12 years, though. 12 whole years! I can’t actually believe it’s been that long since I sat at my enormous, clunky computer in that little house down a long drive in County Dublin and listened to it making that weird, warbly dial-up sound connecting to our bloody awful internet connection. They say the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and for me, my journey really began when I started writing down my thoughts about moving our young family to Ireland. This led on to being a part of the very early blogging community in Ireland, and from there – well, you know the rest! And what better way to celebrate with you than with cake and sprinkles, and to give you, dearest reader, the most precious of gifts: the best vanilla cupcake recipe I own!
It’s no secret that this time of year is my favourite. Wandering through the Chiltern Hills with Lyra, the bees are buzzing, the grass is emerald green and the air has finally warmed up enough for me to discard my parka. We always look out for the first elderflowers: for me, they’re a firm favourite – the scent reminds me of early summer weekends at the cricket club, making elderflower crowns with the clusters of tiny, star-shaped creamy yellow flowers. We’ve spotted some over the last couple of weekends, and Mr E and I are dying to make elderflower tempura with the new blooms. To celebrate elderflower season, I’ve teamed up with Belvoir Fruit Farms to create some delicious elderflower recipes using their lovely range of delicious cordials: some pillowy soft elderflower marshmallows, fragrant elderflower scones and an indulgent elderflower and ginger cheesecake. Read on for the recipes!
This is my favourite chocolate cake by far. The sponge is chocolatey and squidgy, and the ganache is really light and fluffy, the combination of which makes for a light, non-sickly but still indulgent dessert, perfect for a celebration. When I made this cake for Sam’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how many people that said ‘wow, there’s no way I could make that’, and ‘you’re so clever’ (I’m really not – if things go wrong, I just smother them in chocolate and nobody complains – I dropped a block of cheese on this one getting it out of the fridge, but I covered it up with more ganache), so I thought I’d write this easy chocolate cake recipe up in a step by step way so you can see just how simple it is to make. And then you’ll all be making it for everyone’s birthday from now on, and everyone will think you’re really clever too. Here goes!
I had some pastry left over after wildly overestimating the amount I was going to need for an apple tart, and decided to try my hand making some mini Bakewell tarts. I kid you not, these babies are delicious and were completely demolished in less than five minutes. If you want to go all Mr Kipling, feel free to slather them in really thick icing. I prefer just a drizzle and – of course – a cherry!
I love it when my birthday comes round and I get to make exactly the cake I want. I’ve been planning this chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel icing for a while as I’m a bit obsessed with everything salted caramel at the moment and knew I wanted to make this frosting (icing? I never know what to call it). You can buy the tins of caramel ready made now, which saves you boiling a tin of condensed milk for three hours the old fashioned way and risking first degree burns into the bargain. Take it easy when you’re salting the caramel icing. Start off with a little bit of salt and keep tasting until you get the required balance of sweet/savoury. Too little and it’s just caramel icing, but then too much and the whole cake will taste salty and yucky. This chocolate fudge cake recipe is SO easy – I’m not claiming it as my own, sadly, as I’m pretty sure I copied it down from a magazine years ago, but it’s one I make a lot and it always comes out soft, moist and delicious. I recommend using muscovado sugar as it has the proper, fudgy taste, but use whatever you have.
You know I absolutely love baking, and one of the recipes I’ve been trying to perfect for ages is for proper American style double chocolate muffins. American style muffins tend to be denser and less sweet than cupcakes, and I wanted to make ones that really erupt out of the case like the muffins you buy in bakeries in America. After a fair bit of twiddling, I’m pretty sure I’m there with this one. Oil definitely seems to work better than butter (no, me neither), and as usual with muffins, you need to remember the golden muffin rule: wet into dry and mix as little as you can possibly get away with to avoid developing the gluten (nobody wants a tough muffin). Don’t use huge muffin cases either – you want to fill the cases about 2/3 full so you get the proper volcano-erupting shape.
This week, we had a very special delivery. I’m one of those really sad people who always gets excited when the postie knocks, and this week it was completely justified as we got cake in the post! I know! Meg Rivers is an artisan bakery from the Cotswolds who send all sorts of delicious goodies by post, and they very kindly sent me one of their fabulously retro cherry cakes. It’s deliciously moist, studded with glistening red glacé cherries and a lovely texture too. It’s one of the cakes that they send out as part of the Meg Rivers Cake Club (I mean, forget beauty boxes, I’d much rather get a monthly cake, wouldn’t you?), the perfect pressie and just in time for Mother’s Day too.
When I’m cooking for the family, my intention is always to nourish (I know, I’m just so new age). I want to choose foods that will fill our bodies full of good things, so that kind of excludes all the delicious stuff like cakes and biscuits, right? Well, maybe, but sometimes you just really need a biscuit with your cup of tea, so I started to think about creating a little sweet treat that still has some good stuff in it. Oats are so good for you: a great source of fibre as well as lots of important vitamins and minerals, and oat bran is high in protein (although if the taste of bran is too ‘knit your own yoghurt’ for you, feel free to replace it with wholemeal or rye flour instead). I’ve tried to keep the butter to a minimum by adding banana (but hey, I’m a fan of full-fat dairy) and they’re not too heavy on the sugar either, so if you’re desperate for a sweet treat, why not reach for one of these cookies instead of that packet of biscuits? If you’re calorie counting they come in at about 120 kcal each which isn’t bad for a nice, fat cookie. I’m not going to go so far as to say they’re healthy, but let’s call them healthier oat and cranberry cookies instead.
If you’ve ever looked at recipes on Pinterest, you’re bound to have seen those ‘three ingredient brownies’ recipes that use just chocolate spread, eggs and flour, right? I keep meaning to have a go at cooking them, I mean they look like they work, don’t they? And then a lovely friend of mine gave me the heads up about Jim Jams – a chocolate spread with 83% less sugar than Nutella, and I thought – wait, then that would be three ingredient brownies with a fraction of the sugar, and well, being January and all about the healthier choices, I gave them a go.
I really enjoy writing this round-up post – traditionally my last one before Christmas. I probably say more or less the same thing every year (don’t panic! It’s just a big roast dinner), but as usual, remember that it’s your Christmas too. Grab a few willing helpers to make some Christmas cookies, or whip up some of my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate and have a little prep-party on Christmas Eve (it’s amazing how much you can get done the night before). Need a little inspiration? Read on for my top tips and recipes for Christmas dinner and beyond: fresh ideas, old favourites and more!
I’m obsessed with everything Scandinavian (some of you may know that I’ve just written the recipes and contributed some of the food photography for a book called Nordic Style for Viking Cruises along with Liz Jarvis and Sara Malm – super proud!). I especially love how the Scandinavians do Christmas, and, knowing that Homesense often have extra special bits and pieces from around the globe, I headed to my nearest store to find some inspiration for a Scandi Christmas, and a few bits for some special Scandi Christmas cookies.
We love a rich, fruity, spiced Christmas cake, but as I’ve said before, I’m just not organised enough to bake it weeks in advance then feed it every week. Happily, it’s very easy to make a lovely, moist cake this close to Christmas – if you get the chance to feed it a couple of times before you ice it, happy days. If not, it will still taste absolutely fine. I think that the trick is to use lovely plump, soft fruit, and get a bit of moisture into the dried fruit before you add it to the cake mix. This recipe gives the fruit a warm Christmassy bath of booze, honey and clementine juice, which makes all the difference to the finished cake. I used my fab new Kenwood Chef Elite (I’m completely obsessed) to make a really lovely light cake mixture to hold all that delicious fruit. This year, I decided to use my beloved Bundt tin as well – bit of a worry as I had no idea how long to cook it for – but with trial and error (and lots of poking and checking), we got there in the end. If you’ve got a tin, a Christmas Bundt cake looks striking, but I’ve left instructions for how to bake the cake using just a normal springform tin too.
Recently, an enormous box arrived at English Towers with a lovely note from the folks at Kenwood: ‘we know you love cooking, so would you like this beautiful Kenwood Chef Elite?’ Seriously generous, right? But I didn’t rush to open it, because, well, I’ve got a mixer already that I’ve had for ages and love, and on the box it looks all complicated and new-fangled, not homely and quirky like mine. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, though, and because everyone kept complaining that there was a huge box on the kitchen floor, I opened it up and popped it onto the kitchen counter. Well. Cue choirs of angels singing and all that jazz, because this thing is beautiful. Seriously, I sent a pic to Mr E and he replied ‘erm, wow. It really goes in our kitchen’. To give it a thorough test, though, and make sure it has brains as well as beauty, I attempted some Christmas crumble muffins with my sleek and shiny new baby. Here’s how I got on:
I do love a good muffin, don’t you? Here’s a quick muffin vs cupcake factorama for you: muffins are different from cupcakes because a) they don’t have a big swirl of icing or frosting on top (but they can be glazed), b) the texture is denser (wet ingredients are stirred briefly into dry, rather than creaming butter and sugar) and c) they tend to be much less sweet. Anyway, I wanted to do something with a bit of a Halloween twist involving the cupcake’s less sweet, denser, unfrosted cousin, but I’m absolutely no good with novelty things (as evidenced by these rather clumsy Halloween cupcakes back in 2013), so I decided on chocolate orange drizzle muffins basically because chocolate orange is my favourite flavour combo and also because the drizzle seems suitably autumnal and pumpkin-coloured (I’m always thinking about the ‘gram). I used cacao powder because I think it gives a better chocolatey hit than cocoa, but feel free to use either.
You know that I’m a complete Halloween addict. I love all the little bits and bobs that come out around this time of year, and yesterday I was nosing around John Lewis, intending to buy a few baking bits to make my spiced chocolate skeleton gingerbread men (more of these in a second). They have some absolutely gorgeous gifts, decorations and treats for Halloween this year and I ended up buying rather a lot of that stuff too (I mean, mini pumpkin fairy lights, come on!).
We’re a bit obsessed with kiwifruit in this house. (remember my kiwi and coconut breakfast bowls?) Sam always makes me laugh as on his late-night borrowing expeditions, he’ll sit with a big pile of them and eat them with a spoon, straight out of the skin. I particularly like the yellow variety: Zespri SunGold kiwifruit. Have you seen them? They’re deliciously sweet and particularly pretty, with their naturally golden glowy yellow colour. They’re also super-healthy: one Zespri SunGold kiwifruit contains three times the amount of vitamin C than an orange.
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