1 December 2014

Baking With Spirit: The December Challenge

I don't know about you, but I am so ready to get on the Christmas train this year. After work today I am going to rush home so that I can put my tree up whilst listening to my Frank Sinatra Christmas record and drinking mulled wine. The only thing that will be missing is a flamingo from Paperchase, but that is a tale for another time.

The theme for this month is Christmas. Can you believe that this is Baking With Spirit's third Christmas, but I haven't used it as a theme before? I'd like to thank myself for thinking outside the box in previous years, since this year's theme is now a doddle.

If you need inspiration for festive baking that includes alcohol, you need only look to English traditions like Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding. If, like me, you enjoy the challenge of working outside the box, you can take ideas from the previous two December themes: Eggnog (oh, but the only entry was mine - be less busy this year, people) and a free for all of festive-related things.

Here are the rules:

  • Bake/cook something containing alcohol that fits the theme of Christmas.
  • Write a post about it on your blog and link back to this page.
  • Mention Baking With Spirit and Cake Of The Week.
  • Email your entry to me at cakeoftheweek@hotmail.co.uk.
  • If you don't want me to copy one from your post, please attach a photo to the email.
  • Tweet the link with #bakingwithspirit and tag @cakeoftheweek for a retweet.
  • I (eventually) pin all of the entries onto the Baking With Spirit pinterest board. If you don't want me to do this, please let me know.
  • Deadline is 28th December 2014.

30 November 2014

Cranberry/Apple Muffins

I recently started on a new team at work, and have been much happier as a result. I am now on a smaller team with fewer political headaches, and instead of working five different shifts over six weeks I now do the same shift all the time. The only downside to this has recently come to light (or should I say darkness?): I start work before sunrise and as I finish the sun is starting to set. I therefore don't really see any daylight during the week at the moment and I feel that I am starting to get the "winter blues".

I realised half way through the week that there must be a reason for how tired and low I was feeling, and, never one to sit around moping when there is a simple cure, prescribed myself some outdoor activity for the weekend.

I have never been one to willingly go for a walk unless it is for a specific purpose, like for exploratory purposes or to walk the dog. I had a prescription to fill, however, so I hooked my phone up to some podcasts (Scott Mills Daily, if you're interested) and found a path along the canal that stretches out of my town in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

If you've never heard of the Fens (I certainly hadn't until I moved here), they are a large area of very flat agricultural land that is below sea level and was once swamp land. The swamp was drained and irrigated, leaving fertile soil behind that is perfect for arable farming. Due to some failed drainage attempts, in some areas the water level in the canal is actually higher than the land around it (held back by high banks).

When I first moved here, I loved how you could see for miles in every direction because of how flat the land was. Of course, for the most part, all you can see is farm land and the wildlife making use of the canal. People talk about the "big sky" that is unobstructed by hills or mountains (or trees), and on a sunny day it really makes the scenery all the more spectacular. All this definitely helped my mood, and I am now ready for another five days of darkness.

I baked these muffins to use up some impulse-bought fruit, and soothe my premature craving for all things Christmas. I used dark muscovado sugar and purposefully left some of the lumps in it (it can be very dense) because I like the pockets of toffee flavour that result in the muffins. I put cranberries in half the batch, and apples in the other half. If you a full batch of one type, just double the amount of fruit listed below.

P.S. Don't freak out about the mayonnaise. Just trust me.

The recipe was loosely based on the recipe for Pear & Ginger Muffins from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson.

Makes 12

  • 225g Plain Flour
  • 250g Dark Muscovado Sugar
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 100mL Soured Cream
  • 125g Mayonnaise
  • 100mL Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 100g Cranberries
  • 100g Chopped Apple (approx. 2 medium)
  • Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Line a cupcake/muffin tin with twelve muffin cases.
  • Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Mix well, mashing the sugar a bit to break it up so that only a few small lumps are left.
  • In a jug, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, soured cream and milk. Stir until smooth.
  • Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquid from the jug into the middle.
  • Stir gently until just combined.
  • Divide half of the batter between the muffin cases.
  • Sprinkle the chopped apple into half of the muffin cases, and cranberries into the other half.
  • Cover with the remaining batter.
  • Bake in the oven for 22 mins, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  • Eat warm or cold.

I'm entering this into Supergolden Bakes' weekly Cook Blog Share round up. I can't imagine this is an easy thing to keep up, especially with Lucy's busy schedule, so head over to take a look and support her.

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29 November 2014

Baking With Spirit: The Warming Round Up

I think we've been successful this month in willing the seasonal weather to come through by baking warming desserts. We started the month at close to 20C here in East Anglia, and since I've experienced at least two morning frozen car situations and, as we close the month, the temperature here is a slightly more seasonal 10C. Still not wintry, but we're getting there...

I've got a fantastic round up of entries for you this month. Let's take a look:

Laura at I'd Much Rather Bake Than... got on the Christmas wagon early by making this Pecan, Pear and Mincemeat Galette. She really has a way with words, so I'll let you read her description of it yourself, but safe to say I was salivating by the end of the post.

Are you still shunning Christmas, or perhaps you don't celebrate it? Perhaps Ros' Carrot, Ginger & Rum Spiced Cake from The More Than Occasional Baker will warm you up in a dreaming-of-tropical-islands way. I think the tin she used really makes the cake; Ros can come round any time if she's bringing this with her.

Over at Pauline's Occasional Baking Adventures we have this stunning Gingerbread & Guinness Bundt with Salted Caramel Drizzle. This was the first time Pauline baked gingerbread, made caramel or used black treacle, so considering how many firsts there were it's fantastic to hear that it was a hit with the gingerbread fans. 

I brought this Brandy Apple & Caramel Upside Down Cake to the party. I have to admit that it was a bit of an experiment, but it turned out brilliantly and got a lot of good reviews at work to boot.

Bringing up the rear (in style) is Craig from The Usual Saucepans with this Orange & Amaretto Gingerbread. He found a gingerbread recipe amongst some recipe clippings and has dressed it up with some excellent flavours. I'm definitely going to make this in the lead up to Christmas!

Thanks to all of you who entered the challenge this month; I now feel warm enough to enter December. Come back on Monday to find out which challenge is next.

9 November 2014

Brandy Apple & Caramel Upside Down Cake

I've been reading Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast for about two years now. It's a trilogy set within the walls of a large and oppressive castle, filled with strange people. To give you a taste of what the book is like, none of the incredibly large cast of characters likes anyone else, nor are they likeable themselves. A mother gives birth to the heir to the throne and tells the nurse not to bring the child back to her until he is six. The narrative is also incredibly punishing to read; Peake will spend several pages describing a room, but an important character dies and it's covered in a single paragraph.

Somehow, I managed to persevere and read two of the three books in the Gormenghast series (with a long gap between them). After a good few attempts at starting the third, however, I've decided to end the masochism and put the book down.

I was contemplating picking the book up to read it and, realising that one should not feel boredom when just thinking of such an act, decided that enough was enough. I asked myself if I would regret it if I never found out what happened to Titus Groan (the heir mentioned above, and protagonist of the final book), and decided that the answer was no. There are more books that I would rather lend my time to, and if I died reading this one I'd regret not having read the others more than not finishing Gormenghast.

I suppose the moral to this story is that some things in life are just not worth the struggle, and it's not a bad thing to let them go.

Now, before I deposit Gormengast at the local charity shop whilst laughing maniacally, let's talk about this Brandy Apple & Caramel Upside Down Cake. It is moist. It is dense. It is packed with apple chunks and practically oozing caramel. It has a brandy-vanilla background flavour that really accentuates the main ingredients. Though the cake is of the Upside Down variety, it looked pretty impressive when it came out of the oven:

This cake can be served hot or cold, but at this time of year I think it would go down best warmed up with custard or ice cream.

For the caramel
  • 160g Caster Sugar
  • 100mL Double Cream
  • 25mL Brandy
  • 25g Butter
For the cake
  • 3 Medium Apples (I used Gala)
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 200g Butter
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 50mL Brandy
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 2 Tsp Baking Powder
For the caramel
  • Place the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat. 
  • Without stirring, let the sugar caramelise until golden brown. Lift the pan and gently swirl the sugar around to ensure it browns evenly.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, followed by the cream and the brandy.
  • Place to one side.
For the cake
  • Preheat the oven to 160C and line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
  • Peel and chop two of the apples into small cubes, then place to one side.
  • Peel and slice the third apple. Layer the slices in the bottom of the loaf tin.
  • Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is smooth.
  • Fold in the vanilla extract and brandy.
  • Sieve the flour and baking powder into the batter and fold in. 
  • Cover the apple slices in the loaf tin with caramel.
  • Cover with 2/3 of the cake batter, then pour the remaining caramel over.
  • Use a spoon to swirl the caramel and batter together a bit.
  • Cover with the remaining batter.
  • Place in the oven for 1 hour 15 mins, or until a skewer comes out without any batter on it (it will pick up caramel and apple at the same time). Pro tip: put a baking tray on the shelf below the cake as it bakes to catch any caramel that bubbles over.
  • Flip the cake upside down onto a serving dish and allow to cool (or eat hot).

This month I set the Baking With Spirit challenge as warming. This cake is my entry as it contains brandy (thus passing the alcohol requirement), and is excellent served warm. 

1 November 2014

Baking With Spirit: The November Challenge

I am aware that East Anglia benefits from the London Warming Effect, but I'm pretty sure it's not normal for it to be 20C on the first day of November. I'm all for a bit of warmth and saving on my energy bills, but frankly this is a little concerning.

Instead of descending into a doom and gloom discussion about climate change, I propose we tempt the weather back to being bitter and cold, as it should be at this time of year. This month I am asking those who enter the Baking With Spirit challenge to bake something that is both warming and alcoholic.

As regular entrants will be aware, my themes are very flexible so anything you class as warming, be it temperature wise or because it contains chillies, for instance, is perfectly acceptable.

Don't forget to share the challenge on social media.

Here are the rules:

  • Bake/cook something warming that also contains alcohol. If your entry doesn't contain alcohol I won't include it in the round up.
  • Write about it on your blog and link back to this page, mentioning both Baking With Spirit and Cake Of The Week.
  • Email your entry to cakeoftheweek@hotmail.co.uk. Please don't forget this part!
  • If you tweet your entry, include #bakingwithspirit and/or tag @cakeoftheweek and I will retweet you.
  • The deadline is the 28th November 2014.
If you would like to try your hand at hosting Baking With Spirit, don't hesitate to get in touch.

I'm adding this to the Food Blog Diary, which compiles a lot of the giveaways, competitions and challenges in the food blogging world. 
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