Posts Tagged ‘baking’

I do enjoy making the children’s birthday cakes – before they came along I’d never really done cake decoration beyond sticking some flowers or sweets on top, but that doesn’t cut the ice with small people, and after forking out a fortune for my eldest’s first birthday cake, I have gone DIY ever since.

But a seven week old baby who doesn’t like to be put down does cramp the baking style a bit. So for the Little Boy’s birthday I needed something that he’d love, but that I could throw together quickly. He does love his diggers, and can frequently be heard singing the Bob the Builder song around the house. So I made a building site cake. I made a double quantity of Delia’s all-in-one sponge with some cocoa powder added, and used one batch for the cake and one for some cupcakes. Then came a huge bowl of my favourite chocolate fudge buttercream – it’s fantastic stuff. I use dark chocolate for adults and a mix of dark and milk for kids. For this, I used 250g of butter, about 400g of chocolate and I don’t want to think about how much icing sugar – I don’t weigh it, I just tip it in until it looks right. Lots, anyway. So, sandwich the cake together and rough ice it and the cupcakes. Add a dumper truck from the playroom (thoroughly washed) and some Bob the builder figures. I’d made some chocolate crispy cakes, and kept some mix back. I added a bit of black food colouring to make some aggregate. Ice a name, add candles and away we go.

The rapturous reception made me wonder why I bother with elaborate cakes. He was thrilled, and one of his little friends declared it ‘the best cake ever’. I doubt it, but it was easy and tasty, so I count that a double win.

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I went for a walk today as it was beautiful out – one of those crisp, sunny cold winter days. There was frost on the ground, and it made everything crunch as the crystals were huge.

As I walked over last year’s dead leaves with their glittery coating, I stopped to take dozens of pictures, as the contrast of the dull and dead with the sparkly really appealed to me.

On the way home, because I was starting to feel a bit cold, my thoughts turned to baking. And so I made some winter walk cupcakes. I wanted something dark to suggest the earth and leaves, so it had to be chocolate. But I wanted depth and earthiness. I looked for Chinese Five Spice, but somehow I have managed to run out, so I used pepper, cloves, aniseed and ginger. I had a bit of creme fraiche in the fridge, so I used that instead of milk to give a deeper, earthier taste.

Winter-spice chocolate cupcakes

* 200g self raising flour
* 150g caster sugar
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
* 50g cocoa
* 175g butter
* 125 ml sour cream (I think – it was about half a tub)
* 2 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* spices (as above)

I mixed the whole lot in a food processor, but you could make this the old fashioned (sugar into butter, add dry ingredients, add the rest) way. Then it went into muffin tins and into the oven at 160C for about 15 minutes.

When they were cool, I added a cream cheese and lemon frosting – I wanted something a bit sharp, to suggest the frost. And then, of course, I had to add some glitter. I had some white edible glitter just made for these cakes.

Yum yum!

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Today is the last Sunday before Advent. The collect for today begins, ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ And so it is known as ‘Stir up Sunday’ and is the day on which to make your Christmas pudding. As presumably the fruit of good works can be bought dried, and mixed with candied peel.

Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the family who really likes Christmas pudding, so I make my Christmas cake instead. It is technically a little late, but my cake has never suffered for it, so I shall continue doing it – at least until I’ve persuaded the children to like Christmas pudding…

I put Mr Sow and Sew in charge of soaking the fruit. And when I was putting the mixture in the cake tin and commented that it was a little darker than usual, he confessed as to the amount of brandy and rum he had used. Suffice to say I shan’t be offering the cake to drivers.

It’s in the oven now, filling the house with warm and happy smells. Now I have to decide how to decorate it…

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Warning, not for arachnophobes!

I was asked to make a cake for a friend’s son’s first birthday – which is today. So they wanted something Hallowe’eny. So I rather recklessly decided on a spider web cake.

The cake itself is a sponge, half dyed red, half black (the black half is chocolate flavoured) marbled together. The middle is sandwiched with red buttercream (left over from the ladybird cake and stashed in the freezer). I iced it with fondant icing which I coloured black (grey palms ahoy!) and then piped on the web with white icing and a writing nozzle. This is much easier said than done, which is why I described this as ‘reckless’, considering this is my fourth decorated cake.

Then I made a spider with black fondant and a bit of strawberry lace – they aren’t nearly as red as they used to be – something about artificial colours being bad, or something. I finished it off with fangs, which are minute and getting them to stay in place involved a very long time on my knees with a cocktail stick. But the cake is done and the parents are pleased with it, and so am I.

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With a small person’s birthday comes a demand for cake. The Little Girl is extremely fond of cake and when asked what she wanted for her birthday would invariably answer, ‘Cake!’. Ladybirds are one of her favourite things so I somewhat rashly decided to make her a ladybird cake.

I am quite experienced at making cakes but have decorated precisely two (2) cakes up to now: a Christmas cake and a birthday cake shaped like a drum. So, this was an ambitious undertaking. I discovered online that it is possible to bake cakes in Pyrex bowls, so that gave me an idea.

My sponge cakes are never high-rise affairs, so if you make light, fluffy sponge you may need less cake mix (or end up with a fatter ladybird. Or more off-cuts). I made up a 4 egg sponge, and divided it between two Pyrex bowls (one large, one small) lined with greaseproof paper, so that each was about a third full. I baked them for about 40 mins for the large and 25 for the small (your mileage may vary, of course, depending on the size of your bowls). I baked another 4 egg sponge in a rectangular tin – mine was 11×8 inches.

So much for the easy part – now for the engineering. The rectangular cake was covered with fondant icing dyed green (I love my colouring pastes, by the way – I’ll never go back to liquid colouring). Then I cut a semi-circle out of the the small cake so it butted up to the big cake. The big dome cake was iced with red buttercream and went on top of the green cake. The small dome was iced with fondant icing dyed black (which took a lot of dye, a lot of kneading and gave me grey palms) and put in place. I then used the lid of a smoothie bottle to cut out the spots and the eyes, again from fondant icing. The antenna were fashioned from fondant and reinforced with cocktail sticks. Then I added a name in white icing and three candles. I was very pleased with how it turned out – in fact, I did a victory dance round the kitchen – and the Little Girl’s face lit up when the cake was brought in. I made Mr Sow and Sew cut the cake, though. The eyes which I had thought were cute suddenly looked rather pleading and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

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I made these for the Little Girl to take to nursery tomorrow (it’ll be her birthday). They’re mini vanilla cupcakes, because in my experience small children prefer icing to cake anyway, and they’re topped with vanilla buttercream and dolly mixtures. I had great fun with my colouring pastes, and then played with the colour combinations of the buttercream and the sweeties.

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Note that this doesn’t say ‘my favourite cookery books’. This is because several of my favourite cookery books are ones I read rather than cook from. I adore Elizabeth David’s writing, and love the sound of the food she describes. I find that reading her books gives me ideas. But I very rarely follow her recipes (and when I do, they don’t always work – but then I know people who find her recipes very reliable, so who knows…?) So here, in no particular order and with my very subjective comments, are the ten books I actually use in the kitchen, rather than read in bed…

Home Baking by Carole Handslip.

This little book was given to me years ago by my mum’s godmother. I must have been twelve or thirteen. She was all kinds of crazy, by the way, but those are stories for another day… It is resplendent with late 80s-type styling, but it is wonderful. The recipes are lovely, and they all, without exception, work. I can bake something from this book for the first time and know, without a doubt, it will work. This is where ‘my’ apple and cinnamon cake recipe came from. And ‘my’ gingerbread recipe. Also the drum cake I did for the Little Boy’s birthday. Bless Carole. And bless mad Auntie M for giving me this book. It’s out of print but Amazon have copies for a penny plus postage.

The River Cottage Preserves Book
by Pam Corbin

My goodness, this book is wonderful. Jams, jellies and chutneys. Cordials and things made with lots of booze. Fruit ‘leathers’. Compotes. It’s wonderful. The recipes are clear and comprehensive, and for a country dweller, there are plenty of ideas for using things like rosehips, beech leaves and haws. But city dwellers needn’t panic – there’s strawberry jam and apple chutney and things like that. Although I do suspect that calling something ‘Saucy Haw Ketchup’ was an exercise in playing with homophones as a trap for the unwary. It also has a lovely binding and smells like a proper book. These things matter to me.

The New English Kitchen
by Rose Prince
I really like this book. Lots of recipes, but with an emphasis on using good quality produce, seasonal food, sustainable non-intensive meat, making the most of leftovers… it sounds terribly preachy and worthy, but it isn’t. At least, I don’t think so. I think it’s delightful. (Although her recipe for lemon curd is achingly sweet – cut down the sugar by a third…)

Tamarind and Saffron
by Claudia Roden

I love Claudia Roden’s books and have several – and want the rest. But this is my favourite. From the evocative title and the beautiful blue and yellow picture on the cover to the beautiful writing and the droolsome recipes, it’s a gem. Plus, the recipes are delicious. Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food is also wonderful, but as yet is more of a bedroom cookery book than a kitchen one…

by Nigella Lawson

I have a love/hate thing for Nigella. I love her books and her writing. I cannot bear watching her on TV. The hair flicking and finger sucking and flirty looks at the camera drive me to teeth-grinding lunacy. But her books … well, I have several and was torn as to which to include. ‘How to Eat’ is great – it’s my go-to for the basics and for new ideas with staple ingredients. ‘How to Be A Domestic Goddess’ is a fantastic baking book, and I do like baking. But I chose this in the end. I love the idea of a book centred on seasonal feasts and the ritual of cooking. I love reading about the food of other traditions and seeing what is familiar and what is less so. And I love anyone who can include a recipe for ‘Blood Clots and Pus’. (It’s in the Hallowe’en section and when my children are older I am totally making this…)

I picked one Claudia Roden and one Nigella Lawson, but I couldn’t pick just one Nigel Slater. Nigel Slater is my favourite cookery writer, bar none. I love the way he revels in both the simplest dishes (roast chicken, a baked potato) and the more complex (fish with a beautiful sauce, a home made ice cream). So I have selected two of his books:

Real Food is a kitchen and a bedroom standby. It is a big squeezy warm hug of a book, with chapters devoted to a particular food: bread, potatoes, cheese, chocolate. It is comforting, it is delicious, it is inspiring and happy making. ‘Real food means big-flavoured, unpretentious cooking. Good ingredients made into something worth eating. Just nice, uncomplicated food,’ he says. Who could argue with that? It tends to come out more in the winter months, when my need for comfort food is highest, because nobody does comfort food like Nigel. No, not even you, Nigella.

And we also have Real Fast Food.

I used this lots when I worked in an office and had people home for dinner on weeknights. Proper tasty food, ready in half an hour or less from start to finish. And yummy.

Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache
by Harry Eastwood

This is a book I picked up on a whim at the library. I liked the name and I liked the cover. But I have a wheat allergy and the recipes are all wheat free, so that was wonderful. They also use vegetables in place of the fat. And they’re delicious. Really. Cake made with swede, courgette or sweet potato is moist and yummy and proper cake-like. Ms Eastwood does come over a bit dippy in places – all the cakes have little potted descriptions of their personalities – but it’s a fabulous book.

I like many of the River Cottage books, but this is the one we use most. The Family Cookbook
is brilliant for child-friendly recipes, and also explains why food does what it does – why we beat eggs and whip cream, why milk turns into butter, why things burn. It’s awesome. Plus, it has a top notch recipe for fudge, and is the place we go when we’ve forgotten how to make pancakes. This is coming into its own now my older child is getting interested in food, and I foresee a food-splattered future for it.

And for the basics, I turn to the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.
It tells you, plainly and simply, how to cook pretty much anything. It was a present a couple of Christmasses ago and I have used it regularly since.

So, there we are. Here are my favouries. How about yours?

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