Pink and white rock cakes

We were at our usual Friday morning breastfeeding support group meeting last week, and amongst the homemade goodies to eat there were some lovely apple and cinnamon rock cakes that a friend had baked. This reminded me of baking rock cakes when I was younger, and especially the time that a friend and I made some but forgot to put the sugar in. They still tasted fine, just not sweet, so we passed it off as suitable for my dad who’s diabetic. This got me thinking that I could make some with no or not much sugar in now, and they would be a very toddler-friendly treat. As we were going through the fruit aisle at the supermarket on Friday afternoon, I spotted some lovely looking raspberries for a reasonable price, and that gave me the inspiration to do some raspberry and white chocolate rock cakes. The raspberries would give colour and flavour without being too sweet, and the classic combination with white chocolate would be perfect, bringing a bit of sweetness to them, without the need for extra sugar. So here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 100g fresh raspberries
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped into chocolate chip sized chunks

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC.
  2. Combine the flour and margarine using your hands, until it becomes like breadcrumbs in texture.
  3. Mix in the raspberries, white chocolate and egg until you have a nice thick sticky mixture.

    Nice and thick sticky mixture
  4. Spoon blobs of the mixture onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray, set a little apart from each other as they will spread. Don’t make them smooth, just leave them ragged – the more ragged the better, as they’re supposed to look like rocks, and taste much crispier and crunchier with a rough surface.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until golden.

    Just gone into the oven
  6. Let cool and eat as fresh as possible! Or freeze if you don’t think you’ll eat them all soon enough 😉

    Finished pink rocks - ready to be eaten as fresh as possible 🙂

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.

The proverbial two birds and a stone: wheat-free and baby-friendly cake

Spiced clementine, almond and ginger cake

Here’s another recipe from Sainsbury’s Little Ones, which is one of my favourite sites for recipes that all three of us enjoy and are relatively easy and cheap to do. As I was browsing through, looking for something that Andrew would like to eat as a snack, I came across this one, and noticed, by looking down the list of ingredients (it wasn’t particularly advertised), that it was in fact wheat-free too. My mum-in-law is wheat intolerant, so I’ve been on the look out for recipes that she can eat too, and I’ve ended up killing two birds with one stone by baking this recipe (don’t worry, no feathery friends were harmed in the making of this cake!)

I hardly need to point out these days that I adapted it slightly – a little less sugar, and only two thirds of what the original recipe said, mainly because I only bought that amount of almonds. It’s the almonds that replace the flour to make it wheat-free, and they also make it lovely and moist, if a little fragile. It rose surprisingly well; I know a common problem with wheat-free stuff is it can be a bit brick-like! I think the key thing was whisking the eggs for as long as the recipe says, as this really made the mixture increase a lot in volume. The flavours are specific to this time of year, and although I’d never thought of boiling and liquidizing clementines to put in a cake, it works really well and gives such a lovely fruity flavour – a great way to sneak fruit in without a fussy toddler knowing! (Not that I have that problem with Andrew… yet!)

Ingredients

  • butter, for greasing
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • 8 (about 400g) clementines, whole and unpeeled
  • 4 eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 200g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp baking powder

    Ingredients for the cake

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190°C, fan 170°C, gas 5. Grease a 22cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

    Greased and lined springform cake tin - it turned out to be a bit small (I do have bigger ones, but it's a long and unimportant story), hence the extra 'muffins' you see below!
  • Wash the clementines and put in a pan. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 1 hour, adding water to make sure the pan doesn’t go dry. Drain and allow to cool.

    Clementines simmering
  • Quarter the clementines and discard any pips.

    Boiled and cooled clementines cut into quarters and de-pipped (not that there were many pips)
  • Place in a blender, still in their skins, and purée until smooth.

    Clementine puree
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric hand whisk in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 6-7 mins.

    Sugar and eggs whisked for about 6 minutes - the mixture increased A LOT in size!
  • Fold in the clementine purée, ginger, cinnamon, almonds and baking powder.

    Dry ingredients and clementine puree folded into mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook in the centre of the oven for 1-1 ½ hours. Check if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool in the tin before removing.

    Big cake and two small muffins just out of the oven
  • Dust with icing sugar.

    Finished cakes dusted with icing sugar

This went down really well with Andrew and Tom, though his mum isn’t here to let me know what she thinks. I’d love to hear if you have any tasty wheat-free recipes, as it’s an area of baking that I haven’t really ventured into much at all.

Smiley Happy New Year cookies

My sister-in-law gave me a fab cook book for Christmas. It’s called Cook with Kids, by Rob Kirby, a top restaurant chef who also visits schools as part of a charity; one of his schools is the Great Ormond Street Hospital School, so he spends lots of time teaching ill children how to have fun cooking. His recipes are perfect for getting kids involved with helping to bake and cook, and they are so easy to follow that, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, ‘even her husband can use the recipes’! They range from snacks to main courses to sweets/puds/cakes and even drinks.

I can’t wait for Andrew to be old enough to help me bake, but for now I’m happy to try out these recipes on my own, though Daddy did bring Andrew over to the kitchen to have a look at what I was doing for this one – you’re never too young to get interested. Some of my early but quite distinct memories are of being in my grandma’s kitchens and helping them bake. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved baking, and I’m sure that has come from being introduced to it early.

I thought I’d start the new year by baking a classic kids favourite – Smartie cookies 🙂 Well, as regular readers will know, I never follow a recipe exactly, so they are in fact M&Ms cookies, because I’m all up for buying supermarket own brand products where available, and I could find own-brand M&Ms but not Smarties. As they are pretty much the same thing (Smarties are slightly bigger), M&Ms won the cheapness prize and got to star in the cookies. So here we go…

 Ingredients

Ingredients for the cookies
  • 230g light brown sugar
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 170g butter, softened
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 185g bag of M&Ms

Method

  1. Combine the brown and caster sugars, butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

    Butter, sugar (2 types) and vanilla extract combined until smooth and creamy
  2. Gradually add and beat in the egg and egg yolk, making sure you mix them in thoroughly.

    Egg and egg yolk beaten in to mixture
  3. Add and fold in the flour, baking powder, and two thirds of the M&Ms, combining everything to form a dough. Do this carefully as you need to keep the M&Ms whole.

    Flour, baking powder and M&Ms added to form a stiff dough - I used my hands to bring it together as it got too stiff for a spoon
  4. Once you have formed a cookie dough, roll this into a sausage about 7cm across, place this onto some greaseproof paper, and chill it in the fridge for 2 hours.

    Dough rolled into a fat sausage, put on greaseproof paper, ready to go into the fridge for 2 hours
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C – think about this before the next step.
  6. Once the dough is really firm, take it out and slice it into thick rounds, about 2cm wide, using a warm serrated knife and placing the cookies on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper as you go along.

    Cutting in progress - dough out of the fridge, sharp serrated knife warming up in a tub of hot water, and lined baking sheet ready to take the cut cookies
  7. Bake the cookies in the oven for 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, take the cookies out and quickly press the extra M&Ms into the top of them in the shape of a smiley face. Pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

    Cookies out of the over after 10 minutes, with smiley faces just added
  8. Once the cookies are done, take them out of the oven and cool them on a wire tray.

    Smiley cookies ready to eat

They are best eaten as fresh as possible, so I had to try one just after this picture was taken and they were still slightly warm… yum! As there’s quite a bit of sugar in them, Andrew can’t have a whole one, but I did let him have a small taster, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I’ll bake with him when he’s older. Happy New Year!

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.