Archive for October, 2010


Not The Cookie Monster

October 25, 2010

I’m not a biscuit person. Although, as a child biscuits were the one treat we always had in the house. We didn’t have crisps, cakes or chocolate on a regular basis and pudding was a rarity.  But there were always biscuits in the cupboard,  there for my sister and I to have along with the daily post-school cup of tea and chat about our day with mum.

Ginger nuts (probably my favourite – dunkability high although better with coffee than tea) and Mcvities digestives were a staple. Packets of Rich Tea lived in there for the duration of my mother’s relationship with my almost-step-dad, Bourbons for my Aunt and custard creams and Hob Nobs (sometimes chocolate covered) would pop up on a regular, yet infrequent enough to make their presence exciting, basis. Christmas also produced tins of rich butter Danish shortbread, perfect in their munching, melting, mouth-feel but perilous for dunking; and birthday parties always ensured Foxes Party Rings and Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers (which were also a favourite of our Labrador). After school visits to the houses of friends were a wonder of different options, but I never understood and still mistrust the Nice biscuit, or pink wafer chooser.

Teenage visits to my father for school holidays coincided with the junk/convenience food explosion of the late 80’s and early 90’s; resisted by my mother other than regular servings of chicken kiev, but positively encouraged by a baffled male parent, desperate to keep two bolshy daughters happy, or at least quiet because they were stuffing themselves silly on E numbers and utterly tasteless food. Half term weeks meant pop tarts, Findus crispy pancakes, take away pizzas, Microchips, Mars ice creams, trips to Mcdonalds and enabled my sister and I to discover over-sweet packets of Maryland cookies which would never grace my mother’s table. None of which were enjoyed, simply scoffed because they were forbidden by one parent and unnoticed by the other (cigarettes and alcohol soon followed in the same vein, but that’s a whole other post, or even blog).

For me biscuits should be the British type, to be shared with gossip, the day’s news and a steaming cup of tea (and if there is a dog around that you can allow to lap the dregs of tea and sunken crumbs all the better) but I never keep them in the house now and only ever crave digestives for their salty edge.

My ambivalence extends to my baking.  I don’t really enjoy making them. I have the odd recipe bookmarked and they can be good for mass distribution, but rarely would a cookie be the top of my list for a Sunday baking session. I think it was the post that accompanied David Lebozitz’s Oatmeal Cookie recipe that drew me in. The nostalgic tale of American cookies from one living abroad and their role in sharing made me think fondly of my relationship with biscuits and the place they held in my family life. I do also like oats, in pretty much any form, so yesterday I made a batch of dough, let it rest in the fridge overnight and this morning baked tray, after tray, after tray.

I’m still not won over. I don’t enjoy the process as much as cake or muffin baking and having to bake in batches is tedious. This was not helped by my compulsion to double the recipe meaning I had enough to make 48 enormous cookies. This doubling also contributed to the rather haphazard results I think. Uneven distribution of the flour and oats – because of the sheer quantity of them all through the butter and sugar mixture meant that some cookies spread almost wafer thin in the oven, their edges singeing in the process, whilst some retained their dome-like form becoming a chewier, more satisfying treat. They really were too sweet for me too, but I used half raisins and half sour cherries which were a nice contrast when encountered, and the spices were a subtle background. It should be made clear that any issues I have with these cookies are purely mine – in taste and execution. The cookies from well mixed batter had a lovely shape and texture, and those with a sweet tooth have raved about them.

Taking these cookies into work prompted a conversation about baking for a Bonfire night party and reminded me of one of the few things I baked over the summer. These Cookie Bars with Pretzel pieces from Michelle, the Brown Eyed Baker were probably the most moorish thing I have baked in years. In both texture and taste I could happily munch my way through piece after pieces. The salty/sweet combo is to die for and in my little notebook, next to the date on which I baked them (10/06/10 if you’re interested) I have scrawled ‘easy!’

Chocolate Chip & Pretzel Cookie Bars

From the Brown Eyed Baker

300g plain flour

1 Tsp baking powder

1/2 Tsp salt

170g butter at room temperature

175g light muscavado sugar

112g caster sugar

2 large eggs

2 Tsp vanilla extract

120z chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups pretzels chopped


I used a sprinkling of sea salt and cocoa nibs, but Michelle suggested peanut butter, melted chocolate and more pretzels

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 9 x 13 pan

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt

In a stand mixer mix together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs and vanilla, scraping down the sides then with the mixer on low-speed add the flour mixture.

Fold in the chocolate chips and chopped pretzels, sprinkle on some sea salt and some cocoa nibs then bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.


Ginger and Apples – what’s not to like?

October 22, 2010

Autumn has arrived, the leaves are turning, the temperature is dropping, and I have spent most of a Sunday making my Christmas Cakes. Whilst I will have to wait weeks to sample those, below is a recipe for something that is simply Autumn wrapped up in a muffin case.

I still had plenty of the apples donated by my colleague, and knowing how much my Dad likes ginger cakes went looking for an appropriate recipe. As always Smitten Kitchen is one of my first ports of call and Deb doesn’t disappoint with her Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake recipe. I adapted the recipe to fold the apples into the batter so I could make into cupcakes and chopped the apples into 1cm square pieces rather than the wedges suggested for the cake, forgoing the ‘topping’ although I suppose you could caramelise the apples before folding into the batter. These are beautifully moist and the perfect accompaniment to a mug of tea on an afternoon.

Can I also point out my current favourite thing – the small green patterned board that the muffins are sitting on in these photos. Something I brought back form my recent trip to Norway. I’m in love with the colour and patterns, a different one on each side. It sits on my kitchen work surface and makes me smile on these ever darker mornings.


Gingerbread Apple Cakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 apples (1 3/4 lbs) peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces, less than 1cm

112g butter

112g light muscavado sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup molasses (treacle)

1/3 cup honey

1 cup buttermilk

375g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

In a large jug combine the egg, treacle, honey and buttermilk

In a separate bowl sift together the flour, bicarb, salt and spices

Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer on high-speed until flight and fluffy (approx 8 minutes)

Add the flour mixture and the wet mixture in batches  alternately to the butter mixture and mix until incorporated

Finally fold in the chopped apples before spooning into prepared muffin tins

Bake for 35 – 40 mins until a springy to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.

I was wary of over-filling the muffin cases as gingerbread mixture can rise a lot, however these didn’t, probably due to the fresh apple, so be generous when filling.


Autumn Apples

October 8, 2010

The Sticky Marmalade Tea Loaf from my previous post used up the jar of marmalade that had been mocking me from the fridge shelf. So I promptly went out and bought another one – because you can’t not have marmalade in the house can you? I am aware of the contradiction but should state that unopened jars in the cupboard do not elicit the same anxieties as open ones housed in the fridge – am I revealing too many neuroses in one post here?

I’m glad I did replenish my stock though, because my new copy of Nigel Slater’s Tender V2 arrived and one of the first recipes I flagged was his Apple and Marmalade Cake. I had been given an enormous bag of apples harvested from a colleagues tree so the ingredient gods were smiling on me that day.

I have made this cake again since, doubling the ingredients and making many small loaves as I wanted to give them away to neighbours – it works just as well.


Wholemeal Apple and Marmalade Cake

Nigel Slater

220g butter at room temperature
210g light muscavado sugar
4 eggs
250 g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
200g (peeled & cored weight) apples chopped into pieces less than 1cm
100g sultanas or raisins (I used a mixture of both)
125g Marmalade
Zest of an orange
Demerara sugar for sprinkling on the top
Pre heat oven to 160C and crease and line a 20cm cake tin.
Combine flour, cinnamon and baking powder
In a separate bowl combine the marmalade, raisins and/or sultanas, apples and zest
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add the beaten eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary
fold in the flour followed by the fruit and marmalade mixture
scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and sprinkle with Demerara sugar
bake for 1 hr 15 mins (my double recipe made 5 small loaves which I baked for 45-45 mins)

I have also used the apples to make Deb’s Wholewheat Apple Muffins which I first tried last year . I was disappointed last time, but the addition of mixed spice added the depth that I think was missing previously (I reduced the cinnamon to 1/2 a teaspoon and added a teaspoon of mixed spice) I also made sure that the apple pieces were a little smaller, more suited to a muffin. Make sure you fill the muffin cases well, these do not rise that much in the oven so you need to be generous with the batter.

I have found more use for the many apples gifted to me including an apple and date chutney that is currently maturing before I can review it, and an apple and gingerbread cupcake that I will share with you shortly. I have my eye on an apple and courgette cake from Tender (courgettes currently earmarked for my morning porridge though) and of course,  apples and autumn also mean it’s nearly time to make my mincemeat in time for mince pies!


Great British Bake Off

October 7, 2010

Did you watch The Great British Bake Off? I did, and true to form bought the tie-in cook book straight after the first episode. I loved the series but the book is a little odd. A fairly random selection of recipes seem to have been chosen, including some that didn’t work on the show or were criticised by he judges but with no notes to show amendments or updates. Other recipes are not from the series at all and it’s not clear who authored them. However I have Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and find it reliable, although having head her declare in the final that she’d never baked using fresh ginger (and worse seemed sceptical at the thought of it) I feel a little less confident in her.

I’ve only tried one recipe so far, although several tags flutter from the page edges and I think it was a success.  A recent early morning coupled with a return of the much missed baking mojo led to a recipe for a Sticky Marmalade Tea Loaf. Perfect for two reasons; one I could finally use the jar of marmalade that was bought for guests and has since been languishing in the fridge. I know it will keep – but unused jars pain me – I feel sorry for them, as if they’re aware of their wasted potential and berate me with every opening of the fridge door. Reason two is that the recipe needed really soft butter, as in – blast in the microwave for a bit – so the fact that I was unprepared and the butter was still sat in said fridge was not a problem. The reason for the soft butter is that all the ingredients are combined in one bowl with a trusty wooden spoon (I have a wooden spoon that I trust – do you? In fact I have two trusty wooden spoons, one for curries and one for cakes, plus many other wooden spoons that have yet to be elevated to trustworthy status). Having baked so much with the Kitchen Aid and beating together butter and sugar for many minutes until light and fluffy, I was wary of combining in this way, but needn’t have worried.

If you didn’t watch the series this was one that didn’t work, it sank in the middle and led to the contestant, Mark, being eliminated in the first week, it did also earn him a hug from Sue Perkins. I doubled the recipe and made one regular loaf and two smaller ones in part because of my compulsion to double any batter recipe but also because I wanted to make one nut free version.

Mine did not sink in the middle, however the full-sized loaf was over baked at the recommended 60 minutes so I would check earlier – and I did need to cover with foil. I can’t be certain of the baking time for the smaller loaves as I managed to leave the oven door ajar! I’d suggest checking after 30 minutes to see if they need any foil and check after 40 with the trusty toothpick to see if they’re done. The result was a tasty, moist cake that might benefit from a dash of whisky perhaps to add a little zing to accompany the spices? The amount of marmalade in the cake and sticky glaze mean there are ample opportunities to play with taste depending on the type of marmalade used and you can play around with your choice of nuts I used a mixture of walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans and hazelnuts, all roughly chopped in a processor.  There are spices in the cake, but I think a little stem ginger either in a marmalade or separately. Definitely one to make again.


Mark’s Sticky Marmalade Tea Loaf

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 175 light brown muscovado sugar
  • 100g chopped mixed nuts (*optional as the cake works wonderfully without should you need a nut free version)
  • 175g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 3 medium free range eggs
  • 140g marmalade (preferably home-made)
  • 900g Loaf tine, grease and the base lined.

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gm 4
Sift together flour, baking powder and spices, stir in sugar and nuts (if using).
Add the softened butter and eggs and then all but 1 tablespoon of the marmalade that you will need later for the glaze
Mix all the ingredients well using a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined and then spoon into the prepared tin and smooth the top.
Bake for 60 – 75 minutes (I would check earlier) until a skewer comes out clean. You may need to cover the top of the cake after 40 minutes to prevent over browning.
Carefully remove from the tin and leave to cool for 5 minutes while you make the glaze by heating the reserved marmalade with a couple of teaspoons of water in a small pan over a low heat.
Brush the glaze over the still warm loaves – allow to cool before slicing


Missing the Mojo

October 6, 2010

I lost my baking mojo. It up and went who knows where. We had an all to brief hot spell that certainly made the thought of cranking up the oven a little less than appealing. My first year of ‘growing my own’ meant early mornings were spent tending my precious crops rather than stood over my  Kitchen aid and then resulted in harvests that leant themselves to salads over bundts and even my courgettes – deliberately planted in the hope of a glut that could be transformed into quick breads and muffins – were lightly griddled or eaten raw with a touch of salt.

Sunday mornings – previously a guaranteed time for a bake-fest – have been spent walking the nearby Malvern Hills, with 5 am waking times seeing me in the car heading off to beat the heat with an early walk.

I have missed it though, and felt neglectful – of my colleagues and neighbours, of this blog, my Kitchen Aid, bundt tins and recipe books (especially as I now have lovely new, stong shelves to house them all).

I have baked a little over the summer months, but have struggled with using Blogspot which put me off blogging about what little baking I did. Then a good friend of mine started Pipe Dreams and Pickles over here at WordPress and so I have imported the lot over here, stocked up on buttermilk, checked my supplies of baking essentials and off I go again . . .