I’ve had lots of surreal experiences in my life. I’ve flown to Milan and back in the same day. I’ve given a talk at the BFI. I’ve been approached by Sarah Ferguson whilst eating my lunch, just so she could tell me how much she liked my T Shirt. I’ve fed Jonny Vaughan’s dog. I’ve allowed Dermot O’Leary to throw Skittles into my mouth to practise his aim. And I’ve eaten pasta and talked love with Gethin Jones. Yep, working in advertising was strange. READ MORE
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?
So 13 days ago I gave birth to a baby boy. Our third little boy who is a pleasure and a delight. I’m so in love all over again with the children I feel a little drunk. Love drunk and blessed. Number three is a relaxed little chap who sleeps well, feeds well and likes to take it all in through his very dark blue eyes. He’s as delicious as these biscuits.
Cream together the butter and sugar until really light and creamy looking – about 4 minutes in a stand mixer, about 6 with a handheld mixer of 8 – 10 by hand with a wooden spoon. Add the egg dribble by dribble, beating well after each addition. Lastly add the flour and baking powder and mix until combined. Use your hands to pull the mixture together, wrap in clingfilm and chill for 40 minutes.
Use a little flour to dredge the work surface and coat a rolling pin then roll the biscuit dough to about 3 – 4mm thick. Cut out shapes and pop onto a baking tray (you can line with non stick parchment though these biscuits didn’t stick on my baking trays without it) then chill the whole tray in the fridge for 15 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. (The chilling is what keeps the shape of the biscuits, as does the preheating of the oven – you need cold biscuits to hit a hot oven and immediately bake. Skipping either step can result in biscuits that spread. They’ll still taste fine but won’t look so pretty.)
Bake the chilled biscuits for 10 -12 minutes until they’re just starting to brown at the edges. Leave for 5 minutes to cool on the tray then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Either serve as they are or sandwich together with buttercream/jam.
NB: This recipe makes a LOT of biscuits. Maybe think about freezing some of the dough or even cutting out the biscuits and freezing them in their little shapes. Pop in a freezer bag and bake from frozen allowing 5 minutes extra baking time.
I get asked a lot about very few things. One of those things is how I stay so slim which make me chuckle so much I want to reach for a biscuit. Having spent my twenties working in advertising where everyone was stick thin, posh and Oxbridge (silly hybrid word) educated, the very thought that someone might consider ME slim tickles me. For the record I am a size 14 and pretty tall. So yes, I do eat a lot but no, I am not thin or even slim… I am curvy and most of the time pretty happy that way.
The other thing I get asked about is what Paul Hollywood is like. Followed by whether I fancied him. (I didn’t by the way.) The next most popular thing I get asked is what nozzle I used for various icing related projects. It’s almost always a Wilton 1M for no other reason that I am lazy and all my icing paraphernalia is kept in the spare bedroom. The size 14 bottom and my choice of nozzle are oddly interlinked then you see.
Lastly I get asked a lot about how to achieve a perfectly flat cupcake. I’m not sure why as I’ve never had an issue with peaked cupcakes myself. They look cute and if you want them flat you snip the top off with a pair of scissors and gobble the offending peak up. Again, related to my size 14 bottom.
Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3 and make sure a rack is in the centre of the oven. Line a 12 hole cupcake tin with cases. Mix all the ingredients together until lighter in colour than when you started and creamy looking. This takes about 4 minutes in a KitchenAid mixer with the flat beater (start on 1 and work up to 6) or about 10 minutes by hand with a wooden spoon. Fill each case only half full and do not be tempted to use up extra batter by over filling the cases – that’s how the domes happen.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until just browning and a toothpick comes out of the centre of the middle cupcakes clean. Remove from the oven and from the tin and cool on a wire rack. If you have any mixture leftover bake some more cupcakes! Despite having baking powder in it this mixture will be fine to sit about unbaked for 20ish minutes.
If you still have domes then I would suggest you buy an oven thermometer as baking at a lower temperature is key to achieving a flat cupcake. (As is not overfilling.) Also, try to bake in the middle of the oven. If you bake on a higher rack the oven is usually hotter, again resulting in a peaked cupcake.
Was there a name you wanted as a child? I was always drawn to the letter C. For a long time I wanted to honour my Irish roots and be a Caitlin. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it but that didn’t trouble me, I’d work it out. I could handle not knowing how to pronounce my name, because I’d be all willowy and Irish and interesting if I were called Caitlin. Then I discovered Nirvana and decided Courtney was the name I really needed. Along with a propensity to wear baby doll dresses, sport bleached hair with black roots and hang a baby called Frances Bean from my hip.
I was mighty excited when just over a year ago I met a lady called Caitlin. She was every bit as exciting as I thought she might be and she has Irish roots and she’s fabulous. This is a cake just for her as she’s rather partial to rosy cakes and drinks. I made another version of this cake recently. You could say her addiction has passed to me.
25g freeze dried raspberries (I got mine from Sainsbury’s but can also order online.)
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and check the rack is in the middle of the oven. Grease and line 2 x 20cm (ish) tins. If yours are larger simply decrease the baking time a little, if smaller increase it. This is all about the thickness of the cake – the thicker it is (in height) the longer it takes to bake.
Cream the butter and sugar together in your stand mixer/with an electric mixer/with a wooden spoon until really light and creamy looking. Then add the eggs a dribble at a time, beating well after every dribble. Add the vanilla extract and do the same. Then sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb together and fold through the cake mixture. Split the batter equally between the two tins, level with a spoon and then bake for about 20 minutes or until well risen, golden brown and a toothpick comes from the centre of the cakes clean. The cake should also be shrinking away from the sides of the tins a little. If you are baking each cake on a different rack don’t forget the higher the cake the quicker it will bake. Either rotate or whip the top one out earlier.
Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack as soon as your hands can handle it. Then decorate with rose buttercream which you can find the recipe for here. If you don’t have a stand mixer then beat your butter with a wooden spoon/electric handheld mixer and then add a tablespoon of the icing sugar at a time, beating until the mixture looks like mousse. Add rose water to taste. Decorate with freeze dried raspberries.
This is an unashamedly girly cake. Pink buttercream, soft and moussey, used to sandwich an innocent vanilla sponge and crowned with tart raspberries. Perfect for a birthday, an afternoon tea or a summer party. Just add pink fizz and the Barbie horror is complete!
All comments gratefully received. Here are some Eastery recipes you might like too:
For Kitchen Aid: Mix all the ingredients together using the flat beater until light and creamy – takes about 4 minutes. Pour into two greased and lined round tins and bake in a preheated oven at 180C/Gas 4 for 20 – 25 minutes until well risen and golden brown. A toothpick should come out of the centre clean. Cool on a wire rack and remove from the tins once you’re able to stand the heat. (Non KA users use the all in one method and combine with your mixer/wooden spoon until light and creamy.)
Ingredients – buttercream
200g soft salted butter
400g icing sugar
2 tbsp rose extract/water
Pink food colouring
Instructions for Kitchen Aid: Use the flat beater to cream the butter until soft and light – about 4 minutes. Then add the icing sugar spoon by spoon, mixing on a low speed until all incorporated, add the rose extract. Then beat on high for 7 minutes until the buttercream looks like mousse – flecked with air bubbles. Add food colouring if you wish then use to sandwich the cakes together. Place more buttercream on the top and use 300g raspberries to decorate. NB – I decided against raspberries as I rather liked the rose swirls. These are easy to pipe with a Wilton 1M nozzle by doing a reverse Mr Whippy. Start in the middle and work out, taking the pressure off as you come to the end. (Non KA users be prepared for using a lot of elbow grease! Use a wooden spoon or other mixer and beat until you have a mousse like buttercream.)
I am sure birthdays were easier when I was a kid. Obviously easier for me as all I did was turn up, (or rather get driven to the location) eat a lot of party food supplied by said venue, blow out the candles to a big chocolate cake and then smile sweetly for the camera. My Mum handed out party bags full of slices of cake wrapped in napkins, white chocolate mice, a pencil, a rubber shaped like a bear and maybe a bouncy ball. I imagine I also had some form of tantrum on the way home but luckily my memory has erased any such incident.
Talking to my Mum about the birthday parties of my youth versus the ones my sons enjoy, we couldn’t help but agree that the stakes have been raised. The last few parties my son has been to saw him leave with an individual cupcake sitting in a little box and instead of party bags full of tat, (is it just me who loves these Christmas cracker style gifts?) each left with a toy or book of almost equivalent value to the pressie bestowed on the birthday boy or girl. Partying and throwing parties is an expensive game.
Yesterday, when I asked what kind of birthday cake my eldest son might like for his fast approaching 4th birthday he replied firmly ‘a pirate ship please’. Slightly horrified at the thought of cake carving I suggested he might like a chocolate cake with some snakes and caterpillars and other bugs on it. He replied ‘yes Mummy and a pirate ship please.’ I should have kept my mouth shut.
Here’s a gorgeous cake both inside and out, impressive enough to get the all important oohs and aahs but easy enough not to result in any tears on your part. And if you have a boy and he’s not into pink then you could easily change the colours. You can watch the how to video here:
– 375g unsalted butter, softened
– 375g caster sugar
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
– 6 medium eggs
– 375g self-raising flour
– a few drops red food colouring
For the filling and icing
– 7 tablespoons strawberry jam
– 200g unsalted butter, softened
– 500g icing sugar
– a few drops red and green food colouring
– 1 x pack flower decorations by Sainsbury’s
– 1 x pack Happy Birthday candles
– 1 x pack butterfly cake decorations by Sainsbury’s
Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160º, gas 4. Grease and line 3 x 15cm sandwich cake tins with baking paper.
In a large bowl beat the butter, caster sugar, vanilla extract, eggs and flour together with an electric hand mixer until light and smooth.
Divide 2/3 of the mixture between 2 tins. Add a few drops of red food colouring to the remaining mixture and stir to combine. Spoon the remaining mixture into the third cake tin. Bake the cakes for 35-40 mins or until a skewer comes out clean. Turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool.
Trim off the tops of each sponge using a bread knife to create a flat, level surface. Put one of the plain sponges onto a plate and cover the top with strawberry jam. Repeat with the pink sponge in the middle, then top with the third sponge.
To make the icing, whisk together the butter and icing sugar. Place ¼ of the icing mix into a separate bowl and stir in the green food colouring. Add the red food colouring to the remaining icing.
Spread the pink icing over the top and sides of the cake using a palette knife or a normal kitchen knife. Spoon the green icing into a piping bag, then pipe green stalks of the mixture up the sides of the cake.
Arrange the flower decorations on top of each stalk, then top the cake with the Happy Birthday candles. Decorate with the butterfly decorations before serving.
Save: Chocolate flower power cake
Birthdays can be expensive, with presents to buy and food to prepare. Try this chocolate cake recipe using Sainsbury’s chocolate sponge mix, simple buttercream icing and penny sweets to save a little money.
Cheat: Simple flower power cake
Save some time with the birthday preparations with Sainsbury’s ready-covered sponge cake, and simply decorate it how you wish to add that special touch. I wish I’d done this for Charlie’s first birthday, baking past midnight should be banned!
Magic: Flower power fairy cakes
Kids seem to adore cupcakes! Make the mixture as for the large cake, but then bake it in small fairy cake cases. Decorate with pretty coloured buttercream icing and the all important sprinkles.
My friend Paul is special to me for a few reasons. He introduced me to torta dolcelatte cheese and red wine – from a recreational point of view I have never looked back. He introduced me to the Rolling Stones and as such, on a musical level I have never looked back. He introduced me to my husband and what can I say? I owe him one.
Paul is a bit of an American-o-phile. Now I know that’s not a word, but you get what I mean. He loves San Francisco in particular. I think it suits his teachery, coffee drinking, sitting in a cafe, reading books and listening to cool new music ways. So I thought I’d make him some cupcakes to celebrate him moving into a lovely new home and also to celebrate that it’s almost the 4th of July. American cupcakes for my friend Paul and his lady. Enjoy dudes! (The dude bit was my nod to American culture though I may have failed miserably and offended a nation.)
115g Stork margarine
115g caster sugar
115g self raising flour
2 large eggs
5mls vanilla extract
50g red white and blue sprinkles (or just a dot of blue and red food colouring)
And for the icing:
175g soft soft butter
350g icing sugar
5mls vanilla extract
50g red, white and blue spinkles
50g white chocolate mini stars
Oh you know the drill. I tend to make throw it all together cakes so, quite simply, do that. Preheat the oven to Gas 5, make sure two of the racks are placed towards the middle of the oven and line two cake tins with paper cases to total 14 – I leave the sides of my tins without cakes as that’s where my oven hot spots are. Oh and you could use the big muffin cases but I didn’t; I wanted something a little more dainty to counteract the stark primary colours.
Next take the Stork, sugar, flour, eggs and extract and beat for about 4 minutes with a handheld mixer until the mixture has gone a little lighter in colour and looks fluffier than when you started. Then spoon 1 teaspoon into each of the cases, add a few of the sprinkles or dots of food colouring, then top with another teaspoon of cake mixture. Use your finger to swirl the top until it’s flattish and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and the peaks bounce back a little when pressed. Bigger cases = longer cooking, for obvious reasons.
In the meantime make the buttercream icing. I use my trusty Kenwood as it has a shield that stops that annoying spray of icing sugar that so often adorns my kitchen (and me) in a snowy fashion after I use the handheld mixer. Now I leave my butter out overnight to get that softer than soft texture but if you give it short blasts in the microwave that has the same effect. Just don’t be an impatient fool like me, blast it at full power and end up with liquid butter. Not good.
Okay – the buttercream. Put the butter, icing sugar and extract into the mixer and beat until it’s light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides if escaping butter has managed to creep upwards. Then spoon into a piping bag with a star nozzle ready for icing. When the cakes are ready, remove them carefully from the tins and let cool in the paper cases on a wire rack. Once completely cool the best and most satisfying bit begins – the decoration.
Now piping swirly icing is easy peasy but looks impressive so for anyone who has the equipment but hasn’t had a go yet, do it. Twist the top of the icing bag and place one hand at this end, to squeeze as you go. Then use your other hand to hold the icing bag at the bottom gently and just start from the outside of each cake, piping slowly and keeping the icing bag upright. Always pipe slightly more over the edge of the case than you think you need to. I don’t know why but I tend to pipe naturally towards the centre and I’ve heard others say the same. Then as you work towards the centre push a little more buttercream out than usual and press the nozzle down slightly to get a star point in the middle. To finish add sprinkles and stars and make sure you wear your cheer leading outfit to serve. Or at the very least your majorette one.
NB: If this icing description isn’t as clear as mud either watch a youtube clip or adorn your cupcakes with dollops of icing and smooth with a knife. It all tastes the same after all.
My friend gave birth to a boy recently. He’s cute as the cutest newborn you ever did see. Everytime I visit I make a mental note to discuss with Mr B when baby number 3 should make their appearance. Then I remember all the reasons not to grace our house with another small wailing person:
Loss of sleep
More stretch marks
Possible future incontinence on my part
(More) guilt over incompetence at breast feeding
Alcoholism on Mr Bs part
More plastic crap strewn across the house
Wearing snot/vomit as a shoulder adornment for another few years
Continuing to think Hush Puppies are acceptable foot attire for evening drinks with glamorous friends (with each child my shoe choices have grown comfier)
Even with this damning list I can’t help but think it might be fun too. Or is that just a vicious lie parents of 3+ children tell you in the hope you’ll join their sleep deprived club?
What tenuous link does all this have to a bakewell tart with a vanilla crust? None at all. I could say this feeds a very large family but that would be weak. It does however make enough pastry for two tarts as I really don’t see the point of making pastry if your efforts don’t furnish the freezer for a rainy day. This tart feeds 8 if you serve with ice cream. Or a regular, boring sized family of 4 with leftovers for lunch boxes.
Don’t be put off by the in depth instructions. I just think it’s often the seemingly simplest things that are easiest to mess up so thought verbose was better than scant.
Makes 1 x 20ish cm tart and enough pastry for making another tart on a rainy day. Just wrap well and freeze.
For the pastry:
500g plain flour
100g icing sugar
250g cold butter cut into cubes
1 vanilla pod
2 large eggs
For the frangipane topping:
150g soft butter
150g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 jar of jam (I used gooseberry and strawberry made by Mr B but you really can use anything. This isn’t about authenticity. Apricot is nice for instance.)
A handful of flaked untoasted almonds
Icing sugar – about 200g
The juice of one fresh lemon
First make the pastry. Whizz the flour and icing sugar in a food processor (this is my method of sieving) then add the cubes of cold butter and pulse until you have a fine breadcrumb appearance. I always open up the top of the food processor and have a dig about with a knife to make sure there are no lumps of fat hiding near the blade. Then tip the lot into a large bowl and add both eggs and the seeds scraped from a vanilla pod. (I know you know this but I feel the need to write it just in case… don’t throw the vanilla pod away, pop it into your sugar pot and you’ll have fragrant tea forever.) No need to whisk the eggs first.
Take a normal table knife and use to stir the pastry mix. Then use your hand to pull the mixture together. Don’t add water or milk or anything. As long as you’ve used large eggs there’s enough liquid to pull the pastry together. Don’t overwork the pastry – by this I mean don’t madly knead the pastry – just pull it together with your hands until you have a yellow mass, all the same colour and with no bits of flour etc hanging about.) Put the pastry into a plastic bag, wrap tightly and then put in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes – but I often leave it overnight. Lazy old pastry liking a rest and all that.
When you’re ready to bake the bakewell, roll out the pastry onto a floured work surface (this pastry is pretty well behaved and only needs a little flour for rolling) – I would roll to about 3mm thick as I like a good crust but roll as thick as you like. I can’t bear pastry thickness snobbery. Take your 20ish cm tart tin and line with pastry. Trim the edges with a knife or, even easier, a pair of scissors. Push the pastry into all the nooks and crannies before you do this to make sure you get an even finish. Pop the tins in the freezer for 15 minutes, preheat the oven to Gas 4 and make the frangipane whilst you’re waiting.
Take the soft butter and sugar and cream using a handheld electric mixer/a wooden spoon/a freestanding mixer until lighter in colour than when you started and fluffy. Then take your eggs (and extra yolk) and whisk with a fork – then dribble into the creamed mixture a teaspoon at a time and beat after each addition. I use a freestanding mixer to make my frangipane as it’s so so much easier. Once all the egg has been incorporated then turn the mixer off and add the ground almonds. Then mix the lot with a metal spoon. You don’t need to be gentle but don’t beat the hell out of it either.
Take the pastry out of the freezer and spread jam on the bottom of the pastry – about 5mm thick. Then spoon the frangipane over the top being sure to cover all the jam. Don’t put frangipane all the way to the top of the pastry sides or it’ll spill out of the top and your tart will look slovenly. This does not affect the taste in any way of course so no matter if it does spill.
Pop in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and scatter some flaked almonds over the top. Pop back in the oven for another 20 ish minutes. You’re looking for a golden brown top and pastry that’s neither yellow looking nor dark brown. Watch it like a hawk for the last ten minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. If you want you can decorate with drizzles of glace icing once it’s cool. So much nicer made with fresh lemon juice… Just take the juice and add icing sugar until you have a good, thick consistency. A freezer bag is perfect for drizzling icing without getting an icing bag out. Put the icing into one, squeeze into the corner and then snip a tiny bit of said corner off and away you go. Just make sure you snip near the tart to avoid decorating your work top.
Charlie (aged 2 and a quarter) believes there is a Man for everything. There is the Magnet Man, who lives in Dominoes Toy Shop and sells magnets for repairing trains. There’s a Chocolate Button Man, who quite obviously sells chocolate buttons to Mummy when Charlie’s at playschool. There’s the Apple Juice Man who lives in Sainsbury’s, who Mummy visits when Charlie is asleep to buy, you guessed it… apple juice. Never, do we see a woman about anything, always, always a man.
It was Mr Bs birthday this week. We decided (that is, me and Charlie) to make him a special birthday supper that involved the use of fresh parsley. So who did we go and see to procure said fresh parsley? You got it. The Parsley Man on Narborough Road in Leicester. Charlie was coached to repeat the following: “Hello Man! Can I have some parsley please for Daddy’s birthday dinner? Thank you.”
This sentence passed through the toddler vocabulary mill and was shouted out as:
MAN! Parsley peas! Daddy. Birthday. DINNER!
Each word louder and more forceful than the previous. The poor Parsley Man looked a little shocked at the volume of the delivery. Luckily he spoke little English so the odd content went unnoticed.
Anyway, we also made some butter biscuits together. (The butter was bought from The Butter Man.) This dough is very forgiving. Charlie bashed away at it with gusto, re-rolling it repeatedly using his very own miniature rolling pin. He enjoyed adding the silver balls to the biscuit animals and later enjoyed licking the icing and balls off and then offering the rejected biscuit to Daddy to hoover up. Happy. Birthday. DADDY!
Recipe adapted from Be Ro Rich Biscuits Recipe
225g self raising flour
100g caster sugar (mine has had vanilla pods stored in it)
100g cold butter, diced
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 small egg
icing tubes of various colours
silver balls for eyes
Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180C/350F and put some greaseproof paper onto all the baking trays you have.
Get your toddler to mix together the flour and sugar with their hands in a big-ish bowl, then add the butter and ask them to rub it into breadcrumbs. Don’t worry about all that cold hands = great baked goods. It doesn’t matter with this biscuit recipe one jot. Sweaty little toddler hands will do just fine.
Once you have breadcrumbs, crack the egg into the middle and add the vanilla essence/extract. Then, using yours or your toddler’s hands, mix together until you have a dough. No need to chill, just roll to about 4mm thick, stamp out some animals or whatever shapes take your fancy and pop on the trays with a little room for expansion. They should be done in around 10 – 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack then ice, add silver eyes and eat with apple juice from The Apple Juice Man.
I’m a mum of 3 boys, a cookbook writer and also a finalist on the 2011 Great British Bake Off.
I’ve decided to record the recipes I use, partly to save them somewhere and partly in case someone else might like to use them...
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