Sunday, December 30, 2012

On my Bookshelf: Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache

I want to share with you what I spent most of Christmas Day reading. The book that has inspired me to get back into the kitchen after my marathon Christmas cooking bout, and to get back to writing again to boot!

Really, what's not to love about this book? From title, to photos, to the writing and recipes. This book is proudly devoted to the total indulgence of the senses and is written by a woman who understands cake completely - from its chemistry to its soul, via the emotional needs it fills. 
"Of all foods, cake is the most fun and, as such, shouldn't belong only to the elite (those with fast metabolisms who just "don't diet", those who have no intolerences to wheat or dairy, or who have never had to take into account gall-bladder or cholestrol related concerns.)"
This is no ordinary book of cakes, with the same old recycled recipes. No ma'am! These are cakes which are good for the body and the soul. A must-have for all those needing low fat, low GI, dairy free or gluten free recipes. Instead of  butter and wheat flour, she uses a combination of ground almonds, rice flour and vegetables - sweet potato, carrot, courgette, pumpkin, butternut squash, potato and even swede!

Usually healthy baking books are written by health nuts whose taste buds have been killed off by years of dedicated tofu eating and wheat grass smoothies, and so flavour or texture are compromised, because having been sugar, dairy and everything else free for so long, they are frankly delighted to find anything sweet that they can eat. 

Not so Harry, who reassuringly says: "I didn't write this book because I'm obsessed with healthy food. I wrote it because I adore cake." And this love of cake shines through the pages. It's pretty, girly and voluptuous!

Recipes include: Forbidden (beetroot) Brownies, Steamed Golden Syrup Pudding (turnip),  Lemon and Lavender Drizzle Cake (courgette), Parsnip Vanilla Fudge, not forgetting the eponymous Chocolate Heartache (aubergine!) and Red Velvet (beetroot) cakes.

These recipes have been tried and tested meticulously, and as an avid baker, reading her testing diaries was fascinating. I can't wait to try most of them. And share them with you here!

Harry Eastwood first launched her career co-presenting the TV series and book Cook Yourself Thin. She has built her reputation on real food that's better for you. Having previously known her from TV, I had no idea what a superb writer she was. The way she describes the personalities of each of the cakes is inspired. Take her "Autumn Apple and Cider Cake": 
"This cake is dignified. She takes her time but is never late, and hates shop-bought marmalade. She always remembers your birthday, and her presents are tied with real ribbon. Patient and wise, this cake is a warm shawl against the biting wind and the death of the year."
Though full of virtuous cakes, which will top up your fibre and micro nutrients, rather than your cholesterol, this book is anything but worthy. True decadence!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Traditions: Fresh cranberry choc chip cookies

These are a recent Christmas tradition for me. A discovery from Rose Levy Beranbaum's festive book: Rose's Christmas Cookies. They are by necessity a seasonal treat in a world where you can have anything you want year round, as they require fresh cranberries which we can only get for a couple of weeks in early December. Frozen cranberries don't work and dried cranberries just don't cut it for these jewelled wonders.

Just a gentle suggestion, but you might want to double the quantities. That's if you're willing to share. But the heavenly smell wafting from the oven of chocolate, orange and toasted walnuts will mean that your secret won't be safe for long!

Makes 30

Preheat oven to 170C
50g walnuts, toasted
160g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Zest of one orange, removed with potato peeler and finely chopped
75g granulated sugar
80g soft light brown sugar
110g soft butter
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
150g fresh cranberries
150g dark or white choc chips or chunks

Cream the sugars and butter with an electric whisk till light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest. Add flour and baking soda, mix till combined. Chop the cranberries (the bigger they are, the juicier, and therefore soggier, the final cookies) and walnuts, add and stir by hand to combine.

Spoon mix out onto lined baking sheets, a heaped tablespoon for each. Don't overcrowd. It will make 30, so you will need to use 3-4 baking sheets.

Bake for about 12-15mins, turning the sheets halfway through cooking. They should be golden and still soft. Leave to cool for a couple of mins on the baking sheet before tranfering to a wire cooling rack.

Christmas Traditions: Our Simple Gingerbread House

One of our Christmas traditions is making a gingerbread house. We never had gingerbread houses in my childhood, but I loved the magic of them in stories of Hansel and Gretel: an edible house, covered in sweets - the food of every child's dreams.

This is a quick, simple melt-it-down, one pan method for yummy gingerbread, which I originally got from a kids' TV show! I have adapted it a little, but it's still super simple.

My children range from 2-7 and all helped in all the processes bar one. Sticking the house together with molten toffee is an adult's only job. Please be careful! I manage to burn myself every year!

We decorate it all together, so it is homely rather than super-fancy, but if it was too pretty we wouldn't want to eat it, and that's half the fun! My children love making it as much as eating it. It gets softer and chewier the longer it is left out. We usually admire ours for a couple of days before demolishing it with friends for a festive tea party.

See my personal blog for the mayhem that ensued when we made ours this year: Those Infamous Words: Let's Make a Gingerbread House

Preheat oven to 180C


100g butter
50g white sugar
50g soft brown sugar
200g golden syrup
400g self raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon

150 g caster sugar

1 pack of royal icing mix or 300g icing sugar sieved and mixed to a thick icing with a little water (and a couple of drops of lemon extract)

To decorate - chocolate buttons, Smarties, dolly mixtures...

First make the gingerbread. Melt sugars, syrup and butter gently in a pan. Remove from the heat. Stir in flour and spices. Stir until combined.

Pour onto a non stick sheet of parchment. Roll out to about 2mm thick. Cut out.

You will need:
2 long walls 10 cm x 25 cm - you can cut doors and windows out of it now, or ice them on later.
2 end walls 10 cm wide with a triangle on top.
Two roof pieces 25cm x 8cm.
Chimney:four pieces 2cmx 4cm, cut a triangle out of the base of two so it  attaches to the roof.

Cook for 10-15 mins, keep a careful eye on them so they don't go too dark around the edges. Cool on a wire rack before icing. Un-iced they keep well for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin, and are crisp. Iced they keep fine but are soft.

Whilst they are cooling, melt the sugar for the toffee in a pan until it is light conker colour. (remember no kiddies involved here!) Do not stir! Take off heat as it will continue cooking. Plunge into a bowl or sink of cool water. Then quickly, but carefully, use a spoon and run a line of toffee down the inner edge of one of the long wall, super fast, attach a short wall to it. Do the same with the other two walls. Then the rooves, and then stick the chimney together in one piece before attaching it to the roof. If the toffee starts to cool and get too hard, just pop it on the heat for a couple of minutes to soften.

Then mix up the royal or water icing. Use a piping bag, or spoons to cover the roof, make snowy windows etc. Cover with sweets as you go. Chocolate buttons cut in half or overlapped make great roof tiles!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

No bake flap jacks

For Sarah

Five minutes start to finish. Plus an hour in the fridge. Sweet, squidgy and reasonably healthy. These met with the women's group stamp of approval!

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups rice crispies
3 - 3 1/2 cups porridge oats, NOT jumbo or rolled oats
1 handful each pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and unblanched almonds

Melt butter, sugar and honey gently in a largish pan, when sugar is dissolved let it come up to boil for 2 mins.

Stir in vanilla. Chop almonds into slivers. Stir in 3 cups of oats, the rice crispies and half the nuts and seeds. If it still seems too syrupy and sticky add more oats.

Turn into a brownie tin lined with baking paper. Press down and sprinkle remaining nuts and seeds over.

Chill in fridge for 1 hour then cut into 16 squares.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Butterscotch blondies

Not as tooth achingly sweet as other blondies I've had, and with a real butterscotch tang. Great bars for when you need a sweet hit but can't have chocolate.

Very simple method.

Preheat oven to 160 C fan. As its preheating toast 3/4 cup of pecans in it until 1 shade darker.

Melt 3/4 cup butter in a pan. Remove from heat.

Stir in 1 cup +1 tbsp soft brown sugar. Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of mins.

Stir in 1 1/2 cups plain flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 eggs and a pinch of salt. Add the pecans. Stir till combined.

Pour into a lined 9 in square tin. Bake for 12-15 mins till golden, no longer runny when you tip it but still slightly gooey in the middle.

Cool in tin. Cut into 16. Best first day when still warm, but stays gooey for days, just the nuts get a little soggy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fairy sandwiches

OK, so this is neither baking, nor really a recipe. But it's a fondly remembered sweet treat from my childhood, and now a much requested part of my children's repertoire. We have it for picnics - indoors or out - and of course birthday teas.

If you love fairies too, or have children who do, be sure to check out my article on Dancing with the Flower Fairies in the summer issue of the beautiful, free e-zine, Rhythm of the Home 

Sugar Sprinkles/ hundreds and thousands
Super fresh sliced white bread
Soft butter

Spread the bread thickly with butter, allow at least one slice per person, and be prepared to make more!!
Sprinkle with multi coloured hundreds and thousands (sugar strands).
Cut into tiny, dainty triangles, fit for a fairy – be sure to take the crusts off – neither fairies nor children like them!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Eternal summer sponge with raspberries and rosewater

I make no secrets about how much I love roses - to look at, to smell... and to eat. This cake combines the three of these to create a sponge which sings of summer - yet could be met even in the depths of winter.

Imagine a lemony sponge as light as a summer cloud, filled with ripe raspberries and creamy vanilla scented mascarpone topped with a rosewater icing and crystallised rose petals. This is summer on a plate, just begging to be served outside in the sun for a perfect summer celebration.

I know it looks complicated, but I made it from start to finish in 1 hour - and I was creating the recipe as I went!! If you have kids or other willing helpers get them to make the water icing and do the rose petals. Be aware that they use raw egg - so make sure you are using really fresh egg white from a reputable source. These are even better made the day before so they can really crisp up. They last for weeks in an air tight jar.

If you want to make too much water icing, you can thicken up what's left with a little more icing sugar, roll into balls and leave to set in the fridge and then dip in dark chocolate for gorgeous old fashioned rose creams, perfect for an after-dinner treat.

Pre heat oven to 170C (fan), 180C standard
2 x 8 inch (20cm) round tins, greased and lined

210g butter
220 g sugar
4 eggs
110 ml milk (100 ml if using lemon juice)
3 tsp baking powder 
220g flour
zest 1 lemon
1 tsp lemon extract or 1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

250 g tub mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp icing sugar

150 g raspberries

Rose water icing
125g icing sugar
2 tsp rose water
drop of red food colouring

Crystalised rose petals
1 egg white
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 pink or white scented rose

Beat the soft butter and sugar together till light and fluffy with electric whisk. Add eggs one by one whisking in. Then flour and baking powder. Whisk for 2 mins, then add in the milk to loosen the mix a little. Add vanilla, lemon zest and juice/ extract.

Pour into two greased lined 8inch tins. Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and skewer comes out clean.

Meanwhile get on with the crystalised rose petals - with a clean paint brush paint both sides of each rose petal completely with egg white. Sprinkle with caster sugar and leave to dry on a sheet of baking parchment.

Leave to cool in tins for 5 mins, then carefully turn out on to a wire rack and leave to cool for at least 30 mins before icing.

To make the rose icing combine the sugar and rose water and colour in a bowl. You may need a little more icing sugar or rose water depending on consistency, it needs to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and drip very slowly and lazily off!

For the filling mix the mascarpone with vanilla and sugar with a spatula or spoon, taste and add a little more sugar if desired. Mix through the raspberries, squashing slightly as you stir.

When the cake is cool to the touch, sandwich together with the filling, pour the rose water icing over the top (it will drip down slightly) and scatter with rose petals. Serve immediately, but keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Strawberry cream queen cakes

Strawberries mean summer for me. And these dinky darlings have become a classic for special summer tea parties on the lawn.

These are a grown-up take on the British classic of childhood, butterfly cakes. Think basic fairy cakes - with magical cakey wings - which just makes them taste even more special! Be warned - kiddies love them too!

Make these at the last minute so that the cream doesn't melt and the strawberries are at their best.

Makes 16

12 hole muffin tin and 6 hole muffin tin with 16 paper cases
Preheat oven to 170C

270g plain flour
240g caster sugar
3 tsp baking powder
110g soft butter
240ml full fat milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

200 ml cream - whipped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp icing sugar, sieved

4 tbsp strawberry jam

150g fresh strawberries, sliced

icing sugar for dusting

With a handheld electric whisk mix the butter into the flour, baking powder and sugar until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk, egg and vanilla. Whisk for 2 mins until well combined. It will look much runnier than a normal cake mix! Divide between 12 fairy cake cases. Bake for 15-20 min - keep a careful eye on these, they need to be light golden and springy. They will be dry if they get to the dark golden stage.

Leave in the tin for 5 mins then transfer to a wire cooling rack. Leave for at least 40 mins until quite cool to the touch.

When they are cool, whip the cream, add the vanilla and icing sugar.

Cut off the tops (carefully!!) so that they are flat. Then cut this piece into two - these are the wings. With a teaspoon dig out a small hole, (removing just a teaspoonful of cake)- this is not needed and can be eaten as you go!!!

Then either with a piping bag (if you're confident with them) or a teaspoon, add a 1/4 tsp of strawberry jam in the bottom of the hole, then a heaped teaspoonful of cream, then 3-4 slices of strawberry- making sure that the outer, seeded sides of the strawberry are showing - then perhaps a little more cream, enough to carefully stick the wings into - they need to be placed curved sides up, baked sides in.

Do them all, then dust with a little icing sugar. Eat straight away or keep cool in the fridge.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Perfect Pecan Choc Chip Cookies

Pecan nuts and chocolate are a classic combination. In our house the kids hate nuts so I make half a batch with and half without.

I realised that I have been focusing on cakes on the blog - when in reality about 50% of my baking is cookies. A strange oversight you might think. But the reality is, photographing cookies is tricky... and they tend not to last long enough (in our house) anyway!

But that stops here - I am famous for my cookies - so here's MY recipe (with a picture that someone else took!!)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Banana and ginger cake - low fat cake!

Low fat cake seems an oxymoron. But here we have it. A soft, moist cake where the banana and buttermilk mean a reduction of 50% of the butter and 25% of the sugar. Great for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. Keeps well for a week.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vanilla cupcakes

Friends will recognise these from my daughter's recent fairy princess birthday party where they were set upon by a throng of polyester-clad, four-year-old princesses-in-training!

This is my standard cupcake recipe which we make at least once a week. It is quick to whip up (even with little helpers) if you have friends calling round. They keep well (if you don't eat them!!) and are as light as a fairy to eat, and pretty to the eye! If you ice with a water icing they are much lower in fat than a normal cupcake. We tend to use a water icing on a day-to-day basis as the cakes don't have to be completely cold before you ice them.

The original recipe (which I have adapted) comes from The Hummingbird Bakery Cook Book.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Banana bread

My adaptation of Nigella's banana bread. But of course it's not really bread but a toffee moist cake that keeps well. I love eating it spread with butter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Uber-chocolate muffins

You know sometimes when you just NEED chocolate? This is the closest to an instant IV drip of homemade chocolate goodness that you can get.

As of now I am officially "on a diet"  - so of course I need chocolate!

I often have cravings for those warm chocolate muffins with melting choc chunks in that you get in cafes and supermarkets. Well, this is them. But without all the weird chemical preservatives. I cannot tell you how good they are.

I was told off last year for sharing recipes on how to use up easter eggs - no one has to do that I was told - well we do - so that's how we made our chocolate chunks!

Adapted from Joy of Baking who in turn borrowed it from King Arthur Flour  Baker's Companion!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Speedy chocolate sauce

I recently made the fudgey All-American Chocolate cake but was in too much of a hurry to eat it to wait for it to cool. And so I made a speedy, no cook, chocolate sauce to pour over and served it warm, like a brownie with ice cream.

Though I have given a stand alone recipe here, in truth what I did was make up the full volume of cocoa and water needed for the recipe, and then just used half to make one cake - I was trying to be a good girl! - and the other half to make up the sauce!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...