Maple Syrup Cake

Bake 42: Maple Syrup Cake

Maple Syrup CakeI think it’s pretty safe to say, at this point, that I’m not going to manage 52 bakes by the end of the year. But I’ll get there eventually, which is all that really counts, right?

Bake 42 is the cake the husband chose for his birthday cake this year. I always give him free rein of the cookery books for the occasion, and he has a habit of choosing cakes I hate. But this one, actually, I was all in favour of. As, it seems, was every single guest at his birthday party. Let’s just say, this one didn’t last very long at all…

Bake 42: Maple Syrup Cake

From Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

Ingredients

  • 225g butter
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • grated rind of 1 orange
  • 4 large eggs
  • 100ml maple syrup
  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 50g chopped pecan nuts

For the filling and topping

  • 450ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • shredded rind of 1 orange, to decorate

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 20cm deep round tin and line the base
  2. Measure all the ingredients for the cake, except the pecan nuts, into a large bowl and beat until blended. Stir in the pecan nuts
  3. Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake for 1-1/2 hours until well risen, golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack
  4. Make the filling by whipping the cream until it just holds its shape, then folding in the maple syrup
  5. Split the cake in half and fill and cover with the cream, smoothing it evenly over the top and sides. decorate the top with the orange rind and keep chilled in the fridge

Maple Syrup Cake

Untitled, by Nicki Varkevisser

It’s coming on Christmas…

Untitled, by Nicki Varkevisser … as Joni Michell would say. And somehow, it seems to be approaching with rather more speed than usual. With less than a month now until Christmas, I have finally come to the realisation that I have to actually do things to be ready for that.

(I’m still blaming the move for putting me so far behind on everything. What do you think is the limit on that? Maybe in the new year it’ll have to go back to just being my fault again. Shame.)

Anyway, I have ordered cards and wrapping paper, which feels like something of an achievement. I have written the dates for all the daughter’s school activities in my diary and instructed the husband to take the afternoon off for her Christmas play. I have heaved an enormous sigh of relief at the news that I do not have to make her a costume for said Christmas play.

Then I realised that I still have to, you know, buy all the presents and wrap them. And write and post the cards. And decorate the house. And do festive activities with the daughter. And attend Christmas meals and outings – ones that require me to actually dry my hair and wear makeup. And sing in a Christmas concert. And throw a birthday party for the husband’s 35th mid December. And prepare for the trek up to Wales the weekend before Christmas, and find enough clothes to pack to stay through to New Year.

Oh yeah, and I have to ascertain where we will actually be spending Christmas Day…

All of which seemed far too difficult. So I made mince pies, instead.

I wrote about my mother’s mince pies on the blog last year, and since that’s the recipe I always use, I’m just repeating it wholesale. Trust me, they’re the best mince pies in the world. And I don’t even like mince pies.

Bake 41: Mum’s Mince Pies

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz plain flour
  • 6 oz butter
  • 3 oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • Cold water
  • Mincemeat

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C
  2. Sieve flour into bowl
  3. Add chopped up butter and rub in until like breadcrumbs
  4. Add 2 oz of sugar and mix
  5. Add egg yolk and water to form dough
  6. Split dough in two and roll out half to 1/5 inch thick and cut bases
  7. Fit bases to greased tins and fill with mincemeat
  8. Roll out other half of dough and cut out lids, dampen edges and seal
  9. Pierce centre with sharp knife, brush lids with beaten egg white and sprinkle with remaining sugar
  10. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes

The mince pies can be frozen for up to six months, and taste particularly good warm…

Bake 40: Amazingly Autumnal Apple Cake

Apples, apples, apples I have a not very secret love for apples. Not, admittedly, in their raw, healthy form particularly. But I love applely things. Apple candles. Apple shower gel. Apple pie. Pork and apples. And Apple Cake.

I’d picked up some cooking apples after promising to bake the husband and daughter something yummy to keep them entertained while I was away last weekend – something I failed utterly to do in all the chaos of last week. But I made up for it on my return by making this, my newly minted Amazingly Autumnal Apple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting.

And, since there turned out to be quite a lot of cake, in that way that sometimes happens when I’m not paying proper attention to recipes, many other people have also shared in this autumnal bounty.

A word of warning, though. It’s not the prettiest cake I’ve ever made. But it tastes incredible…

Bake 40: Amazingly Autumnal Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 140g dark soft brown sugar
  • 250ml sunflower oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 unpeeled apples, coarsely grated

For the icing:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 50g dark soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 200g tub soft cheese

Method

  • Preheat oven to 150°C and line a deep, round cake tin
  • Put flour, mixed spice, bicarb and baking powder in a bowl, then stir in the sugars
  • Add the oil, apples and eggs and beat everything together
  • Pour into tin and bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool
    on a wire rack
  • For the icing, beat all the ingredients together and chill until the mixture is thick but spreadable, then cover cooled cake

Apple Cake

A Whole New Playground of Fun

New Rhythms and Sunday Pudding

A Whole New Playground of FunI have a tendency to over think things in autumn.

Perhaps it’s the new school year thing, or maybe just the way the weather forces us inside more. Or it could be the impending Christmas season, and all the planning it requires.

Although, honestly, it might just be that I tend to have a lot going on in autumn, and suddenly realise that if I want to stand a fighting chance of getting it all done, I need a better organisational system!

Anyway, I like to imagine myself sitting contemplatively in front of a roaring fire, sipping a hot chocolate, while I map out my plans and schemes for the winter in a beautiful leather notebook.

In reality, I’m usually wearing an amusingly furry fleece over my pyjamas and big fuzzy socks, because the heating in our new house is rubbish, swigging wine from a very large glass, and scribbling indecipherable notes to myself in the back of the Boots Christmas catalogue.

Something that’s making the whole ‘To Do’ panic worse this year is that I still haven’t adjusted to the new rhythms of how we live in this new house, and this new town. This new season of our lives, even.

Sometimes it’s the little things that catch me out: the fact we have a washer/dryer, now, rather than separate appliances, or how the postman unerringly delivers the mail – and the inevitable red ‘you were out so now you have to come and get your sack load of parcels from the sorting office’ card – when I’m either taking the daughter to school, or picking her up again.

But there are bigger things too – new friends, for me and for the daughter – and new opportunities to get and out do things, to play and have fun, or to chat over a cup of tea. These are some of the main reasons we moved here, and something I’m enjoying immensely – but I haven’t got used yet to the time it takes out of my day. There’s the fact I don’t have a car most days – rarely a problem, as most things are within walking distance. But it means we walk a lot more (often to the sorting office to pick up the aforementioned sack load of parcels) discovering new playgrounds on the way, and new piles of leaves to jump in. Wonderful things, things that give a new flow to the day. I like the flow, I’m just not quite sure where it goes yet.

And – I know this is really, really obvious, but sometimes I’m a bit slow – living further away means it takes longer to get places. It makes it harder to get together with friends from our old town, but only because I haven’t managed to plan it properly yet. And because I only just found the hoover behind a stack of boxes, and the house isn’t exactly ready for visitors right now!

I know everything will fall into place – we’ve only actually had less than three weeks living in this house – but I’m impatient. I love the new rhythms of our new life, and I want everything else – work, housework, obligations and travel – to slot neatly into place around them. So in the meantime, I’m scribbling my lists of things to be done, and highlighting the calendar so I can’t possibly forget that the daughter has to wear pyjamas to school tomorrow for Children in Need. Hopefully nothing major will slip through the cracks while I’m scrabbling around, trying to get on top of everything. Not least the very many books I’m supposed to be writing, revising or submitting…

One new tradition that’s developed very early in our new house is the Tradition of the Sunday Pudding. We can’t manage it every week, but if we’re all here for Sunday dinner, it’s a must. And it is by far my favourite of our new rhythms, for obvious, pudding related reasons.

It started the day that I unpacked the books. They’re all tucked on shelves in an alcove at the bottom of the stairs and, because the new kitchen is so tiny, the cook books have a shelf all of their own. While I was lugging around cardboard boxes, and trying to clear up after myself, I realised that the daughter had curled up in the alcove, with her I Can Cook book. Shortly afterwards, she appeared, holding the book open at the relevant page, and said, “Mummy, can I make these?”

Obviously the response to any pudding-making related question is usually yes. “Of course,” I said. “Why don’t we make them for pudding on Sunday?”

So that weekend, the daughter and I hunted around the shelves of the new, differently organised, Tesco for the relevant ingredients, and she made Sunday Pudding with, quite honestly, very little help from me!

This week’s pudding was such a success, I felt it qualified as an actual bake. So, here’s Bake 39, courtesy of the daughter, and the BBC book, I Can Cook. I’ll admit, I doubled the recipe from the quantities here, but we did have some left over!

Bake 39: Bread & Butter Surprise

Ingredients:

  • 25g soft butter
  • 2 slices of day-old bread
  • 2 tinned pear halves
  • 50g milk chocolate drops
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 25g caster sugar

Method:

  • Grease a small-ish oven proof dish
  • Butter the dread and cut into triangles
  • Cut the tinned pears into bite sized pieces
  • Arrange half the bread in a layer to cover the bottom of the dish
  • Sprinkle half the chocolate drops over, and then half the pear
  • Arrange the rest of the bread on top, the sprinkle with the rest of the chocolate and pear
  • Mix the egg, milk and sugar in a jug, then pour over the bread to cover
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes at 200°C
  • Serve to grateful parents!

Bread and Butter Surprise Bread and Butter Surprise

Bake 38: Speckled Mocha Cake

The day before we went on holiday this half term, I realised I still hadn’t packed anything. Or found the husband’s suit to take to the wedding, or asked him where the bike rack was, or tried on my dress for the wedding to make sure it fit, or checked how long it was going to take us to get there.

Instead of doing any of these things, however, I made this cake to take with us. Because I have Priorities.

When I’d asked the family at large what sort of cake they’d like me to make to bring, the straw poll was split between coffee cake and chocolate cake. So I went with the best of both, with this yummy recipe, more or less exactly from The Great British Bake Off How To Bake book.

I tried to get a photo of the cake, but the best I could manage was a comedy selection of Uncle Mike eating it:

Speckled Mocha Cake

Speckled Mocha Cake Speckled Mocha Cake

Bake 38: Speckled Mocha Cake

Ingredients:

For the sponge:

  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp espresso powder, dissolved in 2 tbsp water
  • 50g dark chocolate

For the filling:

  • 50g dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tbsp water
  • 50 unsalted butter
  • 100g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C
  2. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until really creamy, then gradually beat in the sugar, until pale and fluffy
  3. Beat the eggs then gradually add to the butter and sugar, beating well after every addition
  4. Sift the flower and baking powder into the bowl and fold in with a spoon, followed by the coffee
  5. Grate in the chocolate and mix gently
  6. Divide the mixture evenly between two greased and lined sandwich tins and bake for 20-25 minutes
  7. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack
  8. To make the filling, chop the chocolate roughly and put in a heatproof bowl with the coffee
  9. Set over a pan of steaming hot water and leave to melt
  10. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir, then add the butter and icing sugar
  11. Beat until smooth, then leave to firm up until it’s ready to spread
  12. Sandwich the sponges together with the filling, and dust with icing sugar to serve
Three Witches Drawing

Season of mists, marriage and mocha cake

We’re definitely in the grip of Autumn over here, and loving every minute of it.

We spent October half term deep in the depths of Sherwood Forest with 22 of our nearest and dearest, where I got to: indulge my inner Maid Marion by picking up a crossbow (and being great at it, thank you), eat pancakes and fajitas and many, many other yummy things, go bowling for the first time in a decade, relax in the spa, kick through leaves wearing an amusing bobble hat, and generally have a wonderful time.

We also had a Halloween party, where three small witches (the daughter and her cousins) ran shrieking around the villa devouring chocolate for several hours.

At one point, we actually got them to all stand still at the same time:

Three Witches Drawing

Although not face the camera, obviously.

Usually, the end of a holiday is a bit depressing. But not for us! Because we were heading off to a Very Important Wedding, and spending the weekend with some of our dearest friends.

The GroomThe Bride

I’d share more photos, but most of them appear to involve people wearing a bright pink hat at a rakish angle, some time after the band packed up and went home…

When I did finally tear myself away from the party and made it to my hotel room, I found the most beautiful bouquet of flowers from the bride and groom, as an anniversary present. Clearly, the first weekend in November is the only one to get married on.

Anniversary flowers

Back home, it was back to school yesterday and, of course, Bonfire Night! I’m not usually a fan of loud noises, but I do have a fondness for fireworks. Since we were all tired, we decided to just a have a few small, quiet fireworks in the back garden.

Of course, the husband then came home with a huge box of assorted fireworks and a packet of rockets.

The daughter sat through them with her bunny mitten hands clamped firmly over her ears, and decided she liked the sparklers best. As do I.

Bonfire Night Bonfire Night

But now it’s back to work. I’ve got a lot coming up in these last six or seven weeks before Christmas – not least, attending the Festival of Romance in Bedford as a VIP author later this month. Expect much posting about that, and if you’re planning on being there, please grab me and say hi! I’ll be the one with the teapot earrings…

I’m also woefully behind with my 52 bake challenge, but I’m hoping the season of Christmas baking will help me catch up. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of the Speckled Mocha Cake I made to take on holiday, as being enjoyed by my brother, Uncle Mike, who also valiantly shared a room with the daughter for the week, and so had earned all the cake.

Uncle Mike with Mocha CakeI’ll post the recipe on Friday, in an attempt to get back onto some sort of blogging schedule! In the meantime… revisions. Wish me luck!

Twin window with shutters in mahogany bay

Home is where the boxes are… (with bonus pancakes)

Twin window with shutters in mahogany bay
Not my house. Photo by Robert Neff.

We moved! Finally.

We’ve been in the new house a week now, and had pancakes for breakfast for the first time here today, which means it’s officially home. And now I’ve unpacked the books, and made a path through the boxes to my desk in the study, it’s all starting to feel nice and cozy.

Of course, we’re going away for the week on Monday, but hey, at least we’ll be coming back to the new house, not the old one, which was by no means a sure thing even a month ago!

The move was about as stressful as these things always are. The daughter, thankfully, fell in love with Disney’s Alice in Wonderland a week before the big day, so was reasonably easily entertained for the duration! She loves her new room, and has already dropped a paintbrush on the lounge carpet, so it really is just like the old house.

She’s also made lots of new friends at nursery school, although the husband was a little alarmed to hear about the two little boys vying for her affections.

“They both kept trying to hug me and hold my hands, Daddy,” she said. “But I just wanted to go running.”

“You just keep running, sweetheart,” the husband replied.

The writing schedule got a little hectic right around move time too, which has me tied to my keyboard at the moment, feeling guilty even about pausing to write a blog post – which is another reason I’ve been so scarce around here. And with being on holiday next week, there might be a little wait for updates again.

So, in the meantime, here’s my breakfast pancakes recipe. I’m not sure I can legitimately call it a bake, but I’m running out of year, so I’m counting this as number 37.

Bake 37: Breakfast Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 135g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2tbsp caster sugar
  • 130ml milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • Maple syrup to serve

Method

  1. Sift dry ingredients together, and mix wet ingredients in a separate jug
  2. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients to make a smooth batter, and let stand for a couple of minutes
  3. Melt a knob of butter in a non stick pan and add a ladle of batter
  4. Flip when the top of the pancake starts ti bubble, and cook until both sides are golden brown
  5. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
Blackberry Cupcakes

Bake 36: Blackberry Cupcakes

We’re deep in the midst of moving madness here, as well as quite a lot of writing madness. There are boxes everywhere, I’m halfway through my second first draft in a month and a half, and I’m just about to pack up my baking supplies, so we’ll be cakeless for a few days.

I should be back next week with Tales Of The Move, but in the meantime, I had to share these beautifully seasonal cupcakes from What Rachel Ate. They went down spectacularly well here, although I probably shouldn’t have eaten quite so much of the icing…

Blackberry Cupcakes

Ingredients

makes 8-12
 
  • 125g very soft butter
  • 125g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • For the buttercream icing
  • 125g very soft butter
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 60g blackberries, plus 8-12 whole blackberries for decoration

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a muffin tray with cases.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. (Add a spoonful of the flour if the mixture looks like it’s curdling.)
  3. Sift over the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and fold together.
  4. Stir in the milk, adding a little more if necessary to achieve a dropping consistency.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases (I like to use an ice cream scoop) and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
  6. For the buttercream icing, beat the icing sugar and butter together in a bowl for about five minutes, or until really pale and fluffy.
  7. Crush the blackberries and gently mix into the icing.
  8. You can either pipe the icing onto the cakes (I used a 1cm star nozzle) or spread it on with a palette knife.

Blackberry Cupcakes

Mad Hatters Tea Rooms, Chester

Bake 35: Mad Hatters’ Cupcakes

Mad Hatters Tea Rooms, ChesterLast weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to my lovely friend Carolyn’s hen party. Carolyn, incidentally, introduced us to the concept of Cake Pops a year or so ago, and is now required to make them for every New Year’s Eve, or there might be riots. So incredibly good.

Anyway. Carolyn and her bridesmaid Kim had decided that while the boys were spending their Stag weekend hunting, shooting and fishing (or something. I don’t know. I wasn’t invited) we’d do something far more refined.

Cupcake decorating.

Can you imagine quite how excited I was when I heard that? Especially when I arrived at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Rooms in Chester on Saturday afternoon. I might have gushed quite a lot. It’s just so gorgeous! All pale blue painted chairs and Alice in Wonderland memorabilia. Go look at their pretty, pretty website. No, really. Drool over the menus a while. I’ll wait.

So, after the most incredible afternoon tea spread, eaten in a private room while all wearing different hats, we were expertly taught how to decorate our cupcakes. We made fondant roses, learned to pipe icing, several different ways, and how to add a stripe of colour to it. We even got to make fondant hippos!

Here are my efforts:

Vanilla Cupcakes

Since I’d travelled up to Wales on the train for the event, my cakes didn’t make it down south again – two were used as a bribe for a lift home after the dinner that night, one went to my Grandma’s incurably sweet tooth, and I think my brother had the last.

But that’s okay, because the girls at Mad Hatter’s weren’t just incredibly generous with their talent and their cakes, they also gave me their cupcake recipe and said I could share it with you! A warning, though – these are the best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted. Make them once, and people will be asking for them over and over again forever more.

And next time you’re in Chester? Stop by Mad Hatter’s Tea Rooms. You really won’t regret it.

Mad Hatters’ Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Ingredients

  • 115g butter or good quality margarine
  • 115g granulated sugar
  • 115g self-raising flour
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 3 tbsp milk

For the buttercream

  • 110g butter or good quality margarine
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 20ml milk

Method

  1. Line muffin tins with cases, set the oven to 180°C
  2. Cream the butter in the mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and continue to beat on a high setting until pale, creamy and fluffy
  3. Whilst the butter and sugar is creaming, put the baking powder into a separate clean bowl and weigh the self-raising flour into the same bowl
  4. Crack the eggs one by one into the butter and sugar mixture, beating well between eggs
  5. Add the milk and continue to mix well. If the mixture starts to look split, don’t worry, add a small amount of flour
  6. Add the vanilla paste
  7. Add the flour to the mixture. Mix until the flour has been incorporated but do not over beat
  8. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake in the over until firm to the touch, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean

To make the buttercream:

  1. Cream the butter in the mixer until smooth
  2. Add a third of the icing sugar and mix well. The mixture should become pale, light and fluffy
  3. Add the vanilla paste
  4. Add another third of the icing sugar and beat well again
  5. Add the rest of the icing sugar
  6. Iff the mixture is too stiff add a teaspoon of milk and beat well. Continue with this method until the buttercream is creamy, fluffy and easy to work with
  7. If the mixture is too runny, add a tablespoon at a time of icing sugar
Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Bake 34: Double Chocolate Cupcakes

One of the perils of driving to and fro between the old house, new house and nursery school, is that the Daughter and I keep getting tempted into the giant supermarket on our way. Usually at lunch time. While hungry. Utterly, utterly fatal.

Some days we get out with just a sandwich for lunch, or a magazine, or a birthday card we needed to pick up for someone anyway. Other days, we get swayed by the biscuit aisle. Or the cozy autumnal clothes for little girls.

And some days, the Daughter announces, upon leaving nursery, “I want to bake cakes this afternoon. Really, really chocolatey ones.” And so we go and buy ingredients and make these:

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients

Makes 12
 
  • 85g white chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 115g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 115g butter
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Topping:

  • 140g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • Decorations

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 190°C and put cake cases in muffin trays
  2. Melt the white chocolate with the milk, either in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water. Stir until smooth
  3. Sift flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter, caster sugar, eggs and vanilla extract and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Fold in the melted white chocolate
  4. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack
  5. To make the topping, simply melt the milk chocolate as before and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Spread over the tops of the cupcakes and decorate!