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.
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 me, I LOVE to bake. I go through spells of obsessing about things: recently it’s been fresh bread (including these yummy iced buns), all sorts of different flavoured brownies, and muffins, especially breakfasty ones. It’s funny how things change but at one stage the boys would happily scoff a big breakfast in the morning: eggs on toast, bacon sandwiches… that type of thing. Recently, they’re not as keen (probably because they’re always late) and I hate the thought of them going out into the world with empty stomachs. Bring on the breakfast muffin: easy grab and go food, and not too hideously bad for them (better than a McDonald’s breakfast, no doubt). I absolutely love the flavour combo of these fresh orange and dark chocolate muffins, although obviously you could add things like blueberries or chopped banana instead (I only add a scant 75g anyway).
It’s SO cold!! I know we should probably all be ‘clean eating’ or whatever it is that we all do to make ourselves feel even more miserable’ at this time of year, but for me, mornings start best when they involve baked goods and a bucket of tea. These vanilla breakfast muffins use real butter and that old fashioned ‘wet into dry’ method. Feel free to add whatever you like to the recipe: chocolate chips are a favourite here. I like to add blueberries, then top the muffins with a sprinkling of granola, which makes them feel extra breakfasty. Remember, with a muffin recipe, you need to assemble the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, then stir the wet into the dry, making sure you don’t overmix (a bit of flour visible is absolutely fine).
Are you doing something lovely for your Mama this weekend (or indeed hoping to have something lovely done for you?). We’re taking my mum out to lunch at a local pub (very unusual – and difficult – to get all of us together, so it will be very special). The lovelies at Tesco asked me to pick a special bake to share with you all for Mother’s Day. If you fancy it, might I suggest something with blood oranges? They’re in season at the moment and I just think they’re the most gorgeous fruit imaginable. One of nature’s wonders.
So my lovely, naughty, silly Dad is 79 this weekend. We tried to pin him down to a date to come for dinner, but he’s such a social butterfly that he didn’t have a day free. We compromised by persuading him to pop round after going out for dinner somewhere else to have the cheese and dessert courses with us! Read more
Regular English Mum readers will know that Ireland means a lot to us all here at English Towers. In fact, it’s the reason why this little part of the interwebz even exists. Long, long ago (eight whole years to be precise) we set off on a new adventure to the Emerald Isle and spent many happy years living first in Dublin, then later Meath and finally beautiful county Cavan.
Mr English is of Irish descent and the boys are proud of their heritage. Charlie can even wow you with a bit of Gaeilge if you ask nicely (although it’s mostly swears) so when Paddy’s Day approaches, it instills in us all a mixture of nostalgia and longing for places and friends left behind.
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 I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terribly wasteful with bananas. Mr English only likes them when they’re green and unripe, and I only like them when they’re perfectly yellow. Once they’ve ‘gone over’ I’m afraid I tend to put them in the food recycling bin. Every so often, though, I do remember to knock up a quick banana bread. I’m afraid I’m not sure where this original recipe came from as it’s ancient and was scribbled on a scrap of paper, but it’s very reliable and incredibly easy. The actual amount of banana doesn’t really seem to matter, but keep it to two or three for best results. Oh and it’s worth adding in the extra teaspoon of baking powder, even though you’re using self raising flour, just because it lightens it up a bit.
100g salted butter
175g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Splash of milk
225g self raising flour
2 or 3 over-ripe bananas
1 tsp baking powder
Firstly, assemble all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 180/gas 4. I use a re-usable bake-o-glide sheet, but if you haven’t got one, make sure you grease your loaf tin well or use some parchment paper to line it.
Cream the butter and sugar until they’re light and creamy. Whisk the eggs with a fork and pop in the vanilla and the splash of milk, then you can dribble them into the mixture a little at a time, beating well between dribbles (technical term).
I favour a ‘half and half’ method to incorporate all the runny stuff, but feel free to just bung it all in if you’d rather:
So now add about half the flour, give it a beat, then add the bananas, mix again, then the other half of the flour. Don’t forget the baking powder.
Flump the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes. A skewer or knife tip pushed into the deepest part should come out clean. If it’s not quite there, give it another five minutes.
This is also really gorgeous toasted for breakfast as well with a smear of butter. Before long, you’ll be willing those bananas to go brown so you can make this again!
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.
Firstly, can I just point out that GOD, I’M REALLY OLD. My firstborn baby boy – my blue eyed, blonde haired, chatty little charmer – is 18 next month.
I won’t gush on too much, but I’m immensely proud of him. He’s grown into a bloody lovely, slightly enormous and very gangly fella – funny, kind and still capable of squeezing the life out of his Mum with a single hug. He has a beautiful and very sweet girlfriend and is working really hard in the sixth form. For his birthday, we’re taking his whole gang of friends for a big go-karting tournament at Rogue Racing in Aylesbury, then it’s back to our house for drinkies and food.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know that generally the birthday person gets to choose what kind of cake they have. Over the last few years this has manifested itself into a ‘pick the most difficult cake that you possible can to really piss Mum off’ challenge. There have been requests for Black Forest Gateaux, double chocolate cheesecakes and all sorts of weirdness. This time, though, I know exactly what kind of cake I want to make him: an enormous, chocolate extravaganza the like of which you’ve never seen before. It started when my Twitter friend Bee, who lives in Belgium and is a fabulous baker, gave me an amazingly rich and chocolatey bundt cake recipe. I started thinking how nice it would be layered up – maybe with ganache and possibly some of Nigella’s salted caramel sauce (if you made it thick enough). And then I saw this picture on Pinterest:
… and we all got chatting about it on Facebook and then another friend, lovely Caitriona from Wholesome Ireland (incidentally a very good read on eating well on a budget) said ‘ooh, you could use Caramel KitKats’, and our imaginations all got the better of us and soon we were all imagining chocolate cakes of ridiculous proportions covered in all manner of confectionary…
So that’s my germ of an idea – basically, as another friend noted, a tooth-aching stack of sugar requiring a mid-scoff insulin injection. But hey, you’re only 18 once, right? What do you think?
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.
My friend Tara runs an online photo gallery. Every week there’s a different theme and people from far and wide add their photos to the gallery to be admired by everyone on the interwebz.. I don’t always join in, but this week’s theme is… FOOD!
If you want to see the other entries to Tara’s gallery this week, just click here!
British summertime means strawberries, and for me, that means making the strawberry scented fairy cakes I remember baking with my Mum. If you’re surprised that this recipe contains sour (or ‘soured’) cream, you’ll soon realise that its fresh flavour is the perfect complement to sweet, summer strawberries. It also has the added benefit of making sponge cakes tender and light.
Lovely Yeo Valley have just added a soured cream to their range and gave me some to play with (check out the funky packaging) and it’s incredibly versatile. It’s fabulous for dips, sauces, baked potatoes and dolloping on a spicy chilli con carne, but it teams equally well with fruit: think hot apple pie with a mountain of cinnamon-laced, slightly tangy soured cream. It also whips quite well. You won’t get the volume of double cream, but the texture is lovely. After whipping, fold through a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar for an almost cheesecake-like flavour. Perfect with berries and crushed meringue for a different take on Eton Mess.
For the fairy cakes, you’ll need:
170g butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
200g self raising flour
100g strawberries, mashed
4 tbsp sour cream
For the glacé icing:
5 tbsp icing sugar
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add in the vanilla and lightly mix with a fork. Add it to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing well.
Stir in half the flour, then add in the mashed strawberries. Stir in the rest of the flour and finally the sour cream.
Bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for 20 minutes until just golden. Allow to cool, then sift the icing sugar and add just enough water to make a thick paste.
Dribble onto the cakes and finish with a small strawberry.
I’ll be honest, I lost my baking mojo for a while. Not even really sure why. And it’s actually the weirdest thing that has inspired me again: Instagram.
My hideous Blackberry (well, Blackberries, I had four, all in all) was finally replaced by my phone company (they were sick of the whining… and the crying… I was on first name terms with every call centre member) by a really stonkingly handy and practical Samsung Galaxy S2. I’m LOVING it. The emailing, Twitter and Facebook are all top drawer and – finally – I can have Instagram! Taking pictures has become fun again. I’ll leave you to judge how I’m doing, but here’s my first recipe photographed, and edited with Instagram and Pixlr-o-matic.
These are slightly different, and a bit easier, than the lemon meringue fairy cakes using lemon curd as a filling. I like those too, but to quickly whip up on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this recipe can’t be beaten. It’s a really simple ‘pound cake’ or fairy cake recipe, enhanced with lemon, and topped with fluffy meringue.
You will need:
170g softened butter
170g caster sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
170g self raising flour
So firstly, beat the butter and sugar until very pale and creamy (or whiz it in the food mixer). Then break the eggs into a bowl and gently mix in the lemon zest and juice with a fork. Add this, a little at a time, to the mixture, making sure it comes together. It’s a good idea to have the flour already weighed out, so if it starts to look a bit curdly, you can add in a tablespoon to bring it together again.
Plop a tablespoon of the mixture into each of 12 paper cases (I used my new Tala bakeware – it weighs a ton, but is so hard wearing and easy to clean – a must have for us cakey bakers) and bake at 180/gas 4 for 15-20 mins until they’re just springy when touched. Set aside to cool while you make the meringue:
You will need:
2 egg whites
115g caster sugar
If you want to go mad and pipe them in an exuberant, pillowy clouds, then double up, but I used this amount and it covered 12 cakes.
It’s best not to pipe the meringue into too much of peak anyway, as it then burns under the grill before the rest of it has had a chance to colour, so try and keep your piping quite ‘flat’. Using a large star shaped nozzle, start at the outside and work in.
Anyhoo, so using a food processor, or just a very clean bowl, a whisk and lots of elbow grease, whip up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Now you can start to add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, while continuing to whisk. Check occasionally that all the sugar has ‘melted’ into the meringue. It shouldn’t feel gritty to the touch. Because you’re piping, I give it an extra whizz in the machine to make sure it’s really thick and holds its shape.Then, when glossy and smooth, just pipe (or dollop) the meringue onto the cupcakes and pop them under a very hot grill (or have a go at them with a blowtorch if you’re hard core) until they’re nicely caramelised, but hopefully not burnt. The usual warnings about people who shouldn’t eat raw eggs apply here.
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