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’.

IMG_0859

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).

IMG_0858

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?

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!

PicMonkey Collage  1 copy

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.

Cupcake of the month (May): After Eight

Continuing my cupcake of the month feature baed on a cupcake calendar that I was given for Christmas, this month we have a mint and chocolate recipe, which I’ve given the name ‘After Eight’ for obvious reasons. The recipe on the calendar didn’t involve chocolate, but I think that mint and chocolate go so well together, particularly dark chocolate, that I couldn’t resist adapting the recipe to include it. I also made the cake mixture itself much less sweet than the recipe in the calendar, because the icing is very sweet – it tastes like butter mints or Murray mints – and the bitterness of the dark chocolate goes well with this.

After eight cakes

If you’d like to make these yourself, and I can assure you that they are yummy particularly after eight and the kids are in bed, here’s the recipe which makes 10.

Ingredients

  • 50g sugar
  • 160g self-raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 75g margarine
  • 1 tsp mint extract
  • 75g dark chocolate, cut into large chunks
Icing
  • 50g margarine
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tsp mint extract (depending how strongly minty you like it)
  • green food colouring
  • grated chocolate to decorate

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin by placing cupcake cases in the holes.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg and milk.
  4. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and mint extract and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and fold in until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cases to about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake at 180ºC for about 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool fully.
  9. Make the icing by beating together the icing sugar, margarine and mint extract, and adding the colouring a little at a time until it gets as green as you would like. Mine are quite Shrek-like, but you may want to go for a more subtle green shade 🙂
  10. Spoon the icing onto the top of each cupcake and spread it around (you could pipe it, but I find that using margarine makes it quite runny compared to buttercream icing).
  11. Finish them off by grating a small amount of dark chocolate onto each cake.

Easter egg crafts – chocolate and card (not together!)

This Easter Andrew is at an age when he has just enough of an attention span to have a go at some simple crafts. Of course if it involves chocolate he’s very keen to help, and his attention span is somewhat increased when it comes to edible molten gooeyness – I wonder why?! But he’s also very into stickers and sticking, so I knew we could also have a go at making some cards that involve sticking.

Chocolate mini (or pinny) eggs

Andrew has been calling mini eggs ‘pinny eggs’ since he first had one a couple of weeks ago when we baked these cupcakes. I’m not quite sure why, given that he can say ‘m’ (as in mummy) and I’ve only ever called them mini eggs, but he’s obviously just got it into his head that they are pinny eggs. The ‘p’ sound is made with the same part of the mouth as the ‘m’ sound – the lips coming together and then opening again – but the ‘m’ also involves air being let out through the nose (it’s a nasal consonant). Anyway, that’s enough of a linguistic digression!IMG_0576

I was given some moulds for making chocolate mini eggs a few years ago. This year we made some white chocolate ones with Green and Black’s lovely vanilla white chocolate, and some dark chocolate ones with Asda Extra Special 75% cocoa dark chocolate with cocoa nibs which give a lovely crunchy texture (we made these as presents but had to sample them of course!) The moulds create half eggs when you pour molten chocolate into them, and then we sandwiched each pair of halves together using some milk chocolate. We left them to set in the fridge overnight between each stage and also before packing them up into presents.IMG_0587

We used cupcake cases to put a few of each type of egg in. Here they are all ready to give to Andrew’s grandparents (who have been told not to read this until tomorrow!)IMG_0589

Egg collage cards

These were really simple to make. First I cut an egg shape out of some yellow card – my tip for getting a nice even and symmetrical shape is to fold a rectangle of card in half lengthways and cut a semi-oval around the opposite side to the folded edge, then unfold it and you have an egg. I then stuck strips of double-sided tape all over the egg and removed the backing to the tape, which left a sticky surface all over the egg. We chose various scraps of paper, tissue paper, felt and mesh from my craft stash, in nice bright and spring-like colours, and I cut them into small squares and rectangles. Andrew then had fun sticking them all over the egg, with a bit of help from me. He found it ‘really funny’ (his words) that his finger tips kept sticking to the egg as he stuck bits on 🙂 When it was all covered, I stuck it onto the front of a pre-folded white A6 card with double-sided tape. It was a simple as that.

He was more bothered about rolling the tape around the table once we'd finished sticking!
He was more bothered about rolling the tape around the table once we’d finished sticking!

IMG_0573

Cupcake of the month (March): vanilla, with little egg nests

cupcakes march 2You may remember that back in February I introduced a new monthly feature on the blog – Cupcake of the month – inspired by a calendar I was given for Christmas with a different cupcake recipe each month. This month the recipe was for vanilla cupcakes, with a slightly more unusual order for combining the ingredients than I had come across before. It’s not exactly the same recipe as appears on the calendar (I always adapt recipes!), mainly in that I halved all the ingredients, used marg instead of butter, missed out the salt, and doubled the amount of vanilla. I bought vanilla ‘flavouring’ instead of ‘essence’ last time I went shopping for it because they didn’t have any essence, and I knew that flavouring wasn’t as strong, so put twice as much in; disappointingly though, they still don’t taste strongly of vanilla, so I won’t be buying that again!march cupcakes

The decoration suggestion on the calendar was a swirl of buttercream icing with mini eggs on top. Although they look very creative, I thought I’d go one step further and combine these relatively plain cakes with another of my favourite things to make and eat at Easter – chocolate egg nests! You can’t beat a bit of shredded what covered in chocolate and honey, shaped into a nest with a couple of mini eggs in it 🙂 Andrew loved helping me make these too, not least because I let him lick the spoon! He was fascinated by the mini eggs and interested to learn about nests and count the eggs into them – he’s very into numbers and counting.right now. We made some small nests (I would make them bigger if we were eating them on their own) that fitted nicely on the top of the cupcakes, held on with a blob of buttercream (that was the ready-made stuff left over from Andrew’s birthday cake).

If you’d like to have a go at these treats for Easter, here’s the recipe……

Ingredients – makes 10

  • 130g self-raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 55g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 150 dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • shredded wheat
  • chocolate mini eggs
  • buttercream icing (I had some ready-made stuff left over – or you could mix 25g butter/marg with 50g icing sugar)
I don't know how much shredded wheat we used - we just crushed til we had the right consistency
I don’t know how much shredded wheat we used – we just crushed until we had the right consistency

Method

  1. Put 10 fairy cake cases in a fairy cake tin and 10 cupcake cases in a muffin tin.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth.
  4. Beat in the margarine and egg until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour the mixture into the cupcake cases until they are about half to two thirds full.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Meanwhile, make the nests…. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  8. Stir in the honey.
  9. Crush shredded wheat in your hands over the bowl and keep doing this, stirring it now and then into the chocolate, until the shredded wheat is nicely covered and the mixture is thick enough to spoon into the fairy cake cases.
  10. Spoon a small amount into the bottom of each case, and press two mini eggs into the centre.
  11. Chill in the fridge until set.
  12. Once the cakes are baked and cooled, and the nests are set, assemble by putting a small blob of icing in the centre of each cake and pressing a nest down on top of it.
  13. Store in an airtight container and eat as fresh as possible.
I'm sure more chocolate went round his mouth than in it!
I’m sure more chocolate went around his mouth than in it!

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

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.

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.

Pancakes: cheesy-leek and choccy-cherry

Wow, it’s Shrove Tuesday again already! Where did that year go?! I know it’s not quite a whole year since last year’s Pancake Day, but still I can’t quite believe what’s happened since. I distinctly remember last year’s Shrove Tuesday because I had just done a couple of pregnancy tests which had come out positive and I was about to embark on months of feeling and being sick. So this year I intended to enjoy my pancakes, and enjoy them a lot!

For tea we had some savoury and sweet pancakes. This week in our veg box we got a couple of leeks (amongst other items), so they formed the basis of our savoury pancakes, sautéed until crispy and mixed with some cheese – a good flavour combination I think. As our protein for the meal, I added a tin of tuna. And to complement these flavours I added some mixed green herbs to the pancake batter. There was some chocolate ganache left over from some cupcakes that we baked recently (blog post to follow), so that became an indulgent filling along with some dried cherries for our sweet treat pancakes. I convinced Andrew that you (or rather ‘he’) only needs a small amount of the chocolate to taste it – any more chocolate an hour before bed could have led to disaster! i love red fruits with chocolate, I think they work really well, but this time of year they’re not in season and I find the ones you can get in the shops now, which are grown abroad, don’t have the same flavour as local ones in the summer, plus they are expensive. So the dried ones that we buy as snacks for Andrew gave us the intense cherry flavour to go with the chocolate.

Here’s how I made each filling, along with the pancake batters that I whipped up…..

Ingredients

Pancake batters

  • 120g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml milk
  • 75ml water
  • 2 tbsp mixed herbs added to savoury batter
  • 2 tbsp chocolate sprinkles added to sweet batter
  • butter or margarine to fry

Cheesy-leek filling

  • knob of butter or margarine
  • 2 small leeks, chopped
  • 75g cheese, grated – I used cheddar because that’s what we had in, but you can use any cheese you like really as long as it melts in nicely.
  • 1 standard tin of tuna (optional)
  • black pepper

Choccy-cherry filling

  • 90g dried cherries (this was the size of the pack we had and we ate it all between us)
  • 50g milk chocolate
  • 50ml double cream
I used the ganache that was left over from cupcake icing – there was about one third left of what was originally 150g chocolate and 150ml cream.

Method

Batter

  1. Use a blender – either a jug one on its own base or a stick one in a jug that’s at least a pint in size – to blend all the batter ingredients together. I just shove them all in together in no particular order and then start blending once they’re all in the jug.
  2. Transfer half the batter to another jug and add the chocolate sprinkles; add the herbs to the original jug.
Cheesy-leek filling
  1. Heat the butter/margarine for the leek filling in a large frying pan and fry the leeks until they are nicely browned and soft.
  2. Take off the heat and stir through the tin of tuna and grated cheese until the cheese is just melting.
  3. Season with black pepper to taste.
Choccy-cherry filling
  1. Heat the chocolate and cream in a small saucepan on a low heat whilst stirring, until the chocolate has melted and mixed with the cream completely.
  2. Take off the heat and whisk for a couple of minutes until it becomes thicker and glossier.
  3. Leave to cool and thicken in the fridge.
  4. Put the chocolate filling into a piping bag.

Assembling all together – I did the previous three sections of prep earlier in the day or week so we were ready to roll (or rather flip!) in the evening for tea (I just heated the cheesy leeks in the microwave to serve).

  1. Heat the butter/margarine in a frying pan until it’s sizzling – I use quite a small one as I find smaller pancakes easier to handle, but you can use whatever size pan you want your finished pancakes to be.
  2. Pour some batter into the pan, enough to give a fairly thin pancake, and swirl the pan around so that the batter goes right to the edges.
  3. Cook for a few minutes, checking the underside every now and then, using a fish slice to lift the pancake edge up slightly, until it looks nicely brown underneath.
  4. Then for the flip! If you’re brave, flip it into the air directly from the pan and catch it so the uncooked side is now facing down. If like me you’re a pancake wuss, use the fish slice to flip it over in the pan.
  5. Cook for a few more minutes until the new underside is nicely browned.
  6. Take out of the pan and fill immediately with your filling – spoon some cheesy-leek filling into the centre, or pipe some chocolate filling and add a handful of dried cherries into the centre, and roll up the pancake.
  7. Eat immediately whilst still hot – Tom and I take it in turns to fry a pancake and eat one, rather than cooking them all and then eating them. We find this adds to the fun of our Shroce Tuesday tea-time.
  8. Yummy yummy (as Andrew said)!