Confession

Easter Spice Biscuits (2012)

Forgive me readers, for it has been 15 days since my last blogging.

As usual, my excuse is work-load related. I had an essay for one of my favourite University modules and I really wanted to research it to death and make it as thorough as possible. Now I have a little bit of time to breathe, as my next essay hand-in date is into the new year.

Easter Spice Biscuits

Yesterday, to celebrate the essay’s hand-in, I had a quick baking session. I wanted to be super selfish and make something purely for me (using my gluten-free flour). I wanted a quick bake that was homely. Probably my favourite thing that I’ve baked this year is my Easter spice biscuits. They’re crumbly and soft, and filled with delicious spices, and citrus zest. I knocked out a quick batch and used my ‘egg’-shaped cutter, and my Moomin cutter to make the individual cookies.

Firstly, I had totally forgotten how absolutely divine these little beauties smell whilst they cook. Even my dog looked impressed.

Secondly, they taste as divine as they smell. I still need to finish icing them, hence no photos yet, so I have that small pleasure to look forward to. And speaking of pleasures… it’s a friend’s birthday later this week, so tomorrow I’ll be making a batch of her favourite cupcakes! That and juggling reading for University, I think it’s going to be a good week!

xo CK xo

On Bonfire Night…

When I was at Infant School, I remember being taught a song for the 5th of November:

On Bonfire Night at 5 o’ clock, 

I took my Daddy to the Firework Shop.

I bought a rocket, it cost 10pence

I took it home and put it on the fence and it went WHOOOOOOOOOOOSH!

A photo of four-year-old me, wrapped up against the cold shortly before November 5th 1993

There is, of course, a better known rhyme for the 5th of November, as it’s celebrated in the UK; the rhyme tells us to remember, remember. For me, the 5th of November has always been about history, heritage and, now that I’m older, memories. I view baking in the same light. I love reading classic recipe books and bringing their ideas up to date, the same as I love reading history books.

The 5th of November, or Bonfire Night, is wrapped up in a blanket of childhood memories for me. I grew up in a small seaside community with just one Infant, Junior and High school, and so all major calendar events from Easter to Christmas were celebrated with one event held by the combined schools’ PTA (Parent/Teachers Association), in conjunction with the local council and churches.

I fondly remember wrapping up in woolly hats, gloves on string so that they didn’t get lost, big coats and Wellington boots, and standing on the playing field adjacent to the school to watch the town firework display and the lighting of the bonfire that had been steadily built over the previous month. All those amazing colours and patterns in the sky, followed by so much warmth from the flames that your face stung as the cold of the night air was vanquished.

Best of all though was the Bonfire Night meal that we had beforehand. Delicious foods like baked potatoes, hot dogs, roast root vegetables, pumpkin soup, toffee apples, roast chestnuts, Parkin, and treacle toffee; all very traditional for Guy Fawkes Night, to give the 5th of November it’s more ‘official’ title. Sweet, filling foods that warm you right through.

This year, I was at home to help my puppy through her first experience of fireworks, so my baking for the family had to be quick and simple, but of course I still wanted a bit of a show-stopper, which is clearly the Great British Bake Off mentality coming out! I decided to make a quick butterscotch sauce for dipping pieces of apple in, and a cake. I opted to adapt a recipe from my favourite classic recipe book by Be-Ro. If you want to get into baking, Be-Ro has to be your starting point because it covers all the basics and is really easy to follow.

It’s absolutely easy to make a cake look like a bonfire using some matchmakers (chocolate sticks) and thrown-on frosting. Anyone can impress without having to call on any major icing skills, and best of all, the cake is cheap to make and most of the ingredients are bog-standard ones that you’d have at home anyway!

Ultimately, you need to end up with a conical cake on top of a traditional round cake, and that really isn’t as difficult as you may think. The conical shape means that you can ‘build’ up your bonfire flames with absolute ease by making a pyramid out of cake. The quickest way to get the required shape, and the way I did it, is to use a giant cupcake mould. You can buy them for under £10, and then you can make giant cupcakes to your hearts content! They usually come with a mould for the base of the cupcake, and a conical mould for the top part. I used the same cake mixture to fill two regular round cake tins, and also the conical giant cupcake mould. When everything was cooked and turned out, I had my round base and my cone.

If you don’t have a giant cupcake mould, fear not! Just make your base cakes and then a super-deep cake in a regular round or (preferably) square tin. When the cake is cooled, assemble your pyramid by cutting the deep cake into square layers and stacking them on top of each other until you have a pyramid.

Let’s face it; buying a giant cupcake mould is a good idea!

For my Bonfire Night cake, I decided to make a chocolate spice cake. The spice is to give warmth, to bring back my homely Bonfire Night memories, and the chocolate adds a lovely flavour. Because the cake is quite dense, due to its height, the milk and golden syrup adds much needed moisture. Here’s the recipe!

Chocolate Spice Show-stopper Bonfire Cake

(This recipe makes a lot of cake, so you could easily halve the amounts)

220g Butter

420g Caster Sugar

100g Chocolate (I used orange flavoured chocolate to make things interesting!)

4 Separated Eggs (You will need both parts, so don’t throw them away!)

1tsp Cinnamon

1tsp Mixed Spice

1/2 tsp Ground Cloves

370g Self Raising Flour

240ml Milk

Orange Peel

4 tbsp Golden Syrup

1) Pre-heat the oven to 180°c, 350°f or Gas Mark 4. Prepare your baking tins by greasing them thoroughly with butter.

2) Sieve the flour and spices into a bowl together and set aside.

3) Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg yolks and beat very well.

4) Melt the chocolate and beat it into the mixture.

5) Sieve in the flour and spices, alternating with the milk. Add the golden syrup and mix thoroughly.

6) Whisk the egg whites until very stiff.

7) Gently fold the egg whites into the mixture, followed by the peel.

8) Bake in the centre of the oven. Two cake tins should take 25minutes, whilst one deep tin will take around 40-45minutes. The cakes are done when they are golden in colour, springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tins for a few minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

9) When the cake is thoroughly cooled, cover the top of the two round cakes with any jam of your choice. I used a mixture of cloudberry jam and orange curd. Don’t put the jam too near to the edges (or it’ll all ooze out), and don’t put too much on (or the cakes will slip off each other). Place one on top of the other. Put the conical sponge on top, or build up your own top to give you the desired pyramid shape.

Now,  for the frosting!

This is my super-secret, absolutely awesome frosting recipe. It makes a relatively stiff icing that is easy to work with, and is usually vanilla flavoured, but for this cake I changed that to orange. The best thing about this cake is that you don’t need to make the icing pretty, you can just slap it on!

Orange Frosting

30g Butter

300g Icing Sugar

Pinch of Salt

2 tbsp Orange juice.

Food Colouring Gel

+ 1-2 boxes of Orange Matchmakers

1) Beat the butter until very smooth. Add the salt.

2) Slowly add the icing sugar, beating until smooth and adding the orange juice when necessary to keep the frosting smooth and moist. Beat very well. Add more orange juice (or milk) if necessary.

3) Divide the frosting into three bowls. Use a small amount of food colouring gel to make the frosting red, yellow and orange. Food dye that comes as a gel tends to work better than the liquid version, because it doesn’t affect the composition of the frosting as much.

4) Using a palette or flat knife, dollop the frosting onto the cake. Swirl the different colours together to create a fiery look. You don’t need to be precise at all, just slosh it on!

5) Break Matchmakers into pieces of various sizes and stick them around the bottom of the cake to create the effect of the logs that make up the bonfire. Again, this doesn’t need to be perfect, in fact, it looks better if they’re a little chaotic and all over the place. The most important thing is to have fun with it, because that’s what baking is all about!

So there you have it! One very easy to make cake, which is sure to dazzle your friends and family.

I hope you made sure to ‘remember, remember’ to have a wonderful November 5th, and stayed safe if you had a go at making your own firework display!

xoxo CK xoxo

Chocoween

Halloween isn’t Halloween without chocolate; bowls of brightly coloured candy ready at the door for ‘trick-or-treaters’, and chocolate incorporated into baked goods. I made sure that the table at my Halloween soiree was piled with chocolate and candy in bowls. I found a few websites who specialise in importing US candy to the UK, and so I was able to buy Candy Corn, Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kisses, Toffee Apple Milky Ways, M&M Candy Corns, along with a few different UK candy products.

I love opening the door to children in their Halloween costumes, my arms weighed down by the large pumpkin shaped tray that we cover with the different sweets, chocolates and candy. It’s such an important part of the holiday to me.

Chocolate is also one of my favourite cooking ingredients; how could it not be? So many options and different recipes come to mind instantly. I have two chocolate cupcake recipes (one is slightly malted) and for Halloween 2012 I decided to make the richer and more chocolatey of the two. I went for a simple chocolate cupcake with chocolate cream frosting to make sure that my decoration wasn’t drowned out.

At Halloween I usually make a brownie graveyard; I stand chunks of brownie up in a little graveyard scene with dyed coconut ‘grass’ and marshmallow ‘toadstools’. I carve the brownies into different tombstone shapes. It’s great fun to make and looks fantastic, but this year I fancied a little bit of a change. I saw a recipe in Lily Vanilli’s ‘A Zombie Ate My Cupcake‘ (another book I adore), for gingerbread tombstones, and I knew that I’d found my tombstones for 2012. The gingerbread dough is very simple and creates a nice stiff gingerbread that’s easy to carve into the desired shapes.

The best thing about the gingerbread is that it contains black treacle, which gives a very unique taste and makes a gingerbread the likes of which I’ve never tasted. I iced messages onto the ‘tombstones’, like ‘RIP’, and stuck them on top of the chocolate cupcakes. The result was really great!

So that rounds up my Halloween baking for 2012!

It was great fun!

xo CK xo

Pumpkins-a-plenty!

Me on Halloween 1995, aged 6.

I have a confession; although Halloween is very important to me and I always do a huge amount of baking for it, I have never before made a sweet dish using pumpkin. Let’s face it, tinned pumpkin isn’t readily available in the UK (or at least in my part of it), and the giant carving pumpkins aren’t really eating pumpkins. I found tinned pumpkin on Amazon, and one 425g tin ($£3.70 + postage) was enough to make two separate items: Pumpkin whoopie pies and pumpkin cupcakes. Pumpkin cupcakes are, in essence, a carrot cake recipe, minus the carrot and adding the pumpkin. There is added oil to keep the mixture smooth and the same spices you’d find in any good carrot cake.

I love it when there are cupcakes in the oven and the house is filled with the delicious smell of them baking. I love how the smell seems to waft around the house, especially when it reaches the front door to welcome in visitors, family or even any trick-or-treaters. One of my favourite things to bake for this reason is gingerbread (which I did make this Halloween, but I’ll discuss that later),  but my new favourite is the pumpkin cupcakes I made for the first time last Thursday.

They’re definitely a relative of the humble carrot cake (with their savoury veg, dried fruit and spice), but with the addition of pecans and the pumpkin flavour, which is far stronger than that of the carrot, these cupcakes have extra depth of flavour and texture.

The whoopie pies are strange things indeed. Not quite a traditional whoopie (they’re missing buttermilk, etc.) but more like a whoopie than a cake or a cookie, especially with their marshmallow filling. I wouldn’t say I was totally happy with how they turned out, but I know exactly why. I made them using my wheat-free flour and Xanthan gum, which means they didn’t spread and rise to form the flat-bottomed disc-like whoopies but instead maintained their shape and I was left with puffed up blobbish balls. Because of this, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sandwich two of them together and instead had to opt for slicing them in half and sandwiching the two halves back together. Needless to say, they didn’t end up on my Halloween dinner table and instead were discarded as a failed attempt.

The cupcakes were much more successful. Everyone who tried them hailed them as an absolute success. I was dubious about mixing cake and vegetables, but the praise was unanimous. I think these little gems will definitely be a Halloween staple. I also really love the cream cheese frosting; it’s a perfect combination.

I think this will definitely encourage me to try more veggie-cake-bakes!

But these weren’t the only cupcakes I made for Halloween… click here to read more!

xo CK xo

Happy Halloween! + Pecan and Maple Cookies

This Halloween has been quite fractured as the actual date has fallen mid-week, but many people celebrated at the weekend. I know friends who went to Halloween fancy dress parties, club nights, house gatherings, Halloween dinners, and even to Alton Towers theme-park for their celebration. Halloween has certainly become more widely celebrated since I was a child.

I remember fondly that when I was young I would attend the Halloween party at school along with my parents. There would be hot dogs in bread rolls dyed green for the occasion, and party games in the school hall; one that particularly sticks out in my memory involved being blindfolded and asked to identify various squishy and disgusting objects by touch, with things like jelly suddenly feeling horrific when you couldn’t see what your fingers were plunging into. Everyone was in fancy dress too. There are photos of me dressed as a spider, skeleton and, of course, a witch. Back when I was really young, Halloween was such a ‘new’ thing that (in my little town) we couldn’t even get pumpkins to carve, and had to resort to using turnips. I certainly remember that Halloween was great fun.

Me – aged 3 or 4 years and holding my turnip jack-o-lantern, in those days before pumpkins were readily available

Nowadays, Halloween means a lot to me. It goes much deeper than ghouls and candy, because, for me, it has religious significance, having been a Pagan since the age of 10. I celebrate it every year with private religious observation, and with my somewhat legendary soiree; I decorate the house with the usual Halloween trappings, friends come round to watch horror films, we order pizza, and, most importantly, I bake a plethora of treats. It’s what I look forward to all year and I start planning my bakes in June. My ingredients shopping list ends up resembling something around the length of War and Peace.

Because of the baking and soiree preparations, my Halloween celebration tends to stretch out over the best part of two weeks. This year it started on Monday 22nd October when I went to the cinema to see the horror film of the moment. It may not have been the best film, but it certainly got me in the right spirit. At this point I also decided that instead of making this blog post incredibly long, I’d do a series of posts to cover all the different things I made this Halloween.

I’ll start with delicious but simple pecan and maple cookies.

I’m starting to sound like a stuck record, but autumn is my favourite season and I love autumnal foods. Pecans have always seemed to be very apt for this time of year. I (used to) enjoy munching on pecan plaits and pecan pie at this time of year. Pecans combine with spices like cinnamon to make a truly autumnal flavour. They’re also my favourite nut, by a country-mile. Maple syrup is something that has also been difficult to get hold of in my part of the world.

At this point everyone is probably going to think I live in the absolute middle of no-where. I did grow up in a relatively rural place, but still not that bad! It’s just that some things took a little longer to reach us. We weren’t huddled round a fireplace at night, but pumpkins and maple syrup were exotic.

Anyway! I love cookies. I have found the perfect cookie recipes in ‘Eat Me‘ by (rather appropriately) Cookie Girl, and I used one as my starting point for my maple & pecan cookies. This year, it was the first thing I decided to make for Halloween. The cookies are deliciously soft, stuffed full of pecans, sticky with maple syrup and warming with a hint of cinnamon and mixed spice. The maple syrup crystallises in the oven and creates a delightful crunch. I simply love these cookies. They’re really easy to make too. I would post the recipe, but that would delay the posting of the blog (as I’m currently separated from my recipe card box), so for the sake of speeding up the process it had to be cut out.

One of my favourite things about these cookies is that they spread out on the baking sheet and merge together, meaning you have to cut them into smaller pieces. It gives rough and uneven cookies that look so rustic and home-made. Absolutely wonderful!

Next on my baking list was cupcakes! You can read about them here.

xo CK xo

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone, or, as my fellow Pagans would say, happy Samhain!

I hope you’ve all had a suitably spooky day filled with more treats than tricks!

I thought I’d drop by to give a quick update. Firstly, I had a really wonderful time on Saturday night when my annual Halloween Soiree took place. In the days running up to Saturday, I was getting quite concerned because I kept getting struck down with really bad tummy ache. Luckily, after a trip to the doctor, I felt much better on Saturday.

On Saturday night, my friends came to my house and we did the usual; we ordered pizza, stuffed ourselves with cakes and baked treats, and watched two great horror films… well, horror comedy anyway! It’s always hard to cater for everyone’s taste in film, especially with horror. We opted for a parody of 70s B-Movies called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes  and then a Norwegian zombie-horror-comedy called Dead Snow (Død Snø)I really recommend the latter.

Anyway, it was a lovely night and I had a fantastic time, so many thanks to my best friends who made it so special. My puppy enjoyed it as much as I did; she ran around absolutely delighted for most of the night, and subsequently slept all day Sunday.

For the little get-together I made: maple syrup & pecan cookies, chocolate cupcakes, gingerbread, pumpkin cupcakes and mini Victoria sponges. I tried to make some pumpkin whoopie pies, but the less said about them, the better.

Because I made so much, you can imagine that blog posts for the night are taking a while to do. I also have quite a bit of reading to get through for University this week, and I have a looming deadline. So, I just wanted to drop by and explain myself and why my blog isn’t crammed full of Halloween photos just yet. I currently have 3 separate posts under way, and just need to add photos and finishing touches, so expect them soon!

Have a great Halloween/Samhain night, and stay safe!

xo CK xo

A cupcake a day…

I believe that cupcakes containing fruit or vegetables count towards your five-a-day. My belief is unwavering and concrete. I have said that I was going to have a go at making (some) healthy bakes in October, and I believe that carrot cake fits that purpose. 

Autumn is here. Officially. The new academic year is here and everyone is wearing coats and gloves as they run to lectures. The leaves are turning into their beautiful plethora of ‘fall’ colours. As I’ve said before, this is my favourite time of year. This season’s foods are also my favourite to cook.

I wanted to make my oven warm the otherwise distinctly cooler kitchen, and for the smell of autumnal spices to cast its spell over the house. I also wanted to keep away from the chocolate and toffee recipes which are around in abundance in the run up to Halloween.

It tends to be the case that autumn is when everyone reaches for root vegetables, after-all, what dish is as tasty and inviting as a slow-cooked stew with butternut squash, parsnips and carrots? It’s the perfect thing to come home to when you’ve left work in the gloom of early autumn sundown.

The wealth of root vegetables on offer during this time of year also means that, for students, it can be a pretty cheap time. Root veg keeps well and can be used in many varied dishes. One bag of carrots can open you up to a whole world of possibilities. We always have a bag of carrots in the house too.

With all this in mind, I just had to make spiced carrot cupcakes with a spiced cream cheese frosting.

Carrot cake is a funny old thing. The addition of carrot should bring moisture, but if you were to throw carrot, spices and dried fruit into a regular sponge mixture you would end up with something very dry. Because of this, carrot cake recipes do away with butter in favour of vegetable oil. It’s also essential to whisk the eggs and sugar like there’s no tomorrow; they need to end up being frothy and lump-free.

To give a rich caramel tone to the flavour, and to help deepen the colour, I used a 50:50 mix of caster sugar and coconut sugar. Coconut oil and sugar are my favourite ingredients at the moment because they taste amazing and are super good for you. Celebrities and food bloggers are big fans of them too.

The perfect accompaniment to carrot cake is a nice cream cheese frosting, but I didn’t want ‘nice’, I wanted ‘super homely, autumnally delightful and sensationally tasting’… so I made some cream cheese frosting with added spice. I adapted a recipe from the Primrose Hill recipe book. The batter has the consistency of a fruit cake, rather than a sponge cake, before baking; it’s a lot stiffer than a sponge.

I decorated my cupcakes with a little homemade fondant (icing) carrot. They’re really easy to make. You can either buy pre-coloured fondant, or use gel food colouring to dye the fondant orange and green. Then it’s just a case of rolling a sausage shape for the carrot, plumping it up a bit with your fingers and rubbing one end into a point, and then finally scoring three faint lines to make the ‘ridges’. The green leafy top is just a triangle of green fondant with lines scored onto it. Et voilà!

Here’s the recipe!

Carrot Cupcakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

(Makes about 15)

225g Carrots – peeled, finely grated and patted between two pieces of kitchen roll to remove excess water.

130g Raisins, Sultanas or Dried Fruit of your chosing.

2 Large Eggs

130g Caster Sugar – which can be regular or golden, or coconut sugar (like I use)

120ml Corn or Vegetable Oil

1/2 tsp Vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 Orange or Dried Peel

1 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 pinch Ground Cloves

120g Plain Flour

1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

(Optional) 1 tsp Xanthan Gum – This is a natural raising agent. I use it because I use wheat-free flour due to my wheat intolerance, and this flour struggles to rise.

1) Prepare the carrots, making sure to drain off any excess moisture. Combine with the dried fruits and orange zest (or dried peel), and set aside.

2) Preheat the oven to 160°c (for a fan oven), 180°c (for a regular oven), 350°f or Gas Mark 4.

3) Line a muffin tin with around 15 bun cases. Depending on their size and on how much mixture you use, you may have a few more or a few less.

4) Beat the eggs and sugar together until frothy. You need to be beating for a good few minutes to get it as frothy as possible. Beat in the oil. The oil will automatically just sit on top of the eggs and sugar, so it will take a good beating to get them combined. Add the vanilla and beat well.

5) Sift in the flour, Bicarbonate of Soda and Cinnamon in 3 parts, mixing well with the other ingredients and adding a dash of milk if everything gets a bit too stiff and difficult to manage.

6) Finally, add the dried fruit and carrot mix, and stir in until evenly combined. Spoon into the paper cases so they are around half full; this will give room for the cakes to rise and for the frosting to be contained within the case, as it’s a pretty runny one!

Bake for around 20-25minutes. My fan-assisted oven bakes them in 20minutes. These cupcakes take a little longer to cook than ordinary sponge ones because of the density. Just like a Victoria sponge, you know that they’re cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and after 10minutes you can turn the cases out of the muffin tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

175g-200g Cream Cheese

450g Icing Sugar

125g Butter

1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

1 tsp Ground Cloves

1) Beat the cream cheese and butter together until very smooth. The more cream cheese you use, the stronger the flavour of the frosting.

2) Gradually beat in the icing sugar until well combined. Mix in the spices.

3) Spoon onto the cakes and chill until the frosting has set. The cupcakes should remain in the fridge (because of the cream cheese), rather than in an air-tight container. They last for up to 7-10 days. It took my cupcakes a good 24hours for the frosting to set completely. This frosting is not suitable for piping or using with a palette knife, but it tastes amazing so is well worth it!

4) Decorate with any embellishments and enjoy!

Have a great start to Autumn!

xoxo CK xoxo