Autumn half-term baking with kids

I’m off work this week to spend the half-term school holidays at home with the kids and – what a surprise – the weather is truly miserable. So yes, we’re resorting to our favourite rainy day activity: baking. We’ve been having fun experimenting with edible decorations from Dr Oetker and have come up with three tasty bakes you might like to try out with your gang the next time rainy day boredom sets in. Continue reading “Autumn half-term baking with kids”

Our ghastly Halloween showstopper

Every year I watch the Great British Bake Off and every year I feel inspired to get the kids in the kitchen to join me in creating some crazy, outlandish showstopper-style masterpiece*.

The problem is, and I know I’ve said this before on the blog, but I’m just not a natural-born baker. That’s not to say my bakes don’t taste good. Nine times out of ten they most certainly do. But all too often they just don’t look good. And that’s the whole point of a showstopper, isn’t it? To impress? To wow? So perhaps our attempt this year at a ghoulish bake for Halloween is more a pause-glance-and-nod-approvingly before moving on than a full-blown stop-them-in-their-tracks-in-awe showstopper. The children loved it though, and that’s what’s most important.

*easily interchangeable with ‘monstrosity’, but quite appropriate really for this time of year. Continue reading “Our ghastly Halloween showstopper”

Baking with kids: iced butter biscuits

ao bake Collage

As my children grow older, so we grow more adventurous in the kitchen. From pizzas and pasta to carrot cake and chilli con carne, my kids are taking on more and more ambitious projects in the kitchen. But one thing we come back to time and time again, is this easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy recipe for good old iced butter biscuits.
Continue reading “Baking with kids: iced butter biscuits”

Apple and mincemeat streusel slice

Mincemeat streusel slice web

If you’re anything like me, at the start of December you have all these great plans for all the foods you’re going to make from scratch for Christmas. But as the month passes by, you realise there’s no just no way you can do everything you planned and you resort, as usual, to the shop-bought versions instead. Mince pies are a case in point for me. Every year without fail, I promise myself I’ll make my own this year. And every year without fail, I end up buying them in.

So, if like me, you have a jar of mincemeat sat in your cupboard, don’t let it skulk there until next Christmas. Now that we’re into January and things have calmed down a bit, why not make the most of it by baking this gorgeous apple and mincemeat streusel slice? It’s just the ticket for cheering up a wet and dreary afternoon with a good strong cup of hot tea. Continue reading “Apple and mincemeat streusel slice”

Halloween ghost cake pops

Halloween ghost cake pops text

My last Halloween offering definitely wasn’t going to win any awards in the most attractive bake category (despite how much fun the kids had creating them), but these little spooky cake pops are much, much cuter.

My daughter Jessie and I made these for her school bake sale and from all accounts they were a big hit. The girls say they’d all sold out before they even made it into the school hall.

Halloween ghost cake pops2

Cake pops are always a hit with children but I avoid making them too often. They’re not at all difficult, just a little long-winded and involved. So if you plan to have a go at these, do make sure you leave yourself plenty of time.

The good people at Dr Oetker kindly sent me a big bag of ingredients in order to make this cake pops recipe, developed by Juliet Sear who is part of their Even Better Baking Team. The recipe is below and for more practical hints and tips, you can watch the video tutorial over on YouTube.

The cake at the centre of these wee little ghosties is a delicious chocolate fudge brownie, which this recipe has you making from scratch. If you want to make life a little easier, you could always use a shop-bought chocolate cake – just make sure it’s a nicely moist and squidgy one. The brownie balls are covered in a layer of white chocolate, before being dressed in their ghostly regal icing robes.

Halloween ghost cake pops

Makes 20 cake pops

For the cake balls
120g Dr Oetker 72% Cocoa Extra Dark Fine Cooks Chocolate
150g soft unsalted butter at room temp
200g Light Muscovado Sugar
3 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp Dr Oetker Madagascan Vanilla extract
125g Plain Flour

For the cake pops
2 X 100g bags of Dr Oetker White Chocolate Chips melted for sticking the balls onto the sticks & coating the cake pops
20 cake pop sticks

To decorate the ghosts
1 pack of Dr Oetker White Regal Ice
icing sugar for rolling out
Dr Oetker White Designer Icing for sticking the regal ice to the cake pops
Dr Oetker Jet Black Gel Food Colour

Preheat the oven to 140°C / gas mark 1).

Grease and line an 18cm (7 inch) square cake tin.

To make the fudge brownie mix, melt the extra dark chocolate in a microwave on medium power for 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time until melted, or in a heatproof bowl on a gentle heat over a bain marie. Leave to cool.

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

Gradually add the eggs a little at a time, mixing until combined.

Add the cooled chocolate stirring continuously. Add the vanilla extract and stir. Gradually fold in the flour until just combined. Take care not to over beat.

Pour the mix into your cake tin and bake for around 40 mins. Check it with a sharp knife or metal skewer. You want this to be slightly under baked, so the knife should come out with a nice paste stuck to the knife.

Leave the cake to cool, then turn out into a bowl and crumble with your hands to a fine, fudgy crumb.

To make the cake balls, take a handful of fudge cake mix and squeeze together tightly – you are aiming for little balls about the size of a large walnut, approximately 30g each. If the mixture is dry, the addition of a little melted chocolate or vanilla butter cream will help the mixture stick.

Melt the white chocolate chips in the same way as the dark chocolate earlier.

Dip the end of a stick into the melted white chocolate and push the stick into a ball, about half way in. Hold the ball to stop it splitting open when the stick goes in. Continue with all the balls.

Once all the cake pops are ready, pop them into the freezer for 30 mins, so the balls are firm enough to hold when dipping in the coating. Keep the melted white chocolate in a warm place to stop it from setting.

When the cake balls are firm, plunge each one into the white chocolate until completely covered. Tap the cake pop gently on the side of the bowl to shake off the excess.

To decorate the ghosts, roll out half the white regal icing into a large rectangle using plenty of icing sugar and a large plastic rolling pin. Roll fairly thinly – 2 to 3mm thick. Squeeze a little Designer Icing onto the tops of the cake pops or brush with some melted white chocolate to keep the icing sheet in place.

Using a cake cutter or small bowl, cut out circles of regal icing and place on each of the pops, smoothing down with your fingers to create the white sheet effect.

Decorate each one with a ghostly expression using the black gel food colour and a fine brush.

Halloween ghost cake pop

 

These spooky cake pops are perfect for making with little ones and so I’m entering them into this month’s Family Foodies ‘Cooking With Kids’ challenge, a month bloggers event hosted by Eat Your Veg and me, Bangers & Mash.

family-foodies

Disclosure: I received complimentary ingredients from Dr Oetker in order to try out this recipe. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Green goo iced buns for Halloween

Green Goo Halloween Iced Buns3smalltext

I always say this, but when I cook with my children, I have to be in just the right mood. A laid-back, chilled-out, hey-it’s-fine-to-wreck-the-kitchen kind of mood. Because cooking should be fun, right? For all of us, kids and parents alike. Which also means I won’t be too precious about what the end result actually looks like.

Green Goo Halloween Iced Buns4

Take these Halloween iced buns for example. Who in their right mind wants to eat something smothered in black icing? Well, my daughters it would seem. Especially when covered in hundreds-and-thousands and oozing with green jam – or green snot as my two like to call it. Delightful pair. Continue reading “Green goo iced buns for Halloween”

Wells Food Festival and how to bake the perfect Victoria sponge

Victoria Sandwich

I was all prepared to title this blog post How not to bake a cake. Then something bizarre happened. I actually followed a recipe. Properly. To the letter. I organised all the ingredients in advance, took the butter and the eggs out of the fridge the night before, sifted the flour from a height, didn’t over-mix the batter. And guess what? My Victoria sponge was the lightest, fluffiest, most perfect cake I’ve ever eaten. Or at least, baked myself.

This amazing recipe comes from cake-maker extraordinaire Fiona Cairns, possibly best known as the creator of the royal wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. So she knows what she’s doing. Fiona will be coming to Somerset to judge the cake baking competition at the Wells Food Festival on Sunday 20 October. I’m featuring a series of posts on the blog in the run up to the food festival and to help promote the cake competition, I thought it would be a nice idea to share some of Fiona’s cake baking tips.

Why I was surprised that by actually following these tips myself I could turn out a decent cake I’m not really sure, but I was. I think over the years I’d convinced myself that baking just doesn’t come naturally to me. I bake like I cook, you see. I take a recipe and play around with it, or cut corners. Now that’s fine if you’re cooking a casserole or a curry, but not a sponge cake, loaf of bread or batch of biscuits. Sometimes I get lucky but, more often than not, they’re a disaster. So my number one tip for baking the perfect cake has to be, first and foremost, stick to the recipe.

Victoria Sandwich

Now over to Fiona for her baking tips.*

Always read the recipe

Always read right to the end and only then assemble all the ingredients and equipment you need. This makes life easier, less stressful and more enjoyable.

Temperature of mixing bowls and ingredients

A warm kitchen, equipment and ingredients make a great cake. So, when baking a cake, stand your mixing bowl and beater or whisk in a bowl of warm water, then dry thoroughly before you start. Conversely, cooler ingredients and temperatures result in perfect biscuits. Hence, marble and cold hands are good for biscuit making. Is this why Scottish shortbreads are famous? Try to think ahead and remove eggs and butter from the refrigerator the night before. But, if the urge to bake suddenly strikes, stand the eggs in a bowl of warm water, and blitz the butter in the microwave.

Scales and measurements

Baking is an exact science. I’m afraid you can’t sling in an extra spoonful of this or that for good measure; you must weigh everything out precisely. A good set of digital scales is invaluable.

Tins

There is a huge variety on the market; buy the best you can. Really good-quality tins will last many years, conduct heat well and won’t warp. Non-stick, loose-bottomed or springform tins make baking so much easier. Try to use the size of tin specified. If you don’t have the correct size, err on the side of a slightly larger tin (the cake will be shallower) and reduce the baking time by 5-10 minutes.

Light as air

When sifting flour, lift the sieve up high; this allows air to coat the particles of flour as they float down.

Don’t hang around…

Once a cake’s in the tin, put it in the oven immediately as, when moist, the raising agents start to work. (A dense fruit cake batter isn’t so sensitive.)

…but be patient!

Don’t be tempted to open the oven door to peep at your cake too often. Leave this until the final 5-10 minutes. If you keep opening the door at the start, you will affect the rise and texture of the cake.

When is it ready?

Insert a thin skewer into the very centre of your cake. If it emerges clean, the cake is cooked. Long-baked fruit cakes may need extra attention: cut a piece of foil to fit the surface. Pierce a hole in the centre and open it up. This lets out steam while protecting the surface from drying out or scorching.

* Tips taken from Fiona Cairns’ Bake & Decorate.

Victoria Sponge Collage

Baking a beautiful cake and serving it up to my family filled me with a deeply wonderful feeling of joy. I can really see why people become obsessed with baking as a way of bringing pleasure to others. The next cake I bake will probably be a complete disaster and my new-born confidence will disappear without a trace, but for the time being I’m wallowing in the feeling of having turned a corner on my way to becoming a domestic goddess.

Here is Fiona Cairns’ recipe for this classic teatime cake:

Victoria sponge

Serves 8

For the cake

175g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
175g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling

150ml double cream
4 tbsp raspberry or strawberry jam
icing sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

Butter two 20cm sandwich tins, then line the bases with baking parchment.

For the batter, you can either use an electric mixer with a beater attachment or a food processor, or a bowl and an electric whisk.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl, then add the butter (in knobs), the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat together until thoroughly blended. Take care not to over-mix so  you will have a light sponge. Pour the batter into the tins and level the tops.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch or a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave for a couple of minutes, then run a knife around the rims to loosen the cakes from the tins and turn out onto a wire rack. Peel off the paper and leave until completely cold.

Lightly whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fill with jam and cream and sandwich together, so the cream forms the uppermost layer. Be sure to sandwich the flat bases together. Dust the top with icing sugar.

Victoria Sandwich

Following my success with the Victoria sandwich, I might even be tempted to enter the cake-baking competition at the Wells Food Festival myself. There are two categories: best taste and best decoration. Entries in the best taste category must all follow Fiona Cairns’ recipe for coffee, cardamom and walnut cake, which sounds like my kind of cake. If you’re interested in entering, you’ll need to email info@wellsfoodfestival.co.uk for the recipe and entry instructions. More details are on the Wells Food Festival website.

Judging by Fiona Cairns will take place during the morning of Sunday 20 October and she’ll announce the winners at Pickwicks cafe in Wells at 2pm. All entrants will get the chance to meet Fiona. The winner of each category will win a pair of tickets to the vintage tea party hosted by Pearl Lowe at the Fountain Inn and Fiona’s talk  about the making of the royal wedding cake, as well as a copy of one of Fiona books.

wells-food-festival-logo

As this Victoria sponge is ideal for a spot of weekend baking, when you can take a little more time over things in the kitchen, it’s a perfect recipe to enter into this month’s Family Foodies challenge for which the theme is Weekend Slowies. Family Foodies is a new monthly food blog challenge hosted by Lou at Eat Your Veg, and she has very kindly invited yours truly to co-host with her. Do pop over there to take a look at the other Weekend Slowies and perhaps you’ll be tempted to enter a dish yourself?

family-foodies

Easter baking: hot cross buns

If you have no daughters, give them to your sons
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns!

As regular readers of Bangers & Mash will know, I have a few insecurities when it comes to baking. Probably because around 50% of my efforts are complete flops. I put it all down to not being taught to bake as a child. But enough of the self-psychoanalysis. I am turning my baking life around. Who cares if a cake doesn’t rise occasionally and what’s a burnt biscuit or two between friends? The more I try, the better I get. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

One of my hands down successes recently has been hot cross buns. When I took these little beauties out of the oven, I can’t tell you how proud I felt. They looked just like proper hot cross buns. And they smelled amazing, simply filling the kitchen with sweet, spicy goodness. It’s going to be difficult bringing myself to eat the shop-bought variety again.

So if I can make these bad boys, anyone can.

What surprised me most wasn’t the fact they were easy to make. They were. But how quick they were to make. Isn’t bread supposed to be complicated? I did the first part before ballet lessons on a Saturday morning (OK there was a  15-minute kneading session, but I found that rather enjoyable), leaving the dough to rise while the girls did ‘good toe, naughty toe’. Then they took another ten minutes work when we got back, plus a little more rising time and then into the oven. You just need to factor in time for rising. They also freeze really well, so great to make in advance and simply whip them out when you need them.

This recipe is by The Fabulous Baker Brothers aka Henry and Tom Herbert, which appeared in the April edition of Delicious magazine. I’d been thinking about trying hot cross buns for a little while and when I saw them on the front cover I took it as a sign. I stuck pretty much to their recipe except I swapped zest for mixed peel, only because I still have a big pot left over from Christmas I’m trying to use up.

We ate some of the buns warm from the oven with butter and cheese for a light lunch, and some the following morning with strawberry jam. The rest went in the freezer for some easy homemade home-baked pleasure whenever I fancy!

Hot cross buns

Makes 16

680g strong white bread flour
2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast
10g salt
100g caster sugar
80g soft butter
15g mixed spice
175ml milk, tepid
175ml water, tepid
1 egg
80g currants
80g sultanas
40g mixed peel

For the cross
100g strong white bread flour
Pinch of salt and sugar
25g butter, melted
125ml water

For the glaze
75ml boiling water
1 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of mixed spice

Into a big mixing bowl put the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, butter (make sure it’s really soft), mixed spice, milk, water and egg. Stir well (you’ll need to put some effort in here) until  you have a loose dough. Add a little more water if the mixture looks dry.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes until the dough is smooth. Gently work in the dried fruit and mixed peel. I stretched the dough out flat, scattered on a handful of fruit, folded the dough over and kneaded. And then repeated this until all the fruit was worked in.

Plop your dough back into the big mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 45 minutes until it has doubled in size.

Before...
...and after!

Line a baking tray with good high sides with baking paper. Turn the dough out of the bowl and cut in half using a plastic scraper. Divide each half into half again, then keep repeating until you end up with 16 pieces.

Roll the pieces firmly  in your hands to make pert round shapes. Arrange them in the baking tray in a four by four formation with half an inch between each bun. Cover the tin with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes or so until the buns have doubled again in size.

Preheat the oven to 210ºC/gas mark 6-7.

Combine the dry ingredients for the cross in a bowl and gradually whisk in the melted butter and water until you get a smooth mixture. Pour into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Cross the buns by piping continuous lines across the length and breadth of the tin.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden. While they’re in, make the glaze. Boil the water with the sugar and mixed spice for half a minute, then put to one side. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, brush the tops with the spicy glaze.

 

The Little Loaf is hosting the Fresh from the Oven challenge this month and as the theme this time is hot cross buns I thought I might enter mine. Now, the Little Loaf is an amazing baker so I’m a little nervous with my amateur offering but hopefully she’ll appreciate my enthusiasm!