Thursday 31 December 2009

Highlights of 2009

2009, my first full year of blogging! I thought I'd round up a few of my highlights over the past year. I don't think I can say that I have a favourite recipe overall, but there are a few contenders. The first must be the stone fruit yogurt cake above - the texture is soft and moist and the recipe adaptable to lots of different incarnations. I've already tried it with tart cranberries and can imagine it'll be a go-to recipe for a basic cake.

Other sweet delights this year were the treacle and ginger flapjacks pictured below - a really good combination and proof to myself that you don't always have to stick to the tried and tested simplicity of the basic recipe. On the other hand, this chocolate chip cake was a nice, simple recipe to provide a quick dessert served with juicy summer fruit. And one of the most searched for recipes this year was the Sweet and Simple bakes vanilla buttercream cupcakes, leading by a fair way, but also popular were these butterfly cakes.
Other highlights were my first (and successful!) baked cheesecake, here, my favourite gingerbread recipe, here, and a recipe that was my own invention, and which I was really pleased with - moist and more-ish and visually appealing too, this chocolate orange and vanilla marble cake was definitely an early success of 2009.

I think 2009 also represents a massive improvement in my bread baking skills. I've now got a couple of recipes I make over and over again, not least this apricot wholemeal/white hybrid bread which is perfect for breakfast. Joining Fresh from the Oven should inspire me to bake more too, although apologies to the group members for missing December's bake - I ran out of time and motivation as I can't actually eat Stollen myself and wanting to eat something is always an incentive for making it! One of breads baked by the group is the white tin loaf you see below, and has become my standard white loaf, tasting fabulous with a great texture and flavour.

I also learnt to be slightly more adventurous with my baking, highlights being the tomato and basil rolls shown above and black pepper rye bread, which is definitely on the to be baked again list! I also successfully baked hot cross buns this year, which is a first - previously they've always been burnt, so I was really pleased with this year's batch.
It appears that my obsession with Dan Lepard's recipes has continued without faltering this year, so let's hope that continues - I'm sure it will, as a large proportion of my 'to-bake' list has origins with his recipes. So I'll give a link to one of my most used resources over the past year, Dan Lepard's fabulous forums. (And no, I'm not on commission, just wanting to share his passion for baking with other enthusiasts!) And perhaps this year I'll manage to get a sourdough starter going, who knows!

Monday 28 December 2009

Gingerbread two ways

It was this post by Johanna over at Green Gourmet Giraffe that inspired me to make gingerbread. Although looking at the date of her original post and the fact that I am only just writing them up now goes to show just how quickly the year has flown by (either that or I'm just very, very disorganised - I like to think that it's a combination of the two). Anyway, who could possibly resist those gorgeous bush buddies that Johanna made? Unfortunately I don't have such lovely cutters, but I did see this rather amazing cutter in Lakeland, and decided that even though I don't have any small children to admire it's amazing shape, I had to buy it anyway! Well, I think the dinosaurs it makes are cute anyway, and I'm sure that if you have little boys (or girls!) they'd love these biscuits.

The recipe I chose was Delia Smith's gingerbread recipe, because it seemed really straightforward and she notes that the dough is easy to work with and very forgiving, plus the recipe was already in weight rather than cup measures - sorry Johanna, I prefer to weigh my ingredients!

The first time round, for the dinosaurs, I made the recipe as stated, minus the orange peel, and using light muscovado sugar. The second time, for the mini Christmas tree you see at the top of the post, I used 2tbsp treacle and 1 tbsp golden syrup, and dark muscovado sugar for a darker, stronger more Christmassy flavour. I also went easier on the cloves the second time, it's a very strong flavour and I slightly overdid it the first time round!

One thing to note when decorating the dinosaurs is that mini Smarties (now with no artificial flavourings or colourings) are rubbish for baking with - all of the colours (which are much dimmer than they used to be when I was young and colourings weren't the work of the devil....) fade to a sort of monotonous green/brown after baking. The decorations you see above are using Silver Spoon baking beans. Clearly still using artificial (and therefore heat stable!!!) colourings. You see, spirulina extract isn't all it's made out to be, Nestle!!

I enjoyed these biscuits and smiled every time I looked at the dinosaur shapes. Colleagues enjoyed the gingerbread too, but weren't bowled over by the shapes. Well, we can't all be children at heart can we! I enjoyed the darker incarnation very much and the recipient of the Christmas tree looked pleased too!!!

Saturday 26 December 2009

Vanilla butter biscuits

I'm not generally that successful with cookies, they need a soft texture that I often don't manage to achieve, but biscuits are usually ok, so perhaps I should bake biscuits more often! This is certainly a good recipe for a beginner, and the Caked Crusader reminded me how easy they are, so I decided to treat colleagues to a little festive cheer before we all headed off for Christmas. Thankfully, unlike the CC, I wasn't cooking for anyone with vanilla aversion, so I added the vanilla to the recipe, and I think that they do benefit from the flavour.

Luckily I managed to locate the Christmas shaped biscuit cutters that I'd bought in the sale last year and put in a 'safe place' relatively quickly (I'm liable to buy things far too much in advance, put them somewhere safe and then spend the best part of a morning looking for them!) so I made snowmen, snowflakes, christmas trees, little men and my favourite, the reindeer you can see above. I just think they're so adorable.

I know I'm late posting this, but this recipe will definitely be a keeper in this house - they were really easy to make, the dough was well behaved and easy to roll out, cooked easily and they tasted really good too! Definitely not one to confine to Christmas time, any shaped cutters will do - I think I'll be on the lookout for other shapes just so I can make these at other times of the year! The decorations were done with bought writing icing, and I have to admit that I could have taken a little more care with them, but I was running out of time in the Christmas rush, and they had to make it into work in one piece. You can see below that a couple of the snowmen didn't fare so well - there's an eye missing, and some slippage..... ah well, I clearly need more practice!

Vanilla Butter Biscuits
I halved the original recipe, and have given the half quantities below. I still got about 45-50 biscuits - perhaps my cutters were on the small side!
90g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Baking sheets, greased or lined. I used parchment paper to line mine and had no problems.

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and then beat in the egg and vanilla.
- Add the flour and baking powder to the egg mixture and keep stirring until the dough comes together. It seems quite dry, as if it won't meld, but it does eventually, just keep pushing the dry ingredients into the egg mixture.
- Form into a flat blob, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for an hour or so.
- Flour your worksurface and, working with 1/3 -1/2 of the dough at a time, roll out to about 1/2 cm thick. Cut out shapes, flouring the cutters as you go. Place the shapes on the baking tray - these don't expand much, so you can put them fairly close together.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes until pale golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
- As the first batch cook, carry on cutting out and placing on another baking tray - this is where it's handy to have two trays. Keep going until all the dough is used up. I always end up with a blob at the end where I've re-rolled the dough many times. This time I baked the blob, and decided to pipe 'Merry Christmas' onto it - cook's treat!
- When cool, decorate as you wish, you could be much more gaudy than me, mine were quite understated!

My colleagues enjoyed these, after I'd repeated that they were edible, yes, and not just for decoration!!! Vanilla-ry, crisp and delicious.

Thursday 17 December 2009

No Croutons Required - Festive Photo

Every month I mean to get round to entering 'No Croutons Required', the monthly vegetarian soup/salad event hosted by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen, and every month I somehow fail. However, this month, Jacqueline has asked for festive photos rather than a soup or salad, given how busy everyone seems to be at this time of year, and this is my entry. It ought to be one of my new year's resolutions to take part more regularly!!! This photo was taken in my local park, just as the frost began to melt at this chilly time of year.

Keep warm everyone, and enjoy the festive season.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Lime and raspberry crumble cake

A little break from the spiced cakes and seasonal bakes of late. I present something entirely out of season, but delicious all the same! I was fed up of opening the freezer and trying to cram the latest item into it whilst cartons of raspberries bought at the height of the late summer/early autumn season stared back accusingly at me, languishing in their frozen home, just waiting for a fitting end. Because these ones were still in the carton (unlike those transfered to plastic freezer bags in a vain attempt to maximise space) they had held their shape and seemed ideal for a cake. The lime was hiding in the fridge, bought with no particular purpose in mind, so also found its way into this cake.

A very basic sponge recipe with a crumble topping.

Lime and raspberry crumble cake
2 large eggs
140g self raising flour
120g butter, softenend
120g golden caster sugar
zest and juice 1 lime

170g punnet frozen raspberries (I used mine from frozen)

For the crumble
40g plain flour
20g butter
20g caster sugar

- Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C. Grease and line with baking parchement a 7" square tin
- Make the crumble by rubbing the butter into the flour, then stirring in the sugar. Set aside
- Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the flour and eggs and beat well until combined.
- Stir in the lime zest and juice (I find that if I add this earlier, the zest all gets caught on the electric mixer beaters and therefore doesn't get distributed very well in the cake.)
- Spoon into the prepared tin and level off. Scatter over the raspberries and then the crumble mixture.
- Place in preheated oven and cook for around 50min-1hour. I had initially thought that this cake wouldn't take longer than about 40 minutes, but it did for me. Keep checking! The cake is done when it springs back to the touch and a wooden toothpick/cake tester comes out clean.

Best eaten on the day of making, as the raspberries tend to sink back after baking. This went very quickly indeed at work, which was most gratifying. The lime taste was good with the raspberries and the crumble topping provided a good contrasting crunch. It wasn't the lightest cake I've ever made or tasted, but it was good all the same and at least those raspberries aren't staring at me reproachfully every time I open the freezer.

Well, I had to have something seasonal in this post!!! I saw this lovely little dog and just couldn't resist - some things never change!

Saturday 5 December 2009

Treacle and ginger flapjack

I've been on a bit of a spice kick lately - it started with this parkin, and continued with this lovely cinnamon apple cake and a couple of other as yet unblogged about items. I was still craving warming spices and ginger in particular and my sweet tooth wanted not just simple sweetness, but depth and richness too. So treacle and ginger flapjack fitted my desires perfectly. This was so easy to throw together, but then flapjack always is! Melt the ingredients together, add oats, put into lined tin and bake.

I was really pleased with the way these came out - buttery and chewy with a hint of treacle. Biting into a nugget of crystallised stem ginger was delicious, I really, really love crystallised stem ginger!!! Colleagues were pleased too, at least there was very little left by the end of the day, which is always a good sign!

The recipe I used is the same as last time, except that I used half and half black treacle and golden syrup and used 100g chopped crystallised stem ginger instead of chocolate.

175g butter
120g light brown soft sugar
100g golden syrup
100g black treacle
350g rolled oats
100g chopped crystallised stem ginger (although you could add more if you want to!)

- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Grease and line an 8" x 12" (20 x 30 cm) baking tin. Please use parchment paper, greaseproof paper may well stick to your delicious flapjacks rendering them sadly inedible (I speak from experience - not mine, but J's!!!).
- Melt the butter, sugar, treacle and syrup over a low heat.
- When melted add the oats and mix well until everything is coated.
- Add the chopped ginger and mix briefly to distribute the ginger.
- Spoon into the prepared tin and roughly level out. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes until deliciously light golden brown.
- Mark into pieces while still warm (this is much easier than waiting until they are completely cold - believe me!) and allow to cool completely in the tin.
- Store in an airtight container. They should keep for a few days. Unless you just can't resist them, which may well be the case!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Snow-flecked chocolate brownies

Happy December everyone! We had our first real frost here this morning, and boy was it chilly, so these rich, decadent brownies suddenly seem very appropriate for the weather and the festive time of the year!

Maria chose Nigella Lawson's snow-flecked chocolate brownies for this month's sweet and simple bake, you'll be able to see everyone else's brownies over at the sweet and simple bakes blog so pop across and see what you think. You can find the recipe here, so I won't repeat it on my blog (especially as I'm so late in posting this anyway!). I made half of the given quantity and baked it in an 8x8" tin. Although the recipe states 25 minutes, I cooked mine for 35 and they were still quite squidgy (isn't that a great word!) in the centre. I cut them into 12 pieces, which seemed about right.

These really were extremely easy to make - I think lining the tin was the longest and most involved part of the recipe. And because the butter is melted, not softened, I didn't even need to remember to remove it from the fridge! Always a bonus!

I'm afraid I do have a small confession to make though.... I don't really like making brownies all that much. I think it's a combination of not really enjoying eating them, and not knowing when they're cooked, but they just aren't my favourite thing. These brownies also suffered the 'I don't know if they're done - I'll leave them in the oven a little longer' fate, but they don't seem to have suffered too much and were certainly well received at work. I don't think I'd make them again unless specifically requested, but I'm sure they tasted great - how can that amount of chocolate, sugar and butter not taste great!!! And T will be pleased to know that provided I remember to take it with me at Christmas, there is a piece residing in my freezer for him.....


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