I do love taking part in blog hops and wanted to join in with Calendar Cakes. This is a monthly blog hop organised by Dollybakes and byLaura Loves Cakes, both are fantastic blogs that I love reading when I get the chance.
This month’s theme is “The Village Show” and was a perfect time for me to think up what to bake for it. Next month is my own village’s Open Gardens which is always popular. I am not green fingered and my husband hates the idea of opening our garden up and having total strangers trampling around it. Not that they’d have anything spectacular to see. As I like to support the community though I have a cookie and cupcake stall outside my gate where all the proceeds go to the Village Fund. This means I can give support through something I can do, which is baking!
Here are some photos of my bakes in close up. This year will be the fourth year I have had my stall outside my gate and it is always well supported. I try to have a theme to my bakes, one year it was flowers, another Spring animals and last year was a Jubilee themed one as we were building up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee then.
This year I will be running my stall again, weather permitting of course and am planning on trying out a couple of new things alongside my tried and tested favourites. I always think of village shows as places where you can sit and have a cup of tea and a scone so I thought about baking some Earl Grey tea cupcakes. I looked to the fabulous Cupcakes From The Primrose Bakery book which I have used constantly since I bought it about 2 years back. I had not tried the Earl Grey cupcakes recipe though, so this time it was a great excuse. Last Friday I was baking a cake and thought I would have a go at the cupcakes while I had all the ingredients out.
First of all you had to infuse four Earl Grey teabags in some semi skimmed milk at room temperature. This was left for about 30 minutes. While this was going on I looked out the cupcake cases I wanted to use. I found some lilac ones with pink and yellow flowers from Wilton that had been in my cupboard a while and I hadn’t used them. I then creamed butter and sugar together, adding in some almond extract and eggs.
In a separate bowl I combined sifted plain and self raising flour. All the ingredients were then finally combined with the infused tea mixture. This smelled heavenly and I thought almonds worked well with the bergamot flavour of the Earl Grey. I spooned the mixture into the cupcake cases carefully and they were quite full to create a dozen of them. They baked in the oven for about 20-25 minutes.
Once they were on the rack and cooling I made up some vanilla buttercream. I personally find the buttercream recipe in the Primrose Bakery book rather sickly sweet but I thought I would stick to the recipe. I always make double what they say because it never goes far enough for me when you are piping it on with a star nozzle. The book suggests adding some violet food colouring to your icing to complement the Earl Grey cupcakes. I used up the rest of the purple gel paste I had bought for the Rainbow Easter cake I had made a few weeks back but it wasn’t enough and I thought the mixture did look like it had tinges of grey in it, rather than lilac! Now looking at the pictures of the cupcakes, the icing looks pink! I didn’t have time to make any sugarpaste decorations, neither did I have any to hand so on went some pink and white sprinkles!
Hope you enjoy looking at all the other entries to Calendar Cakes this month. I’m looking forward to browsing through the others (and drooling at all the delicious bakes) at the same time.
On Saturday I went to York Clandestine Cake Club‘s event which was to be held in the restaurant of the National Railway Museum in York. I was really looking forward to going as Rachel, the organiser had chosen such a super venue and a brilliant theme to be incorporated into cake! A huge thank you to Rachel for all the time that she spent into getting the venue and the event organised and it was lovely to catch up with everyone again.
As my Dad worked for British Rail for nearly 20 years, railways and trains are very much in my blood. Please don’t write me off as a spotty, anorak wearing nerd but I do love train travel. I was fortunate enough to have free first class rail travel in the UK and great discounts on fares throughout Europe as a child. How I wish I still had that now, I would never be at home! Thankfully my family railcard helps out a bit! Naturally, I took advantage of my Privilege Travel card and went on all sorts of trips up and down the UK. I even incorporated two tours of Scotland by rail as part of my student days. So, as you can imagine, the National Railway Museum has become a special place for me throughout the years.
After booking my place at the event, I then thought how on earth am I going to replicate a cake on a train or a transport theme? I had very limited time to be really creative as my children were off school last Friday on their school training day. They wanted to go into town to meet their friends so any cake I baked would have to be done in the evening.
Once again, the fabulous Clandestine Cake Club book came to the rescue. When the book came out back in February, I noticed a gorgeous sounding cake called “Choo Choo Chai Cake” This so called cake was inspired by Loughborough Clandestine Cake Club’s event held in a 1940’s style tea room on Quorn and Woodhouse station on the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. As a frequent visitor both as a child and with my two children for the Santa Specials in recent years, I love the Great Central Railway. The cake in question was a Three Milks Cake, but the recipe creator Janet Currie decided to incorporate her love of chai tea into the cake. Judging from the response the recipe has had, I was desperate to have a go at it myself.
The three milks are actually a soaking syrup which you pour onto the cooked cake. These were double cream, condensed milk and evaporated milk then mixed together with a chai syrup. I didn’t know where you bought the chai syrup so I used some chai tea bags which I had bought previously from my local Booths. These were infused in water and sugar.
The cake was deliciously aromatic with spices, there was vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom in the cake itself and more cinnamon was dusted onto the finished cake with my dredger.
I must admit I did panic when the cake was cooking as I did not know what the texture would turn out like. There seemed to be rather a lot of pouring syrup. I was worried that if I put the lot on the top it would fall apart and all I would have was soggy crumbs. I mentioned this on Twitter as I wasn’t sure who out of my Cake Club friends had made the cake. Fortunately, both Lynn Hill (Clandestine Cake Club’s founder) and Janet Currie herself tweeted back and I felt reassured.
On Saturday morning after the soaked cake had been in the fridge overnight I made up the optional topping. This was a simple whipped cream, icing sugar and vanilla extract frosting which I thought finished the cake off beautifully with the dusting of cinnamon on top. There was a little bit of cream left over.
At the Cake Club event on the Saturday afternoon there were some delicious cakes to choose from. Sharon had made a wheel cake which was a Lemon and Poppy Seed Bundt topped with a liquorice icing and Black Jack sweets! She had also made another cake for East Coast Trains marking their milestone of 25,000 followers on Twitter. You can read more about this on Sharon’s own blog here about her exciting adventure with the Skyfall train! It was an added bonus to see the Skyfall train in York station on it’s way down to King’s Cross from Edinburgh!
Rachel had also made a yummy train cake decorated with sweets and sprinkles. There was also an army tank made by Mel which contained great camoflage in the mixture as well as her children’s spaceship cake.
I took the leftover cake back home with me as the children wanted to try some. We ended up having a slice for pudding after our Sunday lunch.
Would I bake it again? Oh definitely, it was a winner all round.
Last week I was feeling a little bit nostalgic for my children’s baby and toddler hood. I think it was because my son reaches a big milestone next week, he officially becomes a teenager! How I didn’t listen to people that said “Oooh savour every moment, time will pass quickly!” Now both my children are taller than me (just!), I can’t help wondering where my children have gone. I really enjoyed my children being young, playing with them and helping them to learn new skills. As a teaching assistant and supply teacher in KS1 in my day job, working with the younger age range gives me a lot of happiness. Thankfully, they are great kids and although like all children they have their moments, I wouldn’t change them for the world.
Anyway, what has this got to do with the title of this post/ Well, one of the first recipes I enjoyed baking with my toddler children over 10 years ago were these moreish Apricot and White Chocolate Cookies from my Annabel Karmel “Complete Family Meal Planner” recipe book. I first bought this book when my son was a baby and have used it constantly ever since for family recipes, baking and suchlike. In fact I am on my third copy of the book as the previous two fell apart one by one. Hope it won’t ever go out of print or I’m in trouble.
The recipe introduction for the cookies says ” This fabulous and rather unusual combination of dried apricots and white chocolate makes irresistible cookies. Once you have sampled these you probably want to double the quantities second time around”
At first I wondered whether my children would eat dried apricots. They loved raisins and I’ve always liked dried apricots chopped up small and mixed in with things but not on their own, whole! I knew they would eat the white chocolate!
Another key ingredient in the cookies is also rather unusual and an ingredient I had not used in baking before at the time- cream cheese! I know it sounds strange but then I hadn’t even twigged you could make icing with it either, let alone adding it to cookies.
Last week, after not making this recipe for about 3 years, I thought I would give it a go again. It was a Friday afternoon, my day off from work and I wanted to make something for my children for when they got in from school. They always seem to be hungry after school and although I make them eat fruit, it was Friday and I wanted to treat them.
The oven was put on to heat up and I lined four baking trays with parchment. The butter was a bit on the hard side and it took ages for it to cream together with the cream cheese. Once that was done I added some caster sugar until the mixture went fluffy. The flour was added in, followed by chopped dried apricots and some white chocolate chips. These cookies do not contain eggs.
It is quite a soft dough but I used my cookie dough scoop to make sure I had equal measurements and luckily they don’t take long to bake. I had to put them in the oven in two batches though. The recipe says you get 26 cookies out of it. I doubled my portions but still got 26 cookies, they were small ones so who knows how tiny they would have been if I had made 26 cookies from the original recipe.
The cookies aren’t the most attractive cookies on the planet and sadly there isn’t a corresponding picture in the book to see what they should really look like. I felt mine looked very rustic and would certainly not win a competition on looks.
However, when the children got in from school they were pleased I had baked. They ate two there and then. I had to hide the rest but they do freeze well!
I love taking part in the latest #ForeverNigella blog hop. I think this is number four of the ones I have taken part in but we are up to 25 now. I look forward every month to see who is hosting the blog hop and doing the round up and also which is going to be the theme. It’s always exciting to see which the monthly theme is going to be and this month’s theme of “Colourful” is no exception.
Forever Nigella is organised by Sarah of Maison Cupcake. I always love reading Sarah’s blogposts whenever I get the chance, so do pop over and have a look at her latest posts. This month’s Forever Nigella is hosted by Elizabeth from A Girl In Her Kitchen. I had not come across Elizabeth and her blog before, from Tennessee but I am keen to read through her posts and pick up lots of tips and ideas.
This month’s theme of “Colourful” is a good one to choose and immediately I was thinking of all the colourful bakes in the Nigella books I have. I thought about the bright green Grasshopper pie with it’s chocolate base but then thought I am always blogging about sweet stuff and desserts. What about some thing savoury for a change? I suppose it’s because of my love of baking and having a sweet tooth makes me naturally look towards the dessert chapters in any recipe book.
I thought about what I could find in Nigella’s latest book “Nigellisima” which I bought when it came out last September. There were loads of different recipes but nothing leapt out and made me think of colour in a certain way. I always associate Nigella Lawson with Italy and then thought about my own special holiday there last summer.
It was my 40th birthday last May and for a late present my hubby took me to Italy for three days. I’ve always wanted to go to the Italian Lakes and to Venice so my hubby booked a whistle stop tour of Lake Garda, Lake Como, the Stelvio Pass up in the Alps and Venice. It was fab and I fell in love with Italy. I had been to Rome before but nowhere else in Italy before.
In the duty free shop at Bergamot Airport on our way home I got a bit carried away and bought pasta, spaghetti pasta spice, olive oil, limoncello liqueur and some risotto rice to make the wonderfully colourful risotto alla Milanese. I wanted to bring back some Bellini but my hubby said enough was enough!
Once I got home I gave some of the goodies to my Mum but she said not to be daft and that I could keep them. I then promised her I would make the Risotto alla Milanese the next time she came to visit. Trouble was on the subsequent visits we would either be going out or the risotto got forgotten. Luckily the rice had a long sell by date on it!
It wasn’t until I was thinking about what to make for ForeverNigella that I thought about the Risotto Alla Milanese! The risotto comes out a gorgeous yellow colour due to the saffron in it. I was keen to try it but because whenever I was out all the restaurants would only serve risotto to a minimum of two people. As my hubby isn’t that keen on rice I had to miss out. The same thing happens when we go to Spain with Paella!
Last weekend my Mum was here and I thought I’d better get that risotto made as promised. I looked through my Nigella cookbooks and spotted a recipe from Nigella’s book “Kitchen” for Risotto alla Milanese. This is a description of this wonderful book, which I intend to try and cook more out of : here.
I took photos to show how it was done:
The Risotto was absolutely gorgeous, not only did it look lovely with it’s pretty golden yellow colour but it tasted gorgeous as well. My son made rude comments about the colour, saying it looked like sick and he didn’t really like it. My Mum enjoyed it but my hubby and daughter who aren’t great risotto eaters ate a little to be polite. I will just have to hope that a local Italian restaurant will have it on the menu so I can enjoy it again!
Last year I was over the moon when I spotted that Marian Keyes had brought out a cake baking book. I have read her books and love her sense of humour. The books are perfect for taking away on holiday and whiling away the hours on a sunlounger! The last part of the previous sentence doesn’t always ring true. After all when you’re a parent who does get to sit on a sunlounger on holiday, though you can dream can’t you? Marian Keyes’ books are perfect though as pure escapism.
When I picked up the book Saved By Cake I was in the middle of my local Sainsbury’s in Harrogate. It was a quick shop for me on my day off running around the supermarket picking up cake ingredients for an order I had to fulfill that afternoon. I thought I would get an early lunch in Starbucks then head home to start baking. Coffee in one hand, I sat down in Starbucks and started to look through the book. The introduction leapt out at me because staring at me in the face was Marian Keyes going through a lot of the things that I had been going through.
My Story- Dealing with Depression
If you have started to read this post and you think that it is “all in the mind”, “you should pull yourself together” or that “you should think yourself lucky, you have your health!” then you obviously have never had depression. Stop reading right now. Or you can choose to read on and might get an inkling of what is like to suffer from depression. I am not going to go into all the ins and outs of depression, only I wanted to share my story and how baking and also cross stitch helped me to get through the black tunnel I found myself in sometimes. Depression does not favour people rich or poor, young or old. I know some people can be more prone to it than others but I am passionate about making ignorant people more aware of what it is like to suffer from depression.
As with most women I suffered with PMS before I had my two teenage children. I did get the odd day of feeling low, underconfident, fat, bloated and ugly which only lasted about 3 or 4 days prior to my period starting. My problems with depression started after the birth of my children.
Please for one moment don’t think that it was my children who made me feel depressed. Along with my husband they are the best things that have happened to me. I feel utterly privileged to have them in my life and they have always brought me great joy even though they do have their ups and downs just like any normal family. My depression was down to how I felt about myself, my abilities as a mother, a wife. I still feel as if I am a useless fat lump and what on earth does my husband see in me? I also felt inadequate against other people: people who are more popular, more talented, slimmer and this in turn made me want to turn in on myself to be on my own. Then again, I would protect myself from feeling even worse. I even used to avoid nights out or girlie weekends away when I was in a bout of depression as even though I loved all my friends dearly, I just felt hopeless and they just wouldn’t understand how I was feeling.
This is when I discovered baking when I was at home with my children. I had loved baking as a child, stood up on a chair pulled up to the kitchen worktop, hands covered in flour making jam tarts with my mum. One of my favourite smells ever is the smell of gingerbread men baking in the oven and that immediately transports me back to childhood. This is why my Sam’s Smart Cookies logo is a gingerbread man design. This early interest in baking soon disappeared big style when I started at secondary school in the Home Economics lessons. The teacher didn’t like me and was always breathing down my neck. She chastised me for being slow in the lessons, which was mainly down to the lack of a left-handed peeler when I was trying to peel apples to make apple crumble. She then stood over me when we were making fairy cakes so much so that I dropped my egg on the floor with nerves. So, as Mrs Dragon Features thought I was useless at cooking, then I thought I must be and I stopped doing it. That was until I became a mum myself and found myself trying to bake cakes for my daughter’s birthday party. It was a wonderful moment for me and made me realise here is something I CAN do and it kept my mind occupied. The same went for cross stitch. Focusing on my latest cross stitch project and knowing I had that to look forward to made me feel a million times better.
When my son started school my depression returned like a black cloud. To begin with I relished the time at home on my own, the house was clean and I could indulge in my cross stitch and baking hobbies. After a while though, as I had no money I felt depressed. I felt as if I had nothing to offer any more as I had given up teaching full time when my daughter was born and had gone back to do supply until my son was born two years later. Once the two of them were around it just was not worth two lots of childcare, we did not have family locally to help out and I had to give up my job. I felt as if I was on the education scrap heap as one headteacher told me at an interview that I had been out of the profession too long. I baked my way through my son’s first couple of years in primary school, if there was a local fair or coffee morning, you bet I donated some cakes. At least I felt as if my life had a purpose!
Finally I got a job as a teaching assistant which gave me another focus in life. I was delighted at last to be earning some money. I still have this job nearly seven years later but now cover the class I work in as a supply teacher as well. I do get odd bouts of depression, mainly when there’s lots going on in life and I did have a downer when my son started high school. I think it was because I would never have that aspect of taking my children to school again and I thought my baby’s all grown up now! I began to turn my baking into more of a business and now take orders for cakes and I have the odd stall when it fits in around my job and home life.
The other thing in my life to cheer me up was joining The Clandestine Cake Club last year. That has given me a lot of pleasure, making new friends who I have something in common with and also the events give me something to look forward to in this chaotic mad world we live in nowadays.
Marian Keyes’ Saved By Cake
Marian’s frank and honest introduction to her book explained about her battle with depression and how she felt to have it. She then went on to say how her love of baking came about, by baking a cake for a friend that was visiting. She enjoyed it so much that she went on to bake another and another! She ended up baking for others as she couldn’t eat it all herself. This was exactly how I felt when I baked at home, I would take cakes into school for my children’s teachers, I would donate to coffee mornings, we would eat it at home and I would gain weight! I enjoyed every moment of it and when I baked I felt as if I had actually achieved something. Something I could be proud of. I might not have continued “properly” in the teaching career I had originally but I felt like I was doing SOMETHING.
My first attempt at making one of the recipes from Saved By Cake was actually one of the very first recipes I baked for my family when my daughter was one year old. I had always loved Sunday roasts although I used to buy a ready made pudding. After all my cookery teacher at school had said I was a messy cook and I couldn’t do it properly. I had never attempted any puddings after that until I thought well why don’t I try an apple crumble and see how I get on?
Marian’s recipe is actually for Rhubarb crumble but my children don’t like it so I substituted eating apples and a teaspoon of cinnamon and reduced the amount of sugar mixed in with the fruit. She describes the recipe as “a pure delight to make because it is so quick and easy, you just fling everything into the dish and it all cooks together, fruit and topping”.
First I peeled,cored and chopped 900g apples and placed them in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. I sprinkled cinnamon and caster sugar on the top of that. The topping was made with butter, sugar, plain flour and porridge oats rubbed together. It was put on top of the apples and baked in the oven for about 40 minutes. Served warm with custard, it was a real treat and not too dissimilar to the apple crumble I baked for my family as my first foray back into baking 14 years ago.
I think baking, along with other crafts and hobbies is really therapeutic and should be available on the NHS! I hope you all enjoy baking as much as I do and it is lovely to have made so many friends who share my love of my “addiction”.
Last Tuesday was the turn of the York Central Clandestine Cake Club’s group to hold their event. It was to be an Easter themed event at York Cocoa House which I was really looking forward to. I had not been to the York Central group before and was keen to meet everyone and go in the Cocoa House. I took ages deciding what cake to bake but narrowed it down to the absolutely stunning Rainbow Cake which was featured on April 2013’s front cover of Good Food Magazine. I had never attempted a rainbow cake before, but the recipe looked clear enough to follow. As I was off work for the school holidays I had more time on my hands to play around with the recipes.
Everything went to plan with the cake until it came to ice it. Although I wasn’t initialhttp://www.bbcgoodfood.comly impressed with the colours as I was worried about having to use the whole tube of Dr Oetker gel to get the strong colours. I thought this might make the cake taste funny. In the end I liked the pastel colours, they looked more Spring like and pretty. I made a complete hash of the icing, for a start there wasn’t enough of it and my children had stolen the packet of Smartie Mini Eggs I had for the top of the cake. I often find sweets missing from my baking cupboard and it really upsets me. Even though to them it was a small packet, it majorly inconveniences me and as we live in a small village it is difficult to get to the shops in a hurry. I was so upset and wound up that I ended up with a stinker of a headache and decided I couldn’t get along to the meeting after all as I had no cake worthy of taking along to a CCC event. It was half an hour before I would have been due to leave anyway, the kitchen was a mess and there was nothing ready for dinner for the kids and hubby. I had to cancel. After all that drama I did eventually find some leftover sugar Easter egg shapes that I’d bought for cupcake toppers so on they went on the top of the cake. Thankfully they didn’t look to0 bad but now I didn’t need the cake because I couldn’t go to the event anyway! So frustrating!
Look at the pictures below to see how I made this cake.
Every Easter Sunday I like to have either a special Easter tea or a family roast lunch where we can forget eating healthy and have a little treat. This year was no exception in our house. I had my mum staying with us for the Easter weekend and we decided to stay in and have a roast dinner followed by an indulgent dessert.
I am not a roast lamb lover so we don’t stick with tradition for Easter in our house. When I was getting the shopping in my hubby asked if we could have gammon. The only gammon joints I could find in the supermarket were massive ones. We would be eating gammon with everything even for breakfast if I had picked one of those joints. Instead I settled for some pork and to follow I chose to make a chocolate cake.
I have been a Good Food Subscriber for about seven years now and year after year I see brilliant ideas for special meals such as Easter and Christmas and think “I’ll make that!” and I never get round to it. I promised myself I would try this cake as it would go down well for any occasion, not just Easter.
This cake is made by splitting the mixture in two. One half of the mixture gets flavoured with vanilla extract and good quality white chocolate, the other half with dark chocolate and strong coffee. Each half is baked in one sandwich tin and then sliced in half horizontally so you come up with four layers in the end. I couldn’t be bothered with that and only did it with the dark chocolate layer. The original recipe uses White maltesers on top. I chose to use white Milky Bar eggs as it was Easter and also you can’t always find white Maltesers when you want them.
Once the two cakes had cooled down. I made up some dark chocolate ganache. Double cream and dark chocolate were melted together and then mixed until it had thickened up. When it was thick enough I assembled the cake using ganache on some of the layers. I then topped the cake with it and spread it around the sides of the cake. This went on in a bit of a slapdash fashion as I was working quickly but it didn’t have to be neat. Finally on went some drizzled white chocolate and the mini Milky Bar eggs.
As it was important to use good quality chocolate to get the right results, it was not a cheap cake to make. Although I tend to buy chocolate on special offer to get good prices on the more expensive brands, it still worked out at about £8 for just the chocolate, the Milky Bar eggs were well over another pound too as well as needing double cream and all the other ingredients. It is definitely a special occasion cake so one I won’t be making lots of times but it was worth it.