So I overhauled the blog. Did you notice? Do you like it? I am still getting used to it. I may even write a whole blog post just on the reasons why. Like a kind of blog therapy. I do LOVE it, don’t get me wrong. I think it seems a bit whizzy and cool for me. Like when I bought a racing green, soft top car at the age of 27 and kept expecting someone to laugh in my face as I pulled up at the traffic lights. I got pregnant about 6 months later and swapped it for a Skoda so all was well in the world again.
So we’re moving. Yep, almost a year after we saw the house we fell in love with at first sight, the move date it set. I am in full denial mode at the moment. Boxes are mounting up from all our generous and helpful friends, but they remain unfilled. I want to have a huge life laundry style clear out, but it’s oh so hard with little ones. They just need (and want) so much stuff. Mostly plastic. And puzzles. We have a lot of jigsaw puzzles.
As a displacement activity for all this packing (or rather not packing) and blog makeover anxiety I’ve suggested I bake scones for the children’s sports day at school. Three days before we move. How stupid is that? I might make some of these too. They’re summery, no?
This recipe is all about the preparation. You just need to be a busy bee (with helpers if possible) getting everything ready. Think of it as a baking version of a stir fry. Lots of chopping (ie/beating, whizzing, rolling and snapping) before a fast fry (assembly job).
My sons are tickled by these cupcakes. Hope you like them. There’s a video in case my instructions are difficult to understand. Please forgive the poor lighting, obsession with uttering ‘erm’ and the general detritus in the background. I’m clearly an amateur when it comes to video making. Forgive me. I will get better. Well, I can hope.
Make the buttercream by beating the butter until soft using either a wooden spoon, a handheld mixer or a stand mixer. Then add the icing sugar a spoonful at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and milk/water and beat well until soft and creamy – about 7 minutes.
Divide the buttercream into equal thirds, then remove a heaped tablespoon from each bowl and transfer to another (a 4th bowl). This 4th bowl will have less buttercream in that the other three. This is the one to colour dark brown. Use a toothpick to transfer the food colouring into the icing. Mix well with a spoon. Colour the other three bowls of buttercream red, orange and yellow. For the red colour use both red food colourings to achieve a really dark red. Spoon the buttercream into an icing bag fitted with a Wilton 1M tip, a teaspoon at a time, alternating between red, orange and yellow.
Make the ‘dirt’ by food processing the Oreo cookies. If you use the original ones with the cream centre, remove this before blending. Place the ‘dirt’ in a bowl into which one of your cupcakes will fit. Prepare the Matchmakers by snapping the mini ones in half to make 72 sticks – or cut regular Matchmakers up into 72 sticks about 2cm long. Massage a dot of the black food colouring into the white fondant until you have a marbled effect. Roll a ball of fondant about 1cm across between your palms to make stones. Repeat to make 72.
Use a knife to spread some of the dark brown buttercream around the outside rim of the cupcake, about 1cm thick all round. Be sure to spread it to the edge. Tip the cupcake upside down and push into the Oreo dirt. Pipe a swirl of buttercream ‘fire’ into the middle of the cupcake, holding the piping bag at a 90 degree angle, inside the Oreo dirt. Be sure to release the pressure of the piping bag as you come to the end of the piping. Place 6 fondant stones into the very edge of the buttercream fire, evenly spaced. Add 6 Matchmaker sticks in between the fondant stones. Done!
Another half term over, another set of scribbles on my husbands dear Habitat table to scrub off. The house is a bombsite, there are toys strewn everywhere but we had a great time. And I also had an epiphany. A parenting epiphany no less.
I tried to plan the week with a mixture of at home activities and day trips but after a rather sullen visit to the cinema where my husband and I seemed to be more engrossed in the plight of Princess Ana than our two young sons, I realised that actually all they wanted to do was be with us. In that, they wanted our full and undivided attention, not shared with a cinema screen. So simple, so obvious and yet so easy to miss in the wake of soft play centres, cinemas, bowling and all the other half term must haves.
So home we went and set about a spot of kitchen therapy. My sous chefs helped bake and decorate these cupcakes with gusto. They mashed, mixed, whisked, folded, spooned and tasted. You can guess which part was the most popular.
Chocolate banana flower cupcakes
For the cake:
For the icing:
Line a 12 hole cake tin with cupcake cases and preheat the oven to gas 4/180C/fan 160C. Cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon or with a mixer for about 4 – 6 minutes until really light and creamy looking. Add the eggs to the creamed mixture a dribble at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk, beat again.
Fold the mashed bananas into the mixture using a large metal spoon. Then sieve the flour and cocoa over the top and fold in again with a metal spoon. When no traces of the flour or cocoa are visible, spoon into the cases equally and bake for 20 – 25 minutes in the centre of the oven until they’re well risen, a little cracked at the surface and a toothpick comes out of the centre of each cupcake clean. Cool on a wire rack, removed from the tin.
To make the icing beat the butter with a wooden spoon or electric mixer for about 5 minutes until light and creamy, then add the icing sugar 1 tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and milk, beat well for another 5 minutes to ensure the icing is really fluffy, then spoon onto the cupcakes once cooled. Use a knife to spread an even layer over the top of each cake.
Press a banana chip into the centre of each cupcake then push 12 chocolate buttons into the buttercream in a circle pattern, to look like petals. These cupcakes keep in an airtight tin, at room temperature for 4 days.
As Valentine’s Day approaches I ponder on the best V Day presents I have ever received. There was the H Samuel gold plated key ring with my beloved’s name on it – yep, I received a key ring with ‘Jonathan’ written across it in whimsical copperplate letters. Thanks Jonny! We were only 10. I might forgive him.
Then there was a lovely boy called Peter who every year left a box of Malteasers in my desk. With the benefit of hindsight I ought to have concentrated more on boys like Peter. I might have left school with a less fragmented heart if I’d paid him a little more attention than the mad, bad and dangerous to know boys.
Since then I’ve luckily received a Blu Ray player, cocktail glasses, IOU vouchers, an array of posh cordials, a silk scarf, roses, a saccherine fondant covered heart shaped cake with my name wonkily piped across it and of course underwear – always too small. I like that my backside is smaller in both my mind and the minds of boyfriends past.
What do I want this year? Not a nursing bra, that’s for sure. I’ll settle on a few of these babies thanks. You can ice or leave unadorned. They’re quite deep in flavour and rich so can happily go naked.
NB: Photography by Minal at Minal Photography.
Easy peasy chocolate cupcakes
Makes 18 cupcakes
Preheat the oven to gas 4/180C and line 2 x 12 hole cupcake tin with 18 cases. Mix the cocoa powder with 200ml boiling water, stir until smooth and allow to cool slightly. Take a big mixing bowl and mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until really well mixed and gloopy. The mixture will be a pourable batter. At this point I suggest you decant half of the mixture into a jug and use to fill the cupcake cases each to almost full (leave about 1cm free of cake mixture at the top) then repeat for the rest of the mixture. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
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.
Party bags, love them or loathe them, are possibly the most important thing in the world of small people’s parties. You can have your bouncy castle, your treasure hunt, your pass the parcel, your piñata and even your magician, but for kids it’s all about the party bag.
I’ve filled bags with lots of different items over the years; bubbles, children’s chopsticks, stretchy little men, bouncy balls, Mickey cups and of course copious amounts of sweets, but this year I wanted to be a purist and go with a theme. The party was a pirate party so what better than a pirate loot bag with a sea cake recipe. Each child received a bag with their name on:
Which contained 12 cupcakes and some treasure for decorating sea cakes with:
Pirate icing sugar:
Pirate self raising flour (110g), caster sugar (110g) and baking powder (5g):
A personalised wooden spoon, a pirate sea cakes recipe (click to be taken to another page, click again and then ‘enable editing’ to read/print whole recipe sheet) and a treasure map:
A sea monster or a ring:
And some pirate tattoos:
Of course the party had a sandy hunt for buried treasure:
Personal pirate water to quench thirst:
Walk the plank:
A little treasure for those who managed to walk the plank (and for those who didn’t):
Some chocolate and ginger biscuits for the pirate parents:
There were white choc & apricot and sultana & cherry oaty biscuits too. The base recipe is here, just add whatever you fancy to the mix. And the best bit about these party bags? By the time we’d got home from the church hall I’d received 3 photos of cakes already made by our visiting pirate pals. Here are Pirate Jack’s sea cakes:
Ta da! Pirate party done. Now for the dinosaur hunting one in 2 weeks. We have to stop having children in October…
I have baking related anxiety. It’s the first public outing of my wares at the school my son attends. I really wrestled with this one. To take part, or not to take part in the harvest bake off, that is the question?
Of course it’s not a real bake off, as in there are no prizes, it’s not in any way a competition, Paul Hollywood’s not about to give a withering look to a Boden wearing Mum and reduce her to a snivelling wreck. It’s not even called a bake off. You DON’T HAVE TO BAKE! But I’m no fool, I know how these things work. People pretend they don’t care and they’re not competing, but they are. And worst of all, the food isn’t given to the needy and aged. It’s sold off tomorrow afternoon to raise money for charity. Heavens above! The pressure. People might actually buy and eat these things! They’ve parted with money!
Struck with The Fear, I did contemplate buying a few loaves of bread from Sainsbury’s and scattering flour over them. I also thought about buying some tinned peaches – well, that’s what we took to harvest festival in my day, along with a can of Tip Top. And then my little boy pleaded for me to crack open the fondant icing and make some animals. So, him being one of the loves of my life, I’ve obliged. Here they are. The mice are not my best work. The snails I am happy with. They look unhinged, in a snaily way. What’s hiding underneath? Rice crispy cakes of course. What else does one make for a school bake sale? And it’s pretty hard to get anxious about crispy cakes.
If anyone reading attends the school and happens to see me frantically buying the cakes back, thrusting £5 notes at the poor lady on the stall, please just ignore and walk on by. My son has made me promise to buy at least six. Six! Well, he is a growing lad.
If your child is nuts about the Octonauts then try this: Octonuat cupcakes
Chocolate crispy cakes topped with snails and mice.
Make the toppers the night before. Roll fondant icing out onto greaseproof paper with a VERY CLEAN rolling pin (fondant picks up everything and anything, wash your hands too, they’re likely covered in small pieces of fluff – working with fondant makes even the most slovenly types a bit OCD) to about 1cm thickness then use a circular cutter to cut 12 circles the size of the top of your cupcake cases. Leave on flat greaseproof paper to dry, well spaced.
Cut small holes using the wrong end of an icing nozzle, out of the mice toppers to depict holey cheese. Use the wrong end of a wooden pastry brush to make extra indents. Then set about fashioning your animals.
Snails are simple enough – to make a base for his/her house just make a sausage and roll away, then bend. Two small pieces of white fondant with a toothpick pushed into the middle make eyes. A mouth is made with a toothpick wiggled side to side. If any of the bits of fondant won’t stick to the other bits use a tiny, tiny bit of water to place them on. Use water to attach the snail to the fondant topper and leave to dry, lightly covered with clingfilm but not in an air tight container (and never in the fridge) for at least 24 hours – 48 is preferable. Snail pic for reference:
The mice are a little more tricky. Fashion paws with small dots of white fondant, stick them to the hole you’ve made in the fondant cheese then make little toes by pushing a toothpick in, horizontally – in fact skip this as no-one even sees this bit. Make a tail by rolling a piece of fondant very thinly and placing the end in the cheese hole. Next make a cone for the mice head, stick a pink nose on the end and place in the cheese hole. Make little eyes with a toothpick. Lastly come the ears; they’re a pain in the backside. Small pieces of white fondant squashed into circles with smaller pink fondant squashed on the top. Pinch one end and then flatten it and use this pinched end to fix to the mouse head. Repeat and you’re done! Dry as per the snails.
On the day of eating, line a 12 hole cupcake tin with cases. Melt the chocolate in a large bowl in the microwave in blasts of 10 seconds – you know how ferocious your microwave is. Whatever you do don’t burn the chocolate! It never comes back from the brink after an over heating.
Stir the rice crispies through the molten chocolate and spoon into cupcake cases equally. Level a little with a spoon then pop the dried toppers onto the crispy cakes. Leave to dry and voila! Maximum impact, almost minimum effort. And not an oven turned on in sight.
I’m from Leicester and it’s not somewhere people seem to be proud to be from. Possibly being a Midlands city it suffers from a lack of north/south divide identity tension. We have no-one to hate, to ridicule. So we sit merrily in the middle not being angry about location because we’re quite literally stuck in the middle of things.
Given that I don’t have that puffed up chest ‘I am northern/southern, hear me roar!’ thing going on, I have always embraced my British identity. And there is nothing more British than strawberries and cream. We simply love the stuff don’t we? Make sure you spend the extra on good strawberries for these, they’re the star of the show after all.
Two years ago: Teacher’s pet chocolate and hazelnut oaty biscuits and Spelt loaf and Vanilla cupcakes
Three years ago: Restorative chicken and leek risotto
Strawberries & cream cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and prepare a 12 hole cupcake tin with cases. Beat the flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, vanilla and eggs using the KitchenAid flatbeater or a wooden spoon until really light in colour and fluffy looking. This takes about 4 minutes in the mixer. Add the freeze dried strawberries and beat in for 30 seconds then divide the mixture into 12 cupcake cases equally. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes until well risen and a toothpick comes out of the middle of the cakes clean. Leave to cool out of the tin on a wire rack.
Once cool take an apple corer and remove the centre of the sponge from each cupcake. Push the corer in and twist but not all the way to the bottom – you want a little sponge left in the base. Remove the sponge and eat/discard then fill the hole with strawberry jam or EasiYo strawberry fruit squirt. Use a teaspoon if you don’t have a squeezy pouch to use.
Pipe whipped cream on the top and adorn with a ruby red strawberry and there you have it – Britishness in a cupcake. Serve immediately and then keep in the fridge if they’re not all gobbled up.
My son has his first taster session at school today. He’s not even worried about it. He skipped into playschool this morning and announced he was going to see HIS new school this afternoon with HIS friends. With these happy, owned, smiley words my selfish heart sank a little as I felt that first major stretch of the cord. I can feel it thinning.
I remember the drive home from the hospital, less than 5 years ago, with our precious cargo wrapped in sumo layers, strapped in like a mummy. We may have broken 15mph but it’s unlikely. So precious and now oh so grown up. Sigh. Here’s a grown up cupcake that my little 2 year old son really rather likes which leads me to think he too may leave home and grow up one day. Surely not? Add poppy seeds if you have any.
And if you like lemons: Lemon curd and cream Victoria sponge and Lemon animal biscuits and Lemon and coconut meringue layer stack and White chocolate, macadamia and lemon Genoise layer cake and Lemony salmon, courgette and pea pasta and Moonuts – a hybrid of a muffin and a doughnut filled with lemon curd and Lemon drizzle cake and Mini lemon brioche and Lemony and minty halloumi, bean and asparagus salad (There’s more than this, I guess you could say I like lemon…)
Lemon crunch cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line a cupcake tray with 12 cases. Beat the flour, castor sugar, butter, milk, eggs, baking powder and zest with a wooden spoon/handheld electric beater/stand mixer until the mixture is lighter than when you started and creamy looking – like beaten double cream. Takes about 4 mins in the stand mixer, about 5 – 6 with the handheld and a little longer with the wooden spoon though it depends how strong you are.
Spoon the batter into the cases and bake for about 20 minutes until well risen and slightly browned. Check that they are baked through by popping a toothpick into the middle of the centre cupcake. If it comes out clean they are done – cool on a wire rack. If not, pop back in the oven for 5 mins and check again.
Once they are out, make the lemon drizzle by heating the juice of the lemon with 3 tbsp castor sugar in a small saucepan on the hob. Once the sugar dissolves and it starts to bubble a little remove from the heat and poke holes into the cupcakes. Then lay some old newspaper/chopping board under the cooling rack the cupcakes are on and carefully spoon the drizzle onto the cupcakes one at time. Once each has been drizzled, top with a little crunchy brown sugar. Leave to cool and serve with grown up tea served with yet more lemon.