Archive for the 'Cakes and muffins' Category

Birthday Surprises

My second term of university flew by even more quickly than the first. So quickly that I never found the time to write a post as I had planned. It was a busy term, filled with formals and birthdays and shows. I spent a weekend in London at an archaeology conference, dressed up as a teletubby for the Spring Ball and watched my friend perform in a musical.

The highlight, however, was my birthday. At school my birthday had always passed without anyone seeming to notice and celebrations as home tend to be low key if anything. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I didn’t expect to be woken before my alarm by what sounded like tape in the corridor. I thought nothing of it, got dressed for breakfast and opened the door. I was met by the faces of three of my friends, grinning from behind the wall of happy birthday wrapping paper they had taped across my doorway.

After years of only a couple of people noticing my birthday I was repeatedly surprised by the number of people who wished me a happy birthday. Up to that point I hadn’t noticed how many people I talked to and considered friends. I felt suddenly overwhelmed by how different life is not to how it was at school. That feeling only increased that evening when I went up to my friend’s room ready to go out, expecting her to still be getting ready. Instead I found the room filled with most of my closest friends. There were presents on the bed, bowls filled with indigo themed sweets and a cake covered in candles. While the plethora of smoke alarms in our halls meant we couldn’t light any of the candles I did pretend to blow them out for the camera.

Later in the term a friend told me I had no belief in myself and she was right. Walking into that room I felt incredibly loved but also utterly stunned. I could not believe that anyone would have gone to that effort for me or that they would even want to. And yet, as I opened presents that were perfect and looked up at my friends, all dressed in various shades of blue, it began to sink in that they had wanted to. I had arrived at university hoping to make a few decent friends and expecting to feel on the edge of any group. I never imagined that I might end up part of an amazing group of friends or that I would never feel uncomfortable with them and never on the edge. I have a tendency to over think and doubt things that makes me wonder why they care for me but all I know is that, somehow, they do, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Apple Cake

I adapted this recipe from the River Cottage Handbook: Cakes by Pam Corbin

125g self-raising gluten free flour
125g gluten free brown bread flour (i.e Dove’s Farm)
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground nutmeg
1/2tsp ground cloves
Pinch sea salt
125g unsalted butter/dairy free substitute, cut into small cubes
125g soft brown sugar
350g apples cut to 1cm cubes (plus 1 small apple to use on top)
1 egg, beaten
50ml milk

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and grease an 8” spring form pan.

Sift the first seven ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.

Rub in butter, stir in sugar and lightly toss cubed apples in the mix until mixed well.

Add egg and milk and mix into a sticky dough then transfer to the pan and level.

For the topping cut the small apple into several thin slices and arrange on the top of the mixture.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until the top is golden brown, firm and crisp.

Cool in the pan for 20-30 minutes then remove.

We really enjoyed this cake, this is how it looked 20 minutes after we cut the first slice.

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Banana Bread in Festival City

Edinburgh is a wonderful city to live in throughout the year. It is beautiful, cultural and filled with interesting people. However it is at it’s best during August when the streets are alive with people from every corner of the globe, there both to experience the festivals and to perform in them.

The first traces of the festival season begin appearing in mid July. Workmen move into Charlotte Square Gardens and begin erecting the many tents and walkways that will become the book festival. One day you glance up at the castle and pause to smile when you see the first metal supports of the Military Tattoo seating. Posters go up and red banners highlight the front of the Assembly Rooms. By the time the festival cavalcade marches past the fringe is already in full swing, the last book festival tents are going up and it feels as though the world has come to town in a dazzling, constant onslaught of diversity.


banana bread in mid bake

Some things are the same every year and some are new and different. Opening the Festival Fringe program is always a guarantee of being faced with listings of thousands of shows all the way from the outstanding sell outs to the barely watchable ones that you regard as a wasted hour of your life that you will never get back. There are street performers on the Royal Mile and beside the national galleries and craft stalls in the same places selling everything from jewellery and felt bags to leather bound diaries and paintings. This year a speagle tent appeared in Princess Street Gardens as a new Assembly Rooms venue. Nearby a vast crane lifts a platform several times a day where, if you have £90 to spare and no fear of heights, you can dine at 100 feet.

By far my favourite place in August is Charlotte Square Gardens, home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Over the years the RBS Children’s Theatre has become the RBS Corner Tent and my favourite authors’ events to go to have changed from Debi Gliori and Eoin Colfer to Ian Rankin and Tariq Ali but the things that make it the festival I love have never changed. There is the excitement of going to see someone you love to hear speak or the rapt attention of the audience during a fascinating debate on a particular issue. The wonderful atmosphere, as enhanced by the group of friends enjoying an evening glass of wine round a table on the grass as it is by laughing children eating lunch at the same table in blazing sunshine.

Every time I am there I notice things that make me smile. The sound of feet on the wooden walkways, varying between a sharp clack and a quiet thump depending on the owner’s choice of footwear. Glancing along a row to the view of a long line of clapping hands. A family of plastic ducks that took up residence in one of the obligatory puddles last year. A child crouched on the floor of the Children’s Book Tent, absorbed in the pages of her latest discovery. The swift movements of the signer’s hands, translating Lord Winston’s explanation of a nuclear fusion experiment in California or the wave of pleased agreement following a comment that Scotland seems to breed Crime Writers. Lin Anderson explaining to a packed tent that she was pleased to chair Ian Rankin’s event because she couldn’t get a ticket for love or money.

Outside people are queuing for other events, street performers are coaxing cheers from their audience and artists’ pencils are skimming across paper to create a caricature of their latest customer. A small brass band play show tunes on one corner and a piper’s kilt and distinctive sound draws tourists and their cameras on another. Walking down the street you are surrounded by people of every culture and race, speaking in every language. It gets busier and more exciting every year. It’s as insane as it is beautiful. It’s August in Festival City.

Banana Bread (Adapted from Recipe Girl)

220g all purpose gluten free flour
1tsp baking soda
1/4tsp salt
115g butter/dairy free spread
150g brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
5 mashed bananas

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F and lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
Whisk together the flour, soda and salt in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl cream the butter and brown sugar the mix in the eggs and mashed bananas until well blended.
Stir banana mixture into flour mixture until just blended.
Pour batter into the pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out to cool completely on a wire rack.

Red Cinnamon Cake

I got home from work the other day feeling slightly restless. The afternoon hours had dragged and I slowly felt more and more lethargic. My mood lifted when I stepped outside into brilliant sunshine at the end of the day. What had been a cold grey sky in the morning was now a stunning blue and in the end I got off the bus early to walk the rest of the way home and enjoy the weather.

Despite this I still felt like I needed to do something on my feet when I sat down in front of my laptop. With mum off to a gym class, dinner was a simple affair of a sausage roll and a cup of tea. I opened up an Internet window, clicked on the Tastespotting bookmark and instinctively typed ‘cake’ into the search box. The moment the page loaded and I started scrolling through the pictures I knew I wanted to bake. Finally I found this recipe, not online but in a notebook from when I’d copied it out of a recipe book.

As I set soya spread, eggs and soya yogurt out on the counter and set about greasing and lining the tin I felt an air of calm settle over the kitchen. I smiled as I watched the batter come together, imagining biting into a soft, moist slice of cake. Once I’d slid the pan into the oven and set the time I settled into wait, slightly nervous that it would collapse, come out achingly dry or simply be disappointing. I danced up and down between the table and a spot where I could see in and watch it rise.

In the end I needn’t have worried. When the cake came out it sank slightly but it was still domed and a soft, sugary brown colour. From the outside it looked plain but I was pleasantly surprised when I cut it into slices and found the inside a deep mahogany red. It smelt wonderful but I felt I had to photograph its surprising, beautiful colour. After my first bite I knew this cake would be something I would make again and again. It was soft, moist and the taste was fabulous, my parents thought the same and immediately went back for more.

I got this recipe from 1001 Cupcakes, Cookies and Other Tempting Treats.

Cinnamon Cake

225g butter/soya spread
225g caster sugar
3 lightly beaten eggs
225g gluten free self raising flour
1/2tsp baking soda
1tbsp cinnamon
150ml plain soya yogurt

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚C and grease a 9” square cake pan and line the bottom with baking paper.

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy then beat in the eggs.

Sift in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon a bit at a time and fold in then gently mix in the yogurt.

Pour into the pan and smooth the surface. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.

Loosen the edges with a spatula and turn out onto a rack to cool. Cut into sixteen pieces.

Writer’s block and Parisian Memories

I have been trying to write a new post since I returned from Paris last week. I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. There was the way the street we stayed on was so typically Parisian from the fruit shops with stalls extending the shop out onto the pavements to the patisseries with their counters lined in rows of delicate cakes and pastries. I wanted to describe how my friend enjoyed the perfect balance of spices in the Aloi Cuisine Thai restaurant I took her to as a birthday treat and the way she mixed the champagne, that had been a present from her uncle, with orange juice because she doesn’t like champagne on it’s own. How she laughed when I lay on the floor to take pictures of my glass of champagne.

Then there was the taste of one of the macaron I bought. It’s pale yellow shell filled with Jasmine tea cream, impossible to describe but such an incredible flavour. The blueberry ice cream that tasted intensely of rich jam and the slices of apple in a simple but perfect apple tart.
I wanted to go back to my trip to Paris alone in April and describe pausing to admire the way boats glided past the stone covered banks of the Seine, or the way an indescribable atmosphere seemed to seep from the beautiful facades of the buildings to fill the entire city.

The problem was when I sat down to write the ideas dancing in my mind refused to translate to the page and I hated every mangled sentence I forced out. Nothing flowed the way I wanted it too. Several times I managed two or three paragraphs only to find they read in a disjointed, jarring way and close the file in disgust.

I looked through my file of photographs from Paris and gazed at the scenes of people gathered under the soaring steel figure of the Eiffel Tower. I smiled at the bizarre contrast of the modern architecture of the Pompidou Centre sitting next to a photograph of the 19th Century architecture of l’Hôtel de Ville. I found dozens of close up details of sculptures in a gallery in the Louvre but when I tried to write down the way it felt all I could do was gaze out at the rain trickling down the conservatory roof.

Eventually I gave up and made a second batch of ‘Scocakes’ instead. They were originally supposed to be raspberry cookies but the first time I made them I discovered I didn’t have enough flour so topped the amount up with ground almonds. They emerged from the oven more like little flat cakes than cookies and the almonds gave them a texture somewhere between a scone and a cake, which is what led my friend and I to christen them Scocakes. The second time we had plenty of flour but I used almonds again because they had tasted so nice but I added redcurrants and blackcurrants as well since there were some sitting in the fridge.

Raspberry Scocakes (adapted from the raspberry cookies recipe at letsgetstupid.wordpress.com)

150g butter or dairy free replacement (I use soya spread)
120g sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
115g all-purpose gluten free flour
115g self-raising gluten free flour
80g ground almonds
1/2tsp baking powder
300g raspberries* fresh or frozen (though bear in mind frozen will weigh more than less)

Preheat to 200˚C and grease a baking sheet.

Cream together the butter and sugar then mix in vanilla extract and eggs until smooth.

Sift** in the dry ingredients a bit at a time, stirring after each addition then stir in raspberries.

Drop large teaspoons of batter onto the baking sheet and either leave heaped or press into flat rounds.

Bake for 15 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

*I used a lot more than this because my parents have stuffed the freezer with boxes of raspberries from our allotment and because I love raspberries. The second time round I added 40g of redcurrant and 40g of blackcurrants.

** The ground almonds are unlikely to go through the sieve. Sift in each addition of dry ingredients until just the ground almonds are left in the sieve and drop them in.

Apple top-and-bottom cake and visiting London

I love getting the train to london to visit relatives. Train journeys can be stressful but if you book a seat in the quiet coach a trip down the east coast rail line is lovely. The yellow sandstone of southern Scotland gives way to the red brick of the English cities and while Newcastle is not particularly beautiful the train soon goes through Durham with its castle and cathedral sharing the hill above the town.

The train stations have a comforting consistency. The signs are all written in the same solid black type and the rooves held aloft by the same elegant ironwork. The same yellow light is used in the boards displaying arrivals and departures and the train guards wear the same uniforms and whistle the same signals.

The only consistency visible in London however is the fast paced life everyone seems to lead. The whole city is filled with people moving at high speed. Crowds flow in waves over the platforms of underground stations and fly past in a constant stream at street level. There is an incredible disversity in these crowds with huge ranges of style, language and nationality. In the time it takes me to walk along one block I hear French, German, something Scandanavian and a snippet of conversation that sounded vaguely Indian in origin. The diversity of languages, cultures and races that meet in London is beautiful and wonderfully complex.

The house of the relatives I am staying with is blissfully calm in comparison to the organised chaos of the streets in town. When I first arrive I sit listening to my great uncle tell stories of people he used to work with when he was a partner in a firm of solicitors. Then my great aunt intervenes and insists that he take me outside for some fresh air and exercise after a long day sitting on a train. We take a long leisurely walk through the surrounding streets while my great uncle provides a near constant stream of information about the buildings we pass and the people who occupy them.
“That house has two swimming pools!” he says, “One in the basement for winter and another outside for winter.” We then turn a corner and he points to a house, informing me that the wife of the man who owns is chairs the fundraising committee of the church opposite despite being Jewish rather than Christian. A wave of his stick indicates the street where one of the most senior Rabbis in England lives. I pause to wonder how on earth he knows so much and then realise it is simply the way he does things. He likes to know when a certain building was built or who bought it when and so he finds out. Over the years I have heard a few of his stories more than once but I don’t interrupt, knowing that he likes to share his knowledge and would simply carry on.

I think back to the day I spent with friends before coming down. We had wanted to have a picnic but the warm weather broke out into a violent summer storm so we fled to me house to make cakes. I soon discovered that my friends and I have differing opinions on how make cakes and the best way to combine the ingredients. It was nice to spend the day with them and I much prefer baking by myself so I can do things my way and adjust the recipe to suit me. I like the simple actions of creaming the butter and sugar together until the colour pales slightly and sifting the flour in, watching it fall into the bowl in dusty white showers. Even washing up seems more interesting when combined with the anticipation of waiting for the cake to cook.

This cake is probably a very good example of me doing things my way. The recipe called for a 9″ pan and I used two 7″ ones then made up a frosting to glue the two cakes together. I also used more than double the amount of cinnamon that it stated because as a family cinnamon is a spice we love.
The original recipe is Dragon’s Apple Cake from 6bittersweets.com

Apple Top-and-Bottom Cake

150g all purpose gluten free flour
140g sugar
1 1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4tsp cinnamon
1/8tsp ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
160g yogurt
60g melted butter
1/2tsp vanilla extract
2-3 apples peeled and thinly sliced
60g flaked almonds
3tbsp sugar
3/4tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180 C and butter and flour two 7″ cake pans.
Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.
Beat the eggs then mix in the yogurt, melted butter and vanilla extract.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
Divide evenly between the cake pans and arrange the apple slices on top. Mix the almonds, 3tbsp of sugar and cinnamon and then sprinkle over the top.
Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Apple Cinnamon Frosting

1 egg white
90g sugar
4 drops vanilla extract
1 apple finely grated
1tbsp cinnamon

Use an electric whisk or a mixer to beat the egg white with the sugar until fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract, grated apple and cinnamon and beat until peaks form.

Assembly

Carefully turn one of the cakes upside down on a plate. Spread with a layer of frosting and place the second cake the right way up on top. If you have spare frosting put a couple of large spoonfuls on top of each slice.

Blueberry Buckle and Biology Picnics

It’s been a year since I finished school, almost to the day. I find that I miss odd things about school. The feeling of the whole school singing together in assembly and the stairs that led up to the library and reading room with their tall, wide windows. The noise and bustle in the corridors and coming in each morning to greetings from classmates or, since I was usually late, walking into registration just as my name was called, something I managed to do fairly regularly. Now it feels like it went by far too fast. If I knew how quickly the end would come I would have savoured those moments more, paused on the staircase to admire the light from the windows or maybe memorised how the orchestra sounded when we laughed at the antics of our eccentric conductor.

Of course while I was actually there I couldn’t wait for 6th form to come so I could apply for university and sit on the balcony in the hall, eat lunch in the common room. Best of all I would get to leave school and go out into the adult world.

I remember feeling the days were too long, weeks went by either at high speed or an excruciating crawl with no comfortable medium. Terms seemed endless at the beginning of high school. Time went by faster as the years went on. Standard Grades turned into Highers then Advanced Highers. The number of subjects I took dropped from nine to five then four and the work got more interesting. Getting more interesting meant it also got harder and required more concentration, which is probably why the time seemed to pass faster. The class sizes also shrank from eighteen to twenty in standard grades to ten to fifteen in highers. My biggest advanced higher class was just seven and only two of us took physics.

I was the girl that took and extra subject at standard grade, took all three sciences all the way through school then took an extra higher in my last year of school. Most of my classmates would grimace at the thought of three sciences at any level let alone advanced higher but I loved all my subjects and enjoyed my last year of school better than any other.

The subject matter was more interesting and held my attention, smaller classes meant more time for discussion and our teachers treated us like adults. I remember long discussions in Biology, which would start off in relation to someone’s question and end up as something totally different. With four students and one very sweet teacher we were able to get through the course in detail and still have time for these discussions. We teased each other and helped each other. Our teacher would find interesting pictures of things from our textbook to show us and we would remember articles we had read to tell the others about. The other three girls were all going to medical school and I wanted to do archaeology so the subjects of our discussions were always an interesting blend of various things.

When the end of the year came we had a class picnic in the botanical gardens in town. That was a wonderful day. It was warm and sunny and we had plenty to talk about with our rapidly approaching departure from school, our teacher’s upcoming move to London and a squirrel that was too interested in our food and kept coming back even after we’d thrown shoes at it. We talked of how incredibly fast the year had gone. We’d been so busy trying to learn all the detail of our courses and finished all of our course work that the time had simply slipped past while we stared at pages of scrawled, highlighted notes.

If I’d known how to bake at the time I would have made this cake for our picnic so the others could enjoy it as much as I do and perhaps we could have had a discussion about whether a blueberry cake or the French fancies another girl brought were better. Whether home baked or café-baked cakes were nicer. It probably would have blossomed into a debate on the best dishes in the school lunch hall. I would have put forth a case for the chicken pie that replaced chicken burgers as part of a ‘healthier’ menu and doubtless someone would have defended that awful rice pudding.

Blueberry Buckle Cake (adapted from simplyrecipes.com)

200g gluten free plain flour (Orgran and Dove’s Farm are good brands)

2tsp baking powder

1/2tsp salt

60g butter or dairy free spread

145g sugar

1 egg

120ml milk or soya milk

300g (1 pint) blueberries, fresh or frozen

Topping

60g butter or dairy free spread

100g sugar

30g gluten free flour

1tsp cinnamon

Preheat 190˚C/375˚F and grease a 9” square cake pan.

Sift together the flour (keep 2 tbsp back for later on), baking powder and salt.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in the egg. Add the flour in 3 parts, alternating with the milk. Mix after each addition.

Toss the blueberries in the remaining 2tbsp of flour and fold into the batter then pour it into the pan.

Combine the topping with a fork to make it crumbly and sprinkle over the batter. Bake for 1 hour and then cool on a wire rack.

Musings on June sunshine

June weather is never consistent in Edinburgh. Last year it was cold and damp. I spent most of my time in jeans and jumpers and our school leavers’ picnic took place on a windy beach under a grey sky. The new roof on Wimbledon’s centre court saw plenty of use and Glastonbury was once again a city of mud.

This year is entirely different. Most of the time it’s too hot to wear jeans and it’s been the driest June in Scotland for decades. Scottish Water is considering drought orders and had to ship 80,000 gallons of water to Mull, an island usually drenched at least once daily. The idea of water shortage in Scotland seems utterly surreal. On the other hand the weather is perfect for Wimbledon and for once there is not a sea of mud at Glastonbury.

One thing that is consistent is the arrival of the strawberries right in time for Wimbledon. 27,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are consumed during Wimbledon every year thanks to tradition making strawberries and cream the dessert associated with the games. Personally I only enjoy tennis when it’s not serious as it’s 50/50 whether I hit the ball over the net or over the fence and into the bushes. I do however like to keep track of who does well in competitions, especially Andy Murray since he’s Scottish. Wimbledon this year has been interesting. The world’s longest ever tennis match, which also holds the record for the number of aces in one game, went on for 11 hours and 5 minutes spaced over 3 days and took up a large slot of time on the 10 o’clock news. Andy Murray is through to the 4th round and will play an American tomorrow.

I wanted to bake but I also wanted to do something relating to Wimbledon. I came up with strawberry upside down cup cakes with rice and coconut milk custard. I made mine gluten and lactose free and used Orgran’s gluten free flour and Suma’s Soya spread but normal flour and butter would work fine. If you’re using gluten free flour it’s best to add a little baking soda as despite being self raising it really doesn’t like to rise properly.

Rice and coconut milk custard may sound bizarre but it tastes divine.

Both recipes have been adapted from BBC good food.

Strawberry Upside Down Fairy Cakes

70g butter or spread

70g caster sugar

2 small eggs

50g gluten free self raising flour

12g custard powder

Punnet of strawberries

Preheat oven to 190˚C/375˚F and grease the cups of a 12 hole muffin pan. Cut up the strawberries and arrange in a layer in the bottom of the cups of the pan.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and add to the butter and sugar a bit at a time, whisking after each addition.

Sift in flour and custard powder and beat until well combined.

Divide evenly between the cups of the muffin pan and bake for 15 minutes until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. They may collapse slightly but it doesn’t matter since they’re upside down anyway.

Rice and Coconut Milk Custard

1 vanilla pod

250ml rice milk

250ml coconut milk

4 egg yolks

80g sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

Put both milks in a pan and split the vanilla pod with a knife. Scrape seeds into the milk then add the pod as well. Slowly bring to boil then remove from heat and leave to stand.

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until pale and thick.

Remove vanilla pod from the milk mixture and gradually whisk into the egg mixture. Return to the pan and stir continuously over a medium heat until slightly thickened. If you want a ticker custard add more egg yolks and cornflour. Pour over the upside down fairy cakes.


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