Mini (veggie) toad in the hole, aka sausage cakes – #eggmainsinminutes

Before we went on holiday recently, we had some eggs to eat which wouldn’t last until we got back. My first thought for cooking with eggs is always to bake some cakes, but as we already had a large quantity of chocolate from Easter stacked up in the fridge and on the worktop, I decided that a savoury recipe was in order.mini veggie toads

I love a good Yorkshire pudding, but I’m not a big fan of sausages (or any other kind of meat for that matter, I much prefer pulses and fish for protein), so when we do have toad in the hole, I use veggie sausages. This recipe can be done equally well with meaty sausages though. I used to cook it in one big dish, but to make it more fun for Andrew, I’ve recently used a muffin tin to make little individual toads in the hole – or should that be tadpoles in the hole?! When Andrew first saw these, he said ‘Oooooh, sausage cakes!’, so that’s stuck with us now 🙂

They are a real hit with him, as he loves to pick them up in his hands, pretending they are actually cakes. I love the amount of crispiness on the Yorks pud that you get from making it in a smaller tin. I add mustard to the batter to give it a bit of a kick – don’t be too afraid to try this with kids, it’s not overpowering. But then again, I am the mum of a toddler who eats spicy curries and chills without batting an eyelid. Serve it with roasted veg (might as well take advantage of the oven being on!) and gravy (if that floats your boat – I’m not a sauce fan, but Tom loves a splash of gravy).toads 2

One last thing before I get on with the recipe… I can’t cook toad in the hole without thinking of a song which we have on a megamix of kids/funny songs that my Dad put together for us. I didn’t actually know who it was by until I found it on youtube just now. It’s called ‘My Brother’ by Terry Scott, and it’s particularly appropriate now that we have two boys, two brothers. The whole song is funny, but the line that is the link to this recipe is at 21-27 seconds, and it’s hilarious. I’d recommend having a listen!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3ODRbw69vs

Ingredients – serves 2 adults for dinner, or 2 adults plus 2 toddlers for lunch

  • 120g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 120ml milk
  • 75ml water
  • 2 tsp whole grain mustard
  • 5 veggie sausages, cut into thirds, or cocktail-size ones (raw)
  • 1 onion

Method

  1. Grease inside the holes of a 12-hole muffin tin and 3 more in a 6-hole or 12-hole muffin tin.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC (fan).
  3. Make the mustardy batter using a blender (either stick or jug) – put the flour, eggs, milk, water and mustard in and whizz them up until a smooth batter forms.
  4. Chop the onion fairly finely, and place a few bits in each hole of the muffin tin to cover the bottom.
  5. Place one sausage chunk or cocktail-size sausage in each hole on top of the onion.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the sausages and onions start to looked coloured.
  7. Remove from the oven and pour the batter into each hole until it’s about 3/4 full and the sausage is surrounded by batter.
  8. Put the muffin tins back in the oven and bake for about another 20 minutes until the batter is golden brown and crispy on top.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before taking the toads/tadpoles/sausage cakes out of the tin.
  10. Serve with roasted veg and (optionally) gravy to hungry tums. Yum!
This is my entry for the #eggmainsinminutes Linky on BritMums, and more info can be found at Main Meals in Minutes.

Eggs mains in minutes badge final

 

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!
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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)!

Brownie and blondie hearts

I wanted to bake something special for Tom this week. Partly because it’s Valentine’s day coming up, though we don’t usually go in much for this over-commercialised excuse for card shops and chocolate manufacturers to make a killing, and mainly because I wanted to show him that I appreciate all his help this week whilst I’ve been poorly and he’s done even more around the flat and looking after the boys than usual. When I asked him a while ago what kind of cake he likes the most when I bake, he said ‘anything chocolatey…. well, anything at all, but anything chocolatey in particular’! So chocolate was on my mind when deciding what to bake this week.

I hadn’t made brownies for a while, and I’d also bought some white chocolate recently (some of which I used on the Thomas the Tank Engine cake), so I came up with the idea of making some classic brownies with dark chocolate and some blondies with white chocolate. As I looked in the cupboard for flour, I realised that I still have some wheat-free self-raising flour that I bought a while ago when I baked some cupcakes for my mum-in-law who came to stay (she is wheat intolerant) and it really could do with being used, so that got added to the mix rather than the usual wheaty variety. I find the wheat-free stuff has quite a distinctive flavour but when you mix it with plenty of strong (particularly dark) chocolate, this is less noticeable. Another thing about wheat-free cakes is that they tend to be stodgier and less light and airy than their wheaty counterparts, but brownies are supposed to be stodgy, so they work well with wheat-free flour.

A brownie and blondie circle - the lighter coloured blondies are ones that I shaped into hearts from the very gooey trimmings using the biscuit cutter as a mould

Cutting the brownies and blondies into hearts was slightly tricky and I didn’t get that many which came out in a clear heart shape because they were so soft and gooey – as they should be in my opinion – even after some chilling in the freezer. The blondies turned out even gooier than the brownies – maybe something to do with the consistency of white chocolate compared to dark chocolate, or maybe the different tins that I used to cook them in. I used some of the very gooey trimmings from the blondies to shape into hearts using the biscuit cutter as a mould. But we ate all the trimmings so none of it went to waste.

If you fancy having a go for Valentine’s day, or any other day, here’s the recipe…..

Ingredients

Brownies

  • 2 eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 70g self-raising flour (wheat-free optional)
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 70g margarine
  • 50g chopped nuts

Blondies

  • 2 eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 70g self-raising flour (wheat-free optional)
  • 100g white chocolate
  • 70g margarine
  • 50g dried strawberries

Method – the same for both types

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan), and prepare a cake tin – for the brownies I used I rectangular swiss roll tin lined with greaseproof paper and for the blondies I used a round silicone cake mould as I wanted to compare how both turned out.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.
  3. Mix in the sugar and flour until well combined.
  4. Stir in the chopped nuts / dried strawberries until evenly distributed.
  5. Melt the margarine and chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water, then add it to the rest of the mixture and stir until smooth.
  6. Pour into a cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Ideally you want them still gooey, if you like them that way at least, so don’t overdo it in the oven – there’s a very fine line between being raw and overdone for brownies.
  7. Allow to cool to room temperature in the tin, then use a heart-shaped biscuit cutter to cut some hearts; before removing them from the tin, place in the freezer for about half an hour to firm up the brownie/blondie a little so that the hearts are easier to get out in one piece.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible, or leave in the freezer until you want to eat them at a later date (as if…!)
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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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Thomas the choo choo birthday cake

Compare this.....
....with this! (Not bad I think)

It’s that time of year again, when I get to bake a special cake for Andrew and Tom (they share the same birthday). Last year for Andrew’s first birthday, I made a three-part cake in the shape of the letters ONE, because he wasn’t really into anything specific like a character from a book or TV programme. This year was very different – I had several characters to choose from, such as Brum, Fireman Sam, Noddy, Bob the builder, Postman Pat…… and Thomas the tank Engine. I decided that Thomas was the easiest to turn into a cake because of his shape, so I set to and created an edible Thomas.

The cake was a classic sponge cake, with the following ingredients:

  • 330g sugar
  • 330g margarine
  • 6 eggs
  • 330g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
The base cakes

I made this sponge mixture in the usual way, by creaming together the sugar and margarine, then beating in the egg, and finally adding the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and stirring until well combined. I poured this mixture into two loaf tins and 4 holes in a muffin tin. They were beaked at 180ºC (fan) for around 10 minutes for the muffin-sized sponges, and around 40 minutes for the loaf-sized sponges, until a knife inserted into the centre came out clean. I then let them cool fully before I started anything else.

My model, ready for copying, stood in front of the base cakes waiting for them to cool down.

Next it was time to cut the cakes up to model the shape of Thomas. I began by cutting the top off both loaf cakes, to make them flat on top. I kept one loaf as a rectangle to make the base of the train, and cut the other loaf and muffins up to use to build up the rest of the train. I stuck all the bits together using jam.

The base cakes cut and stuck together with jam to form the train shape.

Once this cake model was finished, I set about decorating it with icing to make it into Thomas. As I don’t have much time these days, fitting baking, modelling and icing in around feeding Joel, I bought ready-to-roll blue royal icing and ready-to-squeeze blue buttercream icing. I rolled out the royal icing to a couple of millimetres thick, and draped to over the cake. Amazingly, it fitted just nicely except a few jagged edges which I trimmed off before sticking the edges to the cake using jam. I made sure I pushed the icing into all the corners, so I didn’t lose any of the cake shape. I used the small amount of trimmings to make the little blue hump on his top a bit behind the funnel, by rolling them up into a ball and sticking it on.

Covered in blue icing - I later cut the roof icing off to stick on the back, and covered the roof in chocolate

The two ends didn’t get covered, but that was fine for the face end because it’s not blue, and for the back end I cut the rectangle of icing off the roof of the driver’s cab and stuck it on the back using buttercream icing. The roof of the cab is black, so I covered it with melted dark chocolate, as I did for the ring around the face at the front too. For the wheels, I used liquorice Catherine wheels and stuck them on with a blob of buttercream icing. For the very front of the train, I melted some white chocolate and added some red gel food colouring, and smeared it onto the cake. Once all the cake was covered, I used red and yellow writing icing to draw the lines and number one onto the body of the train, and blue to draw on his face features, with white chocolate buttons for eyes. The funnel was half a Quality Street chocolate covered toffee finger stuck on with a blob of buttercream icing.

Then all that was left to do was stick 2 candles in it and bring it out for tea on their birthday! Andrew immediately recognised it as Thomas the choo choo, which meant a lot to me – I’d done a good job it seems 🙂 Not only did it look like Thomas, but it tasted good too, and that’s the most important thing about a birthday cake.

Look it's a Thomas choo choo!!
Birthday boys blowing out the candles

Marmorkuchen – Mummy-sized and toddler-sized

One of the presents that Father Christmas brought for Andrew was an Ikea children’s baking set; it has a baking tray, pie tin, biscuit cutters, rolling pin and Bundt tin (if you don’t know what this is, hang on, I’ll explain shortly!) – all perfect mini replicas of my own adult-sized baking equipment. When he opened it, I thought the Bundt tin was particularly cute. This is a circular tin with a hole in it, to make ring-shaped cakes; it is a traditional shape in Germany for certain types of cake, and it’s there that I first saw such ring cakes.

When I was 14 and in Germany on the exchange trip organised by school, my exchange partner and I baked a Marmorkuchen, or ‘Marble Cake’ in its classic shape – the Bundt tin. We went on to become good friends and are still in touch today, albeit less frequently than back then when neither of us had such busy lives. For our wedding, she and her husband bought us some typically German presents, including a Bundt tin and a German cook book with various cake recipes in. I’ve mainly used this tin for baking Marmorkuchen, and when I saw Andrew’s mini version, I thought that this would be the first thing that we’d bake in it. We also made a Mummy (and Daddy) sized one at the same time!

So what is Marmorkuchen (Marble Cake) anyway? Don’t worry, it’s not rock hard, well not unless you do something seriously wrong! It’s a basic sponge mixture, half of which you keep plain (vanilla flavoured) and the other half of which you add cocoa powder to for a chocolate flavour. You layer each half of the mixture in the tin, plain first, chocolate second, and then use a fork to swirl them together, to make a marble effect once the mixture is cooked and you cut a slice from the ring. It’s a simple recipe which looks very pretty and a bit different from the usual sponge you might bake.

I’ve given the recipe below. I’m not sure where to buy Bundt tins in this country, but there must be some lurking online somewhere. It would work just as well in an ordinary cake tin or loaf tin, just without the interesting ring shape. The recipe is based on one in the German cook book that I was given, but slightly adapted – there is no rum in it, which, if I remember rightly, in Germany you can buy in little capsules for using in baking cakes such as these. I think it works without it though, as there is vanilla flouring in it anyway.

Ingredients

  • 300g margarine
  • 275g sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 375g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • splash of milk

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C )fan) and grease the inside of the Bundt tin.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and mix until well combined.
  5. Put half the mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to fill the ring.
  6. Add the cocoa to the remaining mixture and mix until well combined, and add a splash of milk if the mixture gets too stiff, to loosen it up.
  7. Put this mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to make a layer on top of the plain mixture.
  8. With a fork, make circular motions from top to bottom and back to top in the tin, so that the plain mixture below comes up and is swirled into the chocolate mixture and vice versa, all around the circle tin.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes – check it is cooked by inserting a skewer and it comes out clean.
  10. Leave to cool in the tin and turn it out onto a plate when cool. Enjoy!