The proverbial two birds and a stone: wheat-free and baby-friendly cake

Spiced clementine, almond and ginger cake

Here’s another recipe from Sainsbury’s Little Ones, which is one of my favourite sites for recipes that all three of us enjoy and are relatively easy and cheap to do. As I was browsing through, looking for something that Andrew would like to eat as a snack, I came across this one, and noticed, by looking down the list of ingredients (it wasn’t particularly advertised), that it was in fact wheat-free too. My mum-in-law is wheat intolerant, so I’ve been on the look out for recipes that she can eat too, and I’ve ended up killing two birds with one stone by baking this recipe (don’t worry, no feathery friends were harmed in the making of this cake!)

I hardly need to point out these days that I adapted it slightly – a little less sugar, and only two thirds of what the original recipe said, mainly because I only bought that amount of almonds. It’s the almonds that replace the flour to make it wheat-free, and they also make it lovely and moist, if a little fragile. It rose surprisingly well; I know a common problem with wheat-free stuff is it can be a bit brick-like! I think the key thing was whisking the eggs for as long as the recipe says, as this really made the mixture increase a lot in volume. The flavours are specific to this time of year, and although I’d never thought of boiling and liquidizing clementines to put in a cake, it works really well and gives such a lovely fruity flavour – a great way to sneak fruit in without a fussy toddler knowing! (Not that I have that problem with Andrew… yet!)

Ingredients

  • butter, for greasing
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • 8 (about 400g) clementines, whole and unpeeled
  • 4 eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 200g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp baking powder

    Ingredients for the cake

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190°C, fan 170°C, gas 5. Grease a 22cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

    Greased and lined springform cake tin - it turned out to be a bit small (I do have bigger ones, but it's a long and unimportant story), hence the extra 'muffins' you see below!
  • Wash the clementines and put in a pan. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 1 hour, adding water to make sure the pan doesn’t go dry. Drain and allow to cool.

    Clementines simmering
  • Quarter the clementines and discard any pips.

    Boiled and cooled clementines cut into quarters and de-pipped (not that there were many pips)
  • Place in a blender, still in their skins, and purée until smooth.

    Clementine puree
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric hand whisk in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 6-7 mins.

    Sugar and eggs whisked for about 6 minutes - the mixture increased A LOT in size!
  • Fold in the clementine purée, ginger, cinnamon, almonds and baking powder.

    Dry ingredients and clementine puree folded into mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook in the centre of the oven for 1-1 ½ hours. Check if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool in the tin before removing.

    Big cake and two small muffins just out of the oven
  • Dust with icing sugar.

    Finished cakes dusted with icing sugar

This went down really well with Andrew and Tom, though his mum isn’t here to let me know what she thinks. I’d love to hear if you have any tasty wheat-free recipes, as it’s an area of baking that I haven’t really ventured into much at all.

Smiley Happy New Year cookies

My sister-in-law gave me a fab cook book for Christmas. It’s called Cook with Kids, by Rob Kirby, a top restaurant chef who also visits schools as part of a charity; one of his schools is the Great Ormond Street Hospital School, so he spends lots of time teaching ill children how to have fun cooking. His recipes are perfect for getting kids involved with helping to bake and cook, and they are so easy to follow that, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, ‘even her husband can use the recipes’! They range from snacks to main courses to sweets/puds/cakes and even drinks.

I can’t wait for Andrew to be old enough to help me bake, but for now I’m happy to try out these recipes on my own, though Daddy did bring Andrew over to the kitchen to have a look at what I was doing for this one – you’re never too young to get interested. Some of my early but quite distinct memories are of being in my grandma’s kitchens and helping them bake. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved baking, and I’m sure that has come from being introduced to it early.

I thought I’d start the new year by baking a classic kids favourite – Smartie cookies 🙂 Well, as regular readers will know, I never follow a recipe exactly, so they are in fact M&Ms cookies, because I’m all up for buying supermarket own brand products where available, and I could find own-brand M&Ms but not Smarties. As they are pretty much the same thing (Smarties are slightly bigger), M&Ms won the cheapness prize and got to star in the cookies. So here we go…

 Ingredients

Ingredients for the cookies
  • 230g light brown sugar
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 170g butter, softened
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 185g bag of M&Ms

Method

  1. Combine the brown and caster sugars, butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

    Butter, sugar (2 types) and vanilla extract combined until smooth and creamy
  2. Gradually add and beat in the egg and egg yolk, making sure you mix them in thoroughly.

    Egg and egg yolk beaten in to mixture
  3. Add and fold in the flour, baking powder, and two thirds of the M&Ms, combining everything to form a dough. Do this carefully as you need to keep the M&Ms whole.

    Flour, baking powder and M&Ms added to form a stiff dough - I used my hands to bring it together as it got too stiff for a spoon
  4. Once you have formed a cookie dough, roll this into a sausage about 7cm across, place this onto some greaseproof paper, and chill it in the fridge for 2 hours.

    Dough rolled into a fat sausage, put on greaseproof paper, ready to go into the fridge for 2 hours
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C – think about this before the next step.
  6. Once the dough is really firm, take it out and slice it into thick rounds, about 2cm wide, using a warm serrated knife and placing the cookies on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper as you go along.

    Cutting in progress - dough out of the fridge, sharp serrated knife warming up in a tub of hot water, and lined baking sheet ready to take the cut cookies
  7. Bake the cookies in the oven for 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, take the cookies out and quickly press the extra M&Ms into the top of them in the shape of a smiley face. Pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

    Cookies out of the over after 10 minutes, with smiley faces just added
  8. Once the cookies are done, take them out of the oven and cool them on a wire tray.

    Smiley cookies ready to eat

They are best eaten as fresh as possible, so I had to try one just after this picture was taken and they were still slightly warm… yum! As there’s quite a bit of sugar in them, Andrew can’t have a whole one, but I did let him have a small taster, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I’ll bake with him when he’s older. Happy New Year!

Stollen – another taste of Christmas (this one’s for babies too)

Another one of my favourite foods at Christmas is stollen (being German it should be spelled with a capital S, but I guess it’s become anglicised enough now to lower case it). This bread-like cake with dried fruit and marzipan has all the good bits of a traditional English Christmas cake, but without the sickly sweet white royal icing, and is generally much lighter (in colour and stodginess). Once again, German trumps British Christmas food. I’ve eaten a fair few stollen in my time (and been through, several times, the inevitable family joke of being a thief – stollen/stolen – it’s all the same to those who don’t sprechen Deutsch; incidentally it’s pronounced something more like ‘shto-luhn’ – ‘o’ as in ‘pot’), but this is the first time I’ve ventured into producing a homemade one. As there is very little sugar in the dough, it’s great for Andrew too, though I left out the nuts, and only put a small amount of sugar-laden marzipan into his ‘stollen bites’.

This recipe is based on one from Delia Smith online. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read previous baking posts on this blog that I adapted the recipe – no almonds (not great for Andrew), mixed dried fruit instead of separate amounts of raisins, currants, apricots, cherries and dried fruit peel (why bother when Mr Sainsbury can do it for you?), plain flour instead of strong white bread flour (other recipes I have seen for stollen don’t insist on bread flour, though see comments below), and simply dusted with icing sugar to finish instead of a glaze with lemon juice (I’m not overly fussed about lemon and all the stollen I’ve had from Germany just had icing sugar on top).

Ingredients

Ingredients for stollen

This recipe is enough to make 1 large one. I made double this, because you can’t buy smaller packs of marzipan, and stollen is great to freeze, so I made 2 bigger ones and about a dozen small ‘bites’ for Andrew; half of all this went in the freezer.

  •  150 ml milk
  •  50 g caster sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons dried yeast (not easy-blend)
  •  400 g plain flour
  • 110 g softened butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 200 g mixed dried fruit
  • 200 g marzipan
  • icing sugar, sifted, to dust on top

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Warm the milk, until you can just still dip your little finger in it.

    Milk warming up gently by short blasts in microwave
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar along with the dried yeast and leave it until it forms a frothy head of about 1 inch.
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 0 minutes
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 30 minutes

    Frothy milk, lovely yeasty smell
  4. Meanwhile sift 350 g of the flour together with the remaining sugar into a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.

    Flour and sugar with well in centre
  5. Pour the milk and yeast mixture into this, then add the softened butter and beaten egg.

    Milk mixture, eggs and butter added to well in flour
  6. Mix everything together either with your hands or with a wooden spoon – until the mixture is well blended and leaves the side of the bowl cleanly.

    Wet and dry ingredients mixed together to form dough, still quite wet and sticky
  7. Then work in the fruit, distributing it as evenly as possible. Knead the dough on a work surface for 5 minutes until it is springy and elastic.
    Dough ready for first round of kneading

    Wet dough from bowl after kneading on a very well floured board
  8. Now leave the dough in a warm place, covered with clingfilm, until it has doubled in size (the time this takes can vary depending on the temperature – it could take up to 2 hours).
    Dough covered in cling film ready to prove
    Dough in oven on minimum temperature, just right to prove

    Dough after proving in warm place for about 1 1/2 hours
  9. Turn the risen dough out on to a board floured with the reserved 50 g of flour, and knock the air out of it and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

    Kneading the dough (thanks to Tom for photography!)
  10. At this stage roll or press out the dough to an oblong 10 x 8 inches. Using your hands, roll out the marzipan to form a sausage shape and place this along the centre of the dough, finishing just short of the edges.
    Flatened dough with marzipan 'sausage' (bit of a flat one!) on top

    Small circle of dough with small blob of marzipan - I then folded the edge of the dough into the centre over the marzipan, and placed it down on the baking sheet to hold the dough edge in
  11. Fold the dough over the marzipan and carefully place the whole thing on a baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for expansion.

    Two bigger stollen and several baby stollen bites, ready for second round of proving
  12. Leave it to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size again, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

    Daddy stollen, Mummy stollen, and baby stollens ready to go into oven after second round of proving
  13. Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before lifting it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

    Stollen and baby bites looking golden brown, just out of the oven (they only took 20 minutes to cook in our fan oven)
  14. Dust the top with the icing sugar to finish.
    Finished Stollen, complete with snowman
    Marzipan snowman - I had a small chunk of marzipan left, so I made a decoration to go with the snowy look of the icing sugar dusting

    Andrew's stollen bites - no icing sugar added 😉

You can probably tell from the photos that the stollen turned out quite flat. I suspect this is because I didn’t use strong white bread flour (its ‘strength’ holds the air bubbles from the yeast better). But they taste delicious, and Andrew loves his little baby bites too. Plus we’ve got another loaf and some bites in the freezer to enjoy in the New Year.

Do you have special foods that you like to bake/eat at Christmas? Are there cakes/biscuits/other sweet things that remind you of childhood or being with family for Christmas? Do you prefer Christmas foods traditional in other cultures more than those in your own? I’d love to hear about other foody traditions at this time of year. It’s special occasions like this that really inspire me to bake and try out new recipes. I hope you’re enjoying reading about my Christmas baking adventures!

Lebkuchen – a taste of Christmas

One of my favourite foods at Christmas is Lebkuchen [pronounced something like layb-koo-chuhn (ch as in Scottish ‘loch’) for those who don’t sprechen any Deutsch]. These soft and chewy biscuits spiced with flavours like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg remind me of Christmas as a child, as Mum would always buy a few bags for us to eat over the Christmas period. It wasn’t until I went to Germany just before Christmas as an adult that I realised that the small Lebkuchen bought from supermarkets here in England were not the same as the much bigger, flatter and (let’s face it) better ones found over there, where they originated. Ever since I tasted the real German ones, I’ve wanted to have a go at baking my own, but I’ve only just got round to it this year, probably because I came across a recipe in a chocolate recipe book that I’ve used a lot recently.

As usual, I adapted the recipe slightly (I don’t think I ever follow a recipe exactly!): raisins instead of candied fruit peel (which I don’t really like), and I halved the chocolate glaze, because the biscuits were quite fragile even when cool, so I didn’t think they would ‘dip’ well to coat them as the recipe said, and I made a thicker glaze to ice just one side as they lay on a flat surface. Anyway, that’s enough of an intro…. on with the important stuff!

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 100g unsalted almonds (brown skins left on)
  • 25g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large egg whites (I used 3 medium)
  • 115g icing sugar

Glaze

  • 50g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 50g icing sugar

Method

  1. Finely grind the almonds and chocolate in a food processor, then mix with the raisins and spices.
  2. Put the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, greasefree bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form.

    Egg whites at the stiff peak stage
  3. Gradually beat in the icing sugar to make a thick, glossy meringue.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and carefully fold in with a large metal spoon.

    Lebkuchen mixture
  5. Put tablespoon-sized mounds of the mixture on several baking trays lined with non-stick greaseproof paper, setting them well apart, then spread each into a circle about 3 inches in diameter.

    Trays with blobs of biscuit mixture, ready for the oven
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 160°c for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are pale gold. Let cool, then peel off the greaseproof paper.

    Close up of a biscuit just out of the oven - a lovely pale golden colour
  7. To make the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate gently (I use these cool microwaveable pans and do it in short bursts at a time so the chocolate doesn’t burn). Then let it cool.
  8. Mix the icing sugar with 2 tablespoons of hot water to make a smooth glaze, then stir in the chocolate to make a fairly runny mixture – if necessary, stir in a little more warm water (I ended up putting in a few more splashes from the kettle).
  9. Ice each biscuit with the glaze – I found that they were fragile, so I iced them on the bottom where they had come away from the greaseproof paper, as this helped to keep them together. This isn’t quite as traditional as dipping in a thin glaze, but it tastes the same and it meant I didn’t risk ending up with a chocolatey broken biscuit mess!
    Waiting for the iced lebkuchen to set

    A plate of lebkuchen good enough to eat

As an aside, I decided to whip up a quick sponge mixture with the egg yolks, because I can’t stand wasting the other half of the eggs when a recipe calls for only whites or yolks. It’s basically 110g of plain flour, 110g of butter, 110g of sugar and 2 eggs (but I used 3 egg yolks and a generous splash of milk instead). You beat the sugar and butter together, then add the eggs (and in this case the milk) and then the flour.

I decided to use the sponge mixture to make cupcakes. I wasn’t sure whether the exchange of milk for egg whites would make a difference to how they turned out, but I’m always up for experimental baking, and most of the time it’s edible, even if slightly odd looking or a strange texture! In this case they came out quite crispy on top, softer inside, though slightly denser than the usual light sponge, and still yummy to taste.

After I tried one fresh from the oven (just to make sure it was worth icing them, you understand), I decided to add some simple melted chocolate on the top to finish them off.

Chocolate-topped cupcakes (note that only 5 made it to the chocolate stage - I had to try one to make sure they tasted good enough to keep 😉 )

So there you go, two recipes for the price of one! Both delicious as a snack with a cuppa, and one as a lovely taste of Christmas which reminds me of childhood.

Baby-(and adult-)friendly oat and banana muffins

I was looking for a recipe for some muffins or little cakes that Andrew would enjoy. I’m not against him having some sugar, because I think if I completely deprive him of treats now, he’ll only rebel and go for it when he’s older anyway. And that’s what cakes are – treats – to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle (I sound like something off the back of a crisp packet or chocolate bar!) Tom and I like our cakes and puddings, but we also eat a varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg, and we can’t go for a day without some exercise. So that’s what Andrew is becoming accustomed to as well. That’s enough of an intro – I could probably write a whole post it seems on this topic. On with the recipe….

It’s based on one I found on the Sainsbury’s Little Ones website. This is a great collection of recipes suitable for babies, toddlers and adults. More of these recipes will no doubt feature in future posts, as I’ve tried several of them already and would love to share more. I adapted it slightly (basically less sugar and half oil / half milk instead of all the oil) to suit Andrew better. So, here we go.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats, plus extra for decoration
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 100g sugar
  • 125ml oil- I used olive as that’s what we have in
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 medium-ripe bananas, chopped small

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cases (I used a big muffin tin for Mummy/Daddy-sized treats and a fairy cake tin for Andrew-sized treats).
  2. Sift the flour, oats and baking powder together (I didn’t sift the oats – how is that possible?!)
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and milk together until pale and fluffy.
  4. Fold this mixture, and bananas, into the flour and oat mixture.
  5. Spoon the combined mixture into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the extra oats over and bake for 15 minutes until the muffins have risen and are golden. (I found that the bigger muffins needed more like 20 minutes, whereas the small ones were fine with 15 minutes).
  6. When cooked through, transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for three days (if they stay uneaten for that long!) or freeze.

Andrew approved – he ate one for a snack on not long after I baked them on Sunday. Tom was also impressed, so I’ll definitely be baking some more of these, and it’s handy that they go in the freezer to have a stock for when I don’t have time to bake them fresh.

Starting as I mean to blog on…

I’m not quite sure how to start a blog really, but I’m thinking it would be good to say a bit about why I decided to start one, and a bit about what this mixed bag of all sorts will include.

So, why start a blog? In some ways this seems like one of the least practical times of my life to embark on such a project. Between looking after 10-month old Andrew two and a half days a week, working as a university researcher two and a half days a week, and fitting in housework, swimming and editing a magazine (amongst other things including sleeping and eating), you’d have thought I’d have no time. Well I’d have thought that too, but somehow I’ve managed to carve out pockets of time for writing recently, and I’ve noticed how much I enjoy it. This writing has been in the form of articles, for both academic journals (papers based on chapters of my PhD) and mothering/parenting magazines (based on my experiences of birth and breastfeeding), as well as a sort of mini blog about my Channel swim. The writing ‘bug’ must have got to me! But the reason for my writing is not just about me, rather it’s double-sided. I like to write, so I get something out of it personally, and I like to see others read it and get something out of it – maybe it encourages them, makes them laugh (hmm maybe… if they share my slightly odd sense of humour), gives them a different perspective on something, or introduces them to something they’ve never heard of before. I thought t’internet would be a good way to share my writing with others. Hence this blog. Handy that I have a techie brother who can help me set it up (thanks Matt!)

In the world of blogging, I’m completely new – I’m vaguely aware that this makes me a ‘newbie’ or something like that. Am I also right in thinking that blogs tend to be on a particular theme? Well I’m not sure what I would pick as one theme, because I’m interested in writing about various things (more details to follow…). I guess over time a theme might emerge as the most dominant in the mixed bag, but for starters I’ll have a bit of all sorts and see how it goes (sounds like my kind of meal)!

In the short bio on the ‘About this blog’ page, I’ve listed five things in my life that I’d to write about for now: mum-hood (I try to avoid the word ‘mother’ as it makes me feel old for some reason), my faith, craft and baking, languages and linguistics, swimming to keep fit. These may evolve over time, who knows. A few ideas for posts are already springing to mind as I type, and I hope I can get them written over the coming weeks. A note (more to self than to readers) on regularity is probably in order here: I’m not sure until I start how often it’ll be possible/practical to blog (oooh I love using nouns as verbs like this, also ‘to google’, ‘to skype’, but I digress, that can wait for a linguistic post…), so I won’t commit to a particular time scale for posts. No point in time pressure that would take the enjoyment out of it.

So ta-dah, voilà and there we have it, the first post on my squeaky, shiny, brand new blog. Bye for now and hope you come back for more soon!