Love cakes and baking? Me too!

Welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy reading about my efforts in the kitchen!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Bakin' with Berries - just call me Mary (geddit?)

Hi y'all!

Long time, no blog. I have been doing the occasional bit of baking since I last wrote, in October, but I've neglected to upload the results. Sorry about that!

So, recently, I've been baking with berries - cranberries to be specific. After all, "'tis the season", and all that. As well as the two baking projects below, I made some white chocolate Rocky Road, re-branded it as Rudolph's Rocky Runway, and gifted it to loved ones. If you want to find out more about this easy-to-make but delicious confection, see my February 2013 blog entry.

Cranberry biscuits:
Baking-wise, I have been trying a few different things recently, all of which have been a bit of a departure from the "fairy cakes" with which I first began this blog. The results have been mixed, but I'm learning lots from my experiments in the kitchen. Yesterday, I attempted to make some cranberry biscuits following a Good Housekeeping Baking Book recipe which calls for "ground rice" (an ingredient that I have never used before) along with butter, sugar, flour and cranberries. Now, biscuits are seldom as pretty as cupcakes, but mine were particularly mis-shapen! This was, in part, because I positioned some of them too close together on the baking sheet, so they spread, then merged in the oven, and had to be broken to separate. I had also been inconsistent with the width, length and height of each one so some were rather more well done than others. They taste good though, and fortunately none were actually burnt(!)

These fragile little biscuits taste nice and are especially good with a cuppa. They're quite buttery, and they melt in the mouth. The ground rice gives them quite a grainy texture, which is interesting.

I wanted to send some of these to a friend in the post, so I packaged them up in one of the snowflake cellophane bags that I've been using to present to baked goods in this season. I tried to choose biscuits that were fairly uniform in shape and size to send. Fingers cross they get there in one piece!

I'm keeping the remaining "misfits" to be shared over the new year.

Nigella's breakfast bars:
Of these breakfast bars, Nigella writes "I'm addicted to these, and so is everyone I give them to", and it's true - they are addictive. I make them quite regularly now as they are super-easy to throw together, they keep really well, and people go nuts for them (sorry, I can never resist a pun). I made them for my Year 11 class who, with the exception of the girl with a sesame seed allergy(!), loved them. Indeed one of the students requested the recipe and made a batch to take on her D of E expedition. A colleague of mine also requested the recipe. I referred both individuals to the following web-page:

If I'm totally honest, when I initially tasted my first ever batch of these, I was momentarily disappointed. I think I was expecting them to taste like flapjacks, but, whilst they contain rolled oats, they don't contain any honey or syrup so they're quite a different outcome. My dad and I always joke that the legendary milk chocolate Rocky Road that I make (see my February 2013 blog entry) is, in fact, a fruit bar (as it contains a small amount of dried fruit), but these breakfast bars really are, I think, more akin to those "health bars" that you can buy than (though much nicer) than a really naughty indulgence (which is how I justify having one, sometimes two in a day). As well as porridge oats, these bars contain cranberries, mixed seeds, shredded coconut, and peanuts. Condensed milk (a favourite of Nigella's and a complete revelation to me) is used as the sweetening and binding agent. Now that I've made these half a dozen times, I'm thinking that, in future, I might experiment with creating some variations on the original recipe. I like the idea of using dried cherries and maybe some different varieties of nuts in there. These bars are a great breakfast-on-the-go and they really do keep hunger at bay until lunchtime.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Halloween Pumpkin Cupcakes with two-tone orange 'n' white frosting... (AKA Unwittingly pretty peach cupcakes)

With All Souls Day looming, I thought I'd put my Libby's canned pumpkin to good use and make some spiced, autumnal cupcakes. These turned out well - really moist with a subtle chai flavour resulting from the mixture of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg (yes, I made the same sponge batter a year ago in November).

In terms of decorating, I planned to use Betty Crocker's cream cheese frosting (rather than making my own) to create a two-tone orange and white piped effect (to give the desired Halloween-y feel). I mixed my own shade of "orange" by combining using a red and yellow food dye but the result was a delicate peach hue. Gorgeous but not very Halloween-y - note the contrasts in shades of orange below!

I must say, Betty Crocker's frosting isn't a patch on home-made cream-cheese frosting. It's overly-sweet, somewhat artificial tasting and rather looser in consistency than I am used to. I have another couple of tubs to get through, as they were on offer (3 for 2) which incentivised me to bulk buy, but going forward, I will definitely be making my own frosting. That said, I appreciated the ease of being able to simply spoon the product straight into the piping bag without first dispersing icing sugar all over my kitchen and living space as is customary with making one's own from scratch (it literally goes everywhere, doesn't it?!)

So... over all, even though these cakes didn't come out quite as intended, I did like the two-tone effect, and I plan to try this piping technique to create roses on top of some future cupcakes. Watch this space...

Friday, 27 September 2013

Classic Victoria Sponge

I've been baking a lot of Victoria sponges recently using a brilliant, all-in-one recipe by Fiona Cairns. It's a fuss-free, seemingly fool-proof recipe that calls for golden caster sugar plus the standard self-raising flour, eggs, soft butter, baking powder and vanilla extract, and it produces a lovely, moist, light-as-air sponge. Aesthetically, the humble sponge sandwich isn't much to look at so I've generally not bothered snapping my efforts these last few weeks, but this cake was a gift for a friend so I went to a bit more trouble and cut out the letters of her name for a stencil effect. Good job I took this photo actually - I dropped the cake tin with Vicky inside as I left the house on the morning I was due to deliver the surprise. She wasn't too badly damaged although the letters had lost a bit of their definition. The cake was, nevertheless, well-received :-)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Rocky Road to Romance

White chocolate rocky road - a new favourite!

"The course of true love never did run smooth", "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach..." - there are many proverbs which make rocky road the perfect valentine's day treat IMHO ;-) For this valentine's day, I made classic rocky road (using the recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook) which has been a real hit with every man whose been lucky enough to have ne make it for him. I also made something a bit different - a variation on this classic - white chocolate rocky road made from melted white choc, cranberries, pistachio nuts, ginger nut biscuits, coconut and mini marshmallows. It tastes divine! Really quite different from the milk chocolate version, but no less delicious. I will definitely be making it again. It would make a nice Christmas gift, particularly if you packaged it up nicely in snowflake-patterned cellophane food bags. I packaged up my bite-size rocky road pieces in these cute bags with pink and red hearts on which made them look very festive. The recipients, loved ones who have been very kind to me in the last couple of months, were very grateful indeed. And check out my vintage china! I got a full set of cups, saucers, sandwich plates and a cake plate from a charity shop in the centre of Cambridge for £19.95. Bargain, eh? The delicate green colour of the crockery doesn't show up brilliantly in all my pictures - I think the flash has bleached out the subtle colours, as it so often does, but hopefully you get the idea. A belated Happy St Valentine's day to you all!

Wizard of Oz cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for the colleagues who were closely involved in the putting on the production of "The Wizard of Oz" with me in the school where I work. They made good little thank you pressies - people do always seem to appreciate it when you go to a bit of trouble and personalise your thanks, I find! I made the toppers myself. Very easy in fact! I found some iconic images from the film, printed them on card and cut each one into a disk shape using a brilliant little gadget from "hobbycraft". Using cellotape, I then attached the image to a cocktail stick and, to conceal the unsightly and slightly amateurish appearance of the taped stick, I attached another identically-sized image on the reverse using mini double-sided sticky pads. The cakes were quite plain - vanilla sponge with regular, buttercream frosting (tinted Oz green, of course!) A few silver dragees were added for a bit of Glinda-esque sparkle. Sorry that the quality of the photos isn't brilliant - taken on my phone.....