Peanut Australian-themed biscuits

For his birthday, Andrew was sent some cookie cutters all the way from Australia, from his Great Uncle and Great Aunt who live out there. The cutters are in the shape of Aussie animals (kangaroo, koala and crocodile) and one is in the shape of the country itself. As we hadn’t done any baking for a while, mainly due to the amount of birthday cake we had, I thought we’d have a go at some biscuits using these new cutters. Andrew loves rolling out dough and cutting out shapes, particularly if the dough is edible and not play-dough! Joel has even started to take an interest too, but he was asleep when we baked this time.

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I looked through a biscuits and cakes recipe book that I got for Christmas for some inspiration. When I saw the recipe for some peanut butter biscuits, I thought that these would work well with the Australian theme – they’re not exactly Anzac cookies, but they’re along those lines, and I remember eating a few peanut butter sandwiches when we went to Australia. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, I never do! But they turned out yummy, and went down very well with the boys. So here’s our take on peanut biscuits…

Aussie biscuits Collage

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 50g white sugar
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 80g peanut butter
  • 190g plain flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC, and prepare a baking tray by lining it with grease proof paper.
  2. Cream the butters and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the vanilla essence and flour to form a stiff dough.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Cut out biscuit shapes (they don’t have to be Aussie if you don’t have such cool cutters!), and transfer them to the baking tray until all the dough is used.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly golden – they will still be slightly soft to touch.
  7. Leave them to cool and firm up on the tray.
  8. Store in an airtight container.

I actually think these are better a few days old, because I like my biscuits slightly chewier rather than snappy crispy, but they won’t last much longer around here!

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Cupcake of the month (June): cheesecake cupcakes

This month my cupcake calendar came up with a more unusual type of cupcake, one which I’d never thought of doing before. The idea was to make little cheesecakes in cupcake cases – an actually very simple idea, but not something I’ve seen before. I didn’t follow the recipe in terms of ingredients much, I just used a basic baked cheesecake mixture that I’ve done before, but made it in cupcake cases instead of a large cake tin.

I wasn’t sure how they would turn out, but in the end they worked pretty well. A few had issues coming out of the tin – I think the key was to make sure no mixture spilled over the side when I poured it in or during the baking as the mixture rose slightly, because this left a sticky residue between paper and tin. The taste was delicious, just like any other baked cheesecake. These would be handy to serve at a buffet or party where there are lots of different choices and you’d like to try a little bit of a few things – no more trying to cut a small slither of a big cheesecake and it ending up disheveled!

Mini cheesecakes 2

Here’s the recipe…

Ingredients

  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 125g margarine
  • 200g soft cheese (Philadelphia-style)
  • 100ml soured cream
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • blueberries to decorate

Method

  1. Put cupcake cases into a 12-hole muffin tin and pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan).
  2. Put the digestives in a large bowl and crush them into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin.
  3. Melt the margarine in a smaller bowl in the microwave and add to the biscuit crumbs.
  4. Mix until well combined and stiff, then spoon into the cake cases and press down with your fingers to make the base.
  5. Mix the soft cheese, soured cream and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and vanilla essence.
  6. Pour the mixture into the paper cases on top of the biscuit base.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until just golden on top.
  8. Turn the oven off and leave the cakes to cool in there until they are cool enough to remove without oven gloves.
  9. Remove the cakes from the tin.
  10. Decorate each cake with a few blueberries or other fruit.
  11. Store in the fridge until eaten.

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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Marmorkuchen – Mummy-sized and toddler-sized

One of the presents that Father Christmas brought for Andrew was an Ikea children’s baking set; it has a baking tray, pie tin, biscuit cutters, rolling pin and Bundt tin (if you don’t know what this is, hang on, I’ll explain shortly!) – all perfect mini replicas of my own adult-sized baking equipment. When he opened it, I thought the Bundt tin was particularly cute. This is a circular tin with a hole in it, to make ring-shaped cakes; it is a traditional shape in Germany for certain types of cake, and it’s there that I first saw such ring cakes.

When I was 14 and in Germany on the exchange trip organised by school, my exchange partner and I baked a Marmorkuchen, or ‘Marble Cake’ in its classic shape – the Bundt tin. We went on to become good friends and are still in touch today, albeit less frequently than back then when neither of us had such busy lives. For our wedding, she and her husband bought us some typically German presents, including a Bundt tin and a German cook book with various cake recipes in. I’ve mainly used this tin for baking Marmorkuchen, and when I saw Andrew’s mini version, I thought that this would be the first thing that we’d bake in it. We also made a Mummy (and Daddy) sized one at the same time!

So what is Marmorkuchen (Marble Cake) anyway? Don’t worry, it’s not rock hard, well not unless you do something seriously wrong! It’s a basic sponge mixture, half of which you keep plain (vanilla flavoured) and the other half of which you add cocoa powder to for a chocolate flavour. You layer each half of the mixture in the tin, plain first, chocolate second, and then use a fork to swirl them together, to make a marble effect once the mixture is cooked and you cut a slice from the ring. It’s a simple recipe which looks very pretty and a bit different from the usual sponge you might bake.

I’ve given the recipe below. I’m not sure where to buy Bundt tins in this country, but there must be some lurking online somewhere. It would work just as well in an ordinary cake tin or loaf tin, just without the interesting ring shape. The recipe is based on one in the German cook book that I was given, but slightly adapted – there is no rum in it, which, if I remember rightly, in Germany you can buy in little capsules for using in baking cakes such as these. I think it works without it though, as there is vanilla flouring in it anyway.

Ingredients

  • 300g margarine
  • 275g sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 375g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • splash of milk

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C )fan) and grease the inside of the Bundt tin.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and vanilla essence and mix until well combined.
  5. Put half the mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to fill the ring.
  6. Add the cocoa to the remaining mixture and mix until well combined, and add a splash of milk if the mixture gets too stiff, to loosen it up.
  7. Put this mixture into the Bundt tin and spread it around to make a layer on top of the plain mixture.
  8. With a fork, make circular motions from top to bottom and back to top in the tin, so that the plain mixture below comes up and is swirled into the chocolate mixture and vice versa, all around the circle tin.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes – check it is cooked by inserting a skewer and it comes out clean.
  10. Leave to cool in the tin and turn it out onto a plate when cool. Enjoy!

Team-GB-inspired Olympics cupcakes

Red, white and blue - Team-GB-inspired cupcakes

From what I’ve heard, the Olympics have started! As we don’t have a TV, we didn’t watch the opening ceremony live, and I haven’t got round to downloading it on iPlayer and watching it yet. This is the first time since we got rid of our TV that I kind of miss it, but given how much we’re saving on the licence fee, I’m not too bothered overall. We just don’t seem to get time to sit down and watch TV, except the odd DVD here and there. Although I didn’t watch the opening ceremony, I did feel like I was watching, because of all the tweeting and facebooking that was going on about it. To be honest, I’m a bit miffed about not getting tickets to anything I wanted to see in the Olympics, despite trying in the first and second round to get them. I would have loved to watch any of the swimming events, or anything going on in the aquatic centre, but I didn’t get any tickets in our (limited) price-range budget. It’s such a shame that I didn’t get to watch the one sport I really love when it was here, live in this country, not far from where we’re living, at the Olympics.

But I’ll stop whinging now. One day I’ll go and swim in the Olympic pool myself, just like I did in Sydney after the Olympics there. That will be a great day, one which I’m already looking forward to! Even though I’m perhaps not as involved in the Olympic atmosphere as I would like to be, that didn’t stop me getting in the mood for some Olympics-inspired baking. I had some (OK, lots of) Union Jack cupcake cases left over from the Jubilee celebrations in June, so thought it would be a good opportunity to use some more and get into the Olympic spirit by making some Team-GB-inspired red, white and blue cupcakes. Of course the cases are red, white and blue, but I also went for red and blue sponge (half of each in each cupcake), plus white icing and the three colours in hundreds and thousands. The red sponge came out red, but the blue wasn’t very strong (I’ve found this before with natural food colourings these days, particularly blue), so that bit of the sponge looks more like the usual creamy colour but a bit darker. Still, it’s a nice overall effect with half the sponge one colour and half another colour, even if it’s not amazingly blue like I intended. They taste lovely, which is the main thing. Tom and I sat eating an Olympics cupcake each yesterday evening, whilst Rebecca Adlington was winning bronze in the 400m freestyle in the Olympic pool (so I found out later on the internet). If you’d like to bake something to go with your Olympics watching, the recipe is below.

Half red, half 'blue' sponge (I really can't see any hint of blue in this picture, but the mixture did look blue before it was cooked, honest, even if not amazingly bright)

Ingredients

Blue sponge

  • 60g sugar
  • 60g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • blue food colouring
Red sponge
  • 60g sugar
  • 60g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • red food colouring
Icing
  • 3 heaped tsp icing sugar
  • a few drops of cold water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and place cupcake cases in muffin tins (I made 1 dozen cakes).
  2. Start with the blue sponge, as the colour is lighter than the red, so you can use the same bowl to mix the red in afterwards, because small bits of blue mixture won’t affect the colour of the red mixture, unlike the other way around.
  3. Cream the sugar and margarine in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  4. Add the egg and beat well until smooth.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, vanilla essence and food colouring, and mix until well combined and the colour is evenly spread throughout the mixture. Use enough food colouring to make the mixture as bold as possible in colour.
  6. Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so that each case is about a third full.
  7. Follow the same method from 3. to 6. for the red mixture. When it’s ready, add a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into each cake case, so it sits on top of the blue mixture, and each case is about two thirds full.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden (even though the top is red inside, I found that the crust on top was quite brown, so I could tell when it was cooked as usual).
  9. Let cool out of the muffin tins. Meanwhile make the icing. Mix the icing sugar with a few drops of water and stir until you have a thick paste. Only add a little water at a time – you can always add more but you can’t take it out once it’s in! (You could always add more icing sugar if you put too much water in, but then you could end up with too much icing.)
  10. Put a small blob of icing in the centre on top of each cake. It will probably start to run down to the edges on its own gradually, but if not then spread across the top with the back of a teaspoon.
  11. Sprinkle hundreds and thousands over the icing and carefully shake off any excess.
  12. Leave the icing to set, and then eat the cakes! Store in an airtight container – best eaten within a few days.
One Olympic ring.... of cakes 🙂

Victoria sponge, with a twist

At the weekend we had arranged to meet up with some of my school friends and their families. When we planned this a while ago, we thought a barbecue at one of their houses would be a nice idea for a summer’s Sunday afternoon. As July went on, this looked less and less likely, and there was talk of relocation to a family pub somewhere. However, in the end the sun came out for the weekend, and we managed to have our barbecue. I was put in charge of bringing pudding (more my thing than meat at the best of times, let alone when I’m really not liking the smell of cooking!), so I decided to whip up a quick and easy classic British cake on the Saturday morning before we left to head over to the Midlands.

My choice was the Victoria sponge. You can’t really go too wrong with it, and it’s not too sweet or stodgy, so just what I like at the moment. Once the cake bit of it was baked, I packed the two halves into a tin, as my plan was to do the jam and icing sugar bits the next day at my parents house where we were staying. We had lunch at my parents’ on Saturday, and what should Mum bring out for pudding…. but a Victoria sponge that she’d baked! It was complete with candles for my birthday – a lovely surprise being as I’d almost forgotten about my birthday this year as it’s crept up so quickly with me being so busy. So this weekend became the weekend of Victoria sponges 🙂 Not a bad thing to have two of in my opinion. Mum had in fact put buttercream icing as well as jam in the middle, so not technically a classic Victoria sponge, rather one with a bit of a twist. As the jam she had was quite tart, not too sweet, the buttercream icing was a great complement to it, and I decided to make this addition to my cake for the Sunday too.

What I didn’t plan for was the hot weather on the Sunday! During the three-quarter hour car journey to our friends’ house at lunchtime, the two halves slid apart as the buttercream icing melted slightly and lost its grip on the jam in the sandwiched cake. When we arrived I had to do some patching up, but in the end, after a couple of hours in the cool kitchen, it didn’t look too bad. And it tasted good, that was the main thing!

OK, so not the most attractive cake I've ever baked, nor the most stunning photo of it, but I forgot to take a snap before the car melting incident, so this is how it looked after its cooling off period just before we ate it! The jam and buttercream are a bit messy, the icing sugar has gone into the top of the cake in patches, and the paper plate it's on looks awful. But it still tasted yummy, and that's the point of baking in my opinion.

Ingredients

  • 110g margarine
  • 110g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • jam for the filling
  • for the icing in the middle (optional): 75g margarine and 150g icing sugar
  • icing sugar to dust

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, and grease 2 medium round cake tins with margarine.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla essence and beat well until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour half the mixture into one cake tin and half into the other.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden and springy to touch.
  7. Let cool and remove from tins.
  8. Once cool, spread jam generously over one of the circles of cake.
  9. Mix the margarine and icing sugar for the icing together until you have a smooth paste. Spread the icing over the other cake, the one without the jam.
  10. Put the side with the jam onto the side with the icing to make a sandwich.
  11. Dust the top with icing sugar to finish.
  12. Store in cool place, especially if the weather is hotter than you’re used to!! Preferably just eat it though 🙂