My friend Helen has become a proper little baker recently, she's been baking more than me and I'm very envious that she's found the time to spend in the kitchen.
I've tasted her cooking myself and she's pretty darn good at it. I loved the feta and spinach pie she did from Jamie Oliver's 30-minute (or an hour if you're normal) meals book.
Her two latest creations were a moist lemon drizzle cake, which looks amazing (although she didn't save me any - Helen you need to make this up to me), and a bacon and cheese bread loaf from Rachel Allen's cook book.
I think the lemon cake is a Nigella Lawson recipe and the details are below. I'm going to try it very soon, when we hold a charity cake sale at work for two local hospices.
Don't forget that it's National Baking Week from Monday, October 17 to Sunday, October 23, so get baking and send me your recipes!
Lemon drizzle cake
Ingredients for the cake
175g caster sugar
2 beaten eggs
Zest of one lemon
175g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of milk
Ingredients for the syrup Juice of one-and-half lemons
100g icing sugar
Ingedients for the glaze Juice of half a lemon
150g icing sugar
Method 1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees or gas mark 4, butter and line a tin (Helen used a loaf tin)
2. Cream together the butter and suagr, add eggs and zest
3. Fold in sifted flour and salt, add milk
4. Bake it for 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean
5. Heat together the juice and sugar for the syrup, and once the cake is cooked and still hot, pour it over (Helen poked some holes in the top with a knife so the syrup soaked through the cake - good tip Hells Bells!)
6. Mix together the glaze ingredients until white and smooth, and drizzle over the cooled cake.
Well it’s been a busy few weeks and I’ve barley found the time to cook at all, let alone write about it.
We’ve just got back (me and Paul) from a lovely weekend in Ambleside in the Lake District where we completely overindulged in food and drink.
I know it’s a bold statement, but I have to say I ate what I think was the best meal I’ve ever had in this country at Dodd’s (http://www.doddsrestaurant.co.uk/).
The food was stunning and amazingly enough, three courses each and a bottle of wine came to less than £70. Just enough change left for a cheeky Mojito at Lucy 4 Wine Bar. I cannot wait to go again!
So back to reality and to work and life is less exciting, but tonight I wanted to take ten minutes out of trying to complete my busy list of ‘things to do’ to write about my hugely successful cup cakes.
To be honest, and I know pride is one of the seven deadly sins, I want to scream and shout about these cakes, I’m very proud of them, although my decorating skills leave something to be desired.
I baked a batch for a gathering of 14 women at my house last week and they went down a storm. I won’t pretend I made them off the top of my head, I used chef Dan Lepard’s recipe from the BBC Food website.
Cup cakes, a modern take on fairy cakes, are extremely popular these days and with The Great British Bake Off currently showing on BBC2, everyone is talking about them.
Dan Lepard is an award-winning baker and food writer who was born in Australia but uses simple and traditional ingredients to produce classic British recipes.
These cup cakes were totally scrummy and it was impossible not to eat one as soon as they were ready, even after eating the buttercream out of the bowl with a teaspoon.
My tip is, don't think about how many calories are in them (thousands!) or you’ll spend the rest of the day feeling guilty. Just indulge, or make them as a gift and share the guilt – it is well worth it, I assure you.
100g unsalted butter
250g caster or brown sugar
50ml/2fl oz sunflower oil
25g arrowroot or cornflour
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 medium free-range eggs
80ml/2½fl oz milk
100ml/3½fl oz double cream
300g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
300g icing sugar
25g liquid glucose
50g condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla extract or other flavouring
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g baking margarine, softened
200g icing sugar
100ml/3¾fl oz double cream
few drops food colouring or flavouring
sprinkles to decorate
Preheat the oven to180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a muffin tin with cases.
Melt the butter over a low heat in a small pan, pour it into a bowl with the sugar, oil, cornflour and vanilla. Beat well until smooth, then whisk in the eggs followed by the milk and cream.
Sift and beat the flour and baking powder into the butter mixture until smooth.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until about two-thirds full, then bake for 20-25 minute, until the top is springy to the touch. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool.
Meanwhile, for the buttercream mix the icing sugar, glucose, condensed milk, flavouring and butter with an electric mixer in a bowl until smooth and light, and beat in the margarine until smooth.
In a jug, stir the icing sugar into the cream until dissolved, then add any colouring or flavouring or leave plain. Beat this mixture gradually into the butter mixture until light and fluffy. (You can prepare the buttercream in advance and keep covered in the fridge for two to three days.)
To decorate the cupcakes, use a piping bag to ice a swirl of the buttercream on top when fully cooled and decorate with sprinkles or your choice.
The first rule of baking club is to never speak about baking club. The second rule is to never try and bake whilst doing something else. The whole thing about women being able to multi-task goes out of the window when it comes to baking.
The no-so-perfect result, or what was left of it!
I recently learned the importance of rule number two when attempting to make caramel shortcakes after work on a Wednesday evening.
At the same time I was making tea, washing the dishes and there was a plumber in the kitchen assessing our boiler. It doesn’t work. Baking must be done in a private, peaceful and quiet environment and with full concentration.
I got this recipe from the side of a tin of condensed milk which was knocking around in the fridge.
It seemed pretty straight-forward and I had most of the ingredients in the cupboard so I thought I’d give it a go with the intention of taking the finished treats to my friend Cherry’s house the next night.
Basically this needs to be done in three stages and each stage requires focus.
Stage one is making the biscuit, which is easy. It comes out as quite a crumbly texture but it moulds together into a ball once to get your hands in.
Once this is cooked and cooled you can move onto the next stage which is making the caramel.
This is where it went wrong for me as I left the pan on the hob whilst I went to do something else and the caramel burnt.
But I persevered and figured that the whole thing would be so sweet anyway once covered in chocolate that nobody would notice a few burnt bits.
Once the caramel is set on the biscuit base you can melt the chocolate on top.
The key here is to slice the cake into squares before the chocolate fully sets, not fall asleep on the sofa and leave it in the fridge over night like I did.
What I woke up to on Thursday morning was a huge solid slab that was impossible to break without creating a gooey mess. I decided it wasn’t fit to show to anybody else so I left it in the fridge.
But when I came home that night, Paul had eaten half of it, hence why what you see in the photograph are the few reaming chunks, oozing with gooey caramel.
I can see why he couldn’t resist because it was totally delicious and very naughty. It proved that it’s not always about looks; the proof is in the pudding. Literally!
85g soft, unsalted butter
45g caster sugar
150g plain flour, sifted
120g soft, unsalted butter
2 tbsp honey
75g brown sugar
1 small tin condensed milk
225g milk chocolate for covering
Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
For the base, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour.
Press together to form a dough and roll onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead for about a minute. Press into a greased, shallow tin and bake for about 25 minutes. Leave to cool.
For the filling, put all the ingredients (except the chocolate) into a pan and bring to a boil.
Keep stirring, turn down the heat and simmer for about three minutes until think.
Pour over the base and cool for several hours in the fridge.
When set, melt the chocolate and pour over the caramel. Leave at room temperature and after about half an hour, slice into squares then chill in the fridge for several hours.