Stone cakes

You may be thinking that these are somehow related to rock cakes. They’re not. The name came about when Granny made some cakes a while ago that she filled with jam and cream, and so when Andrew came to ask what they were called, she said “well, I guess we could call them scone cakes Andrew, because they’re a bit like scones with jam and cream”. Since then, Andrew has remembered, or so he thinks, the impromptu name of these cakes! We say ‘scone’ to rhyme with ‘stone’, and as the word with ’st’ is a frequent word in his vocab, that’s what’s stuck in his mind.

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When it was showering outside one afternoon this week, I asked Andrew if he wanted to do some baking whilst we waited for the shower to pass before going in the garden. His reply was a very enthusiastic YES! When I asked what he wanted to bake, his request was ‘stone cakes’. So that’s what we did. The recipe is very simple – a basic sponge, with some raisins (like a fruit scone), with a filling of jam and buttercream. Like so many bakes, I find simple turns out to be very tasty, and is perfect for getting little ones involved.

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Ingredients

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g butter (or margarine – I usually use marg but butter is what Granny has in for baking at their house where we’re living still)
  • 2 eggs
  • 120g self-rasiing flour
  • 60g raisins

Filling

  • Strawberry jam
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 50g butter

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin with cake cases (9-10), and preheat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and a little flour, to stop it curdling, and beat until well combined.
  4. Add the flour and raisins, and mix until the mixture is just combined and smooth.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases until 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for around 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool completely.
  8. Meanwhile, cream the butter and icing sugar together to make the buttercream icing.
  9. When the cakes are cool, cut a small, round piece out of the tip of each one.
  10. Place a teaspoon of jam and 2 teaspoons of buttercream in each hole, then replace the piece of cake that you cut out, as a kind of ‘lid’ (that’s how I explained it to Andrew when he helped me make them!)
  11. That’s it, they’re finished! Eat and enjoy 🙂

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Creative Challenge
Mini Creations

Crispy cereal biscuits

When it was pouring with rain one afternoon last week, and we’d already been out in the morning, I decided that a spot of baking was the best choice of activity, and Andrew enthusiastically agreed – he always does when there’s food at the end of an activity! I flicked through a recipe book that I was given for Christmas for some on the spot inspiration. One that caught my eye was for biscuits with cornflakes in them – like a cross between chocolate cornflake cakes and oaty biscuits. Based on this idea I looked in the cupboards, and then adapted the recipe to include rice crispies and oatmeal, because that’s what we had in. I also reduced the relative quantity of sugar, as I often do when baking with the boys.

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Since living with Granny and Grandad, we’re also enjoying the use of Granny’s Kitchenaid, which Andrew loves to help me with. I find this particularly useful when working with real butter – I tend to use margarine myself because I never remember to get butter out enough in advance for it to get to room temperature and is therefore hard work to mix!

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I have to say, for a make it up as you go along recipe loosely based on inspiration from a book, these tasted amazing. Perfect texture for the kids to enjoy, nice and light, with a real crisp to them, whilst still being a biscuit rather than a cereal bar/cake.

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Here’s how we did it…

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 50g oatmeal
  • 50g sesame seeds
  • 50g rice crispies

Method

  1. Prepare a couple of baking sheets by lining with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan).
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg.
  4. Add the flour, oatmeal and sesame seeds, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the rice crispies and gently fold in without over mixing.
  6. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, with large enough gaps between them to allow for spreading during baking.
  7. Bake for around 15 minutes until lightly golden.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray until the biscuits firm up.
  9. Eat and enjoy 🙂
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Peanut Australian-themed biscuits

For his birthday, Andrew was sent some cookie cutters all the way from Australia, from his Great Uncle and Great Aunt who live out there. The cutters are in the shape of Aussie animals (kangaroo, koala and crocodile) and one is in the shape of the country itself. As we hadn’t done any baking for a while, mainly due to the amount of birthday cake we had, I thought we’d have a go at some biscuits using these new cutters. Andrew loves rolling out dough and cutting out shapes, particularly if the dough is edible and not play-dough! Joel has even started to take an interest too, but he was asleep when we baked this time.

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I looked through a biscuits and cakes recipe book that I got for Christmas for some inspiration. When I saw the recipe for some peanut butter biscuits, I thought that these would work well with the Australian theme – they’re not exactly Anzac cookies, but they’re along those lines, and I remember eating a few peanut butter sandwiches when we went to Australia. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, I never do! But they turned out yummy, and went down very well with the boys. So here’s our take on peanut biscuits…

Aussie biscuits Collage

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 50g white sugar
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 80g peanut butter
  • 190g plain flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC, and prepare a baking tray by lining it with grease proof paper.
  2. Cream the butters and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the vanilla essence and flour to form a stiff dough.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Cut out biscuit shapes (they don’t have to be Aussie if you don’t have such cool cutters!), and transfer them to the baking tray until all the dough is used.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly golden – they will still be slightly soft to touch.
  7. Leave them to cool and firm up on the tray.
  8. Store in an airtight container.

I actually think these are better a few days old, because I like my biscuits slightly chewier rather than snappy crispy, but they won’t last much longer around here!

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Birthday cakes – ‘3’s and a crowd

I still can’t quite believe that Andrew and Tom share a birthday. I know it’s a 1 in 365 possibility, but still, that seems quite small to me. This year is particularly cool because they are 3 and 30 on the same day. To celebrate, we had a family weekend with all four of the boys grandparents, two aunts and a cousin – so quite a crowd to eat the cakes that I baked. Since Andrew’s first birthday, I’ve instated the tradition of baking him, and then Joel too on his birthday, a celebration cake – do you remember the ‘o n e’ cakes, the Thomas the Tank Engine cake and the racing car cake? Most years I’ve baked Tom a cake for his birthday too, though usually just a plain cake with no fancy decoration or modelling involved.

This year I wanted to make a special cake for both birthday boys, and include a number 3 on both cakes. I should say now that this wouldn’t have been physically possible if we weren’t living at Granny and Grandad’s house and therefore have extra pairs of hands to entertain children, go shopping for ingredients and clear up afterwards.

Along the same train of thought that I had for Andrew’s ‘o n e’ cakes, I decided on a big 3-0 for Tom – after all, it is his big 3-0 birthday. And actually it’s quite easy to make a 3 and a 0 from round cakes baked in conventional tins. The 0 was just a round cake with a hole cut out of the centre, and the 3 was cut from two smaller round cakes – I drew a diagram on paper first of how the two almost semi-circle bits would fit together, so I could better visualise what I had in my head, and made myself a template to do the cutting.

30 cake

It had to be chocolate cake for Tom as this is one of his favourites. I chose a chocolate fudge cake recipe from the BBC website, which turned out to be very brownie-like in consistency. Chocolate tastes good (sorry, stating the obvious there!) but it’s a bit boring in colour, so I wanted to decorate the cake in bright colours. That’s where several packets of Smarties came into play. Granny managed to find some big boxes for only £1 each at a local newsagent, and I spent an evening sorting them into each colour (I was going to get Andrew involved in sorting out colours because he likes that kind of task, but then I wondered whether I’d end up with enough at the end?!…one for the plate, one for me, one for the plate, one for me…) It was surprising how many I needed to cover the cake in a rainbow design, because there were more of certain colours in each box, so I had to go and buy some more to have enough of each colour of the rainbow. Stuck on with some cholcoate buttercream, they gave the cakes an eye-catching finish. The final detail was a set of candles in rainbow colours that spelled out ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’.

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It was more difficult to decide what to make for Andrew – he has lots of ‘favourite’ characters and vehicles, and they seem to change from one week to the next, with a few being long term such as Brum. Since living with Granny and Grandad, Andrew has become rather obsessed with Thunderbirds (or Wonderbirds as he prefers to call it). Grandad is a massive fan, and is keen to encourage Andrew in his enthusiasm for the models and puppets. So when I was thinking out loud about Andrew’s birthday cake planning one evening when he was in bed, we all knew straight away when it was suggested that a Thunderbird cake – of course Thunderbird 3 – was perfect!

I studied Grandad’s DVDs and books that feature the rocket, and made sure that I had all the bits to model and decorate the feat of engineering that was to become the Thunderbird 3 cake. All of it was edible, except for some red straws and cocktail sticks for the three shafts that run down the side of the rocket to the engines at the bottom, and some wooden skewers that held the main structure upright inside and that slid out once we’d cut into the top. The cake was a simple 6,6,6,3 sponge – 6 ounces of self-raising flour, butter and sugar, plus 3 eggs – made in Granny’s new Kitchenaid mixer. I baked it in a deep square tin and it rose to about 3/4 full.

Once the sponge was fully cooled, I cut out cylinders using a long metal cutter (actually it’s the equipment they use in fancy restaurants and on Masterchef when shaping rice or mashed potato (for example) into neat piles on the plate). I then stacked these on top of each other, sticking them together with buttercream, and then sliding 3 wooden skewers down through the layers to hold it all together. I added the straws for stability, attaching them to the sponge at the sides using cocktail sticks, and anchoring them at the bottom into a big lump of white royal icing shaped into a small cylinder for the engines. To achieve the pointed top of the rocket, I crumbled some cake and mixed it with some buttercream, then shaped the mixture (just like you make cake pops) into the right conical form.

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Then came the trickiest part – covering with red royal icing. In hindsight I should have covered the main body of the rocket whilst it was lying down rather than already stood up and fixed into place, but hey, this is the first (and probably last) time that I’ve ever made a Thunderbird 3 cake. I covered it in sections after glazing the sponge with warmed apricot jam to make the icing stick.

The finishing touches made it all come together after the stress of getting it covered in red to my satisfaction. The black stripes on the long side shafts were a liquorice Catherine wheel unraveled and twisted around the straws. Other bits of black were the same liquorice, including the small number 3s on each of the three engines at the bottom. White features were added using white butter icing piped through a rectangular nozzle, or a writing nozzle for the ‘THUNDERBIRD’ down the centre. The silver fins all the way around the centre were white royal icing sprayed with silver shimmer spray for cakes – I cut these triangles out and sprayed them earlier in the week, then left them open to the air to dry out a bit so that they didn’t flop when stuck onto the side of the upright rocket.

Finally I added three white candles, and waited to see the face on one very excited little birthday boy – it was amazing! I enjoy making these kind of cakes, even though parts of the process can be challenging, because it’s all worth it when the boys show their appreciation. The rest of the crowd were pleased with the cakes too, and I was assured that they tasted just as good as they looked (no style over substance, to quote a Great British Bake Off phrase).

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I have no idea what will be on the cards for next year’s birthday cake, but he has a whole year to change his favourite characters, and Joel’s special day will come before then too. In the meanwhile, I’ll sit down with a cuppa tea and a slice of cake – we still have enough to feed another small crowd….any takers?

Mince pies with a twist

As it’s practically dark by the time the boys are awake from afternoon naps and we’ve got ready to go out, we can’t go to the park or even in the garden really, so baking and craft activities have been filling our late afternoons and early evenings recently. And as we’re in December, I thought it was time for some Christmas baking.

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I don’t eat loads of mince pies, but it’s always nice to have a few over the Christmas period, and as I’m trying to use up jars and tins in the cupboards, I thought it would be fun to add some stem ginger that I opened a while ago to the mince meat, to add extra favour and spice. I prefer to make mince pies with unsweetened pastry, because the mince meat itself is so sweet, and to add another flavour I decided to put some cinnamon in with the flour. Finally, I added a splash of Amaretto to the filling, again because the bottle I have could do with using up having sat there untouched for a while since we’ve had kids.

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Andrew enjoys rolling out pastry, so that was also a good reason to make pies, and he helped me cut out the rounds and put them in the muffin tins – we went for deep filled pies rather than the little ones you can make in fairy cake tins.

If you’d like to give these a go, here’s the recipe….

Ingredients – makes 10 deep fill pies

Filling

  • 400g jar of mincemeat
  • about 4 chunks of stem ginger, cut into small cubes
  • optional: splash of Amaretto (or any other alcohol that you like)
Pastry
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • cold water

Method

  1. Lightly grease the holes in a muffin tin, and preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon in a bowl and mix until evenly distributed.
  3. Chop the butter into smallish chunks (make sure it’s as cold as possible) and toss into the flour.
  4. Use your hands to work the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs.
  5. Add a small amount of water at a time and mix until it starts to form a stiff dough, then leave to one side whilst you mix the filling.
  6. Mix the ingredients for the filling together in another bowl.
  7. Take the pastry and roll out on a floured surface.
  8. Cut 10 larger circles and 10 smaller circles to fit the size of the muffin tin holes.
  9. Place the larger circles in the holes, fill with the filling, then places the lids on top, sealing with a bit of cold water run around the rim and the pastry pieces pressed together.
  10. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden.
  11. Leave to cool in the tins, before turning out with the help of a sharp knife to loosen them from the tin.
  12. Eat as fresh as possible, and they can also be frozen.

Tasty veg pie with puff crust – #GBBO inspired

This week the Great British Bake Off was all about pastry. It’s not something I bake all the time, but I’m less afraid of it than I once was (after I’d had a bit of a disastrous apple pie with sweet pastry that just went everywhere!), so I like the opportunity to practice and prove to myself that I can in fact do it!

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One of the challenges on the GBBO this week involved puff pastry. Now proper puff pastry takes a long time to make – as Paul Hollywood himself emphasised, it needs a lot of time to get it right. But there is a quick, cheat’s method that gives puffy pastry (even if not as superior a puff as the real McCoy) in much more manageable time frames. So this is what I decided to do for dinner on Sunday night. For once I didn’t choose a sweet bake (I know, shocking), because we had some lovely veg that I thought would work well in a nice hearty pie, and when I mentioned to Tom that I was thinking of making a ‘hearty pie’, he said ‘Oh yes, I like anything hearty, do something hearty, yes please’. Still veggie, of course, so maybe not hearty as some avid carnivores might think of the word, but nonetheless tasty and perfect for an Autumn evening.

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Here’s the recipe, including how to make the rough puff pastry, which I roughly followed from Delia, just played around with quantities and added pepper.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 450g plain flour
  • black pepper
  • cold water

Filling

  • half a suede
  • about a quarter of a white cabbage
  • 1 onion
  • 4 button mushrooms
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml hot stock
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • few drops of tabasco
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Put the flour into a large bowl and grind quite a bit of black pepper into it (depending on your taste).
  2. Cut the butter into chunks and toss into the flour and pepper mix, just coating them with the flour.
  3. Pour the cold water, a little at a time, into the flour and butter and use your hands to bring it together into a dough. Don’t work it too much, just enough to bring it together.
  4. Shape it into a brick on a floured board, then roll it out into a rectangle that is almost twice as long as it is wide.
  5. Then fold it into thirds, bringing the left outside edge into the centre and then the same with the right, so that they overlap, and press down with the rolling pin so that the layers stick.
  6. Rest it for a few minutes, probably a good time to chop the veg, then roll the pastry (which should be back in a brick shape) into a rectangle again, followed by the folding into thirds like you did before.
  7. Leave it to rest again, and then do the same rolling and folding as before. After this third roll and fold, place in cling film in the fridge until you’re ready to use it for the pie lid later.
  8. To make the filling, chop the veg into chunks (as fine or as chunky as you like, though cooking times will vary according to size of chunk), and heat some olive oil in a large saucepan.
  9. Brown the onion, suede, cabbage and mushrooms in the saucepan for about 5-10 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, hot stock and cornflour.
  10. Bring to a simmer and cook for about another 10 minutes until thickened.
  11. Add some tabasco to taste.
  12. Leave in the pan until you’re ready to assemble the pie.
  13. About 40 mins before you want to eat, transfer the filling to a large rectangular oven dish and spread around evenly.
  14. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to just the right size to cover the filling, and press it down onto the filling gently.
  15. Prick the pastry lid with a fork several times to allow any steam to escape when baking.
  16. Bake in a hot oven 220 C (fan) for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is nicely browned and puffy.
  17. Serve immediately.

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Old MacDonald had a farm….. of choc chip shortbread animals!

Earlier in the week I blogged about making gingerbread men. At the time I made 2 different biscuit doughs, the other one being a choc chip shortbread which Andrew cut into animal shapes using a set of cute animal cutters that I was given for Christmas. The idea behind putting choc chips in was to try and get the effect of patches of darker colour on the animals, just as cows have, and often sheep, pigs, horses and ducks are more than just one colour. The problem with the chips was that they got in the way of the cutter slicing through the dough to the board, so the shapes didn’t come out as clearly as they would have without the chips – this was probably not helped by the fact that my chips were very chunky whereas using ready made chips that you can buy might have worked better as they tend to be smaller; I just think those are so expensive compared to chopping up your own chocolate.

The reason we made these, apart from it being a fun way to spend an afternoon, was as a present for Granny’s birthday. I created a photo mug online using photos of her with my little boys, and thought it would be nice to bake some biscuits to go with the tea that she can make in the mug. There’s also a story behind the Old MacDonald theme…. for Andew’s birthday, Granny and Grandad bought him one of those musical cards that blasts out Old MacDonald at full pelt when you open it, which Andrew found fascinating! Here’s a video of it – may I suggest that you only play it if you don’t mind having the song in your head for the rest of the day! In buying this card they have perpetuated a family joke that started when my grandparents bought my brother and me musical cards one Christmas, and my brother kept opening and closing his in fascination, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the room.

If you fancy making these yourself, in whatever shape you like, here’s the recipe, which is very simple to make. The semolina and granulated sugar help to give it a slightly crunchy texture as well as being lovely and ‘short’ or crumbly.

Ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g semolina
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 200g margarine or butter
  • 100g chocolate, chopped into small chunks, or ready-made chocolate chips

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and prepare a couple of baking sheets by lining with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine/butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add the chocolate chips and stir in until well distributed.
  4. Add the flour and semolina and mix until a stiff dough forms, using your hands to do the last bit when it’s too stiff for a spoon.
  5. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut out shapes using biscuit cutters.
  6. Place the dough shapes on the baking sheets and bake in the oven for about 10 – 15 minutes until slightly golden on top.
  7. Remove from the oven and eat as fresh as possible, storing in an air-tight container until eaten.

Father Christmas mince tartlets

When I bought a 24-piece biscuit cutter set a while ago for Andrew to use with play dough, I noticed that there was a Father Christmas cutter included. As there aren’t many weeks of the year that you can get away with baking in such a festive shape, I thought I’d give it a go this week. I also had some marzipan left over from the star cupcakes that we made last week, so I came up with something that used it – mince pies with marzipan lids in the shape of Father Christmas. But because you can see some of the filling, they are really tarts rather than pies, and their small size means I’ve called them tartlets.

I’m not a massive fan of shop-bought mince pies, mainly because the pastry isn’t great unless you buy the really expensive ones. I actually prefer a plain unsweetened shortcrust pastry rather than a sweet pastry, because it tones down the highly sweet filling. Obviously the marzipan lids of these pies add sweetness, but at least it’s marzipan, which I LOVE – it’s one of the best tastes of Christmas in my foodie opinion. But the bases are unsweetened pastry, to which I added a dash of cinnamon, just to spice things up a little and make these tartlets a real twist on a classic bake.

I don’t usually bake mince pies in cake cases, but I have had times when they have stuck to the tin a bit, so I was pleased when I came across the idea of using paper cases on the website of Holly Bell, Great British Bake Off finalist 2011 – recipesfromanormalmum.com. We gave it a try, and it worked well.

Here’s how we made them. You could use whatever shape cutter you have for the lid, it doesn’t have to be Father Christmas (or Far Kissmas as Andrew is calling him 🙂 )! As there were two lots of rolling and cutting out dough , Andrew was very impressed, so I’d recommend it for toddlers who like that sort of thing. I’d also be interested to hear about other mince pie recipes, especially if they’re a bit unusual like this one – please leave a comment if you have one.

Ingredients (makes a dozen)

  • 110g plain flour
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 55g butter
  • cold water
  • mincemeat (I used about half a 454g jar)
  • ready to roll packet of marzipan (I used about a quarter of a standard supermarket packet)

Method

  1. First make the pastry. Chop up the butter into chunks and add to the flour and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Rub the butter chunks into the flour and cinnamon until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
  3. Add water, small amounts at a time, and combine with the butter-flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. Don’t overwork it.
  4. Leave to rest in the fridge overnight, and get it out an hour or so before you want to roll it out, to get it to room temperature again.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and put paper cake cases into a fairy cake tin.
  6. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to about 3mm thick.
  7. Cut circles out for the base of the tartlets using a circle cutter, and press them lightly into the cake cases.
  8. Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat to each base.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.
  10. Meanwhile, roll out the marzipan on the same lightly floured board, to about 3mm thick.
  11. Cut out Father Christmas shapes, or whatever festive shape you have a cutter for!
  12. When the tartlets are ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  13. When they have fully cooled, place a Father Christmas on top of each tartlet and press down lightly.

Chocolate and marzipan star cupcakes

When an email popped into my inbox the other day, from a friend asking if anyone could bake cakes and/or sell them to help her and her sister raise money for charity, I thought that I could help. Baking is a great way to keep Andrew from getting bored and makes a change from the DVD and youtube watching that goes on at the moment. And we get to help raise some money, so it makes it even more worthwhile. The charity they’re fundraising for is Asthma UK, which supports asthma sufferers and their families. My friend’s sister is asthmatic herself, and despite this she is running the London marathon in April as part of her fundraising efforts too – now that sounds much harder than baking cakes! 

As it’s nearly Christmas, I decided to go for something a bit festive but not the traditional mince pies etc. as we already have so many of them at this time of year. I think it’s easier to sell little individual cakes rather than whole ones or slices of whole ones, so I went for cupcakes. They are chocolate sponge, with chocolate chips, and have a marzipan star on top (that’s the festive twist, in both flavour and shape!) The star is held on with a bit of buttercream icing, and on top of the star there is a little swirl of glittery purple icing to finish it off. The sponge has ground almonds in, partly to make it a nice moist sponge, partly to blend with the flavour of the almonds in the marzipan. Oh and the cupcake cases are silver, to make them extra sparkly for the festive theme.

Andrew enjoyed helping me – he stirred the mixture a few times at different stages, and he rolled out marzipan and cut out stars (his favourite job). During our baking session, I noticed that he has a new phrase to say: “Mummy do it” and, more often, “Andrew [A-tar] do it”. I’ve given the recipe below, if you’d like a bit of inspiration to have a go at your own Christmassy cupcakes. This made 16 cakes. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 170g sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (or ready done chic chips)
  • ready to roll yellow marzipan
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • glitter sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and place 16 cupcake cases into muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add the four, cocoa, ground almonds and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream icing by mixing the butter and icing sugar until smooth and stiff; then add the splash of milk to make it a little less stiff and a good consistency to work with.
  10. Spoon a small blob of icing (at this point without colour) onto each cupcake; then add the glitter sugar to the remaining icing (I chose a purple glitter sugar).
  11. Roll out the marzipan to a few millimetres thick on a board dusted with icing sugar.
  12. Cut out 16 stars, and press them down quite firmly onto the top of each cake.
  13. Finish by putting the remaining glitter icing into a piping bag and piping a small swirl onto the top of each star.

Apple pie (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 5)

As we were away last weekend, I missed a week of baking inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO). The desserts the contestants made last week were very impressive, and I think I would have gone for baking a torte if I’d have had chance to do some baking myself (that was one of the things they had to bake). This week it was all about pies. For the first bake they had to make a Wellington (with whatever filling they liked), for the second – the technical challenge – they had to make what looked like an incredibly difficult chicken and bacon pie with a hand-molded, hot-water pastry (a bit like a pork pie really), and for the third they had to bake a sweet American pie (with whatever filling they liked).

mmmmmmm apple pie 🙂

As I’m not into cooking meat at all at the moment, I thought a sweet pie would be my best option. I was particularly interested in the short clip that was shown as part of the programme, telling us all about the history of the apple pie in America, as that was one of the first sweet American pies to really make it big, even though none of the GBBO contestants chose to make something that simple – their flavours were along the lines of pumpkin pie, squash pie, sweet potato pie, Key lime pie, and peanut butter pie. I haven’t had apple pie for a long time, so I decided that this simple but effective pie would go down well with my boys and me. Andrew’s Aunty Jenny was even with us on the day I made it, so I had an extra taster this time; the adults approved, but Andrew wasn’t too bothered – I think he was too tired by the point we ate it.

An Andrew-sized slice - the first slice is always the hardest to cut nicely out of a pie, but I think this isn't bad, even if it did collapse a bit at the side. The next ones came out more in tact!

I went for a simple shortcrust pastry with no sugar, and a caramelised apple filling. I didn’t want to make the pastry sweet, because I don’t like pastry too sweet and think that it’s actually nicer to have the contrast of a plain pastry with the sweetness of the apple filling. (Maybe Paul Hollywood would approve? He didn’t seem to like the sickly sweet American pies that some contestants came up with, but preferred more mellowed-down British versions!) Plus I’ve found it hard to make sweet pastry in the past, whereas plain shortcrust is easier in my experience. I found a great page on Delia Smith’s website, giving tips on how to achieve good shortcrust pastry, which points out some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. I have to say it turned out very well and I found it pretty easy to make, even without a food processor – the main thing is making sure everything is at the right temperature when you need to use it.

Here’s my recipe, which has very few ingredients, but the outcome is a yummy, good classic apple pie.

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 8oz plain white flour
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • cold water

Filling:

  • 2 large Bramley apples
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 20g flour

Method

  1. First make the pastry so it has time to rest whilst you’re doing the other bits (or leave it for a few hours or overnight). Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it to soften to room temperature. According to Delia, you should just be able to cut through it easily with a knife, but it should still be quite solid.
  2. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips, working quickly and lifting the flour up as you rub, to keep it light and aerated. Don’t overdo it, but stop when you have a rough breadcrumb-like texture.
  3. Gradually add small amounts of cold water, like a couple of tablespoons at a time, and mix with a knife to bring the mixture together into a dough. Once it gets wet enough, finish bringing it together with your hands, and form into a ball. Stop handling it, put it into a food bag, and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more – overnight is good.
  4. Then make the apple filling. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into chunks.
  5. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan on a moderate heat. Add the apples, and cook for about 5-10 minutes until lightly golden and a bit squidgy. Just before you finish cooking them, add the flour and stir in until the caramel sauce thickens. Take the pan off the heat and allow the filling to cool completely.
  6. When the pastry is well chilled, take it out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before rolling it. Getting the temperature right is key in making successful pastry, so don’t try to rush it. At this point, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  7. Once warmed up enough (but not too warm!), cut the pastry into two pieces: about one third of the whole for one piece and two thirds for the other.
  8. Roll the bigger bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to fit the bottom and sides of your pie dish, with a small overhang.
  9. Line the pie dish with the pastry, and cut off any excess bits of pastry beyond the small overhang.
  10. Pour the cooled apple filling into the pastry-lined pie dish.

    A glimpse of the yummy filling before the lid went on!
  11. Roll the smaller bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to cover the top of the pie dish. Place this pastry on top of the filling. There should be enough room in the dish after the filling has gone in so that there is a lip of pastry that can join with the lid pastry.
  12. Press the lid pastry together with this lip of pastry from around the side, using a fork to squish them together and make a nice pattern at the same time. Use the fork to make several pricks in the pastry lid, to allow steam to escape when cooking.
  13. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
  14. Remove from the oven, and eat as fresh as possible – hot apple pie is so much better than cold apple pie! 🙂

    Spot the shadow from the photographer! You can tell I'm no professional. Must get round to putting into practice the tips I got from Britmums!