Category Archives: Baking

Nutella Surprise Muffins

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The sun seems to have finally found its way to us, but with the ongoing rain of the last few weeks we had a few ‘kitchen’ afternoons. The kids of course always want to make cakes, but the hardest thing about baking with kids is making sure that the end product is edible quickly, as tasting their wares if half the fun of it. These cakes are very simple and very satisfying (not necessarily healthy!) and perfect for picnics as they have the sweet bit inside rather than on top so are less messy!

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Ingredients:
100g Stork margarine
100g golden caster sugar
100g self raising flour
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 dessert spoon of milk
A jar of Nutella

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Cream the margarine and sugar together, then slowly add the eggs, whisking after each addition. Then add the flour, baking powder, milk and vanilla essence.

Then spoon the mixture into cake cases, putting a teaspoon full of Nutella in the middle of the mixture and then adding a little more cake mixture on top. If you find the Nutella is too hard to spoon then you can put a few serving spoons in a saucepan and heat it gently until it softens.

Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes…they can be eaten as soon as they have cooled!

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Lemon and Almond Polenta cake with a Raspberry topping

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This is such an easy all-in one foolproof cake that makes a wonderful dessert. I made this to take to a new year’s eve party and served it with creme fraiche. I found two recipes for polenta cake and merged them to come up with my own version which uses a little flour as well as almonds and polenta.

250g margarine
250g golden caster sugar
4 large eggs
140g polenta
100g plain flour
100g ground almonds
2 teaspoons baking powder
juice from 3 lemons

Firstly cream the butter and sugar together, then slowly add the eggs, then the flour, baking powder, polenta and almonds. Finally, stir through 50ml of fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. Cook for 45 minutes at 160 degrees in a fan oven.

My daughter enjoyed helping decorate the cake with some fresh raspberries and freeze-dried raspberries around the edge. Delicious!

Party Meringues

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If I make a batch of my mince pies, then this is the perfect recipe to pair with it as it uses up the egg whites that are left over and makes a delicious dessert. I made a huge batch of mince pies for a drinks party and made the meringues to team with them for my dessert section. They are unbelievably easy to put together, but look great on the table at a party.

Add all 3 egg whites to a bowl and whisk them until they form stiff peaks. At this stage add the caster sugar (175g per egg yolk, pre-sieved) in spoonfuls, whisking as you go. I know from previous experience that it can be done by hand, but en electric whisk makes it much easier! If you do have en electric whisk then you can whisk on high seed until the mixture becomes sticky and you can almost turn the bowl upside-down without it falling out…although don’t test that fully, just in case you’re not quite there! Then, simply use a teaspoon and transfer small amounts to baking parchment on a baking tray and place in an overn pre-heated to 170 degrees celcius. As soon as you add the meringues, turn the oven down to 160 degrees and cook for an hour.

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Although My daughter would have helped with this, I usually make meringues last thing at night, as they need to cook for an hour and are better left to cool in the oven overnight. The next day you can take them out, whip some double cream, and put a spoon on top along with a raspberry. My daughter was delighted to do this job for me, although I think there was quite a lot of tasting going on at the same time!

Melt in the Mouth Mince Pies!

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These are made following my own mum’s mince pie recipe. They are ridiculously easy to make and even easier to eat! I am not a fan of shop bought mince pies as they pastry if often too thick and tasteless and there is usually far too much of it, along with mincemeat overload. These mince pies are made using a sweet delicate pastry with just a spoonful of mincemeat. My children adore them and they are such an easy Christmas treat for them to help bake and are wonderful Christmas gifts for neighbours and friends, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow!

The following recipe makes about three dozen, which I promise won’t be too many!

10 oz Plain flour
6 oz Butter (unsalted)
4 oz Caster sugar
2 large egg yolks

I use a blender as it is so fast, but it can also be done by hand. I’ve only had a blender since this year and realised the benefits! While the children are waiting for me to make the pastry I get them to flour a chopping board and also their rolling pins, ready to go.

Chop up the butter into cubes and put into a blender along with the flour. Mix the two together briefly to form a bread crumb like mixture and then add the sugar and egg yolks. Save the egg whites – these can be used to make meringues at a later date (see later post), which are also so easy.

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Once the pastry has started to glue together it is ready. At this stage it may still feel a bit dry and crumbly, but do trust my amounts and scoop it out of the bowl and use the heat if your hands to kneed it into a ball. If short for time, then you can wrap it in cling film at this stage and save for a few days in the fridge. A little bit of time in the fridge can actually improve it, but if the children are eager to help then it won’t make much difference if you carry on at this stage. Roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 5mm, and use a medium sized scone cutter to cut out the base and a star cutter for the top. Place the base on a 12-well shallow cake tray, and add just a teaspoon of a good quality mincemeat. Don’t feel tempted to ‘fill’ the mince pie with more as it will spill over the edges and ruin it. Honestly, a teaspoon is just enough, although it may mean that you eat twice as many!

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees Celcius for 7 minutes. The time is quite precise. Take them out just as they are turning golden and they will be just right. Leave to cool in the tray for about 10 minutes and then lift out onto a cooling tray. Don ‘t try to remove them too soon as they will fall apart. Hopefully the kids will love the pastry, and if they find the mincemeat too overwhelming you could always make them a special batch with a jam filling instead. It is Christmas after all!

Christmas Fair Chocolate Leaf Cake

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It’s time for the school Christmas fair again, which means baking something delectable for the cake stall. There’s always a slight pressure when you know that people will be paying good money for your wares, so I wanted to create something that looked appealing, but wouldn’t take up an entire day of baking. My Granny’s chocolate cake has always been a winner and can be put together in a jiffy. It’s essentially a Victoria sponge recipe with cocoa and hot water added for the chocolate flavour.  My Granny’s secret was the butter icing filling, with added melted chocolate and rum essence, which is a taste sensation combined with the chocolate sponge!  She used to cover the top with cooking chocolate and decorate with chocolate buttons.

My plan to make the cake the night before, when the children were sleeping, completely failed, so I was in a hurry to make it with the kids in the picture, which was not ideal. I won’t even pretend that I involved my 2 year old son in this; luckily the morning’s activities meant he was fast asleep on the sofa. My daughter was so excited when she heard I was baking and headed straight for the kitchen to join me. I felt very unkind saying that she couldn’t help, so I came up with a way to keep her busy while I whipped up the sponge – making chocolate leaves for the cake decoration.

I have fond memories of making these with my own Mum as they are so easy, but the result is rather wonderful.  The best leaves to use are sturdy leaves with lots of veins on the back.  Rose leaves are very good as you then also get the detail around the edge too. We don’t have any roses though, so I found quite a few shrubs with leaves that I thought would work well. 

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How to Cover the leaves:

Wash the leaves thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen towel, being careful not to tear them. Melt a good quality cooking chocolate – I use Green and Blacks 70% cocoa solids. Put some baking parchment on a chopping board as your base, as then you can recycle any spilled chocolate as it hardens. Apply to the leaf using a small knife, or teaspoon, and make sure that it is reasonably thick, so you can no longer see any of the leaf.  Ensure that the chocolate covers the leaf right up to the edges but doesn’t run over the edge, as this may affect the detail when you peel it off. Put the leaves in the fridge to set for about 10 minutes. Once set, you simply peel off the leaves and reveal the beautiful chocolate leaf with lots of detail.

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My daughter was delighted with the result and helped arrange them in a flower, which we then decided could do with a Belgian chocolate as its centre. So once the cake was baked, all I had to do was to sandwich with the butter cream, cover it in melted milk chocolate and arrange the leaves on top. (The mistake I made was to apply the leaves before the chocolate had fully cooled, so they melted a little around the edges. I had wanted them to ‘stick’ to the cake but could have waited until it was almost set.  Also, the higher the percentage cocoa, the faster the chocolate sets once melted.  I used a much lower percentage cooking chocolate for the top and this took a lot longer to cool). 

Finally, as it was for the Christmas fair and needed to be safely carried away once purchased, I decided to wrap it in a clear film with red ribbon at the edges to make it look like a Christmas cracker.

Dinner Party Sticky Toffee

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For some unknown reason I had never tried to make this at home before. It’s undoubtedly my favourite gastro pub dessert as it is both extremely comforting and indulgent. So when I was planning the menu for a small Halloween dinner party I decided to give it a go. I knew that if I got it right it could be the perfect end to supper on a spooky night!

The recipe I used came from Pippa Middleton’s book, Celebrate, which my husband bought me for my birthday. I had picked it up before in Waterstones but couldn’t bring myself to buy it, not because I have any reason to dislike her – except for sheer jealousy at her wardrobe, handbag collection, all year-round tan and enviable social life – but because I thought it be a no expenses spared approach to throwing parties with apparent effortless glamour, and faking domestic bliss at every corner.

So, I was pleasantly surprised by the content as many of the recipes are simple, practical family feeds, and it is actually quite sensitive with regards to cost. The craft ideas are quite manageable, given some time, but it also has lots of imaginative games and activities for children, and the photography is stunning. I don’t think there is a single person on God’s earth, including Pippa, who could actually celebrate the entire year in this style, but it’s the sort of book you can keep on your bookshelf for reference when a particular event you are hosting crops up.

For example, her children’s party section is ridiculously practical and detailed, down to reminding you to keep pen and paper handy for present opening, so you know whom to thank! I know she got quite a lot of bad press for comments like this, which might be seen as rather patronizing, but really good party planners do pay attention to every last detail. I got myself in a complete muddle during present opening last year after my daughter’s party and I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve had to help other Mums match presents to people by guesswork and process of elimination! So sometimes the obvious is worth a mention if it makes you actually do it. The Order of the day for the children’s party ends with the following points: – wave goodbye, – settle your own kids in front of a film, – have a glass of wine. Ok, so maybe we don’t need to be told to wave goodbye, but you’d be surprised in the madness of handing out balloons and party bags how easy it is to forget. However, I do think the modern Mum trying hard to do it all and be it all needs to be set free from her guilt at times. What it means is this: “You did it, you had the party and yes, you can put on a DVD and drink a glass of wine, GUILT FREE, in the knowledge that even the greatest party planners would do the same.” This isn’t patronizing, it’s re-assuring!

The sticky toffee was quite easy to make if you follow the recipe to the letter and the children loved it. It’s perhaps a little less unhealthy if you replace the toffee sauce with a good quality custard and cut it into small-ish cubes. I have discovered that my children can be shamelessly bribed to eat almost anything if sticky toffee pudding is on the menu for dessert, so I have since made it several times and frozen it too. For Halloween, we also followed Pippa’s fun place setting tip, to use scrabble pieces. It was the perfect job for my 4 year old who is currently busy learning her phonics and we gave the dinner party guests a challenge to choose the person with whom they could make the longest sensible word!

A similar recipe can be found here:
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3682/ultimate-sticky-toffee-pudding
However, Pippa’s version is simpler!

Beat the blues Banana Bread!

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If my kids are driving me crazy at home on a rainy day, the remedy is often to get them in the kitchen to do some baking! The change of scene and the idea of making something delicious they can eat seems to re-set the behaviour dial, and they often rise to the challenge. This banana bread is a foolproof all-in-one recipe that uses up old mushy bananas, of which we always seem to have at least one lingering in our fruit bowl.

2 browning medium sized bananas
2 large free range eggs
260g self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
110g softened butter or margarine
200g caster sugar
Chocolate chips or dates cut into small pieces (optional)
Use a tiny bit of milk if the mixture seems to dry or if you have only small bananas

This makes enough for a 22cm loaf tin, or about 16 medium sized muffins, but you can scale up or down fairly easily. If you want a stickier batch then you can halve the amount of dry ingredients, and you can even experiment with adding part soft brown sugar to make them a little more gooey! You can also halve the dry ingredients if you have only one banana, although one banana works for the larger amount too, it is just a little less sticky, but a very nice banana flavoured cake nevertheless! In essence, you can’t really go wrong as long as you keep the egg and flour ratio the same.

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. My 2 year old is usually given the task of mashing the bananas into a large mixing bowl with a plastic fork, although I usually have to help a little to make them really mushy. You can add a drop of milk here of they are less ripe. Add the sugar next and then the butter, mixing these in a thoroughly before adding the dry ingredients. If my daughter is helping too, then I give her a separate bowl in which to cream together the butter and sugar, but it’s not essential. If the butter is softened first, then mixing it all in one bowl will work better. Don’t melt the butter completely, but, if like me you haven’t had time to think ahead before taking to the kitchen, a short burst in the microwave to soften it won’t do any harm! You just want to avoid large lumps. Once it is all mixed together add it to either a silicone loaf mould, or a lined and greased tin. Bake in the oven for around 50 minutes, or 35-40 mins if you have scaled down. Insert a skewer into the middle and when it comes out clean then the cake is ready.

We made a large loaf with added chocolate chips and I think it was eaten in two days. My husband enjoyed a fair few slices too!