How to turn a pound of carrots into lots of scrummy muffins

A pound of carrots gets turned into....
.....delicious carrot muffins (with cream cheese icing on some) 🙂

I’m not one to turn down a bargain, so when I saw a kilogram bag of carrots for less than a pound at the local greengrocers, I shoved them into my basket without thinking anything other than ‘oooh it’ll be a good excuse to make carrot cake if we don’t get round to eating them all before they start to go off!’ We had a good go at them: roasted carrots one evening and grated carrot in a pasta dish another. But a combination of going away for the weekend and getting through the big bargain cauliflower I also bought meant that carrot cake was definitely on the cards this weekend.

In the end I made some carrot muffins on Thursday evening, brought forward by the fact that we were going to a La Leche League breastfeeding support group meeting this morning and I wanted to take some snacks to share. Plus I’d been meaning to have a go at the recipe I’d found in Cook with Kids by Rob Kirby (a book previously mentioned on this blog). As these kind of cakes freeze well, I thought I’d double up his recipe and use a whole pound of carrots! This amount made 24 muffins, so there were plenty to take to LLL this morning and have some for the freezer at home.

Here come the inevitable adaptations… The original recipe had nuts in (chopped walnuts and ground almonds), but I simply left these out, adding in some more sultanas for the walnuts, for two reasons: choking hazard for Andrew and his breastfeeding buddies, and ladies with nut allergies at LLL. I halved the amount of sugar in the cake, and they still taste lovely and sweet; I also made half the amount of icing, with the intention of doing half the muffins plain (more toddler-friendly) and half iced (more adult-friendly), but (as usual with icing recipes I find) there was enough to ice nearly two thirds. They went down well with the toddlers and mums who made it through the snow this morning.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 220ml natural yoghurt
  • 8 drops vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp orange juice
  • 520g self-raising flour
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 500g carrots, grated
  • 200g sultanas

Icing

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g cream cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add in the yoghurt, vanilla extract and orange juice and combine the ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon into another bowl, then add and fold in the egg mixture until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Finally, add the carrots and sultanas.
  3. Fill two muffin trays (x12) with mixture, then cook in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. You can tell they’re done by poking a skewer into the centre of one and it will come out clean if they are done.
  4. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool them on a wire rack while you make the icing. Do this by creaming the butter, sugar and cream cheese together in a bowl.
  5. When the muffins have cooled, spread some icing over the top of each one.

I love carrot cake, and so does Andrew it seems, but Tom is not so keen. I can see why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or slice of cake), because we usually think of carrots as savoury, even though they’re actually quite sweet. Do you like carrot cake? Have you tried any other kind of vegetables in a cake? I once tried courgette cake, which was nice – didn’t taste anything like courgette though!

Muffins before icing came along

One special first birthday cake

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.

Ingredients

cake

Ingredients for the sponge
  • 220g self raising flour
  • 220g sugar
  • 220g margerine
  • 4 eggs
  • few drops of vanilla essence
  • 3 20cm round cake tins, greased and lined at the bottom with greaseproof paper

    Three 20cm round cake tins greased and lined with greaseproof paper

icing

  • 260g icing sugar
  • 165g unsalted butter
  • red, blue and green natural food colouring

Method

Cake

  1. Blend the margerine and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

    Margerine and sugar blended together
  2. Beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture little by little, beating thoroughly as you go.

    Beaten eggs added to the margerine and sugar mixture
  3. Add the vanilla essence.
  4. Work in the flour until you have a smooth pasty mixture.

    Flour added to the mixture, to make a smooth pasty mixture
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 cake tins.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

    Three sponges just out of the oven

Icing

  1. Whip the icing and butter together until you get a pale, fluffy ‘cream’.
  2. Split the cream into 3 roughly equal portions.

    Icing evenly split into three bowls
  3. Add a few drops of each food colouring into each portion, until you get a strong colour.

    Three bowls of icing coloured with different food colourings

decoration

  1. Once the cakes are cool, remove from the tin.
  2. 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’.

    'o n e' cut out of the round sponges
  3. Spread the icing to completely cover the cake, including down the sides where you cut bits out.
  4. Add sweets to decorate.

    Finished cake - 'o n e'
'o' - milk choc buttons in the shape of a star with some pinky/red writing icing (not very visible here) around the edge of the star
'n' - jelly beans and white writing icing make some bunches of baloons
'e' - white choc buttons with hundreds and thousands on them (I LOVE these!) and some orange writing icing to contrast with the blue buttercream

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.

Stollen – another taste of Christmas (this one’s for babies too)

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).

Ingredients

Ingredients for stollen

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

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Warm the milk, until you can just still dip your little finger in it.

    Milk warming up gently by short blasts in microwave
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar along with the dried yeast and leave it until it forms a frothy head of about 1 inch.
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 0 minutes
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 30 minutes

    Frothy milk, lovely yeasty smell
  4. Meanwhile sift 350 g of the flour together with the remaining sugar into a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.

    Flour and sugar with well in centre
  5. Pour the milk and yeast mixture into this, then add the softened butter and beaten egg.

    Milk mixture, eggs and butter added to well in flour
  6. 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.

    Wet and dry ingredients mixed together to form dough, still quite wet and sticky
  7. 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.
    Dough ready for first round of kneading

    Wet dough from bowl after kneading on a very well floured board
  8. 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).
    Dough covered in cling film ready to prove
    Dough in oven on minimum temperature, just right to prove

    Dough after proving in warm place for about 1 1/2 hours
  9. 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.

    Kneading the dough (thanks to Tom for photography!)
  10. 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.
    Flatened dough with marzipan 'sausage' (bit of a flat one!) on top

    Small circle of dough with small blob of marzipan - I then folded the edge of the dough into the centre over the marzipan, and placed it down on the baking sheet to hold the dough edge in
  11. Fold the dough over the marzipan and carefully place the whole thing on a baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for expansion.

    Two bigger stollen and several baby stollen bites, ready for second round of proving
  12. Leave it to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size again, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

    Daddy stollen, Mummy stollen, and baby stollens ready to go into oven after second round of proving
  13. Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before lifting it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

    Stollen and baby bites looking golden brown, just out of the oven (they only took 20 minutes to cook in our fan oven)
  14. Dust the top with the icing sugar to finish.
    Finished Stollen, complete with snowman
    Marzipan snowman - I had a small chunk of marzipan left, so I made a decoration to go with the snowy look of the icing sugar dusting

    Andrew's stollen bites - no icing sugar added 😉

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!

Lebkuchen – a taste of Christmas

One of my favourite foods at Christmas is Lebkuchen [pronounced something like layb-koo-chuhn (ch as in Scottish ‘loch’) for those who don’t sprechen any Deutsch]. These soft and chewy biscuits spiced with flavours like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg remind me of Christmas as a child, as Mum would always buy a few bags for us to eat over the Christmas period. It wasn’t until I went to Germany just before Christmas as an adult that I realised that the small Lebkuchen bought from supermarkets here in England were not the same as the much bigger, flatter and (let’s face it) better ones found over there, where they originated. Ever since I tasted the real German ones, I’ve wanted to have a go at baking my own, but I’ve only just got round to it this year, probably because I came across a recipe in a chocolate recipe book that I’ve used a lot recently.

As usual, I adapted the recipe slightly (I don’t think I ever follow a recipe exactly!): raisins instead of candied fruit peel (which I don’t really like), and I halved the chocolate glaze, because the biscuits were quite fragile even when cool, so I didn’t think they would ‘dip’ well to coat them as the recipe said, and I made a thicker glaze to ice just one side as they lay on a flat surface. Anyway, that’s enough of an intro…. on with the important stuff!

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 100g unsalted almonds (brown skins left on)
  • 25g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large egg whites (I used 3 medium)
  • 115g icing sugar

Glaze

  • 50g plain chocolate, chopped
  • 50g icing sugar

Method

  1. Finely grind the almonds and chocolate in a food processor, then mix with the raisins and spices.
  2. Put the egg whites in a spotlessly clean, greasefree bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form.

    Egg whites at the stiff peak stage
  3. Gradually beat in the icing sugar to make a thick, glossy meringue.
  4. Add the chocolate mixture and carefully fold in with a large metal spoon.

    Lebkuchen mixture
  5. Put tablespoon-sized mounds of the mixture on several baking trays lined with non-stick greaseproof paper, setting them well apart, then spread each into a circle about 3 inches in diameter.

    Trays with blobs of biscuit mixture, ready for the oven
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 160°c for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are pale gold. Let cool, then peel off the greaseproof paper.

    Close up of a biscuit just out of the oven - a lovely pale golden colour
  7. To make the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate gently (I use these cool microwaveable pans and do it in short bursts at a time so the chocolate doesn’t burn). Then let it cool.
  8. Mix the icing sugar with 2 tablespoons of hot water to make a smooth glaze, then stir in the chocolate to make a fairly runny mixture – if necessary, stir in a little more warm water (I ended up putting in a few more splashes from the kettle).
  9. Ice each biscuit with the glaze – I found that they were fragile, so I iced them on the bottom where they had come away from the greaseproof paper, as this helped to keep them together. This isn’t quite as traditional as dipping in a thin glaze, but it tastes the same and it meant I didn’t risk ending up with a chocolatey broken biscuit mess!
    Waiting for the iced lebkuchen to set

    A plate of lebkuchen good enough to eat

As an aside, I decided to whip up a quick sponge mixture with the egg yolks, because I can’t stand wasting the other half of the eggs when a recipe calls for only whites or yolks. It’s basically 110g of plain flour, 110g of butter, 110g of sugar and 2 eggs (but I used 3 egg yolks and a generous splash of milk instead). You beat the sugar and butter together, then add the eggs (and in this case the milk) and then the flour.

I decided to use the sponge mixture to make cupcakes. I wasn’t sure whether the exchange of milk for egg whites would make a difference to how they turned out, but I’m always up for experimental baking, and most of the time it’s edible, even if slightly odd looking or a strange texture! In this case they came out quite crispy on top, softer inside, though slightly denser than the usual light sponge, and still yummy to taste.

After I tried one fresh from the oven (just to make sure it was worth icing them, you understand), I decided to add some simple melted chocolate on the top to finish them off.

Chocolate-topped cupcakes (note that only 5 made it to the chocolate stage - I had to try one to make sure they tasted good enough to keep 😉 )

So there you go, two recipes for the price of one! Both delicious as a snack with a cuppa, and one as a lovely taste of Christmas which reminds me of childhood.

Baby-(and adult-)friendly oat and banana muffins

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.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats, plus extra for decoration
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 100g sugar
  • 125ml oil- I used olive as that’s what we have in
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 medium-ripe bananas, chopped small

Method

  1. 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).
  2. Sift the flour, oats and baking powder together (I didn’t sift the oats – how is that possible?!)
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and milk together until pale and fluffy.
  4. Fold this mixture, and bananas, into the flour and oat mixture.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.