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”
There’s been a bit of a baking frenzy in our house recently. There was a PTA cake sale at my daughters’ school last week and we decided to get all creative with these love heart cupcakes with a double chocolate and cream cheese topping. Jess hates buttercream so cream cheese is a good alternative.
Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to bake for the cake sale and at the last minute we’ll resort to buying plain fairy cakes or biscuits, which the kids will decorate with gaudy-coloured icing and a few sprinkles. But other times I go the whole hog. And this was one of those times. I was definitely spurred on by my earlier success with a classic Victoria sponge and also by a big bag of chocolate goodies from the kind people at Dr Oetker. My youngest daughter Mia, who is a self-confessed chocoholic, couldn’t believe her luck when she opened up the parcel.
Dr Oetker are running a competition, challenging UK bakers to come up with their most creative chocolate cupcake and I thought I might try my chances. One lucky baker will win the fantastic prize of a trip for two to New York City, the home of the cupcake. The closing date is 17 October 2013 if you fancy having a go too. Pop over to their Facebook page for more details on how to take part. Having seen the other hugely impressive entries, I don’t think I have even the slightest smidgen of a chance of winning anything but it’s the taking part that counts, as they say.
The cupcakes were a big hit at the school cake sale. Admittedly they’re a bit more of a faff than I’d usually go in for when it comes to decorating cupcakes but it was worth it to see the children’s faces when they spied them. And if you fancy a pretty-looking sweet treat, the love heart cookies on their own seem to go down rather well with the little ones.
Love heart cookies
Makes around 40 cookies – so you’ll have plenty left over to enjoy later
250g butter, softened
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
a drop or two of red food colouring
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
25g dark chocolate
hundreds and thousands
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract. Add a couple of drops of red food colouring and combine well.
Sift in the flour and salt and mix thoroughly to form a dough. You’ll need to get your hands in at this point.
Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment until it is roughly half a centimetre thick.
Use a small heart-shaped cutter to cut out your cookies, or work freehand using a sharp knife.
Line a baking tray with more baking parchment and carefully lift the cookies onto the tray, spacing them apart a little.
Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes until just firm to the touch. Remove from the tray and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Place the dark chocolate in a small bowl and melt in a microwave. Using a teaspoon, drizzle chocolate onto each love heart cookie and then sprinkle on some hundreds and thousands.
Chocolate chip cupcakes
Makes 12 – six chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips and six plain cupcakes with dark chocolate chips
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp cocoa powder, mixed with a few drops of water into a paste
25g white chocolate chips
25g dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
Put the butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour and vanilla extract into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the milk and mix again.
Split the mixture equally between two separate bowls. Into the first add the cocoa paste and mix in carefully. Then add the white chocolate chips and stir until well dispersed through the mixture. Into the second bowl of plain mixture add the dark chocolate chips and again stir in.
Line a 12-bun muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the cupcakes are springy to the touch and just golden on top.
Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Double chocolate and cream cheese marbled topping
100g cream cheese
200g icing sugar
75g white chocolate
75g dark chocolate
Scoop the cream cheese into a large bowl and sieve in the icing sugar. Beat together until thoroughly combined. Place half the mixture into a second bowl.
Place the white chocolate and dark chocolate into two separate bowls and melt in the microwave. Add the white chocolate to one bowl of topping mixture and the dark chocolate to the other. Combine well.
Place alternate spoonfuls of white chocolate and dark chocolate topping into a piping bag until it is full. Swirl a generous amount onto each of the cupcakes.
And finally, top with one of your pretty love heart cookies.
Disclosure: Dr Oetker provided me with a complimentary selection of cooking chocolate and cake decorations for this post. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are totally my own.
In the parcel I received 72% Extra Dark Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, 26% White Fine Cooks’ Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips, and Hundreds and Thousands, all of which I used in this recipe.
What a difference the sunshine makes. For the first time I can remember in a very long time, we got to enjoy fine weather on a bank holiday weekend. We spent as much time as we could outdoors and it felt like we were on a mini holiday. The whole of nature seemed to have jumped into action with the trees, hedgerows and fields bursting into spring flower.
For our breakfasts we’ve been enjoying homemade fruit smoothies. My husband Jason concocted indulgent blueberry smoothies with vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on top…
… while I got the children making slightly healthier smoothies with mango, passion fruit and apple, along with some special edition mango and passion fruit flavoured Actimel we were kindly sent to try out. A deliciously fruity start to the day.
On Saturday my parents came to stay. They arrived just in time for lunch and we tucked into spring lamb that had been slow roasting in the Aga all morning, served with homegrown purple sprouting broccoli and an Ottonlenghi-inspired aubergine and courgette risotto (a recipe I’m going to be making again and again), all washed down with a light, sunshiny rosé.
To walk off lunch we took a leisurely stroll around the tranquil Bishop’s Palace Gardens in nearby Wells. I’m working at the moment in Wells so it makes a lovely change to visit the city as a tourist. The children loved dressing up as bishops (perhaps by the time they’re grown up the Church of England will actually allow women bishops?), climbing trees, playing Pooh Sticks with Grandad in the palace moat and trying to wake the sleeping willow dragon. I was rather taken with the community gardens – what a wonderful place to have an allotment.
On Sunday we took Nana and Grandad for a walk across the fields behind our house, carefully skirting around the protective cows and their calves, to go and feed the two local nanny goats. One of the goats was so heavily pregnant she could barely walk; it made me wince to look at her. We also visited the field of sheep and their dainty lambs, whereupon Mia decided we should buy ourselves a pet sheep and lamb and keep them in the garden so that Daddy doesn’t have to mow the lawn anymore. Grandad tried to teach Mia to make duck noises by blowing on grass (unsuccessfully) and we foraged for wild garlic in the hedgerows (successfully).
On Sunday afternoon, possibly the warmest day of the year so far, I decided to do some baking. Crazy I know! I rustled up some zingy lemon mascarpone cupcakes and we decorated them with these pretty wafer butterflies from Dr Oetker. Perfect for an impromptu garden party underneath our apple tree that’s just beginning to bud – hopefully we’ll actually get apples this year. Jessie normally hates butter icing as it’s so rich, but loved this mascarpone topping because “It’s lovely and lemony!”
And then on Bank Holiday Monday, along with seemingly half of Somerset, we climbed up Glastonbury Tor to enjoy what are arguably the finest views in the Westcountry. The girls had great fun pretending to be the tor monsters when we reached the top. We really should have taken a picnic with us, but instead found ourselves in the fabulous Hundred Monkeys bistro in Glastonbury afterwards for a well-earned late lunch of deliciously meaty burgers served in artisan bread rolls, local Somerset cider, ice cream coke floats and ever so tempting homemade cakes. If you’re ever in Glastonbury, I heartily recommend it. While we were waiting for our food, the children invented a new game of napkin dot-to-dot; I rather like our arty creations…
So that was how we spent our bank holiday. What did you get up to this weekend?
Disclosure: I was sent samples of the new limited edition Mango & Passionfruit Actimel to try out, along with fresh fruit and a smoothie maker. I also received samples of Dr Oetker’s Wafer Butterflies to see what I thought. No money exchanged hands and the views expressed here, as they are throughout my blog, are completely my own.
My two girls almost ate us out of house and home during the Easter holidays. And now that they are back to school and nursery, they are coming home in the afternoon absolutely ravenous. There’s no way they can keep going until tea time without a quick snack as soon as they get through the front door.
These maple syrup and banana cupcakes are perfect, and they’re also good as a lunch box treat. They contain wholemeal flour and fruit so they’re also vaguely healthy!
Maple syrup and banana cupcakes
150g self-raising flour
100g wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g Demerara sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on top
1 tsp cinnamon
60g margarine, very soft
2 large ripe bananas
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp maple syrup
4 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6 and line a bun tin with 12 paper cake cases.
Mix together the self-raising and wholemeal flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the soft margarine and mash it into the flour using a fork until well combined.
Mash the bananas using a fork and stir this into the mixture, along with the sultanas.
Add the beaten eggs, maple syrup and milk and beat until the mixture is well combine and dropping consistency.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cases and sprinkle a little Demerara sugar on top of each one.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool. Eat them as they come or make into more of a pudding by eating warm drizzled with more maple syrup.
I am finally growing in confidence as a baker. For a long time I have thought of myself as a good cook but not a good baker. But slowly that is beginning to change.
Until recently I would never experiment with a cake recipe because baking just didn’t come naturally to me.
The world seems to fall into two camps: those who were born to bake and those who weren’t. I’ve always fallen into the second camp. But I’m gradually discovering that baking can actually be learned. It’s as much about confidence in the kitchen as anything, a bit of practice and not giving up the first time things go pear-shaped.
In recent weeks I’ve come up with my own recipe for pistachio scones and tried my hand at hot cross buns (recipe coming soon). And I’ve also come up with this recipe for chocolate orange cupcakes, which I’m really rather proud of. They’re sticky and gooey and indulgent and satisfying. My little girls asked for seconds. What more can you ask for?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not inventing recipes from scratch. Far from it. But I’m having fun playing around with other people’s recipes.
My experiments don’t always work out. A few weeks ago I tried making my version of a lemon tart using polenta and caraway. It was truly disgusting. I wasn’t too impressed with my Cheerio crunchies either – my attempt at using up a bulk purchase of a breakfast cereal my kids once loved then decided they no longer like.
Anyway, back to the chocolate orange cupcakes. The idea for these came from the good old Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Well, where else? I’ve used Nigella Lawson’s recipe for chocolate-cherry cupcakes as my starting point and then quite simply swapped the cherry ingredients for orange ones. Perhaps I’m being too honest here? That sounds too easy now I’ve typed it. But it did honestly feel quite inspired to me at the time…
Chocolate orange cupcakes
200g plain chocolate
280g orange marmalade
1 orange, zest and juice
150g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour
100ml double cream
25g mixed peel
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4.
Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat and then add 100g of the chocolate. When the chocolate starts to melt, remove from the heat and stir in the marmalade, orange zest and juice, sugar, salt and eggs.
When it’s all mixed together well, stir in the flour.
Place 12 muffin paper cases into your muffin tin and spoon in the cupcake mixture. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the cakes have risen and are springy to the touch.
Cool in the muffin tray for 10 minutes or so, and then transfer to a wire rack until they are completely cool.
To make the icing, break up the remaining 100g chocolate into a saucepan and add the double cream. Bring to a gentle boil and then remove from the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the icing is smooth and thick. Use a tablespoon to ice the cakes and pop a few pieces of mixed peel in the middle of each one.
I just had a bit of a wobble and almost changed my mind about posting this recipe. Another blogger, a proper baking blogger with tonnes of followers, has just posted their recipe for chocolate orange cake. My confidence in my own food was zapped in a matter of seconds. But do you know what, I am going to press that ‘publish’ button. This isn’t a competition, after all. Is it?
We’ve got another cake sale coming up soon at my daughter’s primary school. These are definitely one of the PTA’s most successful ways to raise funds. You should see the number of homemade cakes the parents bring in. It’s very impressive.
I have a couple of standards I usually bake, which I know always get snapped up. The first is the banana chocolate cupcake, which I’ve featured here before. And the other is the scrumptious apple crumble muffin, the recipe for which I’ve taken from Linda Collister’s excellent book ‘Baking with Kids’.
I like to think of both these cakes as being vaguely healthy since they contain fruit. Obviously they also contain lots of butter and sugar too, so I don’t think you can really claim they’re a substitute for one of your child’s five-a-day!
The apple crumble muffin is a big hit in our house. The perfect combination of cake and pudding.
And as they contain apple, I’m entering this muffin into February’s In Season Challenge over at Make It Bake It, where the theme this month is any recipe containing apples.
Apple crumble muffins
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
275g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
175g caster sugar
2 eating apples
Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5.
To make the topping, cut the butter into small pieces and put in a mixing bowl with the other ingredients. Work them together until it looks like crumble mixture.
For the cake mixture, sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and mix in the sugar. Stir in the zest from the lemon and make a well. Pour the melted butter, beaten eggs and milk into the well, and mix gently.
Spoon the mixture into paper muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin tray. Core and roughly chop the apples and scatter on top of the muffin mixture, then sprinkle over the topping.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Enjoy with a cup of tea or a glass of milk!
As a 20-something career girl, I loved entertaining and experimenting with new dishes. But cakes and puddings were always the elements of a meal I would buy in ready-made.
With baking you had to be so precise and careful. So patient. So WI.
I liked cooking because you could throw in whatever ingredients you had to hand, try out new combinations, not worry too much about exact measurements. Jamie Oliver, as I’m sure you can tell, was a big influence.
But baking, well, that was different. It was more of an art to be mastered, a skill, an exact science. It was something you had to learn.
Like many women of my generation, my mother didn’t teach me how to cook, and certainly not how to bake. My only memory of cooking with mum as a child was being shown how to whisk up Angel’s Delight.
Working women, like my mum, didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen. And she certainly didn’t want to glamourise the kitchen to me in any way. Mum wanted her daughters to study hard and become successful doctors or lawyers. Showing her girls the basics in the kitchen was not high on her agenda.
So while I’ve always loved eating cakes and puddings, back then I had no interest in or desire to create them myself. That was for women of my grandmother’s generation.
Then Nigella sashayed onto the scene and baking was suddenly sexy and fun. Women wanting to spend time again in the kitchen somehow became legitamised. We could surround ourselves in pretty retro accessories and Cath Kidston cake stands. Baking was a way of showing our creativity to delight and impress friends and family. We were allowed to feel feminine, rather than subservient, in the kitchen.
Nigella’s appearance on my radar coincided with social, and probably hormonal, changes in my own life. It was when I was pregnant with our first daughter Jessie that I truly began to embrace and enjoy baking. Was Nigella aiding and abetting my biological need to nest build?
A real turning point in my attitude to baking was when I joined my local NCT group in Bristol and got to know other mums-to-be. Whenever we met up, both before and after our babies were born, we’d all contribute dishes of food, much of which would be baked confection. There was probably a competitive element to this; who could bake the best while coping with sleep deprivation and mastitis? But I didn’t care. It was a lovely distraction from the sometime mundanity of life with a newborn and something to look forward to each week.
I remember when the lovely Jenny appeared with a large plate of Nigella’s decadent chocolate-cherry cupcakes at one of our NCT sessions to celebrate my 30th birthday. No-one had ever baked especially for me before. I was so moved. It was then I realised then the power and the beauty of the homemade cake.
I’ve been hooked on baking ever since.
Now I’m not saying a master baker. Baking hasn’t come naturally to me. But practice makes perfect as they say and I’m having fun trying.
While I’m not restricted to Nigella’s recipes, I do find myself returning to her books again and again, in particular How to be a Domestic Goddess. I love her banana bread, brownies, madeira cake (or rather her mother-in-laws), rocky road and chocolate loaf cake. And of course those gorgeous chocolate-cherry cupcakes.
But probably the recipe I come back to most often is Nigella’s dolly mixture fairy cakes. She says that all children love them and never a truer word was said. Although I’d only agree with her on them being “curiously therapeutic to make” if the children aren’t actually around. I do enjoy baking with the kids. But when I make these little treats with them, they always demand to do the decorating and won’t let me get a look in!
These beautiful fairy cakes have become a staple ingredient of my girls’ birthday parties. A stack of little cakes looks magical on the birthday tea table. And so much easier to send home with the guests in their doggy bags.
So, in case you don’t happen have a copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess, here’s the recipe…
Nigella’s Dolly Mixture Fairy Cakes
125g softened butter
125g caster sugar
125 self-raising flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk
For the icing:
250g instant royal icing
Food colouring – the choice is yours
250g dolly mixtures (or really any little sweeties that take your fancy and look appealing)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Simply put all the ingredients, bar the milk, into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Then pulse while you add the milk a little at a time through the funnel, until you have a lovely dropping consistency.
Line a 12-bun muffin tin with 12 paper muffin cases and spoon in the mixture.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the cakes are golden on top. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack.
Cut the peak off each cake to give it a flat top. Make up the icing according to the packet instructions and blend in your chosen colouring. Obviously divide the icing into more than one bowl if you are using more than one colour.
Ice each cake and use the back of a spoon to achieve a smooth finish. After a minute or two, once the icing has set slightly but is still tacky, decorate with the sweets. There, couldn’t be easier.
I am entering this recipe into the Forever Nigella Recipe Challenge over at Maison Cupcake. There have already been lots of great entries – you can see the others by clicking on the picture link below.
If you ever need to rustle up some cakes for a school cake sale, these should do the trick.
Totally unsophisticated, completely garish and obscenely sweet. Just what little children are looking for in a cupcake.
I made these last week for the Christmas Fair and they disappeared in minutes of doors opening.
And they can’t be that unhealthy; they do contain banana after all.
Banana and chocolate cupcakes
Makes 8 cakes
1 large ripe banana
110g soft butter
110g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
110g self-raising flour
For the icing
60g plain chocolate
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp golden syrup
Sweets of your choice for decoration – Smarties, jelly beans, dolly mixture – go crazy!
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / gas mark 4. Line a muffin tin with eight paper muffin cases.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl, then gradually add the eggs to the butter mixture, beating well.
Peel and mash the banana and stir into the butter mixture. Sift and fold in the flour.
Fill the muffin cases with the mixture and bake for 20 minutes, until risen and golden. Leave to cool.
To make the icing, put all the ingredients in a bowl and microwave on a medium heat for a minute or two, and mix well.
When the cupcakes are cool, spoon over the chocolate icing and decorate with your chosen sweeties.