Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas glitter

It's Christmas day - and my treat to my family (and myself) was to attempt to make my first ever Christmas cake.  OK, so I didn't attempt to make it today, that would be silly - but we cut into it and managed to eat a slice, and I was pleasantly surprised.  The fear with a Christmas cake is that is takes so long to bake, (or as my Grandfather used to say "to dry it out"), and then the weeks of feeding it (cherry brandy in my case, as I didn't have any normal brandy), how do you know that all that time, money and energy is going into something that is tasty and works.  Had I burnt it in the hours of baking, should I have risked the chocolate fruit cake instead of a traditional fruit cake, does the cherry brandy make it too sickly?  So it was lovely to cut into it, and see my family really enjoy it (and go back for seconds!)  I even quite enjoyed the decorating, and have some fun ideas for next year now I know how to do the icing and marzipan!

So, how did I get there?  Well, in the office we'd been discussing cakes and someone had found a recipe for a chocolate fruit cake, which just sounded a little it different - enough to make me want to give it ago.  The recipe was from the trusted BBC Good Food ( which then surprises me that it didn't quite go to plan!

I had a friend over the evening I decided to make it, and she's quite practical when it comes to lining tins - so she happily got on with that aspect while I measured out the ingredients, melted the butter and chocolate into the fruit and got everything mixed and ready.
Sue proudly displaying the double-lined cake tine

Melting butter and chocolate into the fruit

To be honest, it took us about the same amount of time to line and prepare the mix (she's very attentive to detail!)  Then the mix was poured in and popped into the oven.  The recipe stated 1.5 - 1.45 hours...hmmm!  NOPE!  Having read a few of the comments on the page, there's varying times ppl had to cook, am quite surprised, which is why I was worried I'd massively over baked it, and having started in an evening, you can imagine how late I finished!  Nearly midnight by the time the skewer was coming out clean, I was very tired and slightly irritated by then, I guess this is my inexperience of fruit cake baking that lead me to massively underestimate!  I knew they could take ages, but thought there was something in this being a chocolate that made it take less time?  Can you tell I've not gotten over it yet??  I've learnt my lesson though, but am surprised at Good Food for such a variation in their time to mine.

Finally baked!

Anyway, so once the cake was finally baked and left to cool over night, I then proceeded to feed it Cherry Brandy every few days leading up to the week before Christmas.  Stabbing the cake and pouring a tablespoon over the top; then halfway though the countdown, I turned the cake upside down and would feed from the bottom.  Just trying to make sure it wouldn't be too dry.

Then, researching how to place marzipan and icing, I found some fab videos online, and realised it's not as hard as I'd been imagining, just lots of rubbing down of the top and smoothing the edges. Definitely happy to do this again now I know how easy it is.  Although, having seen other Christmas cake decorations I'm thinking I could have done more with mine, but for a first attempt, am pleased to have it looking fairly neat and festive, and most importantly glittery! Very festive!

Glittery cake

Glittery cake
And finally, we cut into the cake yesterday (Christmas eve), it took some effort to cut through - me getting nervous that it's just a charred mess under the icing - but it all looks OK, and feels moist, so we share it out and everyone happily chomps into it.  Couldn't taste the cherry brandy, but I think that's help to keep it moist, but there's a slight chocolate taste that adds to the richness of the cake - really quite pleased - and my first Christmas cake!  I think I'll try again next year, may be look for a smaller recipe, or split it before bringing home, so work can have some too..... more blog posts to follow on the festive office bakes I've produced over the last month.  Have spent too much time baking and not enough blogging :)

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Adventures with overripe bananas

I regularly eat bananas, they tend to be my grab and go breakfast (I'm not a morning person) or I eat them in the afternoon if I'm planning a gym session - so I'm always astounded that I always seem to be left with a bunch of overripe bananas. May be they're breeding?!

Anyway, I put out a plea to twitter for some help with interesting recipes for overripe bananas, because I can't face making another loaf of bananas muffins, and @sundaybakeclub came to my rescue with lots of really interesting ideas!

I had a fab Wednesday evening nattering away to fellow bakers about various ideas, while baking up some peanutbutter and banana cookies (and they possibly munching on them too):

Yum yum! I took them into work, and they were very much enjoyed! I always struggle with cookies and biscuits, I seem to over or underbake them, This lot, I think I managed to achieve both states within the various batches!  Oops...oh well, more practice required. 

So some of the fab suggestions that came from Twitter included freezing the bananas to make lollypops or ice-cream. I love this idea, but my freezer is currently full with various stews and casseroles, but definintely a plan to remember for the summer. Banana flapjacks, which I think I might try next weekend! Then today's experiment which was banana blondies. I love blondies at the best of times, as I'm more of a white choc kinda girl anyway, so couldn't resist trying this one out - I've made brownies before but this was my first blondie.

Annoyingly after heading into town for the extra ingredients I needed, I managed to forget the key white choc! Thankfully a friend had donated a batch of white choc reindeer that her family didn't like. Am not sure this type of choc is intended for baking, but it seemed OK...until I melted it with butter! all separated  out, and I couldn't recombine it. I thought I'd take the plunge and stick it in the egg/sugar mix and just see what happened, and thankfully it all combined back and made a fab mixture! Phew (I didn't take photos as I was panicking too much!)

Once everything was all mixed in and ready to go, I realised my square tin wasn't quite big enough, so I've made up a small circular blondie for me to try and then a bigger one that I'll cut up and take into work.  I hope it's cooked all the way through....I remember this being a problem with my last brownie!  

They're both looking a little crispy in the photos, the smaller one definitely is..and I'm eating it while I try it and it tastes OK, but not quite like any blondie I've had before, so not sure I've succeeded here.  Just letting the bigger one cool down, and then I'll slie it up and see if that's had any more success.  This may not be one of my best bakes.... :/

Monday, 14 March 2016


I've moved house (well, country to be precise!) Hence the lack of posts lately.  I moved from Wales to England (Derbyshire) just over a year ago - living in vile rental accommodation for 6 months (there was no cooker, and only an electric camping 2 ring hob for cooking). Not ideal conditions.  Then I finally sold my gorgeous house with my perfect kitchen and was able to buy in my new location - it's not as perfect as the old place and requires a bit of work but I'm getting there. I've not enjoyed baking in the new kitchen (it took 4 major cleans to get the oven back to a reasonable colour and it's not what I'd call "clean"), but I thought I'm never going to get there if I don't give it a this evening after spending a bit of time enjoying the sun out in my little garden, I thought I'd try making a pie (I genuinely didn't realise it was #PiDay today) and also some cookies for work tomorrow.

Far too ambitious - but got me baking and working out how to manage my kitchen a bit better (I think I need to reorganise!) but here's the result of my endeavours:

Chicken and Leek Filo pie a variation of this dish from Tesco -

This is possible the first time EVER that I've not been able to eat as much as the recipe suggested. It claims it's for 2 people, and I are a quarter of it (OK, so I may have been eating some of the cookie dough mix while mixing them up and waiting for the pie to cook). This made me happy though, as I could use my lovely purple Le Creuset and the filo pastry that I bought a while back and then never decided what to do with them.  It was an interesting mix of ingredients and the recipe suggest pre-cooked chicken and microwave rice (OK, on this occasion I did use what they suggested), but now I've played with this, I think I'd be more than happy to put my own pie mix together and produce something a little less pre-cooked/prepared.  

Then while the pie was baking away, I started to put together the mix for my double chocolate and peanut butter cookie. The recipe was from a lovely book of biscuits I got for Christmas.  All too often my biscuits start sounding nice but by the time I've finished they really don't taste that great and it's something I've wanted to crack for a while.  They're either too well done and tasting burnt or I've somehow undercooked them - one day I shall crack it.  Not sure this mix proved hugely successful (we'll see what they say at work tomorrow), but I enjoyed all the mixing and especially taste testing the raw mix of peanut butter, normal butter and light brown sugar - yum yum!

if they'd not been for work I think I might have stayed at this stage and ate them all!

I had to compromise on white chocolate, as although I was sure I had two bars of Lindt white choc I could only locate one, so had to throw in some milky bar to make up the weight.  Looking at the final cookie, I'm not sure if this was the best plan - there is definitely white chocolate melting from the bottom of these (which meant I had to scrape the excess white chocolate from the baking sheets - shame). However, they definitely needed white chocolate, as I feel the dark was a bit overpowering. I'm not sure if these are undercooked, but I followed advice of bake for 10 mins, squash them down with a pallet knife and bake for another min - I actually went for an extra couple - and I could still taste cocoa powder or strong dark chocolate.  Like I say, work taste test tomorrow - as I'm not the biggest fan of chocolate! Although usually white and dark aren't too bad.....

Here's the mess in the kitchen as I try and batch bake and balance them around (at this point I was trying to dish up my tea as well!)

Batch baking madness

Melting white chocolate?