I know at this time of year people are firmly divided into two camps. There are those who do partake in mincemeat and those who jolly well don’t. They react to it in an Arthur Miller style protestation of there being witchcraft at play. READ MORE
I know at this time of year people are firmly divided into two camps. There are those who do partake in mincemeat and those who jolly well don’t. They react to it in an Arthur Miller style protestation of there being witchcraft at play. READ MORE
I’m not a Mum who treats sugar as the devil. I have a very sensible (well I think so) theory that by saying something’s off limits you create all kinds of both negative and exciting connotations. Dieting, giving up smoking, stopping dating unsuitable men… by saying it’s off limits all of a sudden we all want it more. So this recipe is a welcome surprise. I’d read about blitzing frozen bananas up to make ice-cream but had never really trusted that it might rival my love for the proper creamy stuff. I was wrong. Add some frozen morello cherries and honey and I’m there, face first in the tub, not sharing with anyone. Well I am almost 40 weeks pregnant…
Three years ago: Banana and custard melts
Cherry & banana ice-cream
I freeze my bananas ahead of time, whenever they are slightly on the turn. Don’t whatever you do freeze the bananas whole and then try to blend with a domestic blender. It will likely cause a lot of smoke.
Blitz the banana pieces and cherries with a stick blender or in a large food processor with the blade attachment until smooth. Add honey to sweeten slightly and re-freeze in tubs. Ta-da! Lovely ice-cream with loads less guilt.
Photography by Minal Photography.
I’m not immune to the desire to diet in January, but I have always been someone who baulks at following the crowd. So in single years gone by I’ve laughed in the face of abstinence from alcohol, butter, sugar and wheat come January time and instead rather enjoyed the emptier bars cities have to offer, the quicker service and ease of finding a seat to park my ample rear.
This year I find myself pregnant for the first time in the month of January and so I shall consume (almost) whatever I want and worry about losing those pounds at a later, sunnier, salad friendly date. So, I give you my cherry Bakewell inspired cupcakes. You may or may not remember these from the Great British Bake Off, for they are what I baked in the first week when I still retched every time the director shouted ‘action.’
NB: This recipe also appears on the BBC website here in case some of you are thinking you’ve seen it before.
Cherry Bakewell inspired cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cupcakes, cream the butter/margarine in a bowl until light and fluffy. (Use the flat beater if using your KitchenAid.) Add the sugar, flour, almonds, baking powder, milk and eggs then mix until well combined.
Spoon the mixture into the cases and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. For the icing, mix the icing sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl until smooth.
Using an apple corer, carefully remove the middle of the cupcakes and eat/discard. Fill the holes with the raspberry jam using a teaspoon. Carefully spoon the icing onto the top of each cake until the icing reaches the sides of the cake case and top with a cherry. Leave to set before serving.
Beautiful photography courtesy of Lyndsey James.
I’ve managed to scribble a couple of things off my to do list recently. Only a couple. It’s still too long. It still holds some jobs on it then have been there for about 3 years. I need a life laundry. I need one of those stick thin women from the TV to come into my house, denounce me incapable and throw away all the piles of size 10 clothes I no longer fit into. Clothes that haven’t fitted since 1995. I don’t even have the excuse of a daughter to save them for. I have a horrible feeling those half pint sized clothes will be going to the old people’s home with me. Along with my crimper and mini disc player.
Today, as if to celebrate my to do list getting just a little bit shorter, I made a new cupcake flavour. That’s a lie. I added a few bits to these and do you know what, they were quite a nice change. A little cherry with your chocolate can only be a good thing. Though these will not help the plight to fit into 17 year old jeans.
Follow the instructions to make these mighty fine chocolate cupcakes. For the icing you need:
Pop your icing sugar, butter, vanilla extract and milk into a free standing mixer making sure the lid is on. Beat slowly at first and once all the icing sugar is combined turn it up to the maximum setting and whip up until light and fluffy. This took about 6 minutes in my beautiful red K Mix. Have a dig about to dislodge any butter that’s without sugar, replace the lid and give it a last blast. Then add the jam and give the icing a stir. Not too much mind as you’re looking to achieve a streaky effect.
Ice your cupcakes either with a knife to spread the buttercream or with a piping bag fitted with your favourite nozzle. Top with a cherry!
P.S. It was been pointed out to me that a brush of Kirsch might be a welcome addition. I agree. So perhaps a little dab on the cakes pre icing if your audience is an adult one.
I shy away from hobbies requiring a lot of paraphernalia. It hasn’t always been this way. In the past I started any new hobby with great gusto and commitment. Hence, a cupboard in our bedroom holds all manner of skeletons from crafts-past, including:
So there it is. I’ve admitted it. The only ‘craft’ I’ve ever stuck at is baking. Now, regular baking needs little more than some tins and elbow grease, if we’re really going back to basics that is. Sugarcraft, well, sugarcraft is a crazy, crazy world. The amount of kit required both amazes and bugs me.
This cake is therefore a two fingers up to all those cakes that require cake smoothers and special implements and revolving cake stands. All you need are a few bits and bobs from the kitchen and my template (Download PDF House template here). Not even a smoother! We’re going to cover up the sides with biscuits to hide any lines and other imperfections. It’s also an alternative Christmas cake for those who aren’t so keen on dried fruit. Controversial I know. Who knew baking could get this revolutionary?
Please note: This cake is best eaten between one and three days after making. You need to give it 24 hrs for the jam to melt into the sponge slightly. Beware, the windows start to soften after a day or so, not that anyone ever eats them anyway. The maple gingerbread is pretty hard so be careful with any false teeth or little ones munching on it. I break into little bits for my boys. And lastly, I know fondant is a pain to work with but believe me, the alternative of making and using royal icing is just as difficult. I didn’t say it was going to be easy. The cottage may well fall apart on you as you’re making it. Just smile sweetly, take another glug of wine and start again.
For the cake, two lots of:
For the filling:
For the icing:
For the maple gingerbread house:
To decorate the gingerbread house:
1. Preheat the oven to Gas 5/190C.
2. Make the first two cakes – so please use the first set of ingredient weights – 110g, 2 eggs etc. Grease two sandwich tins with margarine (20cm) and line with greaseproof paper. Beat the cake ingredients together with a handheld electric mixer for about 4 minutes until lighter than when you started and creamy looking. Then pour equally into the cake tins – there’s not much batter so don’t think you’ve gone wrong. Bake for about 20 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
3. Repeat step 1 again so that you have 4 thin cakes altogether. Leave to cool.
4. Make the gingerbread cottage. First make the template by downloading my template and cutting pieces of greaseproof paper to size.
5. Turn the oven up to Gas 6/200C. Take 3 baking sheets and place near your work surface. Unwrap your sweets and place in a bowl.
6. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger into a large bowl, then stir in the butter mixture with a wooden spoon to make a stiff dough. If it won’t quite come together, add a tiny splash of water.
7. Roll your still warm gingerbread dough onto greaseproof paper to about 5mm thick then use your template and a sharp knife to cut two sides, a front, a back and two roof panels. Also 8 stars and a tree which you may have cutters for already. I make as many stars as I can, to eat as I’m decorating, though this amount doesn’t allow for many leftovers be warned.
8. Make windows in the side panels and the back of the cottage using a knife, and cut a door out too but keep this and bake it. The windows can be re-rolled. (When re-rolling this dough beware it becomes harder to roll as it cools as it begins to crack. Just push together with your fingers.)
9. Place each part of the cottage onto the baking tray by lifting the whole piece of greaseproof and trimming the paper to about 2cm all around the biscuit, on the tray, so as not to lose any shape. (If you try to peel the biscuit from the tray you’ll find it stretches out of shape as you move it.)
10. Put boiled sweets into the window holes once on the baking tray – some people crush theirs but I pop them in whole – just don’t use a HUGE sweet for a small window or it’ll spill over onto the biscuit.
11. Bake until hard, for approx 12 minutes. Cool on the greaseproof paper, on the tray. If you try and move the ones with window panes in too early, you’ll likely burn yourself or cover everything in molten sweets. I speak from experience.
12. Take a large piece of greaseproof paper and pop one layer of the cake onto it. The greaseproof paper is your makeshift cake board. Use the un-sieved jam to sandwich the cakes together until you have a stack of four sitting on top of each other. I used a regular knife to do this.
13. Take the sieved jam and warm slightly in the microwave then brush on the tops and the sides of the cake with a pastry brush or failing that a clean household paint brush.
14. Take the marzipan and knead until pliable, then roll onto a work surface sprinkled with icing sugar using a normal rolling pin. Roll to 4mm thick, then cover the cake with it, smoothing down the top first, then the sides gently and trimming with a knife around the bottom. Gently tuck any excess marzipan under the cake using your fingers or a sharp knife.
15. Wash your jammy pastry brush and then use to brush plain cool water onto the marzipan.
16. Take about 450g of the white fondant icing and knead until pliable on a very clean work surface. Then roll to about 4mm thick and polish the surface with the palm of your hand. This will make the cake look a little shinier but isn’t essential if you forget.
17. Cover the cake with the icing. I use a rolling pin to move the icing onto the cake, using it almost as a hanger but do it how it works best for you. Beware rolling too thinly as the icing is more liable to crack. Use your hand to smooth over the top and the sides. Then smooth and trim as with the marzipan, tucking the edges underneath. Don’t worry if the sides look a bit uneven – they’ll be hidden by the gingerbread stars. Move the cake to the stand or plate you’ll be serving it on.
18. Assemble the gingerbread house partly on your work surface. Firstly take a large piece of your leftover fondant icing and add a drop or two of water and knead to make it a little more sticky. Pull off little bits and use to attach the jelly diamonds to sit around the windows.
19. Then fashion sausage shaped pieces of fondant and use to attach the side and front of the house together, brushing the parts of the fondant that touch the gingerbread house with a little water on your pastry brush. This works best if you use good sized pieces of fondant, so that some of it pokes out of the house and some sits inside it. The icing not only sticks the house together, but makes it more stable by doing it this way.
20. Fix both sides and the front and back together into an open box using the method above. Don’t expect stability. That comes with drying. Sometimes my house collapses on me and I start again.
21. Fashion sausage shaped pieces of fondant to act as foundations and fix to the covered cake with water. Brush the tops of these foundations with water and pop the open ended house on the top of them. Push down gently. You may need to re-push together the sides of the house after this manoeuvre.
22. Push a little silver ball into a small round of fondant. Then use some water to fix this fondant to the door of the cottage. Take a sausage of fondant and as before fix the door to the cottage, leaving it slightly ajar.
23. Fix the gingerbread stars to the sides of the cake, in pairs ,opposite each other, using a small, slightly flat blob of fondant dipped in water. Push the wet icing onto the star, then hold to the side of the cake. Repeat until all 8 stars are used. You may need to hold these firmly to the cake for a few minutes to stop gravity letting them slip down. You can use a piece of ribbon if you don’t have the time to wait, well I say this but I haven’t tried it. I think it would work.
24. Fix the roof to the top of the house, using fondant ‘sausages’ and water as before. Place a long sausage of fondant along the top of the roof, fixing with water.
25. Add the Christmas tree to the cake by pushing it through the fondant cake covering. Then use two small balls of fondant and a little water to hold the tree up either side.
26. Assemble the gingerbread house:
27. Serve with a flourish to oohs and aahs.
And if all these instructions are making your head spin then watch the video instead:
and for an artier version without me blathering away:
I have a theory that from a certain age most people are difficult to buy surprise presents for. The emphasis is on surprise. I’m not talking about saying very loudly that you really admire those red Kitchen Aid mixers from ooh, about Jan 2nd onward and miraculously Santa appearing with one about 11.5 months later. That’s a wonderful present, but it’s engineered. You’ve worked for it. The present buyer spent a lot but didn’t have to think a lot. Be grateful, but not that grateful. You did the thinking.
I’m talking about the kind of surprise present the lucky soul didn’t even know they wanted until you actually gave it to them. As the present giver you should pat yourself on the back when this happens. As the present recipient you should take stock and thank your lucky stars for your creative friend/thoughtful family member. They’re keepers for sure.
Here’s a present most people don’t know they want or need. Then when they get it, they use it, then they hug you. Now in order for the lucky recepient to get a chance to use it, you need to gift it pre Xmas. So visit the lucky person, give them a jar or three and tell them to open it as soon as you’ve gone. Maybe even wrap up a nice baking tin to go with it. Now that would be a perfect present.
Quantity: Makes a truck load. Seriously. One huge 2100ml preserving jar plus a normal size jam jar. Or loads of small jars.
This is a great recipe to get small people to help with as the hands on time is all about weighing, stirring and cutting with (toddler friendly) scissors. Before you start don’t forget you need some jars at the end of all this to put your mincemeat in. (You may laugh. I have made this mistake.)
Find a large bowl and check it fits in your oven. I’m talking a really big bowl. It needs to be oven proof too. I use a ceramic one but if you don’t have one a very large casserole dish would work just as well. Weigh out all the dried fruit and nuts into the bowl, then peel and chop your apples and add them too. Give the mixture a good stir. Add the sugars, spice and nutmeg. It really will make a difference if you use fresh nutmeg and grate yourself. Stir again. Add the juice and zest of the tangerines (the official smell of Christmas) and the lemons, being careful not to lose any lemon pips into the mixture. Stir again. Lastly, add the suet, stir again. Cover the mixture with clingfilm and leave overnight.
Preheat the oven to Gas 1/140C and place the bowl of mincemeat into the oven with the top covered in foil. Leave to slowly cook and baste for 3 hours. After this time carefully remove from the oven and give the contents a good stir to ensure all the fruit is covered in the fat from the suet. Sterilise your jars at this point (I use the dishwasher but you can use the old fashioned method of a good scrub with Fairy, a rinse in boiling water and drying out in a low oven for 30 minutes instead) and line them up.
Then when the mincemeat has cooled a little (bowl touchable warmth) add the brandy and the ginger wine. Be prepared for the alcohol to give off a certain amount of fumes. I stood a little too close and was nearly knocked out. Give the mixture a good stir then fill your jam jars up to the top. I use a skewer to poke the mincemeat down to ensure it fills up an air pockets. You could also use a knitting needle if you’re of the crafty variety. Don’t leave more than 1.5cm of a gap. Then pop the tops on and store in a cool and dark place for at least 4 weeks before you use it. It needs time to mature. Will keep for 6 months.
Ta da! The best surprise Christmas present.
There’s a restaurant near where we live. It’s also a bar. And a bit of a cafe in the day. It has an identity crisis.
I like it there a lot as it’s where I met Mr. B the first time when I was 23. It’s also where I met him for the second time when I was 27. It’s also where we had our wedding reception 4 months later when I was 28.
It has a special place in my heart but something about it’s been bugging me for a long time. They don’t sell anything small to pick at with your coffee. Madness surely? I know they’re trying to direct you to their dessert menu but hell, sometimes a girl wants a biscuit, or a nice slice of cake. Not panna sodding cotta.
I made these biscuits recently for Mr. B to take to work for his birthday. They wouldn’t win the prettiest biscuit award, but my they make it hard to stop at one. I’m thinking of taking some samples into the aforementioned restaurant/bar/cafe. Partly to demonstrate just how well they go with their fabulous coffee and partly to see if they’d like me to bake for them. Does that make me one of those annoying frustrated cafe owners who should keep her snout out? I think it does.
Adapted from ‘Oaty Cherry Cookies’ from Good Food Cakes and Bakes. Makes about 30 but really does depend on how big you make them.
Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C. Get as many baking sheets as you have and line with greaseproof paper. Now to make these easy and yet oh so delicious biscuits…
Beat the butter and sugar together using a hand held mixer until light and fluffy. Stir everything else into the mix using a wooden spoon. Then roll up your sleeves and give the mixture a last good mix using your hands. Very satisfying texture in my opinion.
Take a tablespoon of mix and roll into a ball, then pop on the baking sheet and squash to about 1.5cm thick. Continue rolling until you’ve used all the mixture up. Bake for around 15 – 20 mins – the edges should be starting to brown. Remove from the oven, cool on the baking sheet for 5 mins and then transfer to a wire rack. Eat with coffee or tea or alternatively pack into a tin and leave on the doorstep of your favourite restaurant/bar/cafe that doesn’t sell biscuits. They might just get the hint.
For someone who loves Christmas as much as I do, I have an irrational fear and loathing of candied peel. For most candied peel is synonymous with Christmas; an essential festive ingredient. But not for me. I like my peel either safely keeping my citrus fruit from ruin, or in the bin. Actually, in a martini is also acceptable.
So, I endeavour to produce festive baked goods without the inclusion of the dreaded peel. I love a cherry, so often substitute with my little red nosed friends, which seem festive themselves what with resembling Rudolf’s nose. I’m also partial to ginger and so often add a bit of this too. Not too much mind or the taste is rather medicinal.
I know it’s a little late for making Christmas pud what with stir up Sunday being last weekend, but I have a newborn who is a milk guzzling brute so everything is running a little late at Camp Bell these days.
The secret ingredient for this pudding is tea. My son loves Christmas pud, however I can’t bring myself to feed a toddler booze soaked fruit. So Lady Grey tea is the tea of choice to plump up the fruit and nuts. The bonus being it adds a slight orangey twist without the use of peel.
Put sultanas, nuts, cherries and mixed spice into a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, spice, sugar, tea and milk. Mix with a wooden spoon, cover with cling film and leave overnight in a cool place. The fridge is fine if you have room. You basically need to keep it cold because of the milk.
The next day, mix everything else into the fruit and nut gloop. Butter either 2 x 1-litre pudding basins or 10 small pudding basins. I tend to make one large pudding and a few little ones as a compromise. John Lewis have some great small metal basins that are perfect. Fill each basin three quarters full then cover in the traditional way. (A double layer of buttered on the basin side down, pleated in the middle, greaseproof paper then tied with string just under the rim. There is no way I can do this without the help of either my teeth or Mr Bell. Up to you which to choose. If you need instructions check out youtube)
To cook just pop an upturned saucer into a large saucepan and then sit the big pudding on top. Pour just boiled water into the saucepan until it comes to halfway up the basin. Cover the pan with a lid and bring back to the boil. Then simmer for 5 hours, checking periodically that the poor pud hasn’t boiled dry. If it’s in danger of this add more boiled water.
To cook the little puddings, preheat the oven to Gas 4. Put the puds into a roasting tin and add boiling water until it comes to half way up the sides of the pudding basins. Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours altogether.
Once cooked remove from the pan/oven and let cool. I then tend to pop in the fridge (at back/bottom where they can be forgotten about) until Xmas but another cool, dark place is fine. You can also freeze them too! Just defrost in fridge over 48 hours before reheating. Oh and to reheat you need about 2 hours steaming for the big ones and about 1 hour for the small ones in pan or oven depending on which size you went for. Same heat as before.
Serve with brandy butter or cream or custard or if you’re 2, ice cream.
So I am still waiting. Day 11 of being overdue. Today I have to stay in the house and also wait for the hob element of the Early Learning Centre sizzlin’ kitchen to be delivered. It was missing you see. And you can’t make pretend sausages without a sizzling sound. So I am waiting for a baby and a pretend hob which is an unusual combo. Ideally I’d like the hob to arrive first but as it’s day 11 I’m not that fussy.
Whilst waiting this morning I decided I need something sweet and having eaten all other treats in the house (including Charlie’s birthday sweets and lollies… oops) I raided the cooking shelf. It was full of half opened packets just dying to be mixed together with butter and golden syrup and so a new flavoured flapjack has been born. Well, new to the Bell household anyway.
It only occurred to me whilst eating the second slice that this is a little reminiscent of Nutella. Now I don’t buy the stuff or really have an opinion of it but when flapjack reminds me of it, somehow that’s a good thing. The cherries can be omitted and substituted for any dried/candied fruit really. I know cherries are polarising.
Preheat the oven to Gas 5 and line a tin that’s about 20cm x 10cm with non stick paper. You can also use one of those silicone trays and not bother lining.
Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a large saucepan and melt on a low heat until everything looks like caramel and smooth. Don’t let it boil! Then add everything bar the chocolate and give it a really good stir until it’s all combined nicely.
Take off the heat and add the chocolate. Give a quick stir. It will start to melt. Transfer the whole sticky lot into your tin/tray, smooth over and pop into the oven at the top for about 20 mins. It’s ready when it’s starting to brown at the edges so do check it.
Leave to cool in the tin and then slice when almost cold. Enjoy whilst waiting for things. Or in a lunchbox. Or with ice cream for pudding.