Brownies Go Blond

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Blueberry Blondie

Can you say Blueberry Blondie?  I can’t.

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Looking Better – A Photo Retake

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Here’s a slightly more photogenic view of Australian Crunch:

Australian Crunch

A Domestic Month

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Snow in the Dark I

It’s hard to believe that we’re half way through February, the second month of the year.  I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s January 2013.  The weeks have flown past and I have been busy but again I’m bursting my own bubbles and believing that I haven’t really accomplished anything.

It’s funny how I always do that to myself.  I’m the biggest cheerleader going (minus ridiculously tiny clothes and gymnastic ability) for everyone else but I always knock myself down.  It’s never enough.  I always expect more, better from myself.  Why?

I still don’t know.

I set myself from goals for January and I didn’t really make them.  When I have been busy with other commitments then I’ve mostly been busy being Tired.  It’s been a month where honesty with myself has been challenging, in lots of ways, especially when I comes to owning up and being entirely realistic about my health.  My health isn’t good.  It isn’t good when I ignore it but when I choose to be aware, conscious and self-sympathetic, it can be a somewhat tough reality check.  For someone who has never understood the idea of doing just one thing at a time, being able to sit (and even lie down) with nothing doing is a little worrying, disturbing.

I have been too tired to knit.

That makes me miserable.

Knitting is how I express myself.

Knitting is how I enjoy myself.

Knitting is where I get material for blog posts.

No knitting.

Just too tired to work the needles, lift the yarn, never mind attempting to follow patterns.

I can count even worse when I am tired.

So I’m behind on the first goals of the year.

Have I failed?

I really don’t know.

I’ve done other things.

Made progress in other areas.

Does that compensate?

And I’ve been baking.

And in some ways, I’ve been find ‘me’ in that area too.

Or instead?

One of the first things that I tried this year was a friend’s coconut cake.

She made it for a day out a couple of months back and I was smitten.

Or smote?

Anyway, I should perhaps declare here that I don’t like coconut.

Or coconut doesn’t like me.

As coconut-loving husband didn’t come with us, he missed out.  So I decided I’d make one for us at home.

It was also covered in buttercream.

I need to say something about buttercream too.

I hate buttercream.

Always have.

I only occasionally met buttercream when I was a child and the whole not-mixed connection of lumpy, greasy butter and coarse, gritty sugar never did anything for me.

Husband has never met a bad buttercream in his life.

He can’t understand my surprise that buttercream can actually be quite good.

I now have a ‘thing’ for buttercream.

The recipe was sent through by email and I started making it up.

I got to nearly the end when I met the direction to ‘add the milk’.

No was there no milk in the ingredients.

Hmm.

I added a guestimated amount of milk, bearing vague memories of lemon drizzle cake in mind.

It didn’t turn out badly after all.

Possibly I added too much milk, but I only found out when friend kindly, and very eventually, sent through the correct measurement.  It didn’t come out too badly or soggy.

It was then smothered in buttercream.

Mmm.

Husband doesn’t think it tastes of coconut.

I don’t how he could come to that conclusion.

Coconut Cake w Buttercream

You can even see the decimated coconut in the photo!

Ah well.

Because I don’t get on with coconut, I rarely use any in baking.

I seem to have had a little bit of a coconut spree this month.

Because next up was Australian Crunch.

Another friend gave me the recipe.

It is much coveted as it something of a local culinary institution.

(I don’t think the Australians know anything about it, actually).

It’s a schooldays delicacy.

A frugal recipe that probably was adopted simply because you just chuck everything in a bowl and mix, because it uses up all sorts of odds and ends and as I said, it only requires cheap, basic store cupboard ingredients.  (Apart from coconut.  It’s getting hard to find decimated coconut in the supermarkets now that I actually want some!)

My middle school made it.

My husband’s school in this town didn’t.  He had never heard of it and really couldn’t get what the fuss was about.

However one of the other secondary schools in town did do it and several friends who attended that school, about the same time, are complete fans/addicts of the stuff.  Another friend who went to the third secondary school in town, about twenty years before, also remembers it very fondly, served with mint custard.  I know of another school, not too far away, that also made Australian Crunch.

To give you an idea of how desirable a foodstuff this is, I’ll tell you a story, a true story.

Some of the local bakeries have cottoned on to the fact that making and selling Australian Crunch would make them extremely popular with their customers.  I have friend who knows exactly which bakeries do it and what she thinks of them.

The other day, we were out together and stopped for her to buy a snack.  Faced with an entire panoply of freshly baked goodies, she chose Australian Crunch.  And before eating it, she photographed it with her mobile phone (isn’t technology great?!) and sent the photo to another Australian Crunch fan/addict.  I believe that the accompanying message was something along the lines of:  Naha, I have Australian Crunch and you don’t.

(We’re all highly mature adults round here).

My friend who gave me the recipe didn’t grow up round here so was oblivious to the status of the recipe she’d acquired.  She couldn’t quite understand why I was so excited to be given a copy!

Making Australian Crunch makes you very, very popular.

One of my other friends, a cake-hater and who thinks that my brownies are ridiculously rich and inedible  actually ended up having three pieces of it.  We couldn’t believe it.

Like some of the best things in life, it isn’t entirely photogenic.

Australian Crunch Abstract

But it’s good stuff.  Really good stuff.

Oh, and husband is now a fan/addict.

I made a second (double-sized!) batch shortly afterwards to fulfill demand.

There have been other culinary highlights.

These strawberries:

Strawberry of the Year

They were the best we’ve had all year.  It wasn’t a good summer for soft fruit.  And these were reduced too.

There is something unbelievable gorgeous about a sun-ripened, firm-fleshed, fruity, meaty strawberry.

I made red velvet cake.

From a packet, admittedly.

But, hey, honesty and realism do allow for ‘cheating’ now and then.

I honestly have tried to make it from scratch before but English food colouring and beetroots (even combined) failed utterly.

(If anyone has a decent recipe for an English version, please let me know!)

Red Velvet Cake Slice

And made cream cheese frosting to put on the top.

And thus started another ‘thing’.

Mmm Cream Cheese Frosting

(Baking Tip:  Always straighten up the edges of your cake, this will give you morsels to ‘test’ your frosting or icing with).

Because I’d made quite a big batch of frosting, I had to make a chocolate cake to use it up.

And discovered that my friends also have a ‘thing’ for cream cheese frosting, quite a serious ‘thing’.

(Oh and if you want to have a whale of an evening out, have one of those occasions where everything doesn’t go to plan, end up going out for impromptu meal then finish up by eating chocolate cake (with cream cheese frosting, naturally) in the car in a dark car park, cutting it up with a penknife.  (No guesses who has a penknife on them!)  To add to the entertainment stakes, the frosted cake needs to have be turned upside at some point so it looks something like a crash now).

This is the second chocolate cake:

Second Chocolate Cake

We wisely put two layers of frosting inside the cake and put a thin layer of melted chocolate on top.

(I hate it when there’s like an inch of chocolate on the top of a cake, it’s nearly impossible to cut through and then completely shatters when you finally force the knife blade through).

Oh, and some tinned cherries and cherry jam in the middle too.

However, because this could only happen in my world, our world, the chocolate was setting faster than we could spread it.  (It didn’t feel that cold but apparently the chocolate did).  So what do us little geniuses do to remedy the problem?  Hairdryer.  Hairdryer, my friends, is the baker’s best friend.

Enough said.

Anyway, in case you come to the unhealthy (and inaccurate) conclusion that we only ate cake in January (there was a lemon drizzle too, at another point), I’d like to share with you another first.

My first homemade soup!

(I know, it’s utterly shocking and scandalous that I could have got to this old age without ever having made soup).

Do you remember those chillies we grew?

The ones that were never jalapeño after all and so didn’t grow quite as big as expected?

Well, they pack quite a punch.

We’re having to use them carefully and sparingly.

I garlic-pressed two wee chillies into my giant (I’ve been living on it for the last week!) soup batch.  Most of the skin was left behind.  And it didn’t taste too spicy.

Not then anyway.

It’s definitely ‘infused’ since.

It sneaks up on you.

And then kicks.

Homemade Soup

But what else can a girl do when life hands her a humongous butternut squash?

(By the way, husband is refusing to eat it.  Why?  Because sweet-toothed husband thinks it’s too sweet.  No, I don’t get that either).

Ah well.

That’s life.

Snow in the Dark II

Would You Like to Come to Tea?

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Once a month, me and my friends (I’m sorry but ‘my friends and I’ just sounds way too pretentious!) meet up to knit and crochet together.  We each take turns hosting it and the original idea was that we’d of course have a drink alongside (tea or coffee being somewhat obligatory in this country at least) and maybe a slice of cake.  Maybe.

The maybe cake has turned into a full-blown tea (of the afternoon tea variety and not the meal which may also be called dinner or supper).  I’m sure that you can believe that we are very conscientious in our sampling of all the wares!  Whilst the hostess is technically responsible for producing the eats, most bring ‘a little something’ too, resulting in quite an abundance and variety of delicious treats.

Last month it was my turn to host.  We don’t have an official rota but we’re running out of places that are big enough to take us all, our little group does seem to have expanded over the last year.  I have quite a big sitting room which is presentable but is in a rather derelict rest-of-house situation, especially when it comes to the bathroom.

It turns out that good friends are completely nonplussed by such issues.  They can also relate plenty of their own tales of DIY woe, although mine does seem to be on a particularly epic and enduring scale.  They genuinely believe that they’re just here to visit, knit (or crochet), chatter, preferably nibble/scoff and not to judge.

And I believe them because I trust them.

So I invited them all over.

But then of course started panicking.

I do that.

Tiling means that my house is experiencing a particularly bad episode of dustiness and there’s something heavy and imperturbable about any kind of building dust.  This is also a lovely terracotta colour which guaranteed to show on everything.  (I mean, it’s bad enough that we have black shelves in the sitting room, they advertise their dustiness very brazenly).

And I would have to cook.

I love baking.

But I get Tired.

And I have been Tired anyway.

Maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew?

I have had everyone over before, which was where the real embarrassment lay.  It doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress!  Or maybe enough.  I shared some photos then of what I made so I wonder if you would like to come to tea again?

My sponge cake was requested again so I really couldn’t not make that.  It’s a fairly straightforward although beating the egg whites to firm peak does require a chair and some television-distraction.

This was all that was left afterwards:

Last Piece of Sponge Cake

Not bad for a 26 cm diameter sponge do you think?!

(Well, several did take pieces home for spouses and children.  We don’t want them to miss out entirely!)

I think I’d like to invest in a square cake tin for the future, I use my round one all the time but for bigger occasions, it would be a lot easier to slice a smaller cake into squares then try to do wedges.  Wedges are fiddly things and tend to collapse.   You can more squares out then wedges.  You can see from the above photo that we ended up with rectangles after a while, we’re not quite sure how that happened from a round cake, but hey!  I just hand over the knife and tell someone else to brave it.  I don’t like cutting cakes.

But I did cut this one horizontally all by myself this time.  (I bake it as one cake and then it needs sawing in half with a very good knife).  It was a little wobbly and uneven but cream and jam hide a multitude of sins.  (Although they possibly produce others too!)

I also made some mini omelettes in bun tins, they weren’t particularly photogenic as I think I put too much spinach in.

Mini Omelettes

The first person who walked through my door that afternoon was accosted to try an omelette before I put them out.  I needed a taster, I’m allergic to egg!  They passed muster and out they went.  They did go down rather well, except for one poor friend who seemed to have all the chilli powder in hers.  Whoops.  We can laugh, fortunately.

If you want to have a go, use your normal omelette recipe but pour into bun tins and bake for something like twenty minutes.  Make sure you use a good quality bun tin because they will stick otherwise.  Even when greased.  (Ask me how I know!)  They’d be great for lunchboxes and picnics not just parties.

Then I moved onto a recipe that I first tried back in the summer but that didn’t turn out brilliantly at the time.  I decided to risk it again but use proper marshmallow puff for the insides.  I remember having the stuff when I was very wee (I’m not sure how or why because we were on a tight sugar-free diet at the time!) and I saw it again in America, the land of all sorts of amazing (and probably not entirely healthy) concoctions and confectionaries.  Friends send me a jar every so often.  But it’s now appearing in the supermarkets!  And the really good things is that it’s suitable for vegetarians whilst marshmallows aren’t.  Time for a marshmallow-fix!

Look What We Can Get Now

I made whoopie pies:

Vanilla Whoopie Pie

There was a recipe ages ago in the Sainsburys magazine and I never got to make it then.  There was a brief episode when ‘they’ were trying to make whoopie pies be the next big thing after the cupcake invention/discovery here.  It never quite took off in the same way.  Although I can now get a box of ‘whoopie pie’ mix in one of the local supermarkets.  I use inverted commas because they are made of sponge with icing the middle.  Not batter, not marshmallow, not really a whoopie pie.

Apparently, whoopie pies started with thrifty Amish housewives using up leftover batter (well, America is the land where they eat pancakes and waffles for breakfast) by baking it into little pies to put in the husband’s and children’s lunchboxes.  They also spread them with marshmallow puff, something that seems pretty ubiquitous to an American childhood.  The name is said to have come from the reaction when they were discovered.

Cute, no?

Naked Whoopie Pie

So I dared and I risked and I made them again.

The trick is not to use too much filling in the middle.  I thought that they would need loads to not be dry and bland but they just slip apart, disintegrate.  You only really need a smear.  Honestly.

Naked Whoopie Pies

And whilst making them (having had a realistic moment and starting with the plain straightforward vanilla recipe), I decided that I wanted to ‘liven’ them up a little.  I had food colourings and hundreds and thousands at my disposal.  Hm.  Primary school artistic science came back to me, if I add both blue and red food colourings, I would have purple icing!  Yes, small things do really please.  And purple icing rocks.  I like purple.  (I blame having a deprived sugar-free childhood, colouring is making its way into my baking all the time now).  And in any case, pink always looks so twee and girly and predictable, no pastels for me, thank you!

Alchemy in Progress

Purple Icing

Prepared Whoopie Pies

Well, the purple icing rocked but it kind of ended up looking a little too blue on the actual whoopie pies, it looked better on the tray.  Yes, I did make that much mess with the icing.  That’s why I had sensibly got a tray out.  And yes, I have told myself to refine my technique sometime.

Purple Icing on Tray

But everyone loved them.

They are fun.  I’m looking forward to making some more.

Oh, and don’t use tons of colouring but it actually starts becoming taste-able in the icing and it’s not a good taste.

I also made some madeleines because I haven’t made any for literally years.  I flavour them as the Spanish do for their magdalenas, with lemon and almond but make them in the French-style.  It’s the best of both worlds.

Fresh Madeleines

And amongst the treats that everyone else brought (and some had to take home again because we simply had more food than people or space!), was a cake that one friend had brought back from Hungary.  It’s a walnut cake and it’s more like a bread dough than cake per se and although it does look very dry, it’s yummy.  A little bit like baklava but not ickily sticky.

Hungarian Walnut Cake

I have no idea what it’s actually called, Hungarian Walnut Cake but a little bit Bread-ish was working for us.

It was a lovely afternoon and it just shows that sometime it’s worth taking risks.  Real friends can be real friends.  And the sweetest thing?  One of our friends who came over later said to husband (who is even more paranoid and distressed at the idea of people coming over than I am and therefore was not told until after and evicted, hey, it was a strategy that worked) that she really liked our ‘posh’ flat.  Posh!  She takes things for what they really are, it is a lovely well-lit spacious flat, and not for what they might not be.  That really made my day when I overheard that a week or so later.

Yes, sometimes it is worth taking the risks.

Bouncing Back

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I am a lifelong pessimist, unfortunate but true.  I like to think of it as a protection, it means that I don’t get my hopes up and therefore, am rarely disappointed.  If I think about it more carefully, I think actually a more accurate description would be ‘realist’.  I like to take a realistic attitude.  Because whilst I set my own sights low, I can see the good.  Sometimes.  For example, I always look for the good in other people, I am tolerant and even go as far as to be excusing when it seems appropriate.

I’m one of those curiously perverse people who always has to take the opposite side to any debate, if you want to argue that something is bad, if you want to believe that something is bad, then I will be taking good’s corner.  It’s just the way I am.  Perhaps it’s a reflection of my own strong sense of balance and justice.  I hate it when people only see one side of an argument.  And I hate it even more when people insist that theirs is only one side to their coin.  (The downside is that making decisions is ridiculously difficult, I can see all the pros and cons, in pretty equal ratios too).

Not only that but. because of husband’s health, I find myself quite often being a one-man-band cheerleading squad (being resident in this particular country means that I know little of the sport except in a metaphorical sense), geeing him up every time that there’s a setback.  There’s been a few, you know.

Then there’s that stubborn streak of mine, not only does it occasionally make me mulish (possibly my perversity in choosing a debate side is evidence of that too) but it gives me a lot of strength and determination, incorrigible comes to mind as does resilient.  Resilient is probably a better fit.  I bounce back.  I don’t know how or why.  I just seem to find the strength most of the time to get up and start fighting again.  I guess that’s a good thing.

For the first time in I don’t know how many blue moons (they’re a real thing, did you know?), we baked for fun yesterday.  I say ‘we’ because I do still need a galley-slave for the more strenuous processes (but saying that, I did manage to use the food chopper myself yesterday for the first time in I don’t know how long) and because husband is also starting to enjoy the preparing stages too.  (Me being me though as soon as I saw how much cake we had and knowing how much cake two people should eat, I went and shared it to some friends in need).

Husband doesn’t believe in substitutions, he thinks it’s messing up the recipe and me just being a little too wildly creative and hopeful.  Not being big-headed or anything but I am starting to get the science of baking just a little and understand many of the ‘rules’ and substitute not just with hope but with knowledge and appreciation of the chemistry.  Things are a little tight in our stores at the moment, which is actually why we ended up baking.  If there’s nothing to eat but cake ingredients, let them eat cake.  We’ve run out of self-raising flour, which is indeed a significant indicator of the dire state of matters.  I told him to get plain flour out and baking powder.  There was a brief riot.  But it worked.  It worked!  We ended up with a very tasty ginger and almond cake.  (The result of several other substitutions).  Very moreish.  And crying out for pouring cream.

Ginger and Almond Cake

Even more miraculously, we successfully made fudge.  For reasons that we have never yet fathomed, we cannot make fudge.  We’ve tried all sorts of recipes and they’ve all failed miserably.  But there was a picture in my book of some beautifully firm, glossy, yummy looking fudge and I couldn’t resist.  So I turned it into a mystery bake because I knew that husband would not be overly amenable to another fudge experiment.  We only added half the sugar the recipe called for because there was no physical way that we could possibly incorporate anymore.  And my chocaholic husband announced that he isn’t actually that keen on chocolate fudge.  As the Americans say, go figure.  I toasted the almonds and warmed the raisins in a little vodka (no rum, sadly) for a little something extra.  It’s good stuff.  And because we ran of out of dark chocolate (I told you, this really is crisis point), we had to make the weight up in white, there are curious white streaks throughout.  But it’s good stuff.

Chocolate Fruit and Nut Fudge

Now if you live in bagel-land you may be surprised by my burning desire to make bagels.  I was spurred on by the distant memory of some fruit bagels (you know my mania for turning all foods pink and pink isn’t even my colour) that I had ate in bagel-land.  If we can make bagels, we could have a cornucopia of flavours readily available and for an awful lot cheaper.  Bagels are expensive here.  I like bagels.  I like them bagel-land-style with cream cheese.  Not butter as in toasted teacakes and local mores.  (Actually, worse, it’s usually margarine round here).  Yesterday we took the plunge.

They didn’t exactly turn out as planned.  Think cheese straw without the cheese and bagel-shaped.  Now thick, bagel-shaped cheese straws without the cheese aren’t exactly appetising.  We discovered, quickly.  I don’t know exactly what went wrong and where.  I don’t know to blame the recipe or our technique.  I’ve never even made cheese straws.

But do you know what the most remarkable thing about this baking disaster is?

I can cope.

I took a risk and dared to fail.

And even when it went pear-shaped, I bounced back.

I don’t see those strange, crusty, inedible things as a failure.  I’m seeing it as a step to progress.  I can learn from it, I can grow from it, I can get better from it.

(Maybe I am just delusional).

I’m not even worried about the waste of precious ingredients.  We tried, we gave it our best shot and it didn’t work.

There is no bitter taste of failure, no dismal doubt, no harsh self-criticism.  The Voice is silent.

And there’s always ginger cake to eat.

(But I don’t recommend chocolate fruit and nut fudge for breakfast).

If anyone has any hints or a tried and tested recipe for bagels, I will gladly accept.  I may have lost the battle but I am planning to win the war.

The entire lyrics may not exactly be kosher but these lines say it best:

I get knocked down but I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

I get knocked down but I get up again

Oh, and two spoonfuls of medicine also do wonders.  I don’t even know myself.

When Life Hands You Lemons and Other Baking Tales

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I’ve been little busy of late, operating as per usual above my golden rule of 80% and paying for it accordingly in-between times.  For various reasons, I’ve found myself doing a lot of baking.  Now if you’re looking for glowing, high-key images of glossy cupcakes and other high maintenance goodies, I think you need to look away.  If you think baking is about the eating then please come and drool.

The photographs aren’t brilliant, I’m afraid, when I’m ‘tired’ then I really struggle to hold never mind focus the camera.  Please forgive the terrible-ness.

First up, I wandered into uncharted territories with the infamous Confetti Cake, of American origins need I add?  Now I consulted two recipes, one here and the other here, but I can’t quite remember which I used precisely.  They are very similar however.

Would you believe it but I have never used 100s and 1000s ever before?  Never, ever, ever.  This was like jumping in the deep end of the sprinkles pool.

Confetti Mix

Now, I didn’t ‘translate’ the measurements into my preferred grams and used the American cups indicated (most measuring jugs now have these indicated) except for the butter.  I have to admit that I don’t get this form of measuring at all.  It’s fine for liquids or for flowing things like flour but how on earth do you measure a cup of butter?  I just get a growing mound in the middle.  Fortunately one of my other recipe books has a ‘translation’ guide to American measuring and it also translates the cups of butters into American sticks.  Yeah, that’s my reaction too.  Sticks?!  Well, sticks translate to grams a little easier at least!  So I’m still clueless what a cup or a stick of butter is.

I don’t remember making buttercream icing before either and it’s never exactly been my cup of cake, greasy and gritty.  (It’s always the texture for me).   As I had a jar of marshmallow crème (thanks to the lovely folks who send me food parcels from the US) in the cupboard, I made up marshmallow crème frosting.  Just in case there wasn’t enough sugar in the recipe itself!  I remember seeing the classic blue brand in this country many, many years ago but it’s no longer available and most folks here have never heard of it.  (I’m not entirely sure either how I met the acquaintance of such a confectionary as I was raised sugar-free).  I added vanilla of course!

My Take on Confetti Cake

My opinions?  I was disappointed.  The cake was supposed to be what the Americans call ‘white’ cake.  It was very dark.  And dense too.  Very dense.  I don’t know if it’s because of subtle differences in the ingredients between the two countries or what.  The recipe also makes an awful lot of cake, almost more than I had tins for (the two layers featured here were from my two matching tins, I also filled a bigger tin and made a semi-circle shaped dummy run cake).  It also took a lot longer than anticipated to cook, I think I even whacked the oven up in the end!  English 100s and 1000s are always going to be disappointing too with their insipid pastel colours, sometimes American colourings are worth the visual appeal!  (And only available here in tiny little containers).  And with the cake mix being so dark, I felt that they were lost.  The ‘frosting’, or icing to you and me, called for margarine and I don’t think that helped, it was very sloppy but fortunately firmed up some on standing.

I felt that it was all a total disaster but that might have been the Voice’s opinion actually.  Those who ate it enjoyed it, well we don’t often see sprinkles around here, and there have been requests for a repeat.

Slice of Confetti Cake

Next up is the cake that I made at the same time as the Confetti Cake above.  This was the Pan di Spagna (literally bread of Spain) from the Two Greedy Italian’s book.  Now this was the recipe that I was expecting to be the disappointment, the disaster.  For starters there are actually few pictures of the made-up dishes in the book then there was the advanced nature of the techniques required (the eggs had to be separated and the whites beaten for several hours (but that might be a hyperbole)) then finally, the doom-laden warning that this here cake was a ‘sinker’.  I’m not quite sure why I took it on actually.

The go-to cake in this country, ubiquitous at every tea table and function, is commonly referred to as the Victoria Sponge.  Let’s clarify one thing first.  A sponge has no fat.  No fat means no butter or margarine.  The Victoria recipe always has fat in.  It should in fact be called a Victoria Sandwich.  Personally I think it’s overrated and boring.  Most of the time, it is dark and crusty, sometimes it is burnt.  Not good.  I know people who swear by the healthiness of brown sugar but a Victoria sandwich is not the place for demerara.  Please?!  It is then usually sandwiched with watery strawberry jam.  I don’t think much of strawberry jam either, it’s quite a … well, delicate at best, bland at worst, taste.  Smeared in a discreet almost invisible stain between two wodges of crispy, dark cake is another factor in my decision to turn down a slice.  For some reason, despite a common stinginess with the jam, the top is usually well coated in icing sugar, at least an inch deep.  The cream doesn’t always appear in homemade versions and in bought versions is usually the yellow, pretend stuff.

I didn’t want to make that kind of Victoria Sandwich.

So I made this kind.Before it Sunk

Sponge Cake Closeup

Yes, the cake sunk slightly but it was light and tasty.  It didn’t even taste eggy, I know someone who makes a Swiss-roll mix and even when it’s chocolate, I can’t eat it because it’s way too eggy.  (I’m allergic but I have built my tolerance up).  I used the jam I had, a thick, dark cherry which I think worked particularly well.  Raspberry or even damson would be good too.  Plum can go the way of strawberry sometimes, not too much taste.  And of course lashings of fresh whipped cream (but not too much because it’ll squirt when you squish!)

Yes I whipped both eggs and cream by hand.  I am a glutton for punishment.  And terrified of the electric blender.

I was surprised that it was made up in such a wide tin (25 cm) but it when filled with jam and cream, it didn’t seem too shallow after all.  You do have to have a good knife and eye to slice the thing in half horizontally though, I wussed out and got my husband to volunteer!  I guess it just makes it slightly more delicate to stuff in your mouth un-delicately!

Pan di Spagna (Sponge Cake)

Now this sponge was as white as cake can be, it uses icing sugar.  I think that if I want to make up another Confetti Cake then I would use this recipe and add the sprinkles, obviously using smaller diameter tins.

I also have to confess to a slight ‘booboo’ that I made with the recipe, it’s a Genoese sponge which means that it should be soaked with an alcoholic syrup.  I forget to do that.  But it was still beautifully soft.

I’ve also made another batch of brownies.  They were for a young relative who is very poorly in hospital at the moment and who needs all kinds of tempting treats to build her back up.  So I pushed the boat out and did some fancy decorating.  Well, by my standards anyway!  Aren’t those marshmallows cute?  They were from the US as well and they actually taste.

Heart-Shaped Marshmallows in the Bag

Stack of Brownies with Heart-Shaped Marshmallows from Above

Somewhere else along the way I made a ‘few’ cup/fairycakes and scones for a friend’s wedding, the call went out for bakers and apparently scones are terrifying.  Did you know that scones were terrifying?  I’d miss that bulletin.

Let me share with you some personal scone history.  My mother made scones, grey, large and impossible to fit in your mouth.  Hers were always for special occasions.  My father made scones, pretty good.  His were to use up milk on the turn.  A few years back I found a recipe that promised the world’s best scones so I decided to test it out at my parents’ house.  Miffed I think may cover my mother’s reaction to everyone’s proclamation that my father’s were the best.  The competition was on.  Then I made these.  The recipe is Classic Scones by Nigel Slater.  They use the elusive buttermilk but he provides an alternative (2 tbsp of natural yoghurt to 120 ml milk for each 150 ml buttermilk).  I won.

With that in mind, I volunteered my services.  I also don’t mind working in slightly bigger batches which helps when there’s an entire function of people to be fed.  (I noticed that I can’t say six fairycakes, I say six dozen automatically!).

So that was another day of baking accounted for.  And because I only mix by hand, I nearly ended up with RSI at the end of it.  Wretched scones!  They’re very much like pastry and you have to ‘crumb’ the sugar, butter and flour together.  It kills after so long!  (My father used to call the technique ‘money, money’, if you imagine someone caressing their pot of gold).

Homemade Scones

Husband thinks that scones are something which come from the supermarket, slightly dry and cloying in my opinion, with plenty of rabbit droppings, sorry, raisins.  He was eating them faster than I could bake them which wasn’t good as he wasn’t meant to eat any at all, they were for the wedding!  If you want a truly horrific sight, this is what he did with them:

What Hubby Does to Scones

And finally, the lemons of the title.

Baking Day

(Please excuse the naked lemons)

Someone gave me some nice, big lemons so what to do with them?  Make Lemon Drizzle Cake of course!  I made a big traybake up which I sliced into bite-sized pieces to go a-visiting with and a little loaf too.  With the dregs (such a charming expression!) of the mixture, I got creative and baked me some little stars to decorate the loaf with.  I even remembered to fish them out early rather than leaving them for the good 45 min that the bigger cake needs.  I used standard icing to ‘glue’ them in place.

Little Cake Star

Bite-Sized Lemon Drizzle Cake

I think that’s me done.  It’s taken a while to process the photos and write it out, especially as the computer, kindly, very close to literally blew up somewhere in the middle.  I’d like to make two other American cakes, the Red Velvet and the Rainbow.  Now for the Rainbow, I know that I need those food ‘dyes’ rather than wishy-washy English food colouring so that one will have to wait.  Can anyone recommend a good recipe for the Red Velvet?  Preferably not in cups though!  And what’s your favourite thing to bake or eat?

Muffin Love

Standard

Do you remember me mentioning that I’d baked a whole heap of muffins?  Well me being both busy and scatty of late, I just haven’t got around to showing you my efforts so here you are:

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I don’t see myself as a good cook, I’d lose too many marks on presentation and sometimes that seems to be most important thing especially when you think of fashionable trends like American-style cupcakes and macarons.  I don’t make those kind of things, I like simple and filling and satisfying (which isn’t always a very photogenic version of food either).  Brownies and muffins and falafel are on my list.  And pasta of course, plenty of pasta.  I don’t cook to impress, I cook and bake because I enjoy it and because I enjoy sharing that (first) enjoyment with other people.  Food is a good way to show your love.

So as I’ve found some amazing people who’ve been helping me out of all kind of difficulties, I decided to repay the favour and what better way is there than by whipping up six dozen muffins?!

It sounds a lot but I have a lot of favours on my conscience and once you discover more than one mixing bowl in your cupboard it gets a whole load easier.  You just need a system.  (I think I need to apply that theory to more than just one other area of my life unfortunately).  So plenty of mixing bowls and spoons and a good idea of what you’re doing and how you’d like to get there.

Four flavours, two double batches and two single batches.  Chocolate chip, chocolate and dried berries, fruit (I use one of those inexpensive frozen berry mixes straight from the freezer) and then the sticky toffee with the dulce de leche surprise (yep, I’m always surprised by what I find lurking in my cupboards and fridge too).  Mmm.

Sticky Toffee Surprise Muffins (Recipe Card)

I don’t have a lot of space in my kitchen so first of all I needed to clear the work surfaces and then throw in some creativity, you’d be surprised how much I can stack and tier things when baking!  We don’t have a dining table so as the muffins started coming out of the oven I realised that I needed some extra space to cool them.  Fortunately we’d just been given a full-sized ironing board as a present, et voilà!  Muffin cooling space.

I always add at least vanilla extract to my baking as it gives it a bit more flavour, bland cakes get so boring, but I also combine it with either almond or lemon too if there’s not a lot of punchy flavour in the mix.  I think I’m also going to inveigle my way to an extra muffin tray as I’ve only the one and therefore had to use some bun trays with the muffin papers balanced precariously in the slots.

There were no disasters to report other than the fact that I forget to put enough egg in the first double batch, it’s a maths thing again despite the fact that I’d even got my husband to write the correct amounts on a post-it note for me!  Fortunately they passed a taste test (cook’s perk) so I seemed to have got away with it.

The only downside to baking this many muffins is the amount of washing up that you get left with!

The recipes were all taken or adapted from this book

Background and inspiration for recipe cards taken from here.