Friday, 30 March 2012

Bubblegum cupcakes

Pink is my favourite colour and yesterday was, for me, definitely a pink day. Not only was I was wearing a new pink top, we are surrounded by different shades of the colour pink at the moment with all the blossom, tulips, hyacinths and other beautiful spring flora. Even the orchid given to me on Mother's Day by Theo, is pink. And, when I was in the supermarket on Wednesday I spotted these cupcake cases which I just had to buy...

I decided to call these cupcakes "bubblegum" because of the prominence of pink, but also because the marshmallows, which nestle among the buttercream, provide a gorgeous, unctuous, chewy texture, and give a hint of bubblegum flavour. I wasn't too sure how Theo would react when he saw these cakes on his arrival home from school, given that he doesn't "do" pink, but the way his face lit up and his loud shout of "WOW" meant that he'd given them his usual seal of approval. Rebecca's reaction..."they look JUST like the cakes in the Hummingbird Bakery!" I had a bit of a *proud* moment.

The sponge for these cupcakes is plain vanilla and I used the recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook.



120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1.5 tsps baking powder
pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature120ml whole milk
1 egg
quarter of a tsp vanilla extract


160g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tbsps milk
quarter tsp vanilla extract
a few drops of red food colouring

a 12 hole muffin tray, lined with paper cases

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degs C/gas mark 3

2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on a slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. Gradually pour in half the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated.

3. Whisk the egg, vanilla extract and remaining milk together in a separate bowl, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a spatula). Continue mixing for a couple more minutes until the mixture is smooth. Do not overmix.

4. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full...

...and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden and the sponge springs back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. To make the buttercream, whisk together the icing sugar and butter until combined and then gradually add the milk to make a soft consistency. Stir in the vanilla extract and enough red food colouring to give you your desired shade of pink. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the buttercream on top and decorate as you wish. Enjoy!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Baklava muffins

I was leafing through my copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess the other day as I was in need of inspiration and this is the book I invariably turn to when I need a "light-bulb" moment. I was searching for ideas on a different kind of cake, i.e. one which didn't include either chocolate or bananas. I came across this recipe and knew it was the perfect solution. These muffins, or rather buns, as they have a bun-like texture, are delicious. Whilst obviously nothing like real baklava, they are, however, gooey, crunchy, soft and filling. You could easily substitute the walnuts for pistachios, or indeed, hazelnuts and you could use a flavoured honey as most baklava bakers do. All in all, these are a winner and when eaten on a sunny day, could easily make you believe you were in warmer climes!


For the filling:

100g chopped walnuts
75g demerara sugar
1.5 tsps cinnamon
45g butter, melted

For the muffins:

210g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
half a tsp bicarb
75g caster sugar
1 large egg
45g butter, melted
250ml buttermilk (or 175g yoghurt and 75g semi-skimmed milk)

For the topping:

125ml runny honey

12-bun muffin tray lined with paper cases

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degs C/190 degs C fan/gas mark 6

2. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a small bowl, and then get on with the muffins.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and sugar. In a wide-mouthed measuring jug, whisk the egg, melted butter and buttermilk (or yoghurt-milk mix).

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the liquid and mix lightly and gently. You want a bumpy not smooth mixture.

4. Fill the muffin cases one-third full, add a scant tablespoon of filling, then cover with more muffin mixture until around two-thirds full. Sprinkle any remaining filling on top of the muffins.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Put the muffins, still in their papers, onto a wire rack and drizzle with the honey.

6. Enjoy!

This recipe comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Italian ham and spinach tart

Mother's Day, to me, always seems to herald the start of spring. I do love the comfort food that accompanies the dark and cold winter months but I have to say, we were getting a little fed up with pies, roasts and other hearty meals and I, especially, have been craving lighter meals and salads for several weeks now. This tart is one of Jamie Oliver's. I'd already decided that I would make it for Mother's Day and serve it with new potatoes roasted in garlic and rosemary, and a refreshing salad. However, we decided at the last minute that we would spend Sunday in Lulworth, Dorset. After all, the weather forecast looked promising and it would be a great opportunity to have quality family together in one of our favourite parts of the country. So, I set about making the tart on Saturday, trying not to get too distracted by the Wales/France rugby match.

Ham and spinach are two of my favourite ingredients and go together perfectly. Spinach used to be called "the prince of vegetables" by the Arabs and has been cultivated since ancient times. You can add pretty much anything else to this tart, though, if you so desire. Sun-dried tomatoes, olives and anchovies would be great edible accessories.


Approx 500g savoury shortcrust pastry
a knob of butter
olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
350g spinach
1 tsp of dried oregano
salt and pepper
500g creme fraiche
150g freshly grated parmesan (I used a mixture of parmesan and cheddar)
3 large eggs
200g cooked ham, torn into shreds or chopped

1. Roll out the pastry into a rectangular shape about 0.5cm thick and big enough to line a shallow baking tray about 30 x 40cm.

2. Grease the tray with butter and line it with the pastry. Trim the excess but leave a 1cm overhang. Pinch the overhanging dough up to make a little rim and prick the pastry all over with a fork.

3. Preheat the oven to 190 degs C/375 degs F/gas mark 5. Line the pastry case with baking parchment and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake blind for 6-8 minutes, until golden.

4. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the onions on a low heat for about 10 minutes, until they are soft and sweet. Turn up the heat and add the garlic and spinach and most of the oregano. Season lightly and give it a good stir. Take the pan off the heat when the spinach has wilted - this will only take a couple of minutes.

5. To make the filling, put the creme fraiche into a bowl, stir in the cheese, eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix together and set aside.

6. Spread the spinach mixture over the pastry case. Sprinkle over the ham and spoon the creme fraiche mixture over the top, smoothing it out with the back of a spoon. If you want more cheese, grate some extra parmesan over the top and sprinkle over the remaining oregano.

7. The recipe says to bake the tart for approx 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and bubbling, and the filling has set, but I found I had to bake the tart for 25-30 minutes.

This tart is excellent served cold, and tastes even better when taken on a picnic in an idyliic setting!

This recipe comes from Jamie at Home: Cook your way to the Good Life by Jamie Oliver

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Lemon and almond cake

We always have lemons in the fruit bowl and my usual repertoire is to make a lemon crunch cake which is one of our favourites, and which I tend to make if I want to bake a large, citrus cake. However, I had some ground almonds left over in the cupboard and I wanted to bake something which could combine the two. In times of inspiration seeking, I often turn to Nigella and she never disappoints. This recipe is quick and easy and the resulting cake is a golden slab of damp, dense, sharp-toned meltiness. Whilst it is delicious eaten on the day of baking, if you can leave it wrapped up in a tin for a couple of days, the sharpess and melting dampness will increase on the waiting. If you decide to have a go at baking this cake, be prepared to be transported to the Mediterranean...the fragrant aromas of lemons and almonds combined when baking are undeniably evocative of hot and sunny climes.


225g soft, unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
50g plain flour
225g ground almonds
half a tsp almond essence
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

21-23cm Springform cake tin, lined

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degs C/170 degs C fan/gas mark 4

2. Cream together the butter and sugar until almost white. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each addition.

3. When the eggs and flour have been incorporated, gently stir in the ground almonds, then the almond essence and lemon zest and juice.

4. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour. After about 30 minutes you may want to cover loosely with foil to prevent the top of the cake from burning.

5. The cake is ready when the top is firm and a skewer, when inserted, comes out cleanish. Let it stand in the tin for 5 minutes or so, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

This recipe comes from How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Soda bread

This is a brilliant recipe from the fabulous Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. I love his no-nonsense approach to cooking and his recipes are simple and therefore fail-safe. I wanted to bake a different kind of bread to accompany the curried parsnip soup we were having for supper recently, rather than rely on the everyday wholemeal that we have day in, day out. Soda bread is incredibly quick and easy to make, it's sustaining and it lends itself to endless tweaking and variation. For a sweeter twist, just serve with lashings of butter and jam, or, you could add some dried fruit and have yourself a delicious fruit bread!


500g plain white flour
2 tsps bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp fine sea salt
400ml buttermilk
a little milk if necessary

Makes 1 medium loaf

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degs C/190 degs C fan/gas mark 6

2. Sift the flour and bicarb into a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk, stirring as you go. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of milk to bring the mixture together. It should form a soft dough, just this side of sticky.

3. Tip it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly for about a minute, just long enough to pull it together into a loose ball but no longer - you need to get it into the oven while bicarb is still doing its thing. You are not looking for elasticity.

4. Put the round of dough onto a lightly floured baking sheet and dust generously with flour. With a sharp knife, mark a deep cross cutting about two-thirds of the way down the loaf.

5. Put it in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

6. Cool on a wire rack if you like a crunchy crust, or wrap in a clean tea towel if you prefer a soft crust. Soda bread is best eaten warm, but it's great toasted if you have some left over the next day. Enjoy!

This recipe comes from River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Banana and fudge muffins

This is another recipe I concocted using bananas...again. As we always seem to have three or four that don't look their best in the fruit bowl, and which the children refuse to eat in their natural form, many of my cakes seem to be banana based and I am always on the lookout for banana cakey recipes, or thinking of ways in which I can use them up so they don't go to waste. We all really enjoyed the banana and cinnamon muffins I made a while ago, but I wanted to make something slightly different. I had a tub of fudge chunks in the cupboard so I decided to use them in the following recipe. One of the best things about using fudge is that it goes all melty and you end up with little puddles of sweet, gooey yumminess on the bottom of the paper case. The children, well, we all, enjoyed these and so I can see they will be a regular feature on the cake front!


Makes 12

175g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda
125g unsalted butter, melted
150g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs
4 small ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
approx 150g of fudge chunks

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degs C/170 degs C fan/gas mark 3.

2. Put the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a medium bowl and combine well.

3. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then add the mashed bananas and vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture and stir well.

5. Line a muffin tin with paper cases and fill each case with the mixture until about half full. Using about half of the fudge chunks, place a few on the top of each muffin and then spoon the remaining mixture on top. Sprinkle the remaining fudge chunks on top of each muffin.

6. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Fruit and nut flapjacks

I adore flapjack...I remember my mother making it throughout my childhood and it was always one of my favourite cakey treats. I'm quite fussy, though, about how sticky it must be, i.e not so sticky so as to cause tooth/filling damage; and the ratio of syrup to oats has to be just right...I like my flapjacks to be very oaty and therefore quite solid. So this is my tried and trusted recipe and it's versatile enough to have any number of additional ingredients added to it...and for chocolate to be drizzled over the top! These flapjacks were a hit with everybody, the children took them to school and Simon and I enjoyed ours with lots of fresh coffee.


340g oats
250g unsalted butter
100g soft light brown sugar
3 tbsps golden syrup
large handful of chopped dates (use any dried fruit you like)
a couple of handfuls of chopped pecan nuts
a large handful of chopped pistachios
a handful of pine nuts
a couple of handfuls of pumpkin seeds

22x30cm baking tray greased and lined with baking parchment

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan.

2. Stir in the oats and sugar, then add the golden syrup and mix until everything is combined.

3. Tip and press into the prepared baking tray, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the top and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden.

4. Leave to cool completely in the tin and then drizzle with melted dark chocolate.

5. Once the chocolate has set, remove from the baking tray and cut into squares. Enjoy!

Cardamom shortbread

Shortbread is one of my most favourite edible treats in the world. I defy anybody to say they don't like it, after all, who can resist that unctuous, buttery, velvety, melt in the mouth pleasure that only homemade shortbread promises and always delivers? Making it is a joy, too. It's one of those occasions when you can get your hands in there, gently kneading the dough until you end up with a soft and squidgy ball. Fabulously tactile! Classic buttery shortbread is fantastic in itself, but if you fancy ringing the changes you can add flavourings such as vanilla, orange, lemon, coffee or even salt and pepper (if you're daring!)

I made this cardamom shortbread with a view to letting the children take it to school in their lunch boxes, but because the recipe always makes plenty (and depending on how big you make your shapes), I knew there would be enough left over to have with coffee for a few days. I always make my shortbread with cornflour as it produces biscuits that literally melt in the mouth. If you prefer you can make it with rice flour, this will give a granulated, crunchy result.


250g butter, softened
100g golden caster sugar, plus more to sprinkle
250g plain flour, plus more to dust
125g cornflour or rice flour
half a tsp of freshly ground cardamom seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degs C/fan 160 degs C/gas mark 3.5.

2. In an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar, add the ground cardamom seeds, then sift in the flour and cornflour gradually, mixing briefly between addition until it binds together.

3. Flour your hands and gently knead until the dough is just smooth (don't over-work.) To make the dough easier to roll, and if you have time, wrap it in clingfilm and place in the fridge for half an hour.

4. On a floured work surface roll out the dough until about 5mm thick, then cut into your chosen shapes. Place the shortbreads on 2 baking sheets lined with baking parchment and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Sprinkle with sugar as soon as they come out of the oven and then leave to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

This recipe is taken from Bake and Decorate by Fiona Cairns.