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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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.

Wheat-free gingerbread men

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…

Ingredients

  • 225g wheat-free self-raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 2 level teaspoons ground ginger
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted honey

Method

  1. Mix the flour and ginger together, then rub in the margarine to form a breadcrumb texture.
  2. Add the sugar and mix to a stiff dough with the melted honey.
  3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out men (or other shapes) with a little man cutter.
  4. Bake at 180°C (fan) for 8 – 10 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool before decorating with writing icing to make the features like eyes, mouth and buttons.
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Bakewell flapjack

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

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

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

Ingredients

Base

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

Filling

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

Method

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

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

Sweetie chocolate cookies

We’re (not so slowly) getting through all the biscuits and chocolates that we accumulated over Christmas! Lots of it is being consumed overnight as I feel pretty hungry in the night whilst feeding – this is a great time of year to be breastfeeding. What we do have quite a lot of still are sweets that Andrew was given, both when Joel was born and for Christmas. I don’t mind him eating a few occasionally, but there are quite a lot to get through, and at this rate he’ll still have some left at Easter when no doubt more will arrive! Walking past the freshly baked cookies in the supermarket gave me the idea to use some sweets by baking cookies, plus I had one lonesome egg to use up by the weekend, so this seemed like a good plan.

I’ve never had fruity sweets (as opposed to chocolate sweets like buttons or smarties) in cookies before, but I wondered how they would turn out, so took the risk and used Jelly Tots. They turned out brilliantly – I love the chewiness of the sweets next to the doughy cookie, and the different fruit flavours in the sweets next to the chocolate of the cookie. It’s not a complicated recipe, but the results are very satisfying, and perfect to devour with a hot cup of tea on a wintry afternoon. Why not have a go yourself, especially if you’ve got any Christmas sweets lurking?

Ingredients

  • 200g brown sugar
  • 100g white sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 350g flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tube of jelly tots or other sweets

Method

  1. Cream the margarine and sugars in a large bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  2. Beat in the egg until smooth.
  3. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and about two thirds of the sweets, and mix in until well combined, using your hands when it gets too stiff for the spoon.
  4. Bring the dough together into a ball and then shape with your hands into a long sausage about 5cm in diameter on some greaseproof paper.
  5. Wrap in the greaseproof paper and leave for 2-3 hours in the fridge until chilled and firm.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) just before you take the dough out of the fridge.
  7. Cut the sausage shape into discs about 1cm thick using a serrated knife.
  8. Use the greaseproof paper to line two baking sheets, and place the discs of dough on these, spaced apart.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then take out the cookies and press a few sweets into the top of each one while the dough is still soft enough.
  10. Put back in the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes.
  11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the trays. Best eaten still slightly warm and very fresh!