20 August 2015

Sour Cherry & Pistachio Crocodile Biscuits

Oh yeah. Crocodile shaped biscuits, flavoured with freeze dried sour cherries and coated with pistachio pieces.

So I know it's been a little while since my last post (or it feels like it). What have I been doing? Mostly preparing to move to Birmingham and start my new job. As previously mentioned, I'm incredibly happy to be finally leaving the Cambridgeshire Fens, and it feels like a new chapter of my life is about to begin. Since we last spoke, I've been hunting out and buying my first real furniture (I'm not counting my £30 book case, nor my £20 hat stand) and dealing with general moving house admin, like sorting bills and addresses out. It's all felt like quite the whirlwind, and has kept me pretty occupied, but I of course still found time to bake these biscuits.

I never had a very standard cookie cutter collection. Until my trip to Sweden in June, I only had a dinosaur and a heart. Now I also have a reindeer, a moose, a turtle and a crocodile. So... still not a standard collection, but a more varied one at least. Circles are boring, anyway; I prefer to think outside of the biscuit tin.

...Moving on from that attempt at a pun, these biscuits were very popular. The freeze-dried cherry flavour came through very well, and was complimented excellently by the pistachios. I'm not sure whether I like the white chocolate chip eyes that I gave the crocodiles, so I'll let you have the final decision on whether to use them or not. I found the cutters in Sweden, as mentioned earlier, but I'm sure any animal (or indeed any shape at all) would work just as well.

Makes Approx. 20
  • 2 Tbsp Freeze Dried Sour Cherry Powder
  • 175g Plain Flour
  • 80g Caster Sugar
  • 120g Butter
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 3 Tbsp Milk
  • 100g Ground Pistachios (this may be a gross miscalculation - use best judgement)
  • Put the freeze dried cherry powder, plain flour and sugar in a bowl and stir well. 
  • Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture with the fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Stir in the egg yolk and milk; the mixture should form a firm dough.
  • Alternatively place the dry ingredients and butter in a food processor and process until well mixed. Add the milk and egg yolk, then process again until the mixture forms a ball of dough.
  • Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough on a floured surface (after removing the cling film) to about 1cm thickness. 
  • Cut out crocodile shapes using the cutter. Transfer the crocodiles to baking trays that are lined with baking parchment, then roll out the remaining dough and repeat until there is not enough left for another crocodile. Don't worry about putting too much space between the crocodiles, as the biscuits don't spread in the oven.
  • Cover the baking trays with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan.
  • Remove the cling film and bake the biscuits in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until they begin to firm up and turn slightly golden. They won't firm up completely in the oven; this happens as they cool.
  • Immediately after removing from the oven, sprinkle the biscuits with ground pistachio. Be as sparing or as liberal as you see fit.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.

Kat from The Baking Explorer runs Treat Petite with Stuart from Cakeyboi, and this month's challenge is to bake something that was made on Great British Bake Off. I have to confess that GBBO isn't really my thing and I have never watched it, but since Kat suggested that I enter I will trust that these biscuits fit into the theme.


4 August 2015

Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Cake

"Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Cake?!" I hear you cry in alarm. Fear not, dear readers! This is a tale of profound success. So much success, in fact, that I this is actually the third time I've made this cake in the space of about 3 weeks.

Perhaps you have already heard of roasting strawberries in balsamic vinegar. It's something I've seen on a couple of my favourite blogs, and eventually decided to give it a go myself. It brings out their flavour dramatically, and there is absolutely no hint of balsamic left over. I decided that the best way to present these strawberries would be in cake form - but of course!

I wanted to top my cake with a streusel topping of sorts, and recalled an amazing cinnamon-sugar-struesel concoction that I have previously made from The Candid Appetite. (The recipe that the streusel comes from is for a "Coffee Cake", but I was incredibly thrown to discover that there was actually no coffee in said cake. I guess this is an American thing, meaning it goes with coffee, rather than containing it. Americans - can you help me understand?) The topping works wonderfully with the strawberries, and turns a perfectly tasty cake into an exceptional one.

If I still haven't persuaded you to make it, this cake is moist, sweet (with just the right amount of acidity from the fruit) and has a slight crunch thanks to the streusel topping. Serve it for breakfast, for afternoon tea, or with coffee. (Does this make it a coffee cake, America?) Try it!

Roasted Strawberries - recipe from Completely Delicious
  • 400g Strawberries
  • 4 Tbsp Caster Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Cinnamon Sugar Streusel - recipe adapted from The Candid Appetite
  • 100g Caster Sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 1/2 Tbsp Cinnamon
  • 100g Butter, melted
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 200g Butter
  • 3 Eggs
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 50mL Milk
Roasted Strawberries
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan.
  • Hull and halve the strawberries (slice them up a bit more if they are large).
  • Place the strawberries in a roasting tin and cover with the sugar and balsamic vinegar.
  • Toss the strawberries to ensure they are easily covered, then place in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the juices have started to thicken.
  • Place to one side and allow to cool.
Cinnamon Sugar Streusel
  • Place the sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt in a bowl and mix well.
  • Make a well in the mixture and pour in the melted butter.
  • Use a whisk to mix the ingredients together well, breaking any chunks up as you go.
  • Place to one side.
Cake & Assembly
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan (or leave it on from when you roasted the strawberries), and line a tray bake tin or 2 x 9in square cake tins with baking parchment.
  • Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder into the batter, folding in until well combined.
  • Stir in the salt and enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
  • Pour the mixture into your cake tin.
  • Cover the cake batter with the roasted strawberries, trying to achieve an even distribution.
  • Cover with the Cinnamon Sugar Streusel, again trying to achieve an even distribution.
  • Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out without any batter on it.

26 July 2015

Lemon Fool Cupcakes

Ah, British summers. One moment we're complaining because it's too hot, the next we're complaining because the sun has retreated behind the clouds and it's threatening to rain for the next two months.

However, I am not too fussed about the weather outside because I received some exciting news this week. I've been offered a new job, and am moving to Birmingham at the end of August. This is the culmination of months of job applications and despair that I will never leave the Cambridgeshire Fens. I've been living here for two years now, and have had enough. There is some beautiful scenery here with endless landscape (because there are no hills here - the land was a swamp until steam pumps were brought in a couple of hundred years ago), but there isn't a lot to do for a single person with no roots in the area. Now I have an opportunity to move on, and I can't wait to live in a busy, cosmopolitan city again.

Wherever you are in the world, the smooth lemon flavour in these Lemon Fool Cupcakes is sure to make you feel a little bit like summer. I was originally planning to make Eton Mess Cupcakes, but my raspberries went off before I could use them. The whole point of making the cupcakes was actually a ruse to use up a tub of meringue that I may have bought when I was still a student (so we're going back more than two years...) - what better way to decorate a cream-topped cupcake than with meringue pieces?

Lemon Fool is not that well known these days, but is a dessert using lemon curd, whipped cream and possibly meringue pieces. Think summery BBQ and garden party settings. I first heard of it in a recipe book that I was given for my GCSE Food Technology course, which was full of useful gems but hasn't been seen since I left my student halls in 2010, my to my chagrin. 

These cupcakes are made with lemon juice to give a smooth lemon flavour, topped with sweetened whipped cream which has been swirled with lemon rind, then sprinkled with crushed meringue pieces. Of course, you can make your own meringue or even use newly-bought meringues, if you so desire. The Lemon Fool Cupcakes went down well at work, though there was some debate about whether the meringue still tasted fresh...

Makes 12
  • 260g Caster Sugar
  • 200g Butter
  • 3 Eggs
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Lemon
  • 300mL Double Cream
  • 2-3 Crushed Meringues

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan, and line a cupcake tin with cases.
  • Cream the butter and 200g sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder into the batter and fold in until well combined.
  • Grate the rind from the lemon, collecting it in a separate bowl, and place to one side.
  • Squeeze the lemon into the cake batter, then fold in until smooth. The batter should have a soft dropping consistency, but if not add a little milk until this is achieved.
  • Divide the batter between the cupcake cases and bake for 22 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack.
  • When the cakes are cool, place the cream, remaining sugar and lemon rind in a bowl and whisk until the cream has a stiff peak consistency.
  • Pipe the cream onto the cakes, decorating with pieces of crushed meringue.
  • Store in the fridge.

9 July 2015

Baking With Spirit: Aztec Cupcakes

Last weekend, in the midst of the heat, I met up with my mother in London. She lived there for many years during her twenties, so she took the opportunity to show me her old haunts and one of her old homes near Hyde Park. It was a nice walk down memory lane for her, and a chance for me to learn some things I never knew about her youth.

In her many years of living in London, my mum never went to Borough Market - perhaps it has only become such a bustling hub of food in recent years? In the two years since moving from Newcastle to Cambridgeshire, I've been getting to know London a little better and make fairly frequent visits to the market. The tables were turned, and this time I was the tour guide. My favourite parts of the market are the cheese counters and the cake stalls. I love the aged comté best, though I have to say my enjoyment of the cheese counters is bolstered by the flirty men who often sell them. For some reason, selling cheese and flirtation go hand in hand, or at least they do at Borough Market. My mum really enjoyed the market, and bought some bread and French cakes to take home with her. Success!

This is actually my second attempt at these cupcakes. I made them several months ago, but the tequila wasn't detectable and nor was the chilli powder I used, so essentially I had made fancy chocolate cupcakes. This time, I used chilli flakes to disperse the flavour much more effectively throughout the sponge, and a tequila syrup (seen before in these Tequila Slammer Cupcakes) adds a nice tequila background. These Aztec Cupcakes got rave reviews from my friends at work, and, as an added bonus, my good friend Kate found a double use for the edible gold glitter in the form of makeup.

Makes 12

  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 200g Butter
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Tsp Chilli Flakes
  • 150g Plain Flour
  • 50g Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 50mL Milk
  • 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 75mL Tequila
  • 100mL Water
  • 25g Caster Sugar
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan and line a cupcake tin with cases.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring until smooth.
  • Chilli flakes until well combined.
  • Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then fold in.
  • Ensure the batter has a soft dropping consistency - fold in a couple of tablespoons of the milk until this texture is achieved.
  • Divide the batter between the cupcake cases and bake for 22 minutes.
  • Make the syrup by mixing 25mL tequila, the caster sugar and 25mL water until the sugar dissolves (gentle heating may be necessary). 
  • While they are still warm, poke holes in the cupcakes using a toothpick, then spoon a tablespoon of the syrup over each one, or brush it over them. Add as much as you dare, without drenching the cakes, and allow to cool.
  • To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a heatproof jug with the remaining tequila and water. Melt the chocolate in the microwave using 30-second bursts, stir well and allow to cool and solidify.
  • Get a smooth finish on the cupcakes by dolloping the solidified ganache onto the cupcakes, then dipping a metal spoon into a mug of hot water and using it to smooth the ganache. Decorate with edible gold glitter.

14 June 2015

Stockholm: Venice Of The North

At the beginning of this month I got up at the crack of dawn (about 3.45am, as the sun was literally just starting to rise) in order to catch a plane to Stockholm. I was to spend three nights in a boat-hotel (pictured below, middle boat) on the waterfront, and four days exploring the Swedish capital with my dad.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Stockholm's living museum, Skansen. The huge park was bought in the 1800s by a man who wanted to preserve records of life in historical Sweden. The centre of the museum was filled with old wooden buildings with thatched rooves, and it was possible to look inside most of them and talk to actors who pretended to be people from the same era as the houses. If you have never been to a living museum, I highly recommend a trip because they are fascinating.

Skansen not only housed old buildings and actors, but also a range of animals that are commonly found in Nordic regions like Sweden. There were wolves, wolverines, brown bears, lynx, seals, moose and reindeer, amongst others. I was a little concerned that creatures as big as bears should not be locked up like that, but they had huge enclosures and it was obvious that they were well looked after. When I was watching the brown bears playing in their enclosure, I noticed that the trees around the edges had metal on the trunks to stop the bears climbing them. I saw a tree in the middle which did not have this protection, and as my eyes followed the trunk upwards I was surprised to see a bear sat high in its foliage! It just goes to show that the tree protection was for good reason.

Another interesting museum was the Vasamuseet. A huge wooden ship was built in the 17th Century, but it had a slight tilt. Because of this, on its maiden voyage the ship sailed only one kilometre before tipping over, filling with water and sinking. The ship sat at the bottom of the river for centuries before being rescued in the 1970s. A massive restoration project was undertaken, including spraying it with preservative polyethylene glycol for seventeen years to ensure all of the water was removed from the wood. Today, the ship has been carefully put back together and restored, and can be viewed at the Vasamuseet, along with accompanying displays about the ship, its contents and the life of the sailors who would have worked on it. This is definitely a must see if you ever visit the city.

I had heard that the food in Sweden was outlandishly expensive, but I didn't find this to be the case at all. I'm not sure if the pound is particularly strong against Swedish Krona at the moment, but honestly the food was the same price as you would find in the UK. On the first night we ate in a tiny restaurant which served real Swedish food; on the second we ate Italian (we were taken in by friendly waiters and hunger); on the last night we ate at a Spanish Tapas bar. All of the food was excellent quality, particularly the Swedish and Spanish foods. Another thing that I really loved was that all meals, be it in a cafe or a restaurant, came with free bread and butter (usually left near the till where you often find napkins, so you could literally help yourself), and there was a jug of tap water at every food or drink outlet. I know that some fancy fast food places now leave a jug of water out for customers, but this whole bread and butter thing is a really nice idea that I would love to see in the UK.

Though Swedish culture is rather Western in feel - they have coffee shops, chain clothing stores and fast food restaurants that can be found in most city centres in Western Europe - there were definitely some behaviours or traditions that I found a little strange. In Stockholm (having only visited one Swedish city, I feel I can't really vouch for the whole country) it is perfectly normal to have unisex public toilets. I found them in shopping centres, department stores and even in restaurants. Everybody used cubicles, so there wasn't really any awkwardness, but I couldn't really get comfortable with this idea.

Another difference that I noticed at the end of my trip was that Swedes really don't understand proper queueing etiquette. I know that I'm going to sound very British here, but they really had no sense of personal space or understanding of how order is maintained in a queue. In the queue to get on the plane home, and again at passport control, I had people behind me who would get so close that they knocked into my bag every time we moved forward; they even at one point moved forward so much that they were standing next to me in the queue. Of course, despite being immensely irritated by this (keep in mind that I was also pretty tired at this point), I am British so all I did was blink furiously, pull irritated faces and glare at them when they got too close.

On the whole I loved Stockholm. The architecture is truly stunning, and it was a real novelty to get boats everywhere, as being an archipelago this was the fastest way to get from one island to the other. There was so much to do, and there are endless museums to visit. Of course, the food is fantastic and the people are incredibly friendly (even if they don't queue properly). The weather when I visited at the start of June was pretty much what you would expect in the South of England, but given how far North I was, I think this is very impressive. Book a trip to Stockholm!