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!)
Baking a batch of biscuits or cakes seems to be a great form of toddler entertainment at the moment. As it’s pretty much dark by 4pm these days, we can’t make it to the park any more after Andrew has finished napping in the afternoon. Instead a baking session is the perfect length to fit in between Joel’s feeds at this time of day, and Andrew likes to sit in his high chair and help me measure and mix ingredients. He still needs a lot of supervision of course, and much of the time it’s really me doing it and him watching intently, but he enjoys just being part of the activity no matter how much he’s actually involved.
This week I decided to make some muffins with him, mainly because we seemed to have a sudden abundance of ripe bananas that needed to be eaten. I also fancied making something chocolatey, so adapted my usual recipe for banana muffins to include chocolate – in the form of both cocoa powder and melted dark chocolate. I think it works well, and isn’t too sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from the banana rather than the chocolate. Andrew enjoyed himself, stirring the mixture on his own was the highlight for him, and we only lost a little bit on the table, which was not bad going I thought! Joel was contentedly sitting in the sling whilst we baked, so I feel like he was part of it too. Here’s the recipe…
200g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
50g dark chocolate (I used one with 75% cocoa)
2 ripe bananas, chopped small
Put the flour, cocoa powder and oats in a large bowl and mix.
Melt the margarine and chocolate in another bowl in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
Add the sugar and milk to the chocolate mixture and stir well. Then add the eggs to this.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and add the chopped bananas. Stir until just combined – don’t over mix.
Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases.
Bake at 180ºC (fan) for about 15 minutes.
Leave to cool and eat as fresh as possible. You can also freeze these.
As regular readers will know, I like to have a good story behind why I bake something. This week’s offering is no exception; in fact there’s a few different strands to the story. So you might want to grab yourself a cuppa….
First, I was inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) again this week, and thought I’d have a go at making bagels, which were the third bake that the contestants had to do. I once made some using the recipe for bagels that came with my parents’ bread-maker, but that was a long time ago, whilst I was still living at home (when I think of how many years that must be, it’s quite scary – let’s just say at least 10). If I remember rightly, they came out fine – they were just plain, with some oatmeal on the bottom. I remember now that I had to scour many supermarkets and health food shops to finally find that oatmeal! This is an issue I still have today, though have finally found a lovely shop in Cambridge, The Daily Bread Cooperative, which sells oatmeal (and loads of other lovely things!) at very reasonable prices. Anyway, I digress.
When I was thinking about what flavour(s) I could put in my bagels, I’d not long ago been reading a book called The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk. When I first came across La Leche League when I was struggling to breastfeed Andrew, I borrowed this book from the LLL library, and found it a very useful resource. As I’ve been thinking about how I can increase my supply again this time, as I am likely to hit similar supply problems with this baby, I’ve bought my own copy of this book. There is a whole section on foods that are supposed to be galactagogues (i.e. substances that help produce more breast milk in the mum), including oats and various herbs. I took herbal supplements in the form of capsules when Andrew was a baby, and ate lots of oats – porridge most days, as well as copious amounts of flapjack and oaty goodies. As I was reading through the list of herbs, my eye was drawn to ‘caraway seeds’. This brought back fond memories of a cake that one of my Grandmas used to bake when I was younger – we called it ‘seed cake’, and it was basically a plain sponge loaf cake with caraway seeds in. I used to LOVE that cake, and would always get excited whenever Grandma told us that it was on offer for pudding. I knew that I had to try baking something with caraway seeds in, because, after all, I would have the excuse that whatever I baked would be helping with my milk production. The interesting thing about eating/taking herbs for breast milk increasing purposes is that it’s very hard to tell if they are actually working for a particular mum. As I’ve never been able to express much (some women just can’t as easily as others), I couldn’t say that the herbs were giving me a specific increase, like, say, 6oz more per day after taking them – it’s more a case of trusting that they are working, or resigning yourself to the fact that they might not be. But if what I’m eating tastes good, that’s a good enough excuse in itself.
So, as you might have guessed, I put these two ideas (bagels, caraway seeds) together and came up with (surprise, surprise!) caraway seed bagels. Handily I managed to buy a fairly large bag of caraway seeds from The Daily Bread Coop. I thought for quite a while as to whether I should add one more flavour to the mix, for example a dried fruit or another herb or spice, but in the end I decided that I wanted that pure, unadulterated taste of caraway, just how Grandma’s cake used to taste. Instead of just popping a sprinkling of seeds on top, like you often get with poppy seed or sesame seed bagels, I went for putting the seeds into the dough itself, because it annoys me when you lose half the seeds in the bag with those kinds of bagels, and I wanted a good taste of caraway in my mouth, not the storage container!
As I set to and got the ingredients out, I stopped for a minute to contemplate whether I would used the bread-maker (dough maker setting) or mix by hand. I knew which would be easier, but in the end I decided on my own fair hands, because that was more authentically like the GBBO. As I started to knead the dough, I realised that my energy level at the time was not really up for hardcore kneading. It’s been a tiring week, and my baking session was supposed to be some relaxing me-time whilst my boys were out in town. After about 10 minutes of (admittedly half-hearted) kneading, I decided to leave the dough to prove. The worst that could happen is that it would’t rise as much. And that’s exactly what happened! The dough did double in size in about an hour’s worth of proving, but as I came to shape the dough, I could tell that is wasn’t as elastic and springy with lots of air bubbles trapped inside like it should be, so it just lost the air as I shaped it and the rings I made didn’t puff up. So my hand-made batch of bagels look like they’ve been on some kind of crash diet! Incidentally, another memory from my childhood springs to mind here. The science behind bread used to fascinate me as a child, as my Dad would bake bread with my brother and me, and explain how it worked: as you knead the dough thoroughly, the gluten in the flour reacts with the water and the dough goes all elastic; the yeast feeds on the sugar and produces gas bubbles in the process, which get trapped in the elasticity of the dough, causing it to rise.
Even though my bagels are skinny, I think, as always with baking, that the taste and texture of the finished bake is more important than the look of it. I actually like the texture of my less-risen bagels – they’re a kind of cross between a soft pretzel and a bagel, both of which I love. The flavour is amazing, very strong caraway, which is just what I wanted. So it’s by no means a waste – I’ve put these in the freezer, to save for when baby is born (if I don’t get to them before). I should say that I put no salt in, because I don’t add salt to anything, not even our homemade bread, as I don’t particularly like the taste of salt and it’s not good for Andrew (or us) to have lots. I’d probably get marked down for seasoning if this was a competition, but that’s just the way my tastes are.
The scientist within me was curious to test whether it really was my pathetic attempt at kneading, and therefore not making the dough elastic enough to hold the air bubbles produced by the yeast, that caused the skinny bagel look. So my experiment for the afternoon (whilst Andrew was napping) was to use exactly the same ingredients in the bread-maker, and compare the results with my hand-made batch of bagels. This was a test of (wo)man against machine. As I got the dough out of the bread-maker, it was immediately clear that it was much more elastic than my hand-kneaded dough, and it was much easier to shape into rings as it just stretched into shape rather than being prone to breaking like my first attempt did. In the end, though, the finished bagels weren’t as different as I thought they might turn out to be: they rose more than my first batch, but they’re still not as big as I thought they might be. I deliberately made the hole in the centre quite large, so that it didn’t close up and end up like a bread roll for each bagel. I knew I wanted to make smaller bagels than those you buy in the shops, because they would be a handy size for Andrew to have as a snack, so I guess the small quantity of dough for each one was never going to rise to be massive! I was erring on the cautious side. Again, they taste great, and more like a shop bought bagel in texture than my first batch, even if smaller in size.
Well done if you’ve managed to stay with me throughout this intro: your reward is the recipe itself. If you don’t have a bread maker or some other electronic gadget for making dough, I’d suggest baking these when you’re feeling particularly strong and energetic. Maybe eat some spinach (Popeye style)? Or down a bottle of Lucozade? (Actually, I wouldn’t recommend the latter, it’s disgusting – but depends how much you want the bagels!) Ironically, I felt more energetic after going for a swim directly after I’d baked the hand-mixed bagels, but nevermind…. here’s the recipe.
450g strong white bread flour
30g carraway seeds
1 tbsp fast-action yeast (the kind you don’t need to dissolve in water first, often marketed as ‘for breadmakers’)
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Line a few baking sheets with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 200ºC (fan).
Mix the flour, caraway seeds, sugars and yeast into a large bowl until evenly distributed.
Slowly add the water, little by little, stirring first with a spoon and then with your hands as the mixture gets more and more dough-like.
When the water is well mixed in and you have a ball of dough, transfer it to a surface lightly dusted with flour.
Knead the dough for as long as it takes to have a nice and elastic texture – so you can stretch it and it doesn’t break up (this is where I didn’t stick it out for long enough). The elasticity helps the gas bubbles that the yeast produces to get trapped in the dough.
Place the elastic dough back in the bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to prove in a warm (not hot) place for about an hour, or however long it takes to double (at least) in size. I learnt from the GBBO (don’t let anyone tell you TV can’t be educational!) that ‘proving’ in this sense is so called because it proves the yeast is working – fascinating fact of the day.
Split the dough into small blobs, roll into balls, flatten them, and then make a hole in the middle with your index finger.
Gradually make the hole bigger by working the dough around your finger, using the rest of your hand (this technique is pretty hard to explain without video – watch the GBBO on iPlayer if this isn’t clear).
In a large pan of boiling water, place 3 or 4 bagels (or however many will fit without touching each other). They should rise to the surface. Boil them for about 2 minutes, until a skin if formed and they puff up a little.
Take out of the water with a slotted spoon to drain the excess water.
Place on a baking sheet, spread quite far apart (I got between 4 and 6 on a sheet, depending on the size of the sheet).
Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden. They will probably brown quite quickly towards the end of that time, so keep an eye on them.
Remove from the oven, let cool on the tray, and then eat (or freeze).
The tasters’ verdict: My boys were keen to try a freshly baked bagel, and both of them approved, especially Andrew who kept asking for more! Tom had never had caraway before, and wasn’t sure at first what he thought of the slightly unusual taste, but decided that he quite liked them. I have to say, both batches were lovely fresh out of the oven, and I’m glad I liked the smell because baking smells had been a problem in pregnancy until recently. It seems I can handle the smell of baked products (bread, cakes) but as soon as I smell frying or roasting of any food, especially meat, it makes me nauseous.
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 🙂
It’s been a while since I baked or cooked anything. I found out when we went away at Easter that the smell of cooking is a definite trigger for me to be sick. I hadn’t realised at home just how much of a difference this made in the evenings, and it was only when we went out for dinner one evening on holiday (I didn’t eat much or stay long at the pub) that I realised I was sick less often when I went back to the house that nobody had cooked in that evening. Since then we have eaten cold stuff: salads, bread, cheese, cold meats – that kind of thing. I’m just about able to tolerate smelling a small portion of something that was already cooked and frozen (by us before pregnancy or by Granny) heated in the microwave for Andrew at lunchtime, so he has one cooked meal a day, and Tom helpfully gets a cooked lunch provided every weekday at work. One thing I have found possible is cooking a pizza for 10 minutes first thing in the morning when I’m feeling at my best for the day, and then we eat it cold later in the day. I open some windows and the smell soon goes away and we always go out anyway after it’s done.
The other day I thought it was time that I tested whether I can stand the smell of baking, and although I wasn’t overly fussed about eating freshly baked goods like I usually am, I wanted to take some along to our La Leche League breastfeeding support group coffee morning. So I went for it. I decided on something quite plain, that was quick and easy: these oat and raisin cookies did just the job. They took about 10 minutes to mix up and about 12 minutes to bake. Handily the doors and windows were open in the flat anyway due to the lovely weather. I can’t say that I enjoyed it as much as usual, but it was worth the experience, and although I won’t be rushing to do it again soon, it wasn’t a complete disaster. I still don’t think I’d cope any time later in the day at the moment. At least the cookies were a real hit at the coffee morning, and I got lots of good comments from my friends and mums I’d never met there before, which made it even more worthwhile 🙂 If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe….
80g brown sugar
60g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl.
Beat in the egg.
Mix in the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence, until everything is well combined.
Mix in the oats and raisins until well combined and evenly spread throughout mixture.
Dollop small-ish blobs onto lined baking trays (I got 13 cookies out of the mixture), spread apart.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for about 12 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from oven, let cool and eat as fresh as possible.
Note: suitable for toddlers, but you might want to keep little hands away if you want any left for yourself 😉 (see below…)
A while ago I bought a few packs of Organix soft oaty bars for Andrew. They were on BOGOF at the supermarket, which made them a reasonable price, and they are handy to take out with us for a snack. He absolutely loves them, and they are so easy for him to eat. Organix have a ‘no junk’ policy, and basically they only have oats, fruit and a bit of sunflower oil in them. Since my first purchase, I don’t seem to have found them on offer again, and at their full price, I’m not sure I want to buy them (sorry Organix, we’re on a budget). So I thought, if they only have a few ingredients in, and they’re all natural, surely I can figure out how to bake something similar myself. And that’s what I did.
They turned out very well, so I’ll definitely be making some more of these. I used muffin molds, so they turned out as ’rounds’, not bars. It’s a bit more of a faff to take one out with us, as I can’t just grab one of the cupboard and shove it in my bag. I’ll have to get into the habit of grabbing a small plastic box instead and putting one into it. This recipe made 8.
100g instant oat cereal (brand name = Ready Brek)
70g raisins, chopped
100ml fruit puree (you can make your own by whizzing up any fruit you have, or I had a few pots of ready made stuff left over from when Andrew was first having solids and we were trying to introduce various flavours without buying all the separate fruits and having to prep them all separately before combining)
20ml olive oil
Pretty easy really, just shove all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined.
Press the mixture firmly into a tray of muffin molds, so each mold is about half full.
Bake at 170ºC for about 15 minutes until nicely golden and still soft to touch.
Allow to cool in the molds – they will firm up whilst cooling.
Once cool, remove from tray and store in airtight container.