This is all about one of my great loves-baking! Cupcakes are what I really love making,
however I enjoy all baking, anything from a simple Victoria Sponge, puddings, bread, biscuits
to Game Pies and a good old Sunday Roast!! I will share some of my baking experiences
with you; recipes that I think everyone should know about and some of my funny
and distastrous moments. This will not be restricted just to the kitchen!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Biscuits- the bane of my life!

Your hips are like a biscuit geiger counter. Instead of measuring nuclear particles, they measure biscuit intake!! Displaying for all to see the amount of biscuit activity in your life! I am ashamed to say that mine are rather active in their display; apart from the odd G&T-well at east 1 a day, my other guilty pleasure in life is BISCUITS!
I regularly walk with my great friend Jo, (of Jo's Blue Aga fame); we walk miles round the beautiful countryside where we live accompanied by various dogs.  Mainly grumbling about children, occasionally men and life in general (no grumbling)!!  However  most of our chat is devoted to our mutual appreciation of all things baking!
Having completed our walk, we had the obligatory coffee and while chatting (yes I know, we had already been gassing for hours)!! Jo was pottering about the kitchen, as she always does. I was on the internet, not really taking any notice of what she was up to. The next thing I know, a gorgeous, soft, melt in the mouth exquisite example of a chocolate cookie was placed in front of me. Now, I have known this lady for years and she never ceases to amaze me, in what she is able to whip up in no time at all; and on this occasion without me even noticing!
I was telling this tale to my boys when I got home, Charlie, my youngest a convert to macaroons(ever since having to sample various flavours for Jo) insisted that I make cookies for them. Now Cupcakes, I can churn out in my sleep, delightful melt in the mouth cookies are another matter. Never one to turn down a challenge I started the cookie task immediately.

These are what I made, double choc chip cookies, ever so easy and apparently even better than Sainsburys, according to Jack!! What more recognition could I ask for?!!

Perfect every time cookies!!
 250g plain flour 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2tsp salt
170g unsalted butter
200g soft brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1tbs vanilla paste (or essence)
1 egg yolk
1 whole egg
200g choc chips (either white, milk choc or mixed)

Sieve the flour, bicarbonate and salt, leave to one side.
Having melted the butter over a low heat, add the sugar and mix well. Beat in the eggs and vanilla paste until you have a lovely creamy mixture. Mix in the dry ingredients and finally add the choc chips. Stir well until you have a lovely thick dough.

Cookie dough, ready for baking
I use an ice cream scoop to plonk the perfect amount onto a lined baking sheet (grease proof paper). Bake in a pre heated oven (160) for 4 minutes, remove from the oven and bang the whole tray on a hard surface a couple of times (this gets the air out of the dough), return to the oven for a further 4 minutes.  Remove, bang sharply again and bake for a further 2 minutes, until golden brown.  They will be crispy at the edges and still quite soft in the middle. 

Having removed from the oven, leave on the baking sheet for a few minutes then place on a wire cooling rack.

These are best eaten while still warm!!  (Although they can be stored an airtight tin, not relevant in this house as they were wolfed down in no time at all)!! 

 Here are my official tasters for the day, Charlie and his friend Joe.  They were busy fishing but managed to stop for a few minutes.

Their verdict-"Totally Lush"!!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Fabulous Suffolk Coast!!

One of the most lovely places for a day out, long weekend or even a holiday is Aldeburgh, in Suffolk.  If you have never had the pleasure of visitng this part of the UK, make it an absolute must!!  I have always loved this part of the east coast ever since I was a child.  We have visited for long lazy days out, child free weekends and fabulous family holidays, for as long as I can remember.  Living in Essex, the Suffolk coast is the natural place to gravitatate too; so much to offer, from quaint seaside towns, beautiful villages and picture perfect English countryside.

A quick whizz up the A12 from London, past Ipswich; follow your nose towards Aldeburgh.  You will come across Snape Maltings, which are definately worth stopping for.  You will find a concert hall that holds music events throughout the year,  galleries, antique shops, a couple of lovely places to eat, as well as a Farmer's Market.  If you visit between May and September you can take a boat trip along the estuary; this is a
lovely way to introduce yourself to the local flora and fauna. 

Having had a super time at the at the Maltings, make the short journey to Aldeburgh.  Park in the bustling High Street and head for the Blue Flag, shingle beach.  Aldeburgh has plenty of landmarks, among which the Martello Tower, 16th century Moot Hall and the somewhat controversial, but none the less striking scallop sculpture, errected as a tribute to the composer Benjamin Britton, are probably the most well known.

Fish and chips are synonymous with this little seaside town too; I have never visted and not seen a long, but patient queue, snaking its way down the pavement outside either of the towns two fish and chip eateries.  There are many other lovely places to eat too; one of my favorites is The Lighthouse, which is always a delight to visit, with wonderful service.

Slightly further up the coast and not to be missed, is the little village of Thorpeness; originally built as a holiday desination at the beginning of the last century.  This has always been popular with my boys ever since they were little.  The main attraction is the huge boating lake with a Peter Pan theme, complete with a crocodile!!  The beach is lovely and dogs are welcome on most of it too, (even in the summer months).  There are two nice cafe/restaurants, where, if you are eating outside you will have an attentive two legged audience!!

 The boating lake is teeming with swans, ducks, moorhens, geese and various other birds, all of whom are happy to be fed and many will feed from your hand.  You will have  to travel a long way to find a house as unusual as  "The House in the Clouds" , which dominates the skyline as you leave the village!! 
Futher down the track, that leads to this somewhat unusual dwelling is a windmill.  The windmill was used to pump water form a well, to the House in the Clouds, (which was was originally a water tower cunningly disguised as a house)!!  I will continue my travels further up the coast of Suffolk to encompass Southwold and various other lovely villages.

Today I have digressed somewhat from my cake theme.  However we all love this supper, so I thought I would share it with you all. This is a lovely recipe that everyone devours with gusto!!  It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and a further 30 minutes to cook.

Suffolk Pork Chops and Caramalised Apples
  • 4 x 200g/7oz Pork Chops
  • 4 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 2 tbsp  extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 150g/5oz smoked chopped bacon
  • 1 bouquest garni
  • 300g/10½oz button mushrooms
  • 300g/10½oz shallotts,  peeled, cooked for ten minutes, then drained and refreshed in cold water
  • 4 Cox's apples peeled, cores removed, quartered
  • 4 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 500ml/17½fl oz Suffolk cider
  • 4 tsp Suffolk mustard
  • 400ml/14fl oz double cream

To Prepare:

  1. Roll the fat sides of the pork chops in the salt flakes.
  2. Heat a griddle pan until smoking. Sear the fat side of the pork chops in the pan for 1-2 minutes, using tongs to keep the pork chops upright in the pan. When the fat is golden-brown and crisp, lay the pork chops down flat and fry for 3-4 minutes on both sides, or until the pork chop has deep griddle marks all over. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion and bacon together for 4-5 minutes, or until the onion is starting to colour. Add the bouquet garni, button mushrooms and shallots to the pan and cook over a medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Pour the cider into the pan and deglaze by scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, then bring to the boil. Add the pork chops and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the pork is cooked through (the juices should run clear when the pork is pierced at the thickest part).
  5. Meanwhile, dust the apple pieces with the muscovado sugar. Place the griddle pan used to cook the pork back over the heat, then add the apples and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the apples are golden-brown and caramelised.
  6. Remove the pork chops from the pan and set aside to rest. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a rapid boil, then stir in the mustard and cream and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to a sauce consistency.
  7. To serve, spoon the caramelised apples onto serving plates and arrange a pork chop next to the apples, with the cooked carrots and mashed potatoes alongside. Spoon over the sauce and serve.
Even my fussy eaters like this!!  This will feed 4 people with ease!!  I serve with Nigella's  bread-sauce flavoured potao gratin (Feast) and seasonal vegetables.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

A day of contrasts

Yesterday was the Duke of Essex polo, an annual event held in the beautiful grounds of Gaynes Park, Epping, Essex. The ground was perfect, well, when I say perfect, it was spot on for the horses thundering up and down the polo field, not so perfect for the hoards of spiked heel wearing ladies that had come to watch this fabulous sport. Wedges were definitely order of the day!! They arrived on foot, by limo, taxi and helicopter, adorned in some of Essex's finest fashions. Every style, colour and length of dress was spotted, from billowing maxi dresses with kaleidoscopic effects to the most minuscule of dresses, more suited to a night club, than a warm and somewhat blustery polo field!!

The long and short of it

It was a day full of fabulous contrasts donkey rides and polo; falconry and aeroplanes, both whizzing overhead in tight configuration, performing amazing aerial acrobatics; candy floss and champagne, fine dining and picnics. It sounds a cliche, in fact it is, but there was something for everyone!!

England v South America
There appears to be a new sport evolving locally, or perhaps it evolved a long time ago and I have just never noticed-celeb spotting in Epping!! Flash mobs of mostly excitable teenage girls and their Mums, rose from the crowds as stars of TV and stage arrived or came into the public areas, away from the sanctity of the VIP marquees. Amongst the many VIP's, were the recently propagated stars of The Only Way is Essex, which has a huge following, not just in Essex but all over the UK. The stars of the show were out in force yesterday, happily mixing with the excited crowds, signing autographs, posing for photographs and generally lapping up the attention!

"Arg" from TOWIE

As we had had a somewhat action packed day, time was of the essence when we got home!  I had promised to make some cakes for the daughter of a friend of mine, as she had a birthday party for all her class.  Making cakes that are not too girly, but also appeal to the boys can be a bit of a mission.  I therefore made these little beauties that appeal to everyone!

Vanilla sweet shop cupcakes

Simply mix together 11b of caster sugar, unsalted butter and supreme sponge flour with 8 eggs and vanilla extract (2 tsp)

I suggest that you cream the sugar and butter together first, then beat the eggs, one at a time, before beating into the butter and sugar.  Once all the eggs are mixed in, stir in the vanilla extract sieve the flour and fold in, until you have a lovely creamy mixture with no lumps!!  Divide into muffin case or wraps, cook for approx 15 mins on 150 or until they are golden brown in colour and spring back when gently pushed.   Let them cool and decorate with piped, butter cream swirls.  Simply mix by hand or with a mixer 1 lb icing sugar, 2 tsp vanilla extract, a little warm water, 4 oz unsalted butter or stork margarine and a little full fat milk. 
(If you are not very adept with the icing bag, they look just as nice if you smooth the icing on with a palette knife)!!

 This will make at least 30, perfect for a school class, with a few spares for any hungry for Mums and Dads!!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Afternoon Tea with Pimms!!

On Saturday I had some old friends to tea;  partly as I had not seen them all for ages and partly because Sally is getting maried soon.  I thought it would be lovely to enjoy the July sunshine while drinking Pimms and sampling some new recipes that I had not tried before.  One jug of Pimms, soon became two and of course we had to open some bubbles, in order to toast the bride to be!! 
In the cake department we had Pecan and Maple Syrup Sponge, Strawberry and Cream Dreams (my made up cakes, put together with spare Vanilla Cupcakes and what I had in the fridge-you can of course use any combination of fruit and any filling/topping).  I made a few wedding themed cupcakes for Sally and afternoon tea, would not be complete without scones, cream and homemade strawberry jam too!

Pecan and Maple Syrup Sponge (from the Hummingbird Bakery book-Cake Days)

120g (4oz) softish unsalted butter
400g (14oz) caster sugar
360g (12.5oz) plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/4 sp salt
360ml (12.5 fl oz) full fat milk
40ml (11.5 fl oz) maple syrup
3 large eggs
100g (3.5 oz) Pecans

-Before starting preheat the oven to 170 (350 or gas mark 3) and prepare three 20cm (8"), loosebottomed, greased and lined sandwich tins.  (I find Wilton's cake release very handy and simply line the bottom of the tin with greaseproof paper).
-Mix the butter, sugar, flour and baking powder together using a hand held or freestanding electric mixer until the mixture has a crumb like consistancy.
-In a seperate bowl or a jug, mix together the milk, eggs and maple syrup.  (I find whisking with a fork, in a jug the easiest way to do this).
-Slowly add the to the dry ingredients, with the mixer on a low speed.  Once all the ingredients are evenly mixed up, stir in the pecans by hand.
-Divide the cake mixture into the three cake tins that you have already prepared.  Bake for approx 20-25 minutes until the sponges are golden brown and spring back when gently pushed with your (clean) finger!!  Allow to stand for a few mintues, before turning onto cooling racks.
-While your cakes are cooling, you can prepare the icing.

120g (4oz) unsalted butter
750g (1lb 10oz) icing sugar
1 Tbs maple syrup
60ml (2 floz) whole milk
whole pecans to decorate

-Using you hand held or free standing whisk slowly mix all your ingedients together until the icing is light, fluffy and ever so creamy.
-Place your bottom layer of (cooled) cake onto a plake or cake stand.  Using a palette knife spread the icing on to the base cake.  Repeat this procedure, having applied the second and third cake to the base cake.  You will then need to spread the remainer of the icing on the top and sides of the cake.
-Do not put to much icing in between each layer or you will not have enought to complete the sides and top
-Once you have iced the entire cake, decorate with a few whole pecans and serve to your hungry guests!!

Strawberry Cream Dreams

225g (8oz) stork margarine, caster sugar, supreme sponge flour
4 eggs
vanilla extract

-Cream the butter and sugar togther with a wooden spoon.
-In a sperate bowl whisk each egg seperately and beat into the sugar and stork mixture, one at a time.
-Sieve the supreme sponge flour into the above mixture and add the vanilla flavouring
-Gently fold with a metal table spoon, ensuring that you get plenty of air into the mixture, do not beat as your sponge will not be light and airy!!
-divide equally into muffin cases in a muffin tin (approx 12), fill the cases about 2/3 full of mixture
-bake in the oven for approx 15 minutes, until golden brown and springy to the touch.
-Once removed from the oven, remove from the tin immediatly and place on a baking tray to cool.
-While they are cooling prepare your chosen fruit and filling.  On this occasion I used double cream (whipped), strawberries and tiny mint leaves.
-Once cooled, carefully remove the muffin wrappers, cut in half, fill with cream (I tend to pipe as you get a neater look) and strawberries.  Sieve a little icing sugar over the completed cakes and decorate with fresh cream, a slice of strawberry and  a fresh mint leaf.

Morsels of loveliness on a plate!!