Sundays for me are all about cooking. It’s my relaxation time and I look forward to it all week: radio on, cup of tea (or several) and a spot of baking is just the best way to spend Sunday morning. Sometimes it’s cookies or brownies, or a dessert for Sunday dinner, but recently I’ve been baking a lot of bread and, although there have been a few disasters, I’m pretty sure that this one is just about perfect.
So walking the dog yesterday morning in blazing sunshine in shorts and t-shirts, we were surprised to see big, fat blackberries already on the brambles. I wonder if we’re just not normally very observant, or if they’ve come in very early this year? Anyway, we thought we’d get picking before the birds get all the best ones, and had a decent sized pot of them without even really trying (they’re stabby buggers – I’m nursing a few nasty scratches).
So there I was, minding my own business, working hard at the dining room table whilst refereeing the dog and cat because Mr E is painting the lounge ceiling, whilst also, y’know, keeping an eye on social media, when someone went and mentioned cake.
Then that was it. I couldn’t concentrate. I just wanted cake. And the more I tried to concentrate, and stop the dog and cat wrestling, and come up with interesting ways to say ‘amazing’ without using the word 20 times in one article, the more my brain was going ‘cake… cake… caaaaake…’
For me, this year has been all about Walt Disney World, and in particular, Disney’s Frozen. So when it came to decorating my Christmas cake, I knew it was going to have to have a Frozen theme. I’d seen the sugar glass (or ice) a few times on Pinterest but they were always American recipes and involved corn syrup and, frankly, unless you’re Buddy the Elf, it’s unlikely you’re going to come across this on your travels. I was worried that substituting golden syrup would taint the colour but it didn’t seem to at all (obviously if you’re aiming for clear ‘glass’ then this recipe won’t work for you’). I used colouring paste, but liquid will work too. These gorgeous little cake toppers are from Cake Decorating Store, as are the cutters. I cut out the ‘frozen fractals’ from leftover icing (sticking them on with a dab of boiling water) but decorate however you want, or just leave it plain and sprinkle with a bit of glitter (I love glitter).
As a nation, we’ve never really embraced candy corn have we? I love the look (and taste) of them, and when I was in America I tracked down these mixed fruit ones (probably terribly untraditional) and knew exactly what to do with them. What’s the best thing about Halloween? All the trick or treat sweets mixed up in a big bowl of course!
Every time we’ve been out for a walk recently, we’ve been laughing at the dog, carefully picking off the choicest blackberries off the brambles along the way.
I’m always making flapjacks. The boys are always trawling the kitchen for after-school snacks (and pre-school snacks, and ‘I’m a bit peckish’ snacks, and late-night snacks and every other kind of snacks) and I like to have a few home made treats around to stop them eating too much rubbish.
Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe, cutting down on the amount of butter and sugar, and substituting honey for golden syrup, until I feel it’s the healthiest it could be without ruining the recipe completely. Here’s my latest version: Read more
Mr English isn’t the romantic type, so we’ve never really embraced the whole flowers and chocolates thing, although we do send a card to each other (not really the same when you’re pretty certain who your secret Valentine is). People tend to fall into two camps Valentines-wise, they either love it or hate it. I think that if there’s a day in the year when you’re reminded to tell someone how much you love them, then so much the better. And what better way to express your love than with cake?
Now that autumn’s here I’ll be very happy to move back towards comfort foods: soups, stews, pies.. all the things I missed all summer! I love a bit of experimentation in the kitchen and have been fiddling with this doughnut recipe. We love doughnuts, and I’ve made them before, but the deep frying is a pain and I’m a bit dangerous with hot oil, so I wanted to make some that you could fry in less oil, just in a frying pan. Now don’t get me wrong, these aren’t diet doughnuts or anything, you’ll still need a good 1/2 inch of oil in the pan, but it’s a lot better than dragging out your deep fat fryer or having bubbling saucepans of oil on the stove. Plus there’s no yeast, no kneading, no rising, and they still taste amazing.
You will need:
A medium frying pan with about 1/2″ of oil in the bottom. I use rapeseed. I measured, and for my 10″ pan I used about 500ml.
50g butter, melted
50g caster sugar
Squeeze of lemon
160g plain flour
A pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
Sugar, for coating
So firstly, get the oil heating up in the frying pan. Do it just on a medium heat so it heats slowly and safely. It needs to be about 180 degrees C so a thermometer will help here. I use a jam thermometer.
Measure out the butter and melt it in a jug in the microwave or in a saucepan. Add in the caster sugar, milk and lemon juice. It all curdles and looks hideous, but don’t worry. Don’t omit the lemon juice, it’s important.
Now, measure out all the dry ingredients and pour the wet into the dry, stirring briefly until you’ve got a soft dough. You might not need all the liquid. You need it just firm enough so that you can form them into small balls with your hands.
So when the oil is up to temperature, start forming the doughnuts into small balls (I used a smallish dessertspoonful per doughnut). Remember, you want them fluffy and light inside, so handle them really gently – just enough for form them into a ball – then straight (carefully) into the oil. When the undersides are golden brown, flip them over with some tongs and cook the other side. Lift them out and drain them briefly on some kitchen paper, then toss them while still warm in the sugar.
Serve them straight away while they’re still warm. Next thing I’m going to invest in is a cooking syringe so that I can put jam in the middle, but we just dunked them in the jam. Still fabulous.
Oh, and they won’t keep, but then I don’t think that will ever be a problem.
Regular readers will know that we’re HUGE chocolate brownie fans here at English Towers. I was desperate to get back in the kitchen and do some baking after being away for three weeks and we were all craving a batch of brownies. I chucked in a couple of handfuls of marshmallows and the result was rather pleasing. Because they’re quite airy, they rise to the top, which gives you a nice gooey marshmallowy layer on top of your squidgy brownie. The tops of the little marshmallows also brown which gives a little crispness to each bite. They’re not the prettiest looking brownies but hey, you can’t have everything!
Here’s my tried and tested brownie recipe. See what you think:
How to make chocolate brownies:
You will need:
200g dark chocolate
170g salted butter (or add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)
3 free range eggs (room temperature is always better)
200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)
110g plain flour
About two large handfuls of small marshmallows
So firstly, assemble all your ingredients together, and preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.
Step one: melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie – basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water. Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined. Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature (if you pour very hot chocolate into the eggy mixture, you risk getting blobs of scrambled egg in your brownies. Ick).
Step two: meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, light and frothy. There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.
Step three: pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well.
Step four: lastly, add in the flour and the marshmallows.. Stir briefly until the flour disappears. Less is more here.
I use a square silicone cake ‘tin’, given a little spritz of cake release spray, but any square or rectangular tin will do. Make sure you line it very well as the brownies will stick.
Step five: bake for about 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny. The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.
Leave to cool a little bit before slicing.
We also thought that maybe if you added little bits of digestive biscuit (Graham crackers, I believe if you’re in the US), they would almost be like s’mores. Yum.
So after three weeks of back to back holidays, I have a huge amount to write, but I’m taking my time, settling back home, attacking the Giant Washing Mountain of Buckinghamshire, and doing a bit of nesting.
I love our house and, although I’ve loved every minute of gallivanting about on the med, it’s just been wonderful to come back to English Towers, find my slippers (although one was populated by a spider of epic proportions that prompted much hopping about and squealing), dig out my jimjams and kick back with a cuppa and a magazine. I’m having a bit of a magazine crisis at the moment. I’ve gone off my old favourite so I’ve been buying a few different ones to try them out. This one is really good. One of my Instagram friends described it as a ‘lovely cosy warm jumper’
But most of all it’s been lovely to get back in the kitchen and baking again. On Sunday, we had a Moroccan chicken pilaf (an easy, one-pot wonder) and then lemon drizzle cake (which seemed somewhat apt as we sat at the table and watched the drizzle in the garden):
Lemon Drizzle Cake
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour
3 large free range eggs (duck eggs are fab for baking if you can find them)
2 large unwaxed lemons
2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
So it starts off just as a normal ‘pound cake’ really. Weigh everything out first, then cream the butter and the sugar until it’s really pale (preferably with an electric whisk – this should be really light).
Break the eggs into a bowl and add the juice and finely grated rind of one of the lemons, then it’s easy to just dribble it into the butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.
If, when adding the eggs, the mixture starts to curdle, just add a tablespoon of the flour – this will bring it back together. Now stir in the flour until it’s just combined.
Pour into a buttered loaf tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 – 40 minutes. Check to see if it’s done by popping a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean. If not, put it back in for 5 minutes.
Bring it out of the oven. Put the zest and juice of the second lemon into a bowl and whisk in your sifted icing sugar, then carefully take the cake out of the tin and spoon the lemony liquid all over the top of the cake. Serve at once with lots of cream or ice cream. Or leave to cool and scoff with a cup of tea. Either way, it’s divine.
As you might remember, I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ for Nordic Ware. My love affair started with my heart shaped tin and has since progressed to individual present-shaped tins, and of course the ‘holiday tree’ pan used in Nigella’s wonderful ‘spruced up vanilla cake‘ from her Nigella Christmas book.
I should really save this recipe until Christmas because it would be perfect baked in the next tin I’ve got my eye on, the Nordic Ware Yule Log Cake Pan. Still, watch this space – I might still resurrect it.
My lovely Dutch friend Bee (you can find her wonderful Family Food Blog here) is something of an expert on Bundt baking. She gave me the recipe that this cake was originally based on, taken from a cute little book she has called ‘Kiss My Bundt’ by Chrysta Wilson. Bee says ‘I’ve played around with it quite a lot so far – I’ve added rose water, strong coffee, almond extract, Earl Grey Tea – and most recently, Frangelico and hazelnuts‘. Basically, she says, when you come to add the boiling water, this is where you can add whatever you like as long as it’s liquid, and you keep the amount the same.
I’ve adapted this recipe to UK measurements (and fiddled with it a tiny bit) and have made it LOADS. It always comes out well as long as you remember the golden Bundt rule: you must COPIOUSLY spray the tin with cake release spray (or butter it really well), then coat in a layer of cocoa powder (you can use flour but it shows up on the finished cake – hence the hasty drizzle of melted chocolate on my one, above), turning it and tapping so that it coats the whole can, then tipping out the excess.
You’ll be surprised how liquid the batter is, but that’s the thing with Bundt tins: becuse they’ve got that big hole in the middle, the cake cooks really evenly. If you don’t have a Bundt tin, try using a large round cake tin and upending something like a ramekin in the middle.
You will need:
300g caster sugar
180g plain flour
50g good quality cocoa powder
1 rounded tsp baking powder
1 rounded tsp baking soda
1 level tsp salt
100g butter, melted, or 125ml rapeseed oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
250ml boiling water (or other liquid)
First, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and prepare your tin as above. Stand it on a baking sheet and check that it will fit in the oven.
Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt together.
In the food processor, mix the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla well together, then add the dry ingredients slowly, a spoonful at a time. Lastly, mix in the boiling water. Give it a final stir to make sure there’s no thick batter left at the bottom, then pour into the prepared tin (sit the tin on a baking sheet first so it’s easy to manoeuvre it into the oven)
Bake for 45 minutes and COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE REMOVING IT!! Pop a plate over the tin and tip over with one strong, confident movement.
Serve as it is (it’s lovely and rich) or cover it with foil and warm it gently, then serve it with pouring cream as a dessert. Yum scrum.
We love a hot cross bun. Well, some of us do. The Death Wish Dude thinks all things dried fruit are a bit bleurgh. So if you’ve got a dried fruit hater in your family, or if you just fancy something a bit different this Easter, here’s a recipe for some lovely chocolatey hot cross buns.
- 150ml milk
- 150ml water
- Zest of 1 orange
- 50g butter
- 425g strong white bread flour
- 25g good quality cocoa
- 1 tbsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp salt
- 75g sugar
- 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast
- 100g good quality chopped dark chocolate (keep the chunks quite large)
For the cross:
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp cocoa
- 1 tsp caster sugar
For the glaze:
- 1 tbsp orange marmalade, rindless or sieved
Before you start, assemble and weigh out your ingredients. This will save you time and prevent things being forgotten.
So in a small saucepan (or jug if you’re doing it in the microwave) warm the milk, water, orange zest (use the finest grater you have) and butter until the butter is just melted, then turn off the heat. Let it cool so that when you stick your finger in, it feels like blood temperature.
While the liquid is cooling, sift the flour, cocoa and ground mixed spice together into a large bowl. Next, stir in the salt, sugar and dried yeast.
If you’ve got a mixer, pop in all the dry ingredients, then set it on low and slowly pour in the milky mixture until the dough comes together (you might not need all of it so go steady), then plug in the dough hook and set it to knead for a good five minutes.
If you’re old-fashionedy or are still waiting to meet the mixer of your dreams (they do actually come out nicer and lighter if you knead them by hand), you’ll have to get to it for at least ten minutes adding the chocolate about half way through.
Because the chocolate is quite escapey, I found that it was best to knead it in the mixer for five minutes, then add the chocolate and knead by hand for a further few minutes. The chocolate just keeps escaping, but poke it back in.
Keep going until the dough is nice and springy and firm (as usual, think the texture of a boob, or possibly a bottom cheek – poke your finger in – if the dough springs back, then it’s done – if not, knead a bit more). Disclaimer: possibly best if you don’t actually do this with people’s boobs.
When your dough is sufficiently springy, leave it covered with a clean tea towel in a warm place until it’s doubled in size. Then, just knock it back with your fist (be careful – I found the chocolate quite jabby!) and cut it in half, then half again and half again. Form each of your 8 pieces into a ball and place them on a floured baking tray. Cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.
If you want to add the cross, then mix about 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp cocoa, a tsp of caster sugar and enough water to make into a thick paste and either just dribble it with a teaspoon, or pipe it onto your buns (ooer Missus) with a disposable piping bag. Or, you can cut a cross in the top of the buns and pipe the cross into the little lines. Totally up to you.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when patted on the bottom. Finally, when they’re just out of the oven, warm up the marmalade (or apricot jam) with a splash of water and brush it on for extra glossy stickiness (use rindless here – you don’t want bits of peel sticking to your buns). If you’re going to freeze them, slice them in half first so they can go straight in the toaster.
And that’s it. Hide them from your offspring until you’ve scarfed at least two. You deserve it. Oh, and here’s the reason you need to keep the chocolate chunks large. Nomnomnom:
My lovely friend, Sarah, who has a blog called My Mummy Sings, not only has the voice of an angel, but impressive emergency baking skillz too. I loved her post about making her hubby some last-minute heart shaped custard creams for Valentine’s Day.
I’d forgotten how long it had been since I’d baked and spent a happy hour in the kitchen, radio on, with a big mug of tea. Anyhoo, this recipe is loosely based on Sarah’s and she’d kindly allowed me to recreate it here for you.
Lemon Cream Loveheart Biscuits
175g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
This amount makes enough for two batches. I kept the other half and made more the next day.
To make the biscuits, cream the butter and sugar together, add the egg and vanilla, then stir in the flour and baking powder. It will come together into a dough quite easily.
Roll out on a floured work surface using a floured rolling pin and cut out with a heart-shaped cutter, placing the little hearts onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment paper. They don’t spread that much so they can go quite close together:
Bake at about 190/gas 5 for a scant 7 minutes (this depends on the thickness of your biscuits but they only need to be just-golden).
Remove and leave to cool on a rack.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream:
50g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
1 tsp lemon extract (I used Steenbergs)
Just mush the butter and icing sugar together until creamy then stir in the lemon extract. Make sure the biscuits are completely cooled before sandwiching together with the buttercream.
Go on, get busy in the kitchen and surprise your mum tomorrow!
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I’m addicted – ADDICTED – to the Great British Bake Off. I like very few television programes but I’m guaranteed to get all stabby and annoyed if you talk through the Bake Off. Be warned.
I was delighted, then, to be sent the book from the current series: The Great British Bake Off: how to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers. The book contains loads of Showstopper Challenges, inspired by the competition. Each section shows the basic recipe, for example a brioche dough, and then three different challenges, for example sweet brunch rolls, a more technical Camembert brioche, and finally herby brioche rolls. The recipes are all labelled with their difficulty (easy, needs a little skill, etc) and the recipes are all clear and easy to follow.
I was keen, after watching last night, to have a look at the instructions for Paul technical challenge, the plaited loaf (I’m definitely going to give this a go) and it seems a lot easier than on the show: explaining how to number your strands of dough from 1-8 and then placing them under or over the other strands as you go… mind you, I expect it’s a lot easier in the comfort of your kitchen than under the timed, slightly stressy atmosphere of the bake off studio! Some of the recipes don’t have photos, which is a bit frustrating, especially with recipes like the autumn wreath – a plaited yeasted bread wreath that I think really needs a picture to help you along.
If you’re a lover of the Bake Off, there is also a new app that you can get if you’ve got an iPhone with fifty recipes from the series, searchable by occasion, skill level, etc and featuring some kind of whizzy technology which means you don’t have to touch your phone with icky fingers while you’re baking.
The Great British Bake Off: How to turn everyday bakes into showstoppers by Linda Collister is out now, priced £20 and the iPhone app is £2.99.
- Weekend wishlist: Estée Lauder #Gameface beauty box August 18, 2018
- How to make the best spaghetti and meatballs with tomato balsamic sauce August 16, 2018
- My hush autumn 2018 wishlist August 14, 2018
- Weekend wishlist: new season trends are landing! August 11, 2018
- Houses and scare zones at Halloween Horror Nights 2018 August 10, 2018