Thursday, 20 October 2016

Raisin Banana Cupcakes

It is that time again when the Cake Slice Bakers reveal what they have baked this month. October is the last month we will be baking from Maida Heatter's Cakes and I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised with the bakes I've made from this book over the year and many I've ended up making more than once. The Zucchini loaf has been a firm favourite all the time courgettes have been plentiful, the blackberry cheesecake has already become a family classic and I'm looking forward to seeing fresh cranberries back in the shops so I can make this cranberry upside down cake again. This month we got to choose anything we liked from the book.

There are so many wonderful sounding cakes it was almost an impossible task, so I made the decision on what I already had in the cupboard, and given time was tight this month it had to be quick and simple... no elaborate frosting or decoration. A little while ago the Farm Shop gave me a big bag of black bananas which I froze for making cakes. Every time I take a few out I expect it to be the last few but there seem to be as many bananas as ever so I'm always looking for banana cake recipes. So Raisin Banana cupcakes sounded ideal.

The first step was to steam the raisins! Yes, I'm not kidding. Now I know I'm all for new experiences but steaming raisins is not exactly high up there on my list. Instead, I measured them into a bowl, poured boiling water over them and left them to soak while I measured out all the other ingredients. I figured it would have the same effect. 

 The recipe also states it makes 20 cupcakes and then Maida goes on to say line 12 holes in a muffin pan. I actually made 15 cakes... So make of that what you will. Maybe arithmetic isn't Maida's strong point!

But despite these little oddities and discrepancies they made lovely light and delicious little cakes... Moist, full of flavour and not too sweet. I would describe them more as a muffin than a cupcake. I chose to make mine gluten free because I was taking them in to my embroidery class where one lady cannot eat wheat. All I did was substitute the flour for a good gluten free brand. You would never know the difference. I also added baking powder despite using self raising flour as bananas can make a cake a bit dense.

Not too big, not too sticky... and a perfect (almost) guilt free snack. After all they are full of fruit and relatively low on sugar for a cake! The sort of thing I would have whipped up for my boys for after school many years ago. And they really were whipped up... exactly one hour after taking the bananas out of the freezer I had fifteen cupcakes cooling on the rack... and all the washing up done!

But not having lots of boys at home anymore and to save the one big boy's expanding waistline I took them into class instead, where they were well received. They might have all just been being polite but they all ate one!

So should you wish to try these yourself  here is my version of the recipe:

Raisin Banana Cupcakes (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need one or two 12 hole muffin pans lined with paper muffin cases. Preheat the oven to 190 deg C (170 fan), 375 deg F
  • 100g raisins
  • 280g sifted self raising flour
  • half a teaspoon baking powder
  • half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • half a teaspoon nutmeg
  • half a teaspoon cinnamon
  • three large very ripe bananas, mashed (approx 350g)
  • 1 large egg
  • 85g soft dark brown sugar
  • 60 ml vegetable oil
  •  Put the raisins in a bowl and cover with boiling water while you prepare all the other ingredients.
  • Sift the flour and all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl and using a hand mixer, beat the egg and sugar and oil together until pale and creamy. Add the mashed bananas and beat well to mix.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  • Drain the raisins and stir into the mixture
  • Divide the mixture between 12-15 muffin cases filling each one about three quarters full.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes or until the tops feel springy.
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a rack

Next month we'll be baking from a brand new book and I can't wait to try some of the bakes. Meanwhile you can see what the other bakers made this month:


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

We've not had a holiday in over a year so having decided it was time for a break we booked long weekend in Copenhagen. Ignoring the fact that it is eye wateringly expensive, I can honestly say it was one of the best city breaks we've had. I could easily write a week full of blog posts there was so much to see and do but in fear of boring you, I'll try to keep it brief... for now anyway!

It was cold, but mostly dry (although there was a brisk wind off the sea, lest you think I'm sporting a new hair style!) so as the city centre is easily accessible by foot so we walked for miles, exploring the various sights such as the picturesque but touristy Nyhavn

Of course we also had to see the equally touristy  Little Mermaid, which I can only describe as underwhelming! The industrial harbour backdrop complete with power station has been edited out.

But there were also beautiful churches...

Castles and palaces...

Crown jewels and art galleries, museums and shops selling wonderful Danish design. And when our feet were too sore to walk any further we took a train over the Oresund Bridge to Sweden, where we had a quick coffee in Malmo before coming back again!

But despite all the wonderful things to see, the highlight of the trip has been the food. Everyday day there we ate the most delicious and mouth watering open sandwiches with fillings ranging from pickled herrings and vegetables, roast beef, venison, salmon, egg and prawns... sometimes from street stalls such as the wonderful Hallernes, situated in Torvehallern food market just a stone's throw from our hotel, famous for its Smorrebrod...

but as a treat on the final day we had lunch at Shonnemann which has been serving Smorrebrod with beer and snapps since 1877. It was magnificent!

Of course we couldn't come to Denmark without eating a Danish Pastry or two (possibly four or five in my case!) They are not actually called Danish Pastries in Denmark but wienerbrod or Austrian bread which come in all sorts of varieties. My favourite were the kanelsnegel... or cinnamon snails!

And we also sampled the very trendy New Nordic cuisine at a fabulous little restaurant called Host. We ate a five course tasting menu and when our fourth course came up served on these huge plates neither of us could quite believe it,. Stewart was waiting for his chips to arrive! But despite laughing at such a little portion on such a huge plate the food was excellent, full of wonderful flavours and neither of us felt hungry by the end of the meal.

Of course we couldn't go to Copenhagen without a visit to the Tivoli Gardens. Fabulously tacky but great fun too. We resisted the roller coasters and other rides (well it didn't take too much resistance to be honest) and just wandered and watched as it grew dark, warming ourselves on cups of Grog and taking in all the lights and Halloween decorations.

It has been a wonderful few days in so many ways but the thing that will stay with me is that just about everyone we met from waiters and hotel staff to ticket inspectors and shop assistants were friendly, polite and cheerful . All the time we were struck by the fact that everyone seemed to want to help... Danish happiness and hygge are things that could make a whole blog post on its own and maybe I'll write it one day but for now I'm reminded that a smile and friendly word costs nothing and it can make all the difference in someone elses day.

Today it was back to work but feeling refreshed after our break... and I've ticked off a few more things from my sixty by sixty list. Still a long way from sixty but the list in my side bar is growing!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

A Jumble!

I wasn't sure I'd have time to do the GBBO technical challenge this week as I had a big birthday cake to finish today, farm shop bakes to get done and delivered by 4 pm and we're off to the airport before the crack of dawn tomorrow... But there was just time! When I first heard the news about the Bake Off going to Channel 4 and Sue, Mel and Mary leaving I felt quite sad but I'm getting the feeling that they have started to lost the plot a little this series what with Batter week and now Tudor week so perhaps it has started to run its course. Better to stop on a high than to drag on forever with a tired format with more amd more bizarre bakes.

But that said, I'm still working my way through the technical challenges and this week it was... Jumbles! No, I hadn't heard of them either! A jumble describes the contents of my wardrobe or the meanderings of my brain... but not a biscuit as far as I'm concerned. I decided to forego Tudor baking methods and got out the food processor to speed things up.

I followed Paul Hollywood's recipe from the programme. These spicy biscuits are flavoured with caraway, aniseed and mace, none of which I had in the cupboard, so not being up for another supermarket dash, I substituted a teaspoon and a half of fennel seeds for the caraway and aniseed and some nutmeg for the mace as they are from the same seed and have a similar flavour.

The recipe wasn't very clear about the size of eggs to use and I instinctively felt that three large eggs (which was all I had) was probably too much. However I didn't trust my instincts, bunged in all the egg and ended up with a dough that was far too sticky. Off course, had I been mixing by hand and not using the food processor I might have found out before it was too late. Ah, the wisdom of hindsight!


But with a long rest in the fridge and a good dusting of flour the dough was just about manageable and various lumpy looking knots were made... and baked

Of course being very soft they lost definition during baking but had the required crispy exterior and soft interior... well if I'm honest the interior was rather doughy but the flavour was wonderful. I've never used fennel in a sweet bake before, generally only putting it in curries but it was lovely and aniseedy. After I finished my first one (yes, I had two) I decided they reminded me of the Farley's Rusks of my childhood... in the days when they still put sugar in baby food!

Now if you'll excuse me I really must go and pack for the weekend... after I've finished off making a batch of chilli jam that is...  have a lovely weekend and I'll see you next week!

Joining in with Jenny of Mummy Mishaps for the Great Bloggers Bake Off.

Mummy Mishaps

p.s. I forgot to mention that my Marjolaine got star baker last week so I'm feeling rather chuffed!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Picking Grapes in Bedfordshire

Like many of us, when I was a young student I had all sorts of dreams. We didn't really have gap years then but I thought maybe I would go off and teach for Camp America in my summer holiday or buy an Interrail ticket and travel Europe, ending up in France or Italy for the grape harvest. But I was only ever brave and adventurous in my head and in reality was too scared to go anywhere on my own and was always worried I would run out of money. There was no-one in the family who had done it before, no one to give advice... no internet packed with useful information, so I never did pick grapes.

Early in September we discovered a little gem of a vineyard in Bedfordshire. The Warden Abbey Vineyard is a community run venture that has a small output of rather nice wines. We had a lovely afternoon at their open day on a glorious sunny day.

And I even ticked off a sixty by sixty by drinking English wine in an English vineyard!

But at the weekend I returned to tick another thing off my list... And fulfilled a long held ambition to go grape picking.

No, it wasn't the South of France, it was a chilly and rather damp corner of Bedfordshire...

But it was great fun! I learned a little bit about the different grapes... we picked Reichensteiner, Bacchus and Muller-Thurgau. And I discovered what to pick or what to leave behind.... young berries are no good, black or shrivelled up berries need to be picked off the bunches. And I met and chatted to some interesting people.

It wasn't such a great harvest this year due to wet weather in the spring so with lots of volunteers we had finished by lunchtime

But I managed to fill three and half crates like this before we were treated to an Al fresco buffet lunch ( in the rain!) along with a glass of their lovely wine.

I came home rather cold and wet but as I recovered in a hot bath, I decided it had been good fun. Maybe not quite the same experience as heading off backpacking to the vineyards of Europe in the 1970s but grape picking none the less... And another sixty by sixty ticked off my list!

On Friday we are actually heading off to Europe for a few days and I hope to achieve some more sixty by sixty ambitions but you'll have to pop back next week to hear about those.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Very Challenging!

Another week in the Bake Off tent and it was dessert week and the seventh technical challenge was to make a Marjolaine, a layered French gateaux of dacquoise, chocolate and buttercream. I'll be absolutely honest... until this week I'd never even heard of Marjolaine never mind seen or tasted one, but continuing on my quest to make each of the technical bakes I prepared to tackle the unknown! Following Mary Berry's recipe, this was definitely the hardest challenge so far, consisting of four distinct stages.

Fist of all I had to make meringue which involved separating lots of eggs and whisking up the whites with ground hazelnuts and almonds to make a dacquoise.

The dacquoise had to be baked in two swiss roll tins. Here I met my first hurdle... well actually two hurdles. First of all I only had tins that were too big but then my timer didn't work and I didn't have a clue what time I'd put them in the oven... which meant a lot of guesswork was involved!

Step two was to make a ganache. I have made ganache many, many times before. It's simple.... it involves stirring hot cream onto chocolate until it forms a smooth chocolate cream. I made my ganache and it seized into an oily mess. So I sent Stewart out for more supplies, made another batch and this also seized into an oily mess! That's a lot of cream and chocolate wasted and at this point I was on the verge of a Bake Off melt down. The whole lot nearly went in the bin! I managed to salvage one batch by beating it furiously into something that vaguely resembled a ganache but it was far from perfect.

At least the almond brittle worked, before it was processed into a powder to be folded into a French buttercream (using up all those egg yolks)... I really don't like French buttercream. I find it is like eating slightly sweet butter and much prefer a regular buttercream.

But still I persevered and after some pretty fiddly assembly and managing to coat myself and a lot of my kitchen with chocolate ganache and meringue crumbs, this is what I came up with.

It certainly looks the part and I found that for once the three hours allocated to the bakers was plenty of time, even with an emergengy shopping trip for more cream and chocolate!

But I wasn't overimpressed with the taste... way too sweet and sickly for my tastes. Fortunately Stewart likes it as it is absolutely huge!

And due to the uncertain baking time my meringue was rather chewy and toffee like not lovely and crisp as Mary Berry would have liked! Got a feeling I might have come last in the technical challenge this week!

Next week is Tudor week so goodness knows what that will turn up but I'm hopiing it is something small and dainty. Another three weeks of technical challenges like this and one of my sixty by sixty challenges will have to be to lose a shed load of weight!

Joining in with Jenny of Mummy Mishaps for The Great Bloggers Bake Off 2016

Mummy Mishaps

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Not All About Me!

I'm going to start this post with a story....
 Recently six of us were having dinner at the home of some close friends. We had all started the evening with some pre-dinner Prosecco and by the time dinner was served the others had all moved on to regular red or white wine, whereas I still finishing off my Prosecco. (I know, not like me to be taking my time!) As we sat at the table our host was topping everyone else’s glasses up and asked me would I like some more Prosecco. Now, I was really looking forward to changing to a glass of white wine and probably should have said “No Thank you, but I’d love a glass of that Sauvignon Blanc please”. Instead, having noticed that he had emptied the previous bottle of Prosecco I said “Oh no, don’t open another bottle just for me”, to which our host replied “It’s not all about you, you know Gina, other people might want some.” And that was me put in my place!

To be fair, I don’t think he meant anything by it and was (I hope) just jesting, and I probably wouldn’t have even mentioned it except it leads me neatly to the point of this post.  And that is not all my sixty by sixty challenges are all about me having exciting new experiences or going to new places etc. but they also include doing things for other people. The whole idea of setting myself this challenge was not so much a "Bucket List" but was more about seizing the moment so that instead of  all those times I would say “I’d like to do that one day” or “I’ll get around to that soon” I would actually do things. Because the older I get the more I realise that there is no time like the present and there is no point putting things off because let’s face it… life is short and none of us know what is in store for our future.

Something I’ve often thought I would like to do is make a patchwork quilt. Now I have tried… I've got the books and I have started at least two which are still languishing in my workroom somewhere but somehow I never seem to get around to finishing them. I get bored stitching all those pieces of fabric together, then I lose concentration and the pieces end up wonky or not aligned properly and my corners never match, I get frustrated and the project gets abandoned. I've completed some table mats and even some cushions but never a big quilt... actually not entirely true as I did this huge memory quilt but it didn't involve any accurate piecing so I don't feel it counts!

Of course the sensible thing would be to finish off those half finished quilts but I thought I might have more success if I started from scratch and made a quilt for someone else so when I heard about Project Linus a charity that provide quilts and blankets for sick, disabled and disadvantaged children, I knew this would give me the incentive to make and finish a quilt.

I used some fabrics I bought in a charity sale at our Embroiderers’ Guild branch plus some bits and pieces I already had. I dug out my rotary cutter and walking foot... (see, I've got all the gear!)

And hey presto...three weeks later I have a quilt! There are wonky bits and corners that don’t match (below) … but there are also some corners that are really good (above)! And although I’m not terribly sure I liked the colours  (they've grown on me) and wished I’d been a bit more adventurous with the design I’m quite pleased with the way it’s turned out

It's soft and warm...

And pretty!

And I've ticked off another sixty by sixty challenge to make a quilt for Project Linus

And even though I did get a bit bored stitching all those squares together I think I'd like to make another one and be a bit more adventerous with the design and colours... so with that in mind I bought some fabrics when I was at the Knitting and Stitching show yesterday only to find my colour palette is pretty much the same as the last one! Oh well... perhaps I should just aim to get all the corners matching next time.

But at the end of the day it’s not all about me and I’m hoping that there is a little person somewhere who will come to love their very own quilt… because it was certainly made with lots of love. And what's more,  I enjoyed myself in the process.