Take a break from the grey and bake


2012 is officially the colour of Grey. Floods and continual grey skies create the perfect reading opportunity for stuck indoors women in their millions to one by one drop like flies and seek comfort in the arms of the infamous Mr Grey. I can’t go anywhere without hearing constantly  ‘I’m spending the night with Christian’, ‘I got the last copy whoop whoop’ and my personal favourite ‘I wrestled the woman in Tesco’s for it and won’    Honestly all this grey has turned my female social media friends into whipping, drooling and silk scarf frenzied sex kittens.  As with all good things Ladies you have to take a break some time or bits start to fall off so walk away from Grey and Greyer, give your racing hearts and imaginations a rest. If you really have a need to tie yourself to things that’s fine just tie yourself to the food mixer or oven door and get it over with. You all have to eat sometime so join me in my top ten round-up of bakes over the year and I hear the naughty chocolate fudge sauce is good if that’s your sort of thing.

Number One – Strawberry Pimms Cake Pop Truffles

Pimms Cake Pops / Truffles

Pimms Cake Pops / Truffles

This is where it all began and I really enjoyed making these and I think at the time that was probably because at the beginning it did not matter if the cake I baked was wonky or imperfect as it got smooshed up with various fillings to create a mouthful of heaven. If you roll cake balls in meringue before dipping them in chocolate you have an Eton mess variation and perfect for when you need something ball shaped that isn’t salty.

Two – The mis-piped naughty meringue snowmen

My piping disaster (keep on reading to see more!)

See these were a bit of a baking disaster and most of you who have spoken to me over the year will have chuckled at these.  I was not the best at piping back then and figured that the little snowmen rather naughty looking tails would go down in the oven.  Hmmm I guess I was wrong with that one however they will star on this year’s Christmas cards!

Three – Pay Day Cakes  ‘The Macchiato’

The ‘Pay Day Cake’ idea began in March with the premise that you do not scrimp on ingredients but bake a cake that has four layers in a celebration for each week worked. This one is the Machiatto based on the coffee, vanilla and caramel drink at Starbucks. After this followed Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, The Turkish Temptress and White Chocolate Mousse cake with a secret berry blast that will keep your admirers wondering how you did it? The final cake so far is triple chocolate mousse cake with chocolate covered strawberries – do I pick the longest names or what? What next a fifty shades of grey cake how would that work?

Sticky Toffee Cake

 FourVanilla Essence (DIY)

Homemade Vanilla Essence

A great gift to you or a baking friend – why not make a few at the same time.

This has to be on the list as it is the one ingredient I use in all of my bakes – simple to make, full of flavour and saves £££ and if you add lemonade to a shot of it you have a vanilla vodka spritzer – love the dual purpose nature! Comes with a humourous tale of baking meltdowns.

FiveMojito inspired Polenta Cake

Mojito polenta cake

Polenta cake – this is a dairy and gluten-free option you know you will be safe most places you need to take cake. Moist, tangy, easy to make and very portable with no fussy icing to worry about – bake it and job done and if you like it try the lemon and berry version.

SixJammie Dodger CheesecakesJammie Dodger Cheesecake

Perfect little pick me up with a creamy cheesecake, jamminess and biscuit all rolled into one. You would think a soft biscuit base wouldn’t work but it really does and cute too.  Comes with a tale about synchronicity.

Seven – Raspberry Bakewell Cake

Raspberry Bakewell Cake

Another dairy and gluten free cake (but you would never know) that is just as good as a Bakewell tart but far less hassle. I have a love of simple loaf cakes and my top tip is buy cake liners for your tins to save time from fiddly lining with baking paper. Why not try out Left over Banana, honeycomb and chocolate or Lemon and Blueberry.

EightNaughty Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Just perfect for pouring over ice-cream sundaes, traybakes, puddings or whatever else takes your fancy but I don’t want to know about it thank you very much. Keeps in a jar in the fridge and then just heat and pour over your choosen dessert or body parts includes cute labels as well so you can give it as a gift but please don’t tie the labels to body parts as that would just be wrong.

Nine – Palmiers, Berries and Macaron Ice-Cream

Juicy berry Palmiers with ice-cream oozing with berries and crushed macarons which is the perfect use for them if they have gone hideously wrong as mine do. Accompanied by a funny story of blackberry picking disasters and walking like John Wayne but without needing Mr Grey to do that for me.

TenSprinkle Spiral Cookies

Made for Valentines day with love and such fun to hang on the side of cups (if you cleverly cut them as soon as you take them out of the oven before they begin to harden. Any colour or flavour would work with these and they freeze well so you can make ahead and bake when needed. I keep a frozen cookie roll in my freezer which also serves as a back up weapon to ward off any intruders. Please don’t get any ideas of putting cookie rolls anywhere they shouldn’t go as that would be a hard one to explain at the NHS walk in centre.

Hope you enjoyed my round-up and here’s to more bakes ahead. As for Mr Gey I’m avoiding you for the moment as my kitchen is my own version of a ‘red room of pain’ where I’m often found weeping in dispair, involunatrily tied up in piping bags or yelling with sheer baked ecstacy all without having read the trilogy.  Apparently there is expected to be a 50 shades baby boom which will lead to some interesting questions for those parents in the next decade.  I can imagine their conversations now, ‘Mum, how was I concieved?’ and the reply ‘Well Your Dad tied me to the Kitchenaid and I spanked him with the beater attachment whilst balancing a cupcake on my head’ oh dear Mr Grey what you got us into?

Thanks to all who have supported me, commented, followed and the extra pounds my close friends and family have endured so far in my little journey. What was your favourite?

Love to all x Up next gooey popcorn bars traybake

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Pink Lemonade Recipe (from scratch)


I predict Summer will arrive in the UK with a bang in September when all the kids are back at School and you know my predicton will be right.  Celebrate with pre-prepared vivid hot pink lemonade a natural beauty with no nasty additives.

Pink Lemonade

This drink slaps you across the chops with refreshing fruitiness reminscent of sucking on a lemon and strawberry sherbert sweet.  You can’t not smile and go ‘ahhhhh’ when you have a glass of this whatever the weather.  The concentrate freezes well so you can enjoy that sunshine in September!

Pink Lemonade

I don’t posses ice cubes trays so I used a heart shaped silicon mould which was just perfect! All I need to do in future is add an iced pink raspberry concentrate heart to glass of lemonade and watch it turn pink. Yes that is just my sort of evening as why watch paint dry when you can watch a bright pink ice cube melt!

Pink Lemonade

The Story (optional reading) I watched the Smurf movie for the first time this week which was not exactly my choice of film but hey ho. It reminded me of a big cuddly Smurf I had when I was little. The smurf with no name was as big as me and I have no idea where he came from but he must have been deemed precious as I wasn’t allowed to play with him (sobs). Poor Smurf was held captive in a cupboard in my bedroom to keep for best.  At night I would creep across my bedroom floor very quiet, unlock the door of the forbidden cupboard and just sit there and staring at him not daring to touch. Years later when I deicded enough was enough Smurf needed rescuing from his wooden cave. I bravely opened the forbidden wardrobe but he had mysteriously vanished and I guess as I was a bit old for him by then so he must have been given away. SO sadly I never did get to play with him (sniffle) I know get the violins out right! (it’s OK Dad I’m not completly unhinged becuase of it only slightly but you knew that already)

The moral here?
1. ‘Never keep things for best as they will be out of fashion by the time you use them’.
2. Never buy things that do not fit as that never ends well
3. Live each day as if it’s your last and just once eat your microwave / take out / cheese on toast off a posh plate and enjoy the thrill of breaking the rules you rebel.

Personal note to self ‘take own advice and don’t leave the pink lemonade concentrate in the freezer for years because you love it so much that you never get to enjoy it”.  So this week live a little, raise a glass to life even if life often rains on your parade. For me I’m British and very adept at coping with lifes torrential downpours and severe gales from my recent camping trip in my VW – thanks to all those who commented I am glad to be a source of your amusement 🙂

Back to Pink Lemonade – Finding a recipe for pink lemonade concentrate online was fruiteless (pardon the pun) as nobody seemed to have a standard recipe so I figured I would follow suit and make my own as I went along. Even if it’s not sunny when I post this get ahead of the game; make this, freeze it and savour your own perfect glass of sunshine just waiting to be poured when the Sun finally makes its entrance. I guess you want to know how to make it because you know you will it’s just too hard to resist. Ok come on follow me…

Pink Lemonade

This also makes a great cocktail – 1 shot of limoncello, 1 shot of vodka, pink lemonade concentrate, top with lemonade or sparkling water and add plenty of ice – mmmm.

Ingredients

200g raspberries
200g strawberries
300ml water
300g golden caster sugar
1 vanilla bean / pod
6-8 lemons (mine were tiny!) juice and grated rind

Pink lemonade

Instructions

1. In a pan add sugar, vanilla bean (I used one from my vanilla sugar so it was already used) and the grated rind.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil and then take off the heat and leave to infuse until cool (or however long you want to wait).
3. In a blender (or with a blender attachment) blend the raspberries and strawberries until smooth.
4. Pour the berry mixture into a sieve to remove the pips.
5. Strain the sugar syrp to remove the lemon rind. Pour the berry and sugar syrup mixture into a jug.
6. Squeeze the lemons and add the juice to the pink lemonade mixture and stir until combined.
7. Pour a portion into a glass like you would juice you add water too (to taste) and top with ice cubes, sparkling water or lemonade and add a sprig of fresh mint if you feel so inclined or basil and serve.

To Freeze
Pour the concentrate into ice cube trays or silicon moulds and freeze overnight. Depending on the size of the moulds you may need a few ice cubes to flavour a drink. I also plan to use some in a cake, jellies and jam once I have worked out how I am going to make it all. I admit it I am a little obsessed with the flavour I have to say but not that obsessed that I’d torture myself by making ice lollies with them as I know I can never get the damn things out of the mould.

Happy summer rainy days x

I am entering this into Botanical Baker’s Summertime Sipping competition where I’m sure you will find lots more ideas and yummy natural drinks I can’t wait to see what everyone else has been up to!

summertime sipping

Pink Lemonade

Lemon and Berry Polenta Cake (Gluten Free)


Zesty, lemon sugar syrup the slight crunch of polenta coupled with juicy berries gives a refreshingly different dessert cake.  Serve with oodles more berries and cream and you have yourself a mighty fine pudding. This cake uses fine grained polenta (quick cook) which as an added bonus makes it a gluten-free cake so you get all the taste but without the gluten gunk.  I have not said I love you to a cake yet but this is a surprising contender and definitely on my bake again list.

Four lemons go into the cake and the juice – yes four of them!  So expect a citrus hit which is great as I love lemons but it is not too sour just right in my opinion.  In my tutor group leavers speech I told them ‘If life gives you free lemons – say hey – free lemons!’ OK so they did not get my meaning either but maybe one day they will realise that free lemons = great cake. Nom nom.

I added berries for more flavour and texture.  Yes I admit they were frozen ones as we are not quite in strawberry and blueberry season yet but don’t knock frozen fruit as it tastes better than some of the out of season water filled varieties.

Do you know why I like this cake so much? 

Quite simply it was quick to make, simple, tasted great and when I went to take the photographs it was about to rain as the dark grey clouds were gathering.  This meant instead of spending countless hours getting the pictures right to fulfil the perfectionist streak in me I was challenged to just shoot the images as it was.  I love the pictures  and just like the cake they were no fuss but a great result.  Finally something that required not much effort!

Lemon Berry Polenta Cake

I took this cake as part of a set of gluten-free goodies to a university reunion and it was very happily received so I promised my newly diagnosed coeliac friend that I would do a post on gluten-free baking – more on that to follow.

What surprised me the most about our PGCE gathering (teaching qualification) was that I am the only person still in teaching!  What does that say about the profession I wonder?  Also on a sadder note apparently I am only a quarter of the bubbly person I used to be perhaps that is the result of still being in teaching I wonder.  Cue mid-life crisis….

Recipe (adapted from Doves Farm)

150g soft room temperature butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
75g ground almonds
1/s tsp gluten-free baking powder
4 lemons – grated rind and juice
75g Polenta (quick cook fine grain variety)
50g granulated sugar ( for the sugar syrup)
200g berries of your choice

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 170°C/Fan150°/325°F/Gas 3
2. Grease a 20cm/8”cake tin and line with baking parchment or greaseproof.
3. Beat butter and 150g sugar together until pale and light(about 5 mins).
4. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
5. Mix in the ground almonds and baking powder until fully combined.
6. Stir in all the grated lemon rind and juice of two lemons – reserve the rest for the sugar syrup.
7. Stir in the polenta and then the berries.
8. Spoon mixture into cake tin.
9. Bake for approx 40/45 minutes on the middle shelf
10. Allow to cool in the tin.
11. Add the juice of the remaining 2 lemons into a saucepan with 50g sugar.
12. Boil gently, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes to form a thick syrup.
13. Make holes in the cake with the cake tester or a skewer and pour syrup over the cake
14. Allow to cool before removing from the tin.

Storage

This cake is very moist and will last in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Generally gluten free cakes do not last as long as regular cakes – so more excuse to get one and eat it!

Enjoy!   Coming up next – 7 tips on gluten free baking and the turkish temptress layer cake (pay day cake 3!)

Lemon Meringue Roulade


This dessert is not a smack it in your face and make it screw up with the power of unadulterated lemon zest like you get sometimes with a tart au citron or Lemon meringue pie. This dessert is lemon meringue with finesse as it draws you in with clouds of soft sweet meringue, caresses you with the taste of italian sunshine and finishes with tangy limoncello soaked berries. If you use half fat cream it is also good for fitting in those summer short you were avoiding putting on this week.

As Marks and Spencer’s would say this is not just any old meringue this is lemon meringue roulade and quite simply you do not want your portion to end. Don’t be fooled by its cracked exterior and dodgy rolling as you should never judge a dessert purely by its looks or you will miss out.

Avoidance Tactics
Some people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid things, people or events.  Those moments in life where if given the opportunity to cross over to the other side of the street or just ignore it, you grasp the opportunity and break into a sprint even in stiletto heels as long as it is far in the opposite direction.   My Mum’s favourite pudding is Lemon Meringue Pie but the thought of making a pastry tart filled with me with anxiety, gave me pastry related nightmares even though my berry palmiers with macron icecream turned out with gentle puffed layers of butter I still fear it.  As a result out tumbled the A team (A for avoidance) to my rescue.  For once I am proud of my dithering tactics as this turned out better than I hoped, no guilt was felt afterwards and my feet do not have blisters on them.  However this dessert probably took longer in internet searching and planning than if I had just got on with the pie in the first place but that is the downside of avoidance.

Meringue Roulade
Make the lemon mousse and soak the berries in Limoncello (optional) the night before to give them time to chill fully

Lemon Mousse Ingredients (adapted from BBC good food online)
284ml Elmlea double cream (half fat alternative but you can use full fat double cream)
Zest of 1 lemon and juice
60g caster sugar
2 egg whites (room temperature)

Mousse Instructions
1. Add cream, zest, and sugar to a bowl and whisk until it starts to thicken
2. Add lemon juice and whisk again – whisk until thick but not too stiff that you can not add whisked egg whites to the mixture
3. Clean the bowl you wish to whisk the egg whites in with the rind of the lemon (left over from juicing) to ensure it has no grease
4. Whisk the egg whites until soft peak stage (if you go to tip the bowl the mixture will slide around – so don’t put it over your head this time)
5. Fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture until it is combined
6. Pour mousse into a container and chill until ready to use.

Limoncello soaked berries
200g fresh or frozen berries of your choice ( I used Sainsbury’s frozen blueberries and strawberries)
50ml of limoncello (I must post the recipe as I make my own and it is as simple as making vanilla essence and a delight after dessert to cleanse the palette)

1. Add the limoncello to your chosen fruits and leave to soak covered in the fridge overnight whilst your mousse is chilling.
2. When you are ready to make the roulade – strain off the juice into shot glasses and enjoy later – it is so good and a reward for your baking efforts.

Meringue Roulade (taken from Mary Berry Recipe for Raspberry Meringue Roulade – The Ultimate Cake Book)

Roulade Ingredients
5 egg whites (room temperature)
275g caster sugar
1/2 jar of lemon curd for the filling ( I used Sainsburys taste the difference)

Roulade Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 200C / 400F / Gas 6 / 180 Fan.
2. Line a 13×9 inch tin (33×23 cm) which is a swiss roll tin with baking parchment (including up the sides for easy removal).
3. Wipe the bowl you will use to whisk the eggs whites in with a slice of lemon to degrease it and ensure perfect peaks.
4. Pour the eggs whites into the clean bowl and whisk on high speed until the egg whites form very stiff peaks (you can turn the bowl upside down and the eggs will not move an inch).
5. Add caster sugar one teaspoon at a time to the egg mixture whilst still beating and ensure all sugar is combined before adding the next (I count to 5 between spoonfuls).
6. The mixture will be very stiff once all the sugar has been included (so much so the blades of my mixer started to struggle but it is a 1950’s Kenwood Chef).
7. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and use a pallet knife to spread the meringue
8. Put the tin near the top of the oven and bake for 8 mins.
8. Turn down the temperature to 160C/ 325F/ Gas 3/ 140 Fan and bake for a further 15 mins until it lightly golden and the meringue is firm to the touch.
9. Cut a further piece of baking parchment the same size as the tin.
10. Turn out the meringue onto the baking parchment so that it is upside down and then remove the baking parchment. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Assembly

1. Smooth the lemon curd onto the roulade.
2. Smooth the mousse over the top and scatter with the berries.
3. Keep the meringue on the baking parchment to make rolling it easier.
4. Start at one of the longest edges of the meringue. Fold the edge of the meringue inwards and begin to roll it up like a swiss roll.
5. It will crack and feel like it will never work but use the baking parchment to help you roll it and be gentle (ish) with your touch get the parchment to do the work.
6. It may not look brilliant at this point and the filling is likely to squirt out but you can lick the work surface later.
7. Once rolled use the baking parchment to transfer it to a plate (it is quite long so you may wish to cut into two depending on your serving plate size). If you wish you can have the joy of removing the baking parchment which is a little like trying to pull out a tablecloth whilst plates are still on it but if it is for family tea – just cut it on the paper and get over the need to be perfect (says the one who did the pulling off of the paper).

Enjoy- love you Mum!

Lushious Lemon and Blueberry Loaf Cake


Luscious Lemon and Blueberry Cake screams out to you ‘come on spring already’ as I have had enough of snow and woolly jumpers. This cake is so easy to make and could easily be glammed up with a lemon icing or crunchy lemon topping for a special tea and decorated with candied lemon.

The Tale of the Sceret World of Swotchers
It is cold this week and when the Met Office predict snow the entire country will grind to a halt and children take on a new obsession that I call swotching. Swotching is the art of ‘snow watching’ and makes British school children (and adults you know who you are) twitch the curtains all night waiting and praying for snow which is high enough up the kerb to warrant a day off. At school I am convinced there is a hidden inner circle of swotchers (aka teachers who live locally who have been entrusted to be in the secret circle of school swotchers). This elite crew (they do exist – trust me!) have been tasked with a mighty school ruler (this is my imagination) and school issued wellingtons to bravely enter the snow on behalf of the school and measure the depth to determine whether it is safe or not for us all to venture out. So far on my swotchers quest I have discovered there are three swotchers at our School who dutifully report the weather conditions to the Head so he can use this as well as other data to make an informed choice.

According to my observations over the last eight years if the snow is kerb level or over – School is called off and if it is below – off to School you go. The secret world of swotchers can also be seen on twitter where they (not so secretly) post under the hashtag #snowarmageddon or #snow. I am sure each snowflake has it’s own tweet by a secret swotcher somewhere. This story of the snowy underworld captivates my students who look at me open-mouthed and you can see their brains ticking over as they try to work out who the secret swotchers are. Then again they could be wondering how mad their teacher is – you never can be sure?

I guess the other thing that makes me chuckle about snow is the Met Office warnings – they amuse me so much as they just the epitomy of Britishness. I interpret them as:

BE AWARE = A snow flake may fall somewhere (OMG) you should pack cold weatehr gear just in case.
BE PREPARED = Panic buy bread, trusted rock salt, and prepare the sleighs for safe transport to work and school. Put the kettle on and under all circumstances remain calm and twitch those curtains!
TAKE ACTION = Run for your life, lock the doors and windows and do not come out as the white stuff is about to land. This may turn you into an ice statue if you step outside the front door for even a second.

Personally in times of panic and despair I bake and this was one of the results. In fact I was so engrossed I never noticed the snow until it was time to take my son out and lo and behold SNOW! I was so excited I rushed to get my snow boots which I brought last year and put them on for the first time. I stepped outside the front door like a snow warrior invincible to the white powdery stuff as these boots were made for walking. A few bounces and skips later I was off. I am known in the street for being the mad woman that will randomly get up at 6 am when it has snowed just to be the first one to walk on it. Last year I was found at 7am doing snow angels in the middle of the street next to life size snowman – that’s normal isn’t it?

The best thing about this snowy day was the lovely fresh cake and coffee when I got home to warm me up. My cake is destined for lunch boxes and therefore I choose not to ice my cake as it would not have withstood the day without becoming a mangled mush of icing and cake.

Recipe adapted from here (Good Food)

Ingredients
175g softened butter
100ml greek yoghurt
3tbsp of lemon curd
3 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons
200g self raising flour
175g golden caster sugar
90g blueberries (I used frozen)

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 160 / 140 fan / Gas 3
2. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin
3. Place butter, yoghurt, vanilla extract, lemon curd, lemon zest, eggs , flour and caster sugar into a mixing bowl and mix with a hand whisk or in stand mixer until the mixture is just combined.
4. Add half of the mixture to the lined tin
5. Sprinkle over half the blueberries
6. Repeat with the remaining cake mixture and blueberries
7. Place in the oven for 1hr 10mins – 1 hr 15 mins until the cake is springy and a cake tester or skewer comes out clean.

I am still not sure why you do the blueberries in two halves as they always end up at the bottom!

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This cake is to be entered into the Alphabakes competition being hosted by the more than Occasional Baker and Caroline Makes. The host this month is a complete baking addict and runs a fantastic blog with so many recipes and good ideas I just can’t keep up with her! Wish me luck!