This might sound a bit wacky, but I promise you it works. Baking cakes with parsnip is no different really from carrot cakes. The cupcake recipe in my calendar for this month was simply a ginger one, but I’d been meaning to have a go at parsnip cake after the success of my chocolate beetroot cake, and I thought the flavour combination of parsnip and ginger would work well. With all the chocolate hanging around at the moment (that makes it sound like the chocolate needs an ASBO – I can assure you that it doesn’t!), these provide a lighter and different alternative.
Apart from the addition of parsnip, I changed the recipe quite a bit from the calendar one: I only put a small amount of sugar in, a third of what it says on the calendar, as the parsnip adds sweetness and I wanted to make some smaller ones to be toddler-friendly as well as some big adult-sized ones with icing on; I added some stem ginger, because in my opinion, if you’re going to have ginger, you might as well have proper chunks of fiery ginger rather than just ground stuff; I used honey instead of syrup, as usual; I made a few other changes too – so it’s nothing like the original really!
The instructions on the calendar said use a cake mixer. I don’t usually bother with one when baking, unless I’m whisking egg whites (I don’t enjoy the muscle ache afterwards when I do it by hand!), mainly because I don’t have one of those super duper fancy gadgets they have on the Great British Bake Off, just a small handheld one that cost about a fiver from Wilkos when I was a student many years ago. But as the calendar put the idea into my head, I was curious to see how the cakes worked out, particularly as I was guessing it would be quite a dense, moist mixture and therefore any extra air I could beat into it would not go amiss. As I suspected, even with the aerating skills of the electric mixer, the cakes didn’t rise massively, but I like the sticky, moist texture anyway, as is often the case with carrot cakes. I would say it’s fine to use either hand or machine in this recipe – whatever mood you happen to be in.
I think that’s all I wanted to waffle on about, so here’s what you do if you want to have a go yourself. Enjoy! Tom’s verdict: de-scrump-tu-licious!
Cakes – makes 10-12 big plus 10-12 small
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
40g brown sugar
4 tbsp honey
1 large parsnip
50g stem ginger, plus extra for decoration
100g icing sugar
splash of ginger syrup from the stem ginger jar
Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC (fan) and prepare a muffin tin with cupcake cases and a fairy cake tin with cases.
Grate the parsnip, and chop the stem ginger into small chunks.
With a spoon, mix the flour and ground spices in a large bowl.
Put all the other ingredients apart from the parsnip and stem ginger into the bowl and mix with a mixer until well combined.
Add the parsnip and stem ginger and fold in with a spoon until evenly distributed.
Fill the cake cases to about three quarters full.
Bake for about 25 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, mix the ingredients together for the icing until smooth.
Put into a piping bag and pipe onto the cooled cakes (big ones only!) in whatever design you wish.
Finish with a small chunk of stem ginger on top. Perfect!
You 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!
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
1 tsp vanilla essence
150 dark chocolate
1 tbsp honey
chocolate mini eggs
buttercream icing (I had some ready-made stuff left over – or you could mix 25g butter/marg with 50g icing sugar)
Put 10 fairy cake cases in a fairy cake tin and 10 cupcake cases in a muffin tin.
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth.
Beat in the margarine and egg until well combined and smooth.
Pour the mixture into the cupcake cases until they are about half to two thirds full.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Meanwhile, make the nests…. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
Stir in the honey.
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.
Spoon a small amount into the bottom of each case, and press two mini eggs into the centre.
Chill in the fridge until set.
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.
Store in an airtight container and eat as fresh as possible.
This week in the veg box we got 3 different sorts of root veg – carrot, parsnip and suede. I decided to make a chunky and hearty soup, which we ate with some crusty bread. The two flavours that I picked to go with the vegetables were honey and cumin, because I think these go particularly well with root veg. Until recently I haven’t been too keen on having honey with main course dishes – I’ve always thought of it as something to put in sweet eats. But as I’ve got more into parsnips, which I used to also find weirdly sweet for a vegetable, I’ve mellowed to the idea of having a hint of honey with them. It’s funny how your tastes change as you get older (or at least that’s what I’m finding!)
The recipe is really very simple, with not many ingredients at all; you just bung it all in the slow cooker and blend it when cooked – I kept it quite chunky so didn’t blend it too much. Here it is….
4 medium parsnips
1 small suede
2 medium carrots
1 litre hot vegetable stock (I use low salt)
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp cumin seeds
ground pepper to season
Cut the vegetables up into rough chunks – they don’t have to be very small or even.
Put the veg, stock, honey and cumin seeds into the slow cooker pot and cook on low for 6 hours.
Using a stick blender, blend the contents of the slow cooker pot until some of the veg has pureed but there are still some chunks left.
Season with a grind of pepper to taste.
Serve immediately with crusty bread. This also freezes well if there is any left over.
This week we’ve had Grandma and Pop with us for a few days. It’s been great fun for Andrew, and even Joel has got some giggles for them too now. For me it’s been very helpful to have extra pairs of hands that get on with the household tasks when not otherwise occupied by a toddler or a baby. When they were all out at Andrew’s weekly music group yesterday, I stayed at home with Joel as he’s getting increasingly difficult to feed when we’re out because he gets so distracted by everything going on. When Joel was napping I prepared some biscuit doughs so that Andrew could do some rolling and cutting out later on in the afternoon after his nap – this is his favourite part of baking biscuits. One was a wheat-free gingerbread dough (Grandma is wheat-intolerant) and one was a choc chip shortbread dough (I’ll blog about this later in the week).
I know that Andrew loves making gingerbread men, mainly because he excitedly repeats ‘gingerbread mans’ with pretty good accuracy in terms of his vowels and consonants, but we’ve only ever made a wheaty recipe. So I googled and came across Coeliac UK’s website which has a gluten-free gingerbread man recipe. As far as I understand, if something is gluten-free it’s also wheat-free, but something that’s wheat-free might not be gluten-free because gluten is also part of other cereals (such as oat/barley gluten). I adapted it slightly – self-raising wheat-free flour instead of separate flour and raising agent, a bit more ginger as I like very gingery gingerbread (!), margarine instead of butter, honey instead of golden syrup. So here’s the recipe as we made it…
225g wheat-free self-raising flour
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons melted honey
Mix the flour and ginger together, then rub in the margarine to form a breadcrumb texture.
Add the sugar and mix to a stiff dough with the melted honey.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out men (or other shapes) with a little man cutter.
Bake at 180°C (fan) for 8 – 10 minutes.
Leave to cool before decorating with writing icing to make the features like eyes, mouth and buttons.
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…..
100g self-raising flour
50g vegetable suet
3 tbsp honey
2 tsp almond essence
Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (fan) and prepare a round cake tin or tart dish by greasing it.
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.
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.
Spoon some jam onto the base and spread around until evenly distributed and generously thick.
Then make a start on the flapjack, by melting the margarine, sugar and honey in the microwave.
Add the oats and almond essence and stir until well combined.
Pour the flapjack mix onto the base and spread around until it’s all covered.
Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool before cutting into slices.
As I was flicking through our Cook with Kids book by Rob Kirby, I came across a recipe for ‘super fit flapjacks’. Instead of just being oats, butter, sugar and syrup, these included various dried fruits and seeds. I didn’t actually have many of the fruit and seeds in the recipe, but it inspired me to make some flapjacks with some of the unusual dried fruit – golden berries and cranberries mix – that I bought recently because it was on offer in the supermarket and the seeds that I had in the cupboard – sesame and caraway.
In a previous baking blog post, I wrote about the fact that caraway seeds are supposed to be a galactagogue – something that stimulates breast-milk production. Oats are also supposed to be a galactagogue, hence the name for the flapjacks that I ended up creating. As well as being good for milk making purposes, flapjacks are in general a good source of energy, particularly with the dried fruit and seeds in, and energy is something I really need at the moment. I find that I get peckish in the night with all the feeding Joel does, so these are great to nibble on in the early hours. The high seed content makes these like a cross between sesame snaps (though softer) and traditional oaty flapjacks.
Even if you’re not trying to induce or increase lactation, these flapjacks are a delicious treat and will keep you going if you’re in need of energy for another reason. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to have a go. It’s very easy and it took Andrew and me about 10 minutes to make plus cooking time.
125g brown sugar
100g dried friut (I used 60g sultanas, 40g mixed cranberries and golden berries)
100g seeds (I used 60g sesame seeds, 40g caraway seeds)
Start by lining a square or rectangular baking tin with greaseproof paper.
Put the oats, fruit and seeds in a big bowl, and stir until well mixed.
Melt the sugar, margarine and honey in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water on the hob.
Add the melted ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven at 160ºC (fan) for about 10-15 mins until golden on top.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before cutting into squares, as the flapjack needs to harden as it cools.
Store in an airtight container (next to your bed if you’re me!)
Our decision to no longer have a TV originated in the fact that after Andrew was born, we found that we were never watching live TV. We were never able to sit down at exactly the time when programmes were on, so would download them on iPlayer and watch them when we had chance. This also meant we could stop them mid-way through and carry on watching at a later time if we didn’t have a whole hour to watch a programme of that length. What has this got to do with cake though? Well, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the few programmes that I’ve ever set to series download on iPlayer (the only other ones I can think of have been Outnumbered and Have I Got News For You). I did it last year, and would sit and watch the episodes whilst feeding Andrew, as he would generally feed and sleep on and off pretty much most of the afternoon back then. This year, series 3 of GBBO has just started with episode 1 broadcast in the week just gone. We watched half of it it a day later, and the other half 2 days later, on iPlayer. I’m thinking that each week I may need to avoid twitter until I’ve watched the episode from that week, because there are bound to be spoilers with the number of people hash-tagging #GBBO!
Anyway, this first episode was all about cake. Contestants had to follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Rum Baba (which always makes me think of a family joke: ‘Rum Baba what ain’t got no rum’ …. a select few readers will know what on earth I’m going on about there. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry, it’s not really worth the effort of explaining – you had to be there apparently), and they also had to bake a cake with a hidden design when it was cut into. This last bake was amazing – they all came up with some ingenious ideas. If I had more time and energy, I’d have a go at something like that myself, but for now I thought I’d take some inspiration from the first thing they had to bake, which was an upside-down cake. The concept is as follows: you place fruit at the bottom of a cake tin, pour over a sponge mixture, bake, and when it’s cool, turn it over so that the fruit comes out on the top.
Upside-down cakes always make me think back to Home Economics (isn’t it called Food Tech these days?!) lessons, because one of the earliest memories of them that I have is baking a pineapple upside-down cake. It was pretty easy really – I’d already had quite a lot of baking experience by the time I was 11. Since then I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind to bake one again, I guess because I thought they were a bit old-fashioned, not particularly the ‘in’ thing these days to bake. But seeing what the contestants came up with, I realised that it didn’t have to be the classic pineapple rings from a tin, with glace cherries in the middle of the rings, and a simple plain sponge. The contestants baked all sorts of variations on this theme, with various fruits, flavours of sponge and finishing touches. This inspired me to think beyond the Home Ec. memory, and use a flavour combination that I love.
And that’s how we get to ‘plum and almond upside-down cake’. I think this fruit and flavour of sponge work really well together, and I love them both on their own too. Plums are just coming into season now as well, so they have great flavour and are nicely priced in the shops. The sponge is a basic three-egg plain sponge, with half the flour (self-raising) replaced by ground almonds and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus almond essence instead of vanilla essence. The almonds make it denser than an ordinary light and airy sponge, but I really like this texture, more like a Bakewell tart than a Victoria sponge. I’m not sure whether Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would approve of the denser texture, but the main thing is I like it and my other tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) do too! That’s the thing I don’t get about baking or general food competitions like GBBO – flavours and textures are very subjective things, so how can they be judged by just 2 people?
As well as the fruit and sponge, an upside-down cake traditionally has a caramel topping that you line the tin with before putting the fruit in. I distinctly remember from my Home Ec. lesson that the recipe we had to follow had golden syrup instead – I remember because I’m sure that was the first time I learnt that heating your spoon in a cup of boiling water before putting it the syrup tin meant that it ran off the spoon better. For the plum and almond take on the theme, I decided to use honey instead, because it’s as easy as golden syrup (i.e. I didn’t have to make a separate caramel sauce) but I love the taste and think it goes well with the other flavours in the cake, plus I’m not a massive fan of golden syrup and often tend to replace it with honey in recipes.
If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe. It’s a pretty easy one, and is a bit more unusual than a classic sponge cake. Have you ever made an upside-down cake? I’d love to hear of other flavour combinations and variations on this theme.
2 tbsp clear honey
about 5 medium plums, halved and stones removed
85g ground almonds
85g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare the tin: line a medium-sized springform cake tin with greaseproof paper, and place on a baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks out).
Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
Place the half plums flat side down around the edge of the tin.
Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs until smooth.
Mix in the ground almonds, flour, almond essence and baking powder until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the tin, spreading it over the plums until they are all covered and the surface of the mixture is flat and even.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and springy to touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check it’s baked through: if it comes out clean, it’s ready, if not, put it back in for a few minutes at a time until it passes this skewer test!
Leave to cool fully.
Release the spring on the tin and carefully pull the paper away from the sides of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the tin, and quickly turn it over, making sure you hold onto the tin and plate at the same time, until the cake comes away from the tin and ends up on the plate – the plums now facing upwards on the top.
Store in an airtight container, or it would freeze well too, if it’s not eaten too soon 😉
I always seem to have a story behind what I bake, and this post is no exception. I was encouraged at the BritMums blogging conference that I recently went to when a top blogger (I can’t remember which one, I must find my notes and link to his/her blog!) said that this is what he/she liked to read in a good food blog post – the story behind the recipe, not just the recipe itself. I hope you find these little stories I tell before a recipe interesting!
A couple of things prompted me to think about baking some flapjacks. First, on Friday we went to our usual breastfeeding support group, and as usual I volunteered to take some snacks. Unfortunately I didn’t have many ingredients in to bake anything quick and easy, so I ended up popping by the local shop on the way, where there wasn’t a great choice of cakes/biscuits. I decided a tray bake of flapjack was the best choice. When I tried some later at the group, I thought it wasn’t bad, but was a classic bought flapjack – very sweet and golden syrup-y, and quite solid. I like home-made flapjack that is less overpoweringly sweet and more crumbly. So when we went shopping later that day I thought I’d get the thing I needed to make the kind of flapjack I like – honey!
I said above that there were a couple of things that prompted me to think about baking flapjacks. The other was the fact that I have half a bag of oatmeal that’s been sitting in the cupboard for a while. I used to love porridge made with oatmeal, but I went off it in early pregnancy, probably because I was sick on it and I found it quite stodgy for my stomach when I was feeling so nauseous. These days the nausea isn’t there in the morning, but I guess I don’t feel like eating something that reminds me of feeling sick. So this half-eaten bag of oatmeal has been sitting around doing nothing, and one idea I had of using it in something other than porridge was flapjacks. I usually make them with just whole oats, but this time I tried using 3/4 oats and 1/4 oatmeal.
The texture turned out really well, just how I like it, firm enough that the pieces of flapjack don’t disintegrate, but crumbly enough that they melt in your mouth rather than being quite chewy. Most of the sweetness comes from honey, which is a sweetness I’m more into at the moment than sugar in the form of actual sugar or golden syrup. They’re still a bit too sweet for Andrew to eat lots of it, but I have let him have the odd corner of mine here and there. I find flapjack a good source of energy when I’m feeling so drained from everything I’m doing and just need a bit of a pick-me-up; the oats keep me going for a while, so it’s not all about a quick sugar hit!
40g brown sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and line a shallow cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Melt the margarine, honey and sugar together in a bowl, either in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
Add the oats, oatmeal and sultanas to the molten ingredients and stir until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin and spread it out to fill the tin.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden and still soft.
Take out of the oven and allow to cool a little in the tin.
Before they’re completely cool, cut into squares however big/small you like.
Leave to cool completely in the tin, then remove and store in an airtight container until they’re all eaten 🙂
OK, I admit it, these classic sweet eats are not exactly what you call rocket science baking (not really baking at all as no oven is involved), but I can’t resist making these at Easter time. One day, in the not too distant future, Andrew will be able to help me with them too – for now he just watched from a safe distance in Daddy’s arms. By combining some sort of cereal with chocolate, you end up (with a little imagination) with something resembling a bird’s nest, which can then be filled with chocolate mini eggs – in my opinion, mini eggs are one of the best things about Easter (after Jesus of course, the reason why we celebrate it in the first place). This year I made a couple of different varieties of nest: white chocolate with cornflakes, and dark chocolate with shredded wheat. Here are the recipes…
White choc cornflake nests
100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
1 tbsp honey
Dark choc wheat nests
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 tbsp honey
50g shredded wheat, crushed
The method was the same for both – start with the white chocolate first, and you can use the same bowl for the dark chocolate (the other way round would risk making your white chocolate come out with a brown tinge!)
Melt the chocolate and butter slowly in the microwave (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water on the hob).
Stir in the honey to the molten mixture.
Stir in the cereals until they are all coated evenly with chocolate.
Spoon dollops of mixture into muffin or fairy cake cases in a muffin tray (so they hold their shape until set).
Press 4 mini eggs into the top of each one, so form a hollow in the mixture, like a nest.
Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours.
Once set, remove from paper cases and eat 🙂 (alternatively store in the fridge for a while, but that’s more boring)
Do you like making this sort of cake? What cereals do you think work best? I think the shredded wheat makes it look more like a nest, but I love the crunch you get from cornflakes or bran flakes.