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.

tb cake

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?

Cupcake of the month (November): lemon

When I was packing up the recipe books the other day, I came across my cupcake calendar that has a recipe on for each month of this year. I said back at the start of the year that I would make a type of cupcake based on the cupcake of the month in this calendar each month, and I did until August. Then somehow I just forgot! I think the calendar got buried in all the books on the shelf and I’ve had lots of other crafty things to do, including doing more sewing projects (mainly nappy related).

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So I thought I could just about squeeze November’s recipe in before advent begins. Tom was pleased because the recipe was for lemon cupcakes, and lemon is his favourite cake. The cake sponge is quite unusual in flavour and texture because it is made with soft cheese as well as margarine, and it does have an almost cheesecake-like flavour to it, though the texture is still more like sponge than cheesecake. I found that the amount of lemon suggested in the recipe wasn’t much, so I added quite a bit more than it said and we didn’t think it was overpowering.

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I hope to be back for one last cupcake of the month recipe in December, depending on how packing goes and if I get time and space to think about it!

Ingredients (makes 6)

Sponge

  • 90g margarine
  • 90g soft cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 90g self raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Icing

  • 10g margarine
  • 50g soft cheese
  • 120g icing sugar
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin with some cupcake cases and preheat the oven to 170 C (fan).
  2. Cream the margarine, soft cheese and sugar in a large bowl until soft and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and a handful of flour to stop it curdling, and beat until well mixed.
  4. Add the flour and lemon rind and mix until just combined.
  5. Place the mixture into the prepared cupcake cases, and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  6. When they are in the oven, make the icing, by mixing together the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
  7. Allow the cakes to cool completely before placing a teaspoon of icing on the top of each cake and letting it run across the top.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible (I stored them in the fridge).

Courgette and apple cake – #GBBO inspired

This week the Great British Bake Off was all about unconventional baking – using flours that are wheat- or gluten-free, and using no dairy ingredients (like butter or milk). The final round saw the contestants bake a showstopper cake that was completely dairy free and contained a vegetable. They went for butternut squash, carrot or beetroot between them.

As we had a courgette in the veg box this week, and as I’ve been meaning to bake a courgette cake for some time now, I decided that this would be a great time to do it! We also had some cooking apples given to us by one of Tom’s work colleagues who has a glut of them in her garden, so I thought I’d combine the two in a cake with some spices too.

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I googled some courgette cake recipes and adapted one from BBC Good Food (I never follow a recipe exactly, and I wanted to add apple anyway). It came out very well, and actually rose more than I thought it might, given that vegetable cakes can be quite stodgy. It tastes like a fruit cake, but is lovely and moist from the grated courgette and apple. My boys all approved!

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml vegetable oil
  • 85g soft brown sugar
  • 1 medium courgette, grated
  • 1 cooking apple, grated
    • (combined weight of courgette and apple around 350-400g)
  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 150g sultanas

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare a cake tin (grease and line if necessary – I use a silicone mould that doesn’t need this).
  2. Mix the oil, sugar and eggs together in a bowl, then add the grated fruit and veg.
  3. In another, larger bowl, mix the flour, spices, baking powder and sultanas until evenly distributed.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin/mould and bake for about an hour (vegetable cakes, according to Mary Berry herself, take longer to bake than ordinary cakes), until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Remove from the oven and let it cool.
  7. Eat as fresh as possible – you can also freeze this.

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Spicy millionnaire’s shortbread

This week’s Great British Bake Off was all about desserts: trifles in round 1, Iles flottants in the technical challenge, and petit fours in the show stopper round. It hasn’t been easy to bake something particularly inspired by one of these rounds this week, because I can’t stand trifle (mainly the cold custard thing going on – yuk!) and I’m not a massive fan of meringues, I mean they’re OK, but I prefer to bake things that I’m actually going to enjoy rather than just eat politely because that’s on the menu.

As I don’t have a particular occasion to bake for, or the time to spend hours on intricate designs, petit fours weren’t really something I had the energy to do either. However, a couple of the contestants did some kind of millionaire’s shortbread for one of their petit four varieties, and this inspired me to have a go. I vividly remember the first time I ever baked millionaire’s shortbread: a tin of evaporated milk had been put in the wrong place amongst the condensed milk tins in the supermarket, and I gaily poured it in to the pan without realising until later when the caramel didn’t set that I had in fact bought the wrong thing! I have made it since, and it turned out much better, but it’s not something I make very often. As Tom has had a busy week at work and still volunteered to take both boys out on Saturday morning to a Dads and toddlers group in town, I thought he would appreciate a thank you bake 🙂

Millionares shortbread

I decided to do a twist on the usual millionaires shortbread by taking a bit of the edge off the sweetness – I added cinnamon to the shortbread base and ginger to the caramel. I think these spices work well with chocolate. I can’t call them petit fours, they’re nothing like that delicate or small, but my tester approved of their taste and texture. Sadly not long after I made these I came down with a bug and haven’t felt like eating them myself, so most have gone in the freezer for when I’m better.

Ingredients

  • Biscuit base
  • 180g flour
  • 90g semolina
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 180g margarine
  • 90g sugar
  • Caramel
  • 400g tin condensed milk
  • 150g margarine
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 2tsp ginger syrup (from stem ginger jar)
  • Chocolate topping
  • 100g plain chocolate

Method

  1. Pre heat the oven to 160ºC (fan) and line an oven dish with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar for the biscuit base in a bowl.
  3. Add the flour, semolina and cinnamon, and mix until a stiff dough forms.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of the oven dish, and bake for about 30 minutes until lightly golden, then leave to cool.
  5. While the base is cooling, make the caramel.
  6. Melt the margarine and sugar in a pan.
  7. Add the condensed milk and ginger syrup and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.
  8. Keep at the boil for a few minutes, until the caramel starts to thicken.
  9. Allow it to cool a little before pouring over the cooled base, then leave to set in the fridge.
  10. Once cooled, melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, and pour over the top of the caramel, spreading it out to cover all the top.
  11. Leave to cool in the fridge until set.
  12. To cut into squares, dip a sharp knife in freshly boiled water for a little while before using it to cut the chocolate – this will hopefully help it to glide through although it didn’t work every time for mine!

Cupcake of the month (August): rich chocolate

It’s that time of year again when my favourite TV programme is back on – the Great British Bake Off! In fact I haven’t watched any other TV all year; we don’t have a licence because since having kids we found that we never watched TV apart from one or two things that we could get on iPlayer the day after, and the GBBO is the only thing I’ve downloaded this year. I love watching other people bake – some impressive recipes as well as some that don’t quite go as planned – just ordinary people who enjoy and have a talent for baking.

Last week, the first of several rounds until the final, was all about cake. Mmmm cake! In the third round of three, the showstopper round, the contestants had to bake a chocolate cake with chocolate decorations. Coincidentally, the cupcake for August on my cupcake calendar is a chocolate one, so I thought it would be very fitting to bake come indulgent chocolate cupcakes this week, inspired by both my calendar and the GBBO. Last year during the competition I managed to bake something each week inspired by the theme of that week; I’m not sure I will get chance every week this year, but I’ll give it a go where possible!

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These cupcakes have a very gooey, dense and fudgy consistency, and are very yummy. More of a treat for us when the boys have gone to bed than a snack for little ones! Here’s how I baked them…

Ingredients – makes 12

  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 120g margarine
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 180g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 90ml milk
Ganache
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 90ml soured cream or creme fraiche

Method

  1. Prepare a 12-hole muffin tin with cupcake cases, and preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan)
  2. Melt the chocolate, margarine, sugar and honey in a bowl, either in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  3. Weigh the flour and cocoa powder in a large bowl and add the baking powder.
  4. Pour the molten ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix.
  5. Beat the eggs, add them to the large bowl along with the milk, and mix until well combined.
  6. Pour the mixture, which is quite runny, into the cake cases until they are about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, and leave to cool completely.
  8. To make the ganache, break the chocolate into chunks and melt either in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  9. Stir in the soured cream or creme fraiche until smooth and thick – chill in the fridge if it’s still a little runny to help firm it up.
  10. Spread over the top of the cupcakes to finish them.

Let him eat cake – wot so funee?

Once again Andrew has been coming out with some great funees this week. In his world, there is a lot of cake. If it’s something that looks edible, or is in a place with other things he knows are edible, but he’s not tried it himself before, then he will often call it a “X cake” [for X insert suitable describing word]. At the weekend I made some cheesy spinach and tomato mini muffins. They were in a tin on the table for Saturday lunch, and to try and alleviate the tantrum that was ensuing from the fact that I had dared to put soup and cheesy muffins on the table instead of his addiction of cheese sandwiches, I offered him one saying “Would you like one of these Andrew? They’re cheesy!” From behind the flood of tears, the drama king could just about be heard blubbing “Andrew want cheese cake” – to be fair they are kind of cheese cakes, but it tickled me thinking of actual cheesecake and there was no way he was having the treat of actual cheesecake.

On Sunday we went out for a picnic lunch with Granny and Grandad. Now Granny had been very organised and done up a cooler bag with food and of course an ice pack to keep it cool in the 19 degrees heat that we were finally experiencing. After we’d finished most of the food, Andrew was interested in looking into the bag, probably fishing for more food, just in case we’d missed anything. And we had – he found an “ice cake”, which was all blue and cold!

And along with these cheese cakes and ice cakes I won’t forget the sausage cakesthat I made the other week, another funee from Andrew’s world of cake!

Sadly the parrot bouncy ball that I mentioned in a previous wot so funee post met a watery end last weekend (read the story here), but Andrew still has parrots on his mind. Every Tuesday morning he and Daddy go to a music group where one of the activities is singing songs and playing games around a big multicoloured piece of fabric – the “parrot-shoot” 🙂

The toddler pièce de resistance this week must be an incident in the communal bike shed by our flat that unfortunately I missed as I had gone inside to feed Joel, but Daddy recounted for me later. Daddy was locking up his bike as he had just got home on it, and Andrew was walking past the row of bikes wheeling his bike next to him which he’d just been riding for the past hour. Suddenly a not so subtle sound eeked out from Andrew’s nappy area. Daddy looked up and was greeted with “Daddy did it!” from Andrew who just continued to nonchalantly walk past with his bike. “Erm, no, Andrew did it”, replied Daddy, but this was just refuted with a louder “Daddy did it!” at which point Daddy could see that he was going to lose the fight so gave up – he knows Andrew has inherited my determination. Thankfully everyone else in the flats seems to commute to London, so there was nobody else around at 5.30pm to witness this!

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Wot So Funee?

Chocolate beetroot cake (yes that’s right, beetroot!)

I’ve been thinking about baking a beetroot cake for a while now, since I saw the idea somewhere online – I can’t actually remember where exactly I saw it, but the picture looked good and I didn’t hang around long enough to look at the recipe in detail as I think I was looking for something else at the time. We’ve had beetroot a few times in the veg box, but as it’s usually just the right amount of veg for a week of meals, I haven’t felt like using some of it in a cake. However, since I was ill last week and didn’t eat anything for a couple of days and then moved on to a plain toast diet for a couple more, we had a bit of a glut of veg, including some beetroot, so I seized this opportunity now that I’m feeling better to have a go at what I’d wanted to do for a while.cake 2

From my googling, I figured out that there were 2 ways in which people recommend using beetroot in cake: 1) similarly to carrot, by grating it raw and baking it in a fairly light sponge; or 2) pureeing it when cooked and adding it to chocolate cake to make a very moist and dense sponge. I thought the second option looked the most yummy, so I went for that. The recipe I came up with is loosely based on Nigel Slater’s recipe which I found on the BBC Food website.cake 3

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the finished cake, though I’d seen it written online that this kind of beetroot cake doesn’t have much, if any, traces of beetroot taste, rather it’s a fudgey chocolate cake in taste but the beetroot gives it a lot of moistness. And now that I’ve made one myself, I concur with this description – it is incredibly moist and dense without being greasy like some fudge cakes. If I didn’t know it had beetroot in, I wouldn’t have guessed that it does, though the slight red tinge in the right light gives it away a little.cake 1

You could try and argue that this is a good way to get kids (or adults) to eat some veg, but I’m not sure whether the almost equal quantity of chocolate to beetroot really makes it that ‘healthy’ (‘everything in moderation’ is my approach to a balanced diet). I personally love beetroot simply roasted in some olive oil, though I can’t sand it pickled in vinegar (*shuddering at the thought*). Andrew has been known to eat it and refuse it, and in general we can’t complain at how much fruit and veg he eats, so I’m not about to give him this cake just because I think he needs a veg top up…. he can have a slither as a treat anyway.

Here’s the recipe. It’s not the simplest cake I’ve ever made, with quite a few stages and techniques, so make sure you give yourself enough time if you have a go yourself.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 200g margarine
  • 300g raw beetroot
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 225g golden caster sugar

Icing

  • 60g margarine
  • 120g icing sugar
  • few drops vanilla essence

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC (fan). Grease 2 medium cake tins (I have silicone moulds so I didn’t grease).
  2. Cut the beetroot into small chunks and boil for about 8 minutes until just tender.
  3. Blend the beetroot with the milk in a food processor to a rough purée.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or over a pan of hot water on the hob.
  5. Cut the margarine into small chunks, and stir into the molten chocolate until it too melts. Leave to cool slightly.
  6. Separate the eggs.
  7. Beat the yolks in a bowl, then stir them into the chocolate and margarine mixture.
  8. Add the beetroot, flour and sugar to this mixture, and mix until well combined.
  9. Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed.
  10. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to over mix and lose all the air you whisked into the egg whites.
  11. Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and bake for about 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  12. Leave to cool completely and remove from the tin/mould.
  13. Meanwhile, make the icing by beating the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  14. Spread the icing over the top of one cake, and place the other cake on top to make a sandwich cake with icing in the middle.
  15. Eat! You can also freeze this – it makes quite a big cake, so you might have to!
Link up your recipe of the week

Bakewell flapjack

The blog has become quite a foodie one recently as I seem to have done quite a bit of baking both with and without Andrew, and of course there was the Shrove Tuesday pancake fest! Last week we went to our local National Trust house and gardens, Anglesey Abbey, for the umpteenth time since we’ve lived here. We never tire of its beautiful gardens, where Andrew can run around or ride his bike, and the spacious cafe never fails to entice us in for a cuppa and cake. It wouldn’t be a NT location without a gorgeous selection of cakes – the only trouble is you have to decide which one, and that inevitably leads to me holding up the queue of other cake pilgrims awaiting their turn to deliberate as I um and err and um again and err a bit more! And I can’t forget the kids’ play table, a veritable treasure trove of books, toys, crayons and other random paraphernalia that keeps Andrew amused for hours, and there are even two, count them TWO, toy Brum cars from his favourite TV programme.

After much deliberation, last week I went for a Bakewell flapjack as my cake. It was, as you might guess, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a flapjack – a pastry base with jam on, but for the filling there was an almond flavoured flapjack instead of an almond flavoured sponge. I wasn’t disappointed, it was amazing (not that a NT cake has ever failed to deliver for me). So this week, instead of baking one of my usual flapjack recipes (blogged about here and here) to replenish my snack box – all in the name of breastfeeding of course – I made my own Bakewell flapjack inspired by the NT one. The base is a basic crunchy suet pastry, which I filled with strawberry jam and almond flapjack. It was simple to make and turned out really well; dare I say it, was good enough to rival the one that inspired it. Not that I’m planning on competing with the NT – I would surely fail.

Here’s the recipe if you fancy having a go yourself…..

Ingredients

Base

  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g vegetable suet
  • cold water

Filling

  • jam
  • 90g margarine
  • 90g sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 120g oats
  • 2 tsp almond essence

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan) and prepare a round cake tin or tart dish by greasing it.
  2. First make the pastry, by mixing the flour and suet together in a bowl, then add some cold water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together into a dough ball.
  3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to just a bit bigger than your tin/dish, and put the dough circle into the tin/dish, pressing it into the corner where base meets side.
  4. Spoon some jam onto the base and spread around until evenly distributed and generously thick.
  5. Then make a start on the flapjack, by melting the margarine, sugar and honey in the microwave.
  6. Add the oats and almond essence and stir until well combined.
  7. Pour the flapjack mix onto the base and spread around until it’s all covered.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before cutting into slices.
Link up your recipe of the week

Cupcake of the month (February): choc-fudge-nut

For Christmas I was given a calendar which has not only a picture of a different type of cupcake each month, but also the recipe for how to make it. This has inspired me to bake some cupcakes each month, based on the recipe in the calendar for the month. Now, I never follow recipes exactly, for various reasons such as I don’t have all the ingredients in when i want to bake or I prefer another ingredient from the one stated, so each month’s cupcake won’t be exactly as on the calendar, rather it will be my personal take on it. In fact when I shared with Tom my plan to bake cupcakes from the calendar each month but clarified that they would be adapted from the original recipe, he said: “Oh good, for a minute there I thought you were telling me you were going to follow a recipe, shocking!”

I didn’t get around to starting this monthly feature until February because I left the calendar at my parents’ house where we stayed over Christmas – we had so much stuff to take back that it wouldn’t all fit in the car so we left a bag including the calendar behind until they came to visit us in late January. So first up it’s choc-fudge-nut cupcakes, similar to brownies in texture (I know, I recently baked these too, but some went in the freezer for when we have friends round), with a rich ganache on top. These are definitely not for anyone without chocoholic tendencies! And they’re definitely not for toddler mouths with the nuts and that much of a chocolate hit in one go. Have you had your chocolate fix for the day? Why not get it by baking these…..

Ingredients – makes 9-10

Cakes

  • 35g dark chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g margarine
  • 100g chopped mixed nuts
  • 120g self-raising four
  • 100g sugar

Ganache

  • 150ml double cream
  • 150g milk chocolate

Method

  1. Put some cupcake cases in a muffin tin and preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan).
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the sugar and flour and mix until well combined.
  3. Melt the chocolate and margarine in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  4. Add the nuts to this and stir until they are all covered in chocolate.
  5. Add the chocolate mixture to the rest of the mixture and stir until well combined, but don’t over mix.
  6. Pour some mixture into each of the cupcake cases, to about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean; leave to cool.
  8. Meanwhile make the ganache by heating the cream and chocolate on a low heat whilst stirring, until the chocolate has melted and mixed with the cream completely.
  9. Take off the heat and whisk for a couple of minutes until it becomes thicker and glossier.
  10. Leave to cool and thicken in the fridge.
  11. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe a swirl onto the top of each cupcake.
  12. Sprinkle some chocolate sprinkles on top to finish.

Lemon drizzle cake

For Christmas, Tom bought me a weekly fruit and veg box, which was a fantastic present. I’d been saying for a while that I wanted to buy fruit and veg that’s grown as locally as possible, but I find I don’t have the time to get to a green grocers as well as the supermarket for our other groceries, and when I’m in the supermarket I don’t seem to have the patience to look at all the labelling and spot which fruit and veg are grown in the UK or, better still, in East Anglia. And I’m not an expert on what’s in season when. So Tom acted on my whinges and chose a local company – Cambridge Organic Food Company – to deliver to us. If you live in the area I’d highly recommend them. We get the smallest mixed box and it’s easily enough veg for us for a week, and we eat a lot of it, though I buy one more item of fruit such as a bunch of grapes, a bunch of bananas or a melon. This works out quite a bit cheaper than national companies like Abel & Cole and Riverford. Overall I reckon that we spend no more on this than we would if I got good quality organic stuff from a supermarket, and it tastes so good. Plus we know that each item comes from as local a source as possible, and it’s less for me to carry back in the buggy from the shop – often fruit and veg can mean almost a whole supermarket trip in themselves. We get to tailor our box to our needs and tastes, such as by stating what we would rather not have, which brings me onto…… lemon drizzle cake (finally).

Last week we got a lemon in the box for the first time. As we rarely use lemons, I subsequently added it to our “no thank you” list (which so far only consists of lemons!), but as we had this one, I thought about what I could make – this is another good thing about getting a box, as it’s a surprise each week, which makes you try items and recipes that you wouldn’t necessarily think of otherwise. I immediately thought sweet rather than savoury, so lemon drizzle cake sprang to mind. This isn’t a cake I’d normally go for myself, but I know Tom loves it, so I did it more for him. Of course I tried it too 😉

The recipe I came up with after doing a bit of googling is inspired by a few different recipes, and is simple to make. The ground almonds make it really moist, and the lemon flavour is intense as it comes from three sources: zest in the sponge, juice in the syrup poured over the cake when warm to soak in, and juice in the crunchy icing drizzled over the top. Note that not all the juice came fresh from the one lemon – I used some Jif too! Tom loves lemon cake, but he likes it best when it actually tastes of lemon rather than the lemon-ish ones that you can buy in the shops. He says he often wishes they were made with twice as much lemon, just like his Nan used to make. So that was my aim, and after tasting it, he gave me the thumbs up for lemon-ness – hooray!

Are you feeling like a lemon today?! Why not have a go too……

Ingredients

Cake

  • 180g margarine
  • 180g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • zest of 1 lemon
Syrup
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 60ml lemon juice
Icing
  • 60g granulated sugar
  • 30g icing sugar
  • juice of half a lemon – about 20ml

Method

  1. Grease a 1lb loaf tin (I used a silicone tin so no greasing needed) and pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg until smooth.
  4. Add the lemon zest and stir in.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder and ground almonds and mix until just combined – don’t over mix.
  6. Pour into the tin and bake for around 30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Meanwhile, to make the syrup, heat the icing sugar and lemon juice in a pan until it comes to the boil and allow to simmer until the sugar is fully dissolved and it starts to go darker in colour.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven, and while still warm, make several holes across the top using a skewer. Pour the syrup over the top while it’s still in the tin.
  9. Allow to cool before removing from the tin and transferring to a plate.
  10. Mix the icing ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Pour this over the centre of the top of the cake and allow it to drizzle down the sides.
  11. Eat as fresh as possible – Tom tasted it after about 10 minutes of it being complete!
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