

Mary says to leave the piping hot mixture to cool a little. I wasn't quite sure how long that should be, it really was steaming hot! By now Isaac had moved onto his second course and was offering his own running commentary. Shame he hasn't yet learned not to talk with his mouth full – yoghurt and banana sprayed everywhere!!! He enjoyed watching me sift the flour and mixed spice into a large mixing bowl. He kept saying “Woweeeeee”! I had a mad hunt for the bicarbonate of soda; I could find three open tubs of baking powder but that wasn't much use to me! Neil, who has the advantage of height, came along and whipped the bicarbonate of soda from the top shelf of the cupboard. He is very handy to have around!!!

I cracked a couple of eggs into the bowl of flour then gave the hot fruity mixture a stir. It had been cooling for fifteen minutes and, although it was still roasting hot, I decided to tip it into the mixing bowl. I just hoped the heat didn't cause the flour to go lumpy or the eggs to scramble. I beat the mixture and, thankfully, neither occurred. Phew!

The mixture was fairly wet, so I was able to tip it easily into the badly lined tin and then place it into the warm oven. It would take around an hour and a half to cook, so we all went into the living room and attempted to tidy up the vast number of toys before Isaac's bedtime. Hmmm! Somehow it managed to look decidedly worse by the time the little monkey went up for his bath!! I headed back into the kitchen to make dinner while Neil dealt with bedtime.

Just as I was about to dish up our evening meal I remembered that the cake was still merrily cooking in the other small oven. I whipped it out and it was perfectly cooked through but still lovely and moist. I left it to cool a little while I dished up our slightly burnt dinner! Quick as a flash I tipped out the cake and poured over some brandy. Mary says in her introduction that this cake does not require any maturing. I was left confused as, in the instructions, it says to pour over some of the brandy and then wrap it up and feed it at intervals. I wanted to test if it really is a quick, no maturing cake, so I poured over the total amount of brandy. Most of the brandy sloshed onto the worktop – so I don't think the cake received its fair share! I wrapped the cake in baking paper and foil; I would leave it overnight and see what it tasted like the following afternoon.

The next day I unwrapped the cake. It looked a lot flatter than I'd remembered! It felt rather sticky as I cut into it and looked very moist inside. Neil and I both agreed that it was packed full of delicious fruit and we could both taste the walnuts. The candied peel was in evidence in one or two mouthfuls but I found myself quite enjoying the zesty flavour! I am pleased to report that the cake worked well as a quick fruit cake. I personally don't feel that it required any further maturing. It was a squidgy moist fruit cake packed full of flavour and one to make again.
Apologies for the rubbish photo!!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Treacle Spice Traybake

Recipe Number One Hundred & Ninety One:  Page 184.

This traybake easily won the Facebook Poll but, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure if it would be something I'd enjoy. I'm not overly keen on treacle, and the title suggests that it features heavily in this recipe.

I woke up bright and early in the morning and felt sorely tempted to roll over and go straight back to sleep. Sadly that wasn't an option! I'd spent most of the night awake and only managed to drift off a few hours before our alarm clock went off. Isaac is a very reliable alarm clock – 7 o'clock on the dot! The morning seemed to drag but a trip to the park helped break the day up. Due to the chilly breeze I did feel a little more alert! After pushing Isaac on the swings and following him around the play area while he carried out his usual inspections, we headed to the shop. I'd only ventured inside to get butter for the traybake. However, when I arrived at the till I also discovered broccoli, apples, bananas and tinned fruit in my basket. At least they were all healthy – which is not normally the case!! Once home it was time for Isaac's lunch. I decided to make a start on the cake as soon as he had finished. If I'd taken the opportunity to sit down there would have been a danger that I wouldn't get up again!

I was so pleased to see that this was yet another of Mary's easy and quick traybake recipes. They really are so simple and straightforward. I popped the mixing bowl onto my kitchen scales and weighed in my first ingredient. Obviously the fridges at the shop do not run at a very cold temperature as the butter was already super soft and we’d only been home about half an hour! For some reason I'd expected to use a dark sugar, such as Muscovado. I was glad to be using caster sugar. Muscovado and treacle would have made for a very rich and dark cake. The next task was to dig a packet of self-raising flour out from the bottom of the kitchen cupboard. I weighed 225g into the bowl, buried the packet back into the depths of the cupboard and then reached for the baking powder. I checked through the list of ingredients again and realised that I hadn't added enough flour. I had read it wrong; it should have been 275g. I had another dig around in the cupboard and retrieved the flour for a second time. My reflexes were put to the test when I lost my grip on the bag with one hand and masterfully caught it with the other. It was a shame that a large quantity of flour managed to escape and covered the front of my trousers. Trying to brush it off made things worse! If only I had read the recipe correctly in the first place!

To give the mixture a kick I sprinkled in a couple of teaspoonfuls of mixed spice. I could almost feel my tongue burning at the mere thought of all that spice!! I retrieved the bottle of milk from the fridge and found a tablespoon to measure the milk into the mixing bowl. I had expected to use the tablespoon for the treacle too. As it turned out, I would be adding quite a bit more than just a few tablespoonfuls. Over 200g of treacle seemed an awful lot to me! It was a shame that the smell of the sticky treacle made me feel more than just a little queasy. This did not bode well for the cake! I checked and then rechecked the recipe to see how many eggs I should include. I was left confused when I saw no mention of them. I wondered what sort of texture this eggless cake would have.

Once all of the ingredients were in the bowl I made use of my electric whisk. Mary says to beat for two minutes or until the mixture is well combined. As I started whisking, the mixture rose up from the bowl, quickly working its way to the top of the beaters. My poor hand held mixer ended up smothered in cake mixture!

The lack of eggs meant that I could have a taste of the uncooked batter. Rather annoyingly on this one occasion I didn't really fancy it. However, it would have been rude not to try it. If it had not been for the overwhelming kick of treacle it might have been alright; it was very strong! As I spread the mixture into my lined traybake tin it soon became clear that I had barely enough to cover the bottom of the tin; spreading it took me longer than making the actual cake! It was going to be as thin as a pancake if it didn't rise in the oven!

I placed the tin into the oven and hoped for the best. I then decided I would risk having a sit down, bliss! The thirty-five minutes soon passed and I went back to the oven to check on the cake. As I opened the door I thought the cake smelt and looked like a dark gingerbread. The middle was still very soft, so I put it back into the oven for another ten minutes. By this time it appeared to be cooked through. Mary says not to worry if the cake sinks a little in the middle as it just means that there was a bit too much treacle added. I was annoyed to see a dip in mine as I had been so careful to weigh the treacle accurately!

I left the cake to cool in the tin and then tipped it out on to a wire rack to cut into pieces. Although the edges had made a vague attempt to rise, the middle had offered only a pitiful effort. It really was as flat as a pancake! To try to prettify the situation, I followed Mary's suggestion and dusted some icing sugar over the top. I was pleasantly surprised when I finally took a bite. The treacle wasn't as strong as I had feared; it seemed to have mellowed a little in the oven. It had a vague toffee flavour. The best part for me was the texture of this traybake. It was dense and a little chewy but, at the same time, it almost melted in my mouth! It was very different to what I am used to! I can imagine that it would go very nicely with a warm bowl of custard. I wonder if it might work better as a dessert than a cake!
Shame the smell made me feel a bit squiffy!!