I started this post without a cake, cookie or muffin, lacking even a recipe or a workable kitchen in which to bake. I felt bereft.
A while ago I had the thought that it would be a good idea to get a loft conversion in my house. I’ve been in my little home for ten years and have accumulated a fair amount of ‘stuff’. My house is small and mostly perfectly formed; however the one thing that Edwardian architects of inner-city worker’s cottages did not plan for was storage space. How could they have possibly envisaged the boxes of Christmas decorations that need to be contained for 11 months of the year? Or have had any idea about the crate of camping equipment that has been packed away for, ooh about 36 months at last count; or the box of frog ornaments of my mother’s that I can’t bear to part with, nor have on display that needs a home out of the way somewhere. What about the roll of carpet remanet that must surely be useful for something, someday and the large DIY box filled with left over flat pack screws and allen keys, lightbulbs for fittings no longer installed? Not to mention the boxes and boxes of cables and leads from electrical items no longer owned? Well, you can’t just throw them away can you? I need a cable amnesty.
I imagine the families of the men who built the railways at the turn of the last century didn’t really need much of the above, so the-cupboard-under-the-stairs sufficed as the sum total of available storage. Of course having a loft to convert means I could have used that space – a cheaper and cleaner option no doubt. However I am not a fan of either ladders or dark spidery, wasp-nest-infested (as it turns out) places so anything consigned to that space would not be retrieved by me.
Plus I needed new carpets. Seriously, this was the deciding factor. Ridiculous. No point forking out for new carpeting if, at some point in even the mid-distant future there’s work planned in the house. So Project Loft was born. I won’t bore you with the details, nor inflict revisiting them on myself but it’s been a trial, one that’s not over yet, although the end is in sight. My poor home has been battered and bruised, my cat is seriously disturbed by the noise and new location and direction of the stairs (he’s not the brightest by a long shot, but watching him struggle, for over a week, with the new layout was priceless. There’s a door on the bottom of them now so he can’t see them, so they don’t exist. I wish I were a cat). I’ve been a little stressed.
The chaos in the house has led to chaos in my mind. The dust and dirt are necessary and despite what people who know me might think, I can cope with that. What I can’t cope with is that by extension I am unable to do any of the things that I find enjoyable and relaxing because of the dirt and the mess. I enjoy cleaning and pottering, I love to know there’s clean white linen on the beds and fresh towels in the bathroom. I relish the morning sun through clean windows and my naturally forgetful and chaotic nature is reassured by an ‘everything in it’s place…’ home. I know that none of these things are important in the grand scheme of things but they are points in my day and week that I enjoy.
But more than anything else I love to bake, and I haven’t been able to. In the past few weeks I have barely been able to get into my kitchen so full was it with the contents of the rest of the ground floor. Worst of all, Christmas was approaching and I couldn’t see a point at which I might be able to put up those decorations and fill my home with light and shiny things. My keys went missing on a daily basis and every evening I came home aghast at the rock-like crust on my kitchen work top caused by repeated spillages of sugar from the spoon on its way to the tea cups combined with a multitude of drips from t-bags en route to the bin.
However, there was a brief respite in the week before Christmas; flooring went down, walls were painted white, I cleaned like a daemon and with builders away for the festive period that which I dusted and wiped remained smear free. The tree went up as did my lights old and new and sparkly things were dotted around. My Christmas cakes, were wrapped and given out and I even found time for a last-minute bake-fest for extra goodies to hand out.
So, the house was in as much order as was possible prior to all the work being completed (no date as yet, but the end is in sight), decorations were up, Christmas presents wrapped and ready to go and an early shift at work meant I had an an afternoon to myself – what else to do other than bake? I’d made another of the moorish Caramel Fruit Cakes from Dan Lepard to take into work but wanted to make something chocolatey and something a bit different. I’ve had the ‘Baked’ book for sometime and despite regularly reading rave reviews I’ve not managed to bake anything from it yet. There’s something about the recipes in the book that I find daunting, a lot of them seem time consuming with many steps, but their Brownie recipe is mentioned so much as the best out there that I had to give it a try. There was a tub of sour cream to be used also and the Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe seemed like a good one to bake to offer to colleagues not tempted by fruit or chocolate. As it turned out I took an extra day off work so neighbours, friends and family were the recipients of these treats rather than colleagues, however I will not only be making the brownies again soon (and this will have to become my go-to recipe, they really are divine) but I will sit down and choose further recipes to bake from this book.
Coffee Cake – not actually a cake containing or tasting of coffee but usually a cake to be taken with coffee often with a streusel or crumb topping, this is one of those.
Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate, Cinnamon Swirl
Baked – New Frontiers in Baking
100g plain flour
130g dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt (use Maldon or similar)
75g toasted walnuts
84g cold unsalted butter cut into 1″ cubes
Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl
112g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Sour Cream Cake
525g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp salt
225g unsalted butter, soft but cool cut into 1″ pieces
4 large eggs
500g caster sugar
160z / 545g sour cream (I only had 300g so made the rest up with buttermilk)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180C butter and line a 9×13″ pan (although the cake won’t stick, if you line the tin with parchment and ensure an overhang then you can ‘lift’ the finished cake from the pan rather than turning it out and you won’t disturb the crumb topping).
To make the crumb topping pulse the flour, sugar and salt for 5 seconds in a processor, add the toasted nuts and pulse again until finely chopped. finally add the butter cubes and pulse again until a sand like texture is achieved. cover and place in the fridge.
To make the swirl, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a large bowl.
Cream the butter until ‘smooth and ribbon like’ . Scrape the sides, add the sugar and beat again until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides as necessary
Add sour cream and vanilla beating until incorporated then add the sifted dry ingredients in three stages – do not over mix.
Spoon 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan and spread evening with an offset spatula. sprinkle half the swirl mixture over the batter, cover with half the remaining batter spreading evenly once again then repeat with the remaining swirl mixture and final lot of batter.
sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over the top.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean. Rotate the pan three times during baking.
Cool for 30 mins in the pan before lifting out and allowing to cool completely before slicing.
The brownie recipe, below, really is one to try. It’s nothing short of stunning and so quick an easy. It’s not exactly light on the chocolate, or butter, or sugar, but then a brownie shouldn’t be. I made the mistake of cutting the brownies into portions before it was completely cooled. Unfortunately this meant that a fair few pieces crumbled, and those crumbles had to be mopped up by me. Bloody lovely. Make these. Eat them, share them, hide them wrap them and keep them, freeze them if you must but make them soon.
The Baked Brownie
188g plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
310g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (60 – 72%)
225g unsalted butter cut into 1″ pieces
1 1/2 tsp instant coffee (the original recipe states 1 tsp instant espresso powder, if you can get it)
338g granulated sugar
88g light brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven 180C, butter and line 9×13″ tin
Whisk or sift together the flour, salt and cocoa
In a bain marie melt the chocolate, butter and coffee until completely smooth.
Turn off the heat but leave over the pan of water and add the sugars, whisk until combined and then remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Add three eggs and whisk then the remaining two eggs and whisk. Add the vanilla and stir, do not over beat or the brownies will be cakey rather than fudgy.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the batter and fold in with a spatula until just traces of the flour remains visible.
Pour into the pan and smooth, bake for 25 – 30 mins (25 in my oven) turning the pan after 15 mins. When done a toothpick inserted into the centre should still be coated with a few crumbs – you don’t want these over cooked.
Leave to cool completely before cutting into 24 squares.
Apparently these will keep, well wrapped, for three days. Do let me know if you achieve this!