Monday 30 July 2007

Little Lemon Cakes

These cute little lemon cakes were the latest offering to my work Monday Muchers. I have missed the last two Mondays, one because I was away on holiday and then last Monday I took in some madelines that I bought back from France instead.

I had to work this Saturday which meant I didn’t have my usual planning and shopping time before baking so it was a matter of using what I had available. I recently bought some mini petit fours cases and I was dying to try them out and as I hadn’t taken anything lemony into work before, these little cakes were created.

They take only a few minutes to put together as the cake is made using the ‘all in one’ method. They are topped with a subtle lemon buttercream and a dried blueberry. They are very light and surprisingly lemony considering their tiny size and the blueberry on top adds a nice little pocket of flavour when you bite into it.

I was a little worried at first that people weren’t all that happy about this weeks offering as no one seemed to be eating them. I thought that fact that they look a bit like eyeballs might have been putting people off, but it turned out they were just being polite and not wanting to be the first person to take one. It got to around noon when the first one was sampled and after that they disappeared pretty quickly.

Being bite size people happily ate 3 or 4 of these without worrying, afterall a slice of cake would be much bigger.

Little Lemon Cakes

60g self raising flour
55g butter or margarine
55g caster sugar
1 egg
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice

For the buttercream
50g butter or margarine
100g icing sugar
½ tbsp lemon juice
Handful of dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 175C. Place 25 petit fours cases on a baking tray and set to one size.
Place all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
Divide the cake batter between the paper cases using a teaspoon.
Bake for 8-10 minutes until risen and golden brown.
Transfer to a wire wrack and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, make the buttercream. Add the butter into a bowl and sift in the icing sugar. Carefully work the sugar into the butter using a butter knife or a wooden spoon.
When incorporated beat well until smooth and add the lemon juice a bit at a time, making sure it doesn’t go too runny.
When the cakes are cold, pipe or spread the buttercream over the cakes and top with a dried blueberry.

Makes 25 mini cakes.

Saturday 28 July 2007

Tales and Tastes of France

I have been back from France for a week now and I promised to write a bit about it and so it’s about high time I did. We stayed in a lovely house that was in a small secluded village called Mormoiron. It was very quaint and quiet and surrounded by wonderful views (the above photo is the view we had from our house).

The day after we arrived there was a local food market in the town square and where we were able to buy all kinds of local cheeses, fruits and vegetables. The figs and apricots in particular were amazing, so full of flavour that we just cannot get back in England. The local Boulanger had set up a little stall outside his shop where he was giving out free tasters of his breads. I liked the fig bread which was studded with dried figs and went very well with cheese. The nut rolls was also very flavoursome with whole hazelnuts and almonds incorporated within it. The baguettes were also a firm favourite which had crisp yet slightly chewy crusts with pillowey soft centers and were quite rustic in appearance.

The bakery also sold a small assortment of pastries which of course we had to sample. The strawberry tart involved a base of creamy crème patisserie in a sweet pastry case with fresh strawberries and a glaze. The strawberries were very fresh and ripe resulting in a good flavour. The éclair was filled with a thick chocolate crème patisserie and topping with a shiny chocolate icing. I love the fact the French put crème patisserie inside their cakes and pastries, so much more interesting than boring whipped cream which in my opinion is rather bland. Next was a mixed fruit tart which was very similar to the strawberry tart and also very tasty. Finally there was the very rich and indulgent chocolate tart. This was basically a huge mound of ganache which had been piled into a sweet pastry base and dusted with cocoa. It gave a wonderful dark bitter chocolate flavour that just melted on your tongue.

All the nearby villages seemed to take it in turns to have markets on a different day of the week. We also visited the market in Bedoin which was absolutely enormous and teaming with people. It must have contained at least 300 stalls which snaked along the roadsides, and sold everything from pots, jewelry, bread, toys, shoes, fruits and oils. I bought a sweet looking cakey thing to try without really knowing what it was, as I couldn’t understand the sign, I just knew it included dates. It turned out to be quite a dry, crumbly and dense semolina wedge that had a filling of pureed dates and was coated in honey to give it a shiny glaze. The date bit was quite nice but the rest was very bland and disappointing. I’m glad I tried it though otherwise I probably would have wondered what it was like for the rest of the holiday.

One afternoon we headed deeper into the countryside to explore, passing many vineyards along the way. It always amazes me how they manage to plant them in such straight rows. The views were fantastic and we decided to climb up short slope to the top of a hill for a better look. At least we thought it was a short slope. We ended up scrambling up a dried up narrow river bed that twisted its way from left to right all the way up. The supposedly short climb took about three times as long as we were expecting. However, we were rewarded not only with amazing views but also the discovery of an old ruined church that we couldn’t see from the road below.

We visited Bedoin a second time when it was a lot quieter and came across the most wonderful bakery.
The fabulous smell of freshly baking bread drew up in even before we registered it was there. We left with a crusty seeded loaf and some olive bread. The olive bread was like no other olive bread I have tasted. It wasn’t just flavoured with little pieces of olives but was stuffed full of whole black olives which were bursting with flavour. The bread itself was quite chewy and naturally salty due to so many olives but it was wonderful cut into thin slices and eaten with cheese and tomatoes. We also stumbled across a little patisserie which had a range of beautifully presented pastries making us want to try them all. In the end we restrained ourselves to buying a very appealing walnut caramel tart and a wedge of proper thick, wobbly custard tart.

I was a wonderful holiday and I loved walking down into the village each morning to get fresh bread from the bakery and then spending the days exploring the area, shopping in the markets and trying out the different cakes, pastries and breads. We bought fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables and bread everyday and it really highlighted to me how much fresher and flavoursome the food is when you buy it this way. We have nothing like this back here in England, at least not near where I live. On the occasion that I have found a proper traditional bakery you can end up having to pay £3 or more for a loaf of bread and compared to the fruits I tasted in France the stuff we buy from the supermarkets is quite bland. I know France has a much better climate that we do for growing fruit but I still feel we could do better. The time went so quickly and I don’t feel I properly explored half the places we visited, the perfect excuse to return again sometime.

Tuesday 24 July 2007

All About MeMe

Well I’m now back from France and back to work. I had a wonderful time and ate some really delicious breads and cakes which I promise to write about soon.

However, while I was away I have been tagged by Gigi from gigi cakes for a MeMe. The rules are as follows:

"Each player starts with eight random facts or habits about himself or herself. A tagged player then writes a blog entry with the eight things, as well as these rules. Then the player tags eight others and lists their names on his or her blog. Remember to leave a comment for your newly tagged players, letting them know they have been tagged and to read your blog!"
So without further ado here are eight little facts you probably didn’t know about me.

1) When I was nine my elder sister persuaded me to watch Jarrasic park with her. It absolutely terrified me and I had nightmares for around 4 years afterwards. I still can’t watch TV adverts for programmes including dinasores, such as the Walking with Dinersas documentary that was on a couple years ago.
2) My nickname is Kitkat. It has nothing to do with the chocolate bar, and was given to me by me sister when I was little. She liked the sound of it – Kitkat Katie.
3) I used to collect (and still own) things with big yellow smiley faces on. People got to know I collected them and it was all I ever received for birthdays and Christmas’s for about 3 years. I now own over 50 different objects with smiley faces on them. Everything from pencil sharpeners, cushions, posters, purses, napkins and badges.
4) I am allergic to Kiwi. Not drastically but if I eat it my tongue becomes sore, tingly and covered in little red spots.
5) One of my favourite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I used to read it enthralled. I love the style in which it is written and used to read it imagining I was Jane, surviving my way through school, the excitement of escaping, getting a job in a new and exciting place and the adventures that followed.
6) My favourite film of all time is The Sound of Music. I must have watched it over 50 times and I know all the songs off by heart. It always reminds me of my childhood and being ill as it was all I ever requested to watch, lying on the sofa when unwell.
7) Four is my lucky number, closely followed by sixteen. Afterall, 4 x 4 = 16.
8) While other people get excited by clothes shopping or buying a new pair of shoes I could (and do) spend hours browsing round foods shops and obtaining new kitchen gadgets. I now own so much kitchen equipment that it doesn’t all fit in my kitchen cupboards. One half of my wardrobe is taken up by cake tins, muffin cases, a waffle iron and an assortment of pastry cutters and piping bags.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about me and don’t now think I’m slightly deranged.

The eight bloggers I tag are:
Anna from Baking for Britian
Bonnie from Daydream Delicious
Niki from Esurientes
Meeta from What’s for Lunch Honey?
Joe from Culinary in the Country
Bea from La Tartine Gourmande
Lex Culinaria and
The Canadian Baker

Sorry if you have already been tagged, I’m not sure who has and who hasn’t.

Sunday 15 July 2007

Relaxing in France

From now until Sunday I am holidaying in the beautiful region of Avignon in France with my family on a much needed holiday. The weather is blissfully hot, a wonderful change from the wet and windy weather I left behind in England.

I do have some access to the internet but its very temperamental so I'm not sure I'll get the change for any more posts for a few days. I'm planning to try and sample as much French bread, cheeses and pastries as I can get my hands on and if I come across anything spectacular I promise to blog about it on my return.

Until then, au revoir.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

Granola Bars

These have got to be my favourite oaty flapjack style bars. They have a crisp golden surface with a soft, moist and slightly chewy underneath. They look and taste very wholesome thanks to the addition of the nuts, seeds and fruit all held together with oats and honey making them taste wonderful. They are also wheat free (and possibly gluten free too depending on whether you consider oats to contain gluten or not). As long as you stick to the quantities of fruit, nuts or seeds used, you can very the type of e.g. fruit, to suit your own tastes (or just use what needs using up in the cupboard like I did).

Depending on the variety of honey you use, you can end up with boldly fragrant or delicate tasting bars. I used two different types of oats to add a bit of texture and the cinnamon helps bring all the flavours together without being too obvious.

The mixture is very sticky before baking and can be quite hard to smooth out evenly. After experimenting with a wooden spoon, fingers and a potato masher I found the back of a large metal spoon, that had been wiped with oil, the easiest method. These are great for a mid afternoon snack or a breakfast on the run as the honey and oats will provide you with a prolonged release of energy. I made these to take into work for the Monday Munchers where they were happily devoured.

Granola Bars
150g butter or margarine
150g honey
200g soft brown sugar
350g rolled oats (I used a mixture of porridge and jumbo oats)
1 tsp cinnamon
40g whole almonds with skin on
30g hazelnuts
50g dried cranberries
75g dried apricots
50g prunes
50g raisins
30g pumpkin seeds
30g sunflower seeds
50g ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a 20cm x 30cm and 2cm deep baking tray with foil. Then brush the foil with vegetable oil and set to one side.
It is best to prepare all of the ingredients before you begin. Weight out the oats, ground almonds and cinnamon into a bowl. Roughly chop the nuts so they are still in fairly big pieces and add to the oats along with the seeds.
Weigh out the dried fruits and chop into raisin sized pieces using a pair of scissors and add to the bowl
Put the butter, honey and sugar into a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Stir everything together until smooth.
Increase the heat and bring the mixture to the boil for two minutes, stirring all the time. (It will bubble up so be careful)
Remove from the heat and quickly add all the other ingredients and stir together in a folding motion, making sure everything gets evenly distributed and covered in the caramel.
Tip onto the baking tray and smooth out into an even layer.
Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until nicely golden brown. You may need to turn your tray around half way through depending on your oven.
Remove from the oven, it will still be very soft as this stage but it firms up a lot on cooling.
Allow to cool completely before inverting onto a board, removing the foil and slicing into bars or squares.
I cut mine into 5cm x 7cm pieces and I got 28 bars.
Keep in an airtight container with clingfilm between each layer to prevent them sticking together.

Sunday 8 July 2007

Glossy Cherry Amaretto Ring Cake

The cherry season comes and goes so quickly that eating these sweet purple fruits feels like such a treat. I enjoy eating them just as they come, holding onto the stalk and nibbling around the stone, however, I also love cherry cake but have only ever made it with the preserved glace cherries, never with fresh fruit. I decided to change that. I was initially going to chop the cherries up and just stir them through the batter and bake in a standard cake tin but as I was hunting out the tin I discovered my silicon ring mould that I had actually forgotten I owned. My ideas immediately altered and I came up with this ring cake instead.

I love the smell and flavour of amaretto and on my last visit to France I found some amaretto syrup that is wonderful to use in baking. I decided to add some to the cake as after-all cherry and almond sis a classic combination.

The aroma as this cake was baking was amazing. Not only did the sweet fruity aroma of the cherries linger in the kitchen after softening them, but then it mingled with the heady scent of the amaretto. Once baked, the cherries provided a lovely glossy topping to the light fluffy cake. I loved the flavour of the amaretto with the fresh cherries, it was deliciously different without being complex. The whole thing was very quick and easy to put together. It stayed lovely and moist and I found the flavours had actually improved the next day.

Glossy Cherry Amaretto Ring Cake
For the cherries
250g cherries
1 tsp amaretto syrup

For the cake
110g self raising flour
110g butter
110g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
2tsp amaretto syrup

Preheat the oven to 165C and place a ring mould cake tin on a baking tray.
Cut the cherries in half, twist apart and remove the stone. Then cut each half in half again. Using a cherry or olive stoner is much quicker if you are lucky enough t have one.
Place the cherries into a frying pan and add a couple tbsp water. Heat until bubbling and the cherries are starting to soften but not brake down. Then drizzle over the amaretto syrup and cook for a little longer. Remove from the heat when most of the water has evaporated and the cherries look glossy and syrupy.
Allow to cool while you make the cake batter.
For the cake, place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric whisk until smooth, fluffy and slightly lighter in colour.
Drizzle the cherry mixture over the base of the ring mould and dollop the cake batter over the surface using a large spoon.
Carefully spread out the cake mix and smooth the surface ensuring the cherry mixture remains under the batter.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden brown.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a large plate and leaving to cool completely.
This is delicious eaten just as it is or served slightly warm with custard or cream for dessert.

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Baby Banana Cakes with Chocolate Fudge Swirls

It was Sunday afternoon and I had spent most of the previous week planning what to make to take to work for the Monday Munchers. I decided to make mini banana muffins and to top them with a chocolate icing. Only it didn’t go quite as planned and I had to have a quick rethink. I didn’t have any mini muffin cases but I had looked at Asda’s online shopping page and found that they sold them. Perfect, I thought, I can go there Sunday morning and buy some. So off I went, only to find that not only did they not have any, but they don’t even stock them in that store, despite it being a big one. It seems not everything listed online is available in the shops. Grrr. I walked home again and even called in an a little Co-op in the hope they might have them, but no such luck.

Upon arriving home I decided I would just have to make something else instead. But after flicking through a few recipe books nothing else appealed. I had had my heart set on the mini banana muffins. I had even bought a banana and let it go brown and mushy specially. I decided to improvise and to make the banana cake recipe anyway but to cook it in a swiss roll tin and then stamp out circles of cake and sandwich them together using the icing I had planned as a topping. I wasn’t sure how it would work out and I didn’t have the right sized tin. I spread the batter out to a reasonable thickness that just covered ¾ of the tin and hoped for the best. (I used a 30x40cm tin but only used about a 30x30cm surface).

It cooked surprisingly evenly and remained lovely and moist. I was able to stamp out a good number of cake circles using a biscuit cutter and sandwiched them together with my favourite chocolate icing. It’s a recipe by Nigella Lawson that I have adapted slightly. It produces a really rich, chocolaty icing that remains soft and fudgey in texture.

These baby banana cakes are very cute and absolutely delicious. Moist, light and flavoursome with the rich, fudgey, intensely chocolaty icing complementing the banana flavour wonderfully. Being so small they are easy to hold and only about two bites big, meaning that even people on a diet feel they can have one and that people not on a diet can eat two or three without feeling guilty. They’re only small afterall! I think these turned out looking better than the mini muffins would have done. They were joyfully received at work and were pronounced “the best yet.” The little diamond shaped ones you can see in the photo are the off cuts from stamping out the circles, I used them too as I thought they were equally attractive.

If you have any of the icing leftover it’s wonderful for cakes, spreading on bread instead of Nutella or melting and pouring over ice cream, pancakes or waffles. If you double the recipe, you will have enough to fill and completely cover an 8inch/20cm layer cake.

Baby Banana Cakes with Chocolate Fudge Swirls
For the cake
1 large overripe banana
75g butter or margarine
60g soft brown sugar
150g self raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1 egg
40ml vegetable oil

For the chocolate icing
35g butter
75g dark chocolate
½ tbsp runny honey
140g icing sugar
50ml double cream
½ tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 180C. Get a dry, non stick swiss roll tin ready.
Peel the banana and mash with a fork until very soft and mushy.
Put the butter and sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat in the banana mush, followed by the egg and vanilla until just combined.
Sift in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and work everything together in a folding motion. I find a spatula works best.
Finally add the oil and beat until well incorporated.
Pour the cake mixture into the tin, and smooth out into an even layer.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown and springy when pressed.
Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling wrack.

Meanwhile, prepare the icing.
Brake the chocolate into pieces and add to a pan along with the butter and honey.
Melt gently over a low heat, stirring when it all starts melting. Remove from the heat when a few lumps still remain and allow to cool slightly while finishing melting.
Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl and stir in the vanilla.
Sift a few tablespoons of icing into the chocolate and beat/stir together until all the sugar has been incorporated. Repeat until all the sugar has been used up. The icing will be quite thick at this point.
Then pour over the double cream and beat until all combined and glossy.
Leave to cool and thicken while preparing the rest of the cake.

Take the cooled cake and place on a clean work surface.
Stamp out small discs of cake using a 4cm cutter. Try to get as many circles out of the cake as you can.
Match the cake discs into pairs and place back on the cooling wrack.
Once the icing has cooled to room temperature, place into a piping bag complete with a small star nozzle.
Pipe a swirl of icing onto the underside of one of the discs in each pair. Top with the second cake circle so that it faces top side up.
Pipe another swirl of chocolate icing on top of the sandwiched cakes. Repeat with rest of the cakes.
Makes 14 baby sandwiched cakes or 28 discs.

Monday 2 July 2007

Strawberry Scones

My lovely grandma came to visit me on Saturday, to see my new flat and for a bit of retail therapy in Leeds city centre. We had great fun browsing the shops and peering through the windows the designer shops. We had a wonderful lunch at Yo Sushi, a sushi bar that is inside Harvey Nichols (Veg sushi for me). Neither of us had had sushi before and enjoyed the whole experience. You sit on tall stalls around a conveyor belt that has little portions of sushi or marinated vegetables on colour coded plates that float past you. You simply pick what you fancy off the conveyor belt and at the end they work out what you owe based on the colour and number of dishes you have. We both had green tea to drink and shared some vegetable dishes which included soybeans and marinated aubergine which was particularly flavoursome. Then I had a little seaweed roll that had rice and red pepper inside and another one with omelette and avocado. Really tasty, I have never had the proper nori seaweed sheets before and really enjoyed the new texture and flavour. My grandma had some salmon sushi and a spicy prawn salad. We also both enjoyed the preserved ginger it comes with. It added a great boost of flavour. I think you are only meant to eat it with the fish dishes, but I liked it on my red pepper sushi too.

Anyway, I’m getting side tracked. After our shopping spree we headed back to my flat where we had afternoon tea and these scones which I had baked earlier that morning. They were lovely and light and the addition of the dried strawberries made a nice summery change to the usual raisins and really enhanced the flavour of the strawberry jam (homemade) they were served with and made them that little bit more special. Serve them with clotted cream for a really indulgent treat, although we made do with lightly whipped cream. Many thanks to Gigi from Gigi Cakes who gave me the idea of making scones with the dried strawberries.

Strawberry Scones
Recipe adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine
225g plain flour
2 tsp level baking powder
30g caster sugar
55g butter
50g dried strawberries (or other dried fruit of your choice)
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
120ml milk

Heat the oven to 200C.
Cut the dried strawberries into raisin sized pieces using a pair of scissors and set to one side for later.
Add the flour, baking powder and caster sugar into a large bowl. Chop the butter into cubes, and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers. Be gentle and lift the flour/butter mixture up and let it fall back into the bowl as you rub it between your fingers.
When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the dried strawberries and mix briely so they become coated in flour.
Add the yoghurt and a little of the milk. Work the liquid into the flour mixture using the tips of your fingers in a claw formation. Add more milk until you have a smooth, slightly sticky dough.
Turn the mix out onto a floured work surface and form into a ball.
Roll the dough out until it is 2cm thick and then stamp out scones using a 5cm cutter. Do not twist the cutter or your scones will rise unevenly.
Place onto a dry baking tray, brush the tops with milk.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until risen and golden brown on top.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire wrack to cool. They are delicious eaten still warm and best eaten on the day they were made or within 24hrs.
Serve with strawberry jam and clotted cream for an indulgent afternoon tea.
Makes 6 scones and one small misshape as a cooks perk.