Apart from the fact that Andrew is one year old (where did that last year go?!), I can’t believe that I’ve actually made my first ever birthday cake for a child of my own. This is a special moment for me, because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. My mum used to bake amazing birthday cakes for me and my brother – my all time favourite has to be the swimming pool in the shape of an 8 for my 8th birthday swimming party. So I’ve wanted to carry on the tradition with my own children for quite a long time. And now I finally got to do it 🙂
I came up with this idea one day quite out of the blue. I think I was just out walking with Andrew in the buggy and it came to me. It’s basically 3 classic sponge cakes (20cm round) cut into the letters ‘o’, ‘n’ and ‘e’, and then decorated with buttercream icing in different colours and sweets. Here’s a break down of the process, based on Delia Smith’s classic Victoria sponge recipe, and cupcake icing from Cook with kids by Rob Kirby.
220g self raising flour
few drops of vanilla essence
3 20cm round cake tins, greased and lined at the bottom with greaseproof paper
260g icing sugar
165g unsalted butter
red, blue and green natural food colouring
Blend the margerine and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
Beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture little by little, beating thoroughly as you go.
Add the vanilla essence.
Work in the flour until you have a smooth pasty mixture.
Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 cake tins.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top.
Whip the icing and butter together until you get a pale, fluffy ‘cream’.
Split the cream into 3 roughly equal portions.
Add a few drops of each food colouring into each portion, until you get a strong colour.
Once the cakes are cool, remove from the tin.
Using a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle of one cake to make an ‘o’, then a hole in the edge at the centre bottom of one to make an ‘n’, then two holes, one just higher than the middle and one at the right side on the edge, to make an ‘e’.
Spread the icing to completely cover the cake, including down the sides where you cut bits out.
Add sweets to decorate.
The cakes went down well at our teatime party with family. The red food colouring tasted slightly of pepper (as in red pepper) to me, probably because it was paprika extract (no artificial E-numbers on sale these days!) But the men didn’t seem to mind it, and ate it anyway! I stuck to a piece of the blue ‘e’, as the white choc buttons are my favourite. Andrew also had a small piece of the ‘e’, after we sang Happy Birthday to him, and he really enjoyed it, munching away on it happily. My first go at kids birthday cake baking seemed to go successfully, so I’m happy 🙂
I’m going to try and fit in another birthday related post soon, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this part of Andrew’s first birthday.
My sister-in-law gave me a fab cook book for Christmas. It’s called Cook with Kids, by Rob Kirby, a top restaurant chef who also visits schools as part of a charity; one of his schools is the Great Ormond Street Hospital School, so he spends lots of time teaching ill children how to have fun cooking. His recipes are perfect for getting kids involved with helping to bake and cook, and they are so easy to follow that, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, ‘even her husband can use the recipes’! They range from snacks to main courses to sweets/puds/cakes and even drinks.
I can’t wait for Andrew to be old enough to help me bake, but for now I’m happy to try out these recipes on my own, though Daddy did bring Andrew over to the kitchen to have a look at what I was doing for this one – you’re never too young to get interested. Some of my early but quite distinct memories are of being in my grandma’s kitchens and helping them bake. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved baking, and I’m sure that has come from being introduced to it early.
I thought I’d start the new year by baking a classic kids favourite – Smartie cookies 🙂 Well, as regular readers will know, I never follow a recipe exactly, so they are in fact M&Ms cookies, because I’m all up for buying supermarket own brand products where available, and I could find own-brand M&Ms but not Smarties. As they are pretty much the same thing (Smarties are slightly bigger), M&Ms won the cheapness prize and got to star in the cookies. So here we go…
230g light brown sugar
115g caster sugar
170g butter, softened
2 drops vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
450g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
185g bag of M&Ms
Combine the brown and caster sugars, butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.
Gradually add and beat in the egg and egg yolk, making sure you mix them in thoroughly.
Add and fold in the flour, baking powder, and two thirds of the M&Ms, combining everything to form a dough. Do this carefully as you need to keep the M&Ms whole.
Once you have formed a cookie dough, roll this into a sausage about 7cm across, place this onto some greaseproof paper, and chill it in the fridge for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 180°C – think about this before the next step.
Once the dough is really firm, take it out and slice it into thick rounds, about 2cm wide, using a warm serrated knife and placing the cookies on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper as you go along.
Bake the cookies in the oven for 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, take the cookies out and quickly press the extra M&Ms into the top of them in the shape of a smiley face. Pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
Once the cookies are done, take them out of the oven and cool them on a wire tray.
They are best eaten as fresh as possible, so I had to try one just after this picture was taken and they were still slightly warm… yum! As there’s quite a bit of sugar in them, Andrew can’t have a whole one, but I did let him have a small taster, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I’ll bake with him when he’s older. Happy New Year!
Another one of my favourite foods at Christmas is stollen (being German it should be spelled with a capital S, but I guess it’s become anglicised enough now to lower case it). This bread-like cake with dried fruit and marzipan has all the good bits of a traditional English Christmas cake, but without the sickly sweet white royal icing, and is generally much lighter (in colour and stodginess). Once again, German trumps British Christmas food. I’ve eaten a fair few stollen in my time (and been through, several times, the inevitable family joke of being a thief – stollen/stolen – it’s all the same to those who don’t sprechen Deutsch; incidentally it’s pronounced something more like ‘shto-luhn’ – ‘o’ as in ‘pot’), but this is the first time I’ve ventured into producing a homemade one. As there is very little sugar in the dough, it’s great for Andrew too, though I left out the nuts, and only put a small amount of sugar-laden marzipan into his ‘stollen bites’.
This recipe is based on one from Delia Smith online. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read previous baking posts on this blog that I adapted the recipe – no almonds (not great for Andrew), mixed dried fruit instead of separate amounts of raisins, currants, apricots, cherries and dried fruit peel (why bother when Mr Sainsbury can do it for you?), plain flour instead of strong white bread flour (other recipes I have seen for stollen don’t insist on bread flour, though see comments below), and simply dusted with icing sugar to finish instead of a glaze with lemon juice (I’m not overly fussed about lemon and all the stollen I’ve had from Germany just had icing sugar on top).
This recipe is enough to make 1 large one. I made double this, because you can’t buy smaller packs of marzipan, and stollen is great to freeze, so I made 2 bigger ones and about a dozen small ‘bites’ for Andrew; half of all this went in the freezer.
150 ml milk
50 g caster sugar
2 level teaspoons dried yeast (not easy-blend)
400 g plain flour
110 g softened butter
1 large egg, beaten
200 g mixed dried fruit
200 g marzipan
icing sugar, sifted, to dust on top
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
Warm the milk, until you can just still dip your little finger in it.
Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar along with the dried yeast and leave it until it forms a frothy head of about 1 inch.
Meanwhile sift 350 g of the flour together with the remaining sugar into a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.
Pour the milk and yeast mixture into this, then add the softened butter and beaten egg.
Mix everything together either with your hands or with a wooden spoon – until the mixture is well blended and leaves the side of the bowl cleanly.
Then work in the fruit, distributing it as evenly as possible. Knead the dough on a work surface for 5 minutes until it is springy and elastic.
Now leave the dough in a warm place, covered with clingfilm, until it has doubled in size (the time this takes can vary depending on the temperature – it could take up to 2 hours).
Turn the risen dough out on to a board floured with the reserved 50 g of flour, and knock the air out of it and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.
At this stage roll or press out the dough to an oblong 10 x 8 inches. Using your hands, roll out the marzipan to form a sausage shape and place this along the centre of the dough, finishing just short of the edges.
Fold the dough over the marzipan and carefully place the whole thing on a baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for expansion.
Leave it to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size again, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.
Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before lifting it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Dust the top with the icing sugar to finish.
You can probably tell from the photos that the stollen turned out quite flat. I suspect this is because I didn’t use strong white bread flour (its ‘strength’ holds the air bubbles from the yeast better). But they taste delicious, and Andrew loves his little baby bites too. Plus we’ve got another loaf and some bites in the freezer to enjoy in the New Year.
Do you have special foods that you like to bake/eat at Christmas? Are there cakes/biscuits/other sweet things that remind you of childhood or being with family for Christmas? Do you prefer Christmas foods traditional in other cultures more than those in your own? I’d love to hear about other foody traditions at this time of year. It’s special occasions like this that really inspire me to bake and try out new recipes. I hope you’re enjoying reading about my Christmas baking adventures!
I was looking for a recipe for some muffins or little cakes that Andrew would enjoy. I’m not against him having some sugar, because I think if I completely deprive him of treats now, he’ll only rebel and go for it when he’s older anyway. And that’s what cakes are – treats – to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle (I sound like something off the back of a crisp packet or chocolate bar!) Tom and I like our cakes and puddings, but we also eat a varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg, and we can’t go for a day without some exercise. So that’s what Andrew is becoming accustomed to as well. That’s enough of an intro – I could probably write a whole post it seems on this topic. On with the recipe….
It’s based on one I found on the Sainsbury’s Little Ones website. This is a great collection of recipes suitable for babies, toddlers and adults. More of these recipes will no doubt feature in future posts, as I’ve tried several of them already and would love to share more. I adapted it slightly (basically less sugar and half oil / half milk instead of all the oil) to suit Andrew better. So, here we go.
250g plain flour
75g porridge oats, plus extra for decoration
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, beaten
125ml oil- I used olive as that’s what we have in
2 medium-ripe bananas, chopped small
Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cases (I used a big muffin tin for Mummy/Daddy-sized treats and a fairy cake tin for Andrew-sized treats).
Sift the flour, oats and baking powder together (I didn’t sift the oats – how is that possible?!)
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and milk together until pale and fluffy.
Fold this mixture, and bananas, into the flour and oat mixture.
Spoon the combined mixture into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the extra oats over and bake for 15 minutes until the muffins have risen and are golden. (I found that the bigger muffins needed more like 20 minutes, whereas the small ones were fine with 15 minutes).
When cooked through, transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for three days (if they stay uneaten for that long!) or freeze.
Andrew approved – he ate one for a snack on not long after I baked them on Sunday. Tom was also impressed, so I’ll definitely be baking some more of these, and it’s handy that they go in the freezer to have a stock for when I don’t have time to bake them fresh.