Sunday 26 June 2011

Sunday baking: Cinnamon Peach Cake and Gooseberry Elderflower Cupcakes

Long titles for a bunch of desserts!

The green grocer had those doughnut peaches in yesterday, two punnets for £1, so I whipped up a peachy variation on strawberry cake. I skinned the peaches by pouring boiling water over them, pureed about 8 or 9 (they were only small) and then chopped the rest and put in the mixture, with a good shake of cinnamon, which I think goes very nicely with peach. Early tastings suggest it is a Win.

(Edit: it was not a Win. It fell apart coming out of the tin. Woe! The pieces will taste good with ice cream, though).

Last weekend I made a batch of gooseberry curd, according to this recipe (which is very similar to my regular curd recipe, and in fact from the same website). I adapted it slightly by reducing the ingredients by one third, but keeping the number of eggs at three; It's still quite liquid, but it's very yummy. I do love a good curd and it has been a struggle not to scoff the lot stirred through yogurt this week. However, I managed to save half a batch for these cupcakes.

3 cups plain flour
4 tsps baking powder
2 cups caster sugar
8oz butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat in the butter (which should be nice and soft - it's been so hot today that mine was like a paste) until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs, milk and vanilla together in a separate bowl and then add to the flour mixture in three batches, beating until smooth. Don't overmix, though.

Scoop into cake cases and bake at 180 degrees C for 20-25 minutes. This recipe makes about 24 - don't overload the cases like me because they will overflow! The resulting cakes will be quite flat, perfect for this recipe.

Fill with the gooseberry curd, using the cone method. Google it: I'm so hot and tired after all my baking (and exam marking) today that I am too lazy to.

8oz butter, very soft
Icing sugar (I used about a box)
Elderflower cordial

Beat the butter for 2-3 minutes until it is pale and whippy. Beat in icing sugar - about 4 cups, I reckon. Then add about half a cup of elderflower cordial.

I advise caution here - my elderflower cordial is quite weak, 1 part cordial to 3 parts water. If you have a stronger cordial you might want to replace half the amount with milk. I built up the flavour until it was tangy enough for me, adding more icing sugar as necessary until I had the right consistency.

Smooth or pipe the buttercream onto the cakes, and then eat them. These are really very tasty and I can highly recommend them. I am hoping to score some more gooseberries this week for a repeat effort: try as I may, buttercream is still a little too sweet for me and I'd like to try and get the elderflower flavour into a different type of icing.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Tuesday Ten

Ten things that bring out the Do-Not-Want in me

1. The colour yellow. I'm sure it's probably lovely, but it's not for me.

2. Potholing. I have a morbid fear of enclosed spaces like that and the thought of crawling though a stony tube and getting stuck...*shudder*

3. Music Festivals. Camping - fine. Camping in a field of drunk people with music thumping 20 hours a day, no toilet paper and nothing cold to drink - absolutely not. You must be mental.

4. The scent of jasmine. In some forms it is OK - Sib once gave me a jasmine-scented candle which was pleasant - but in general, just no.

5. Brown sauce. Just plain wrong. Don't bring that stuff anywhere near my bacon, ever.

6. Fake tan. This is mainly because it smells like feet when I use it (biscuits would be an improvement), not because of its diabolical misuse as evidenced in various celebrity-focused periodicals.

7. Motorsport. I can't stand the endless drone of the engines. It's OK with the sound off but then I can never figure out what's going on.

8. Large numbers of people in not a large space. This probably links with both 2 and 3; I don't exactly panic in a crowd but I certainly become pricklier.

9. "Technical Support". If I ever have to ring something calling itself this for any reason, I always, of necessity, ensure it is shortly before a gap in my schedule into which I can fit a gin and a nap. Thankfully Mr Z works tirelessly to make sure I don't have to ring anything calling itself this very often.

10. Unsupported arrogance. I don't mind a bit of arrogance where it's founded, but there are a whole lot of people out there who seem to think a lot of themselves on the basis of what they might one day achieve. I find this intensely irritating.

Exam marking starts tomorrow. It's late this year, but is a whole three weeks long. Perversely, I am looking forward to it. January was so awful it's going to be a pleasure to do the work in a time of good daylight again. Happy Midsummer, all!

Sunday 19 June 2011

Sunday Baking: Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Last week I had a hankering for some pineapple upside down cake, brought on perhaps by the mass of pineapples available at the greengrocers for not much money. However, they were a little underripe so I haven't been able to bake with them until this week.

Most of the recipes I found for this involved...
a) tinned pineapple, and/or
b) making a syrup and pouring it into a cake tin
...neither of which was quite what I had in mind. In the end I adapted this recipe.

2oz butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, sliced (try to gather as much of the juice as you do this as you can)
4oz butter
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Get out a cast iron skillet. Mine is about 12 inches across and maybe 2 inches deep (see picture below). This would probably also work in a big saucepan, if it is one that will also go in the oven.

Melt the butter and sugar over a gentle heat, bring to a bare simmer and then stir in the pineapple juice you have managed to save whilst cutting the fruit up. Cook until a sticky syrup has formed.

(An aside here: I heated my butter and sugar much too hard and ended up with a caramel which solidified when I put the pineapple slices in. I'm not going to lie, it was was traumatic and I nearly gave up. This was happy luck, though, because I had one last crack at saving it, added as much juice as I could scrape off the chopping board, transferred the pan to the smallest gas ring and heated ever so gently, stirring hard. It came back in the end, phew! And the syrup was all the nicer for having the pineapple juice in it.)

Lay the pineapple rings in the syrup. If you want to add cherries, do this now. I didn't, but only because I didn't have any.

Now make the cake batter. If you have only one electric whisk, follow my lazy-girl instructions to avoid having to wash it halfway through.

First, separate your eggs. Put the whites in a bowl with the cream of tartar and whisk until you get soft peaks. Set these aside.

Now cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Whisk the egg yolks in, one at a time, followed by the vanilla.

(Another aside: I splashed out on some fancy vanilla extract last time I was at the supermarket because they didn't have any of the own-label stuff in. I did my usual splash of vanilla but it was a little overpowering in the batter, so I think I am actually going to have to start measuring properly now.)

Add the flour in three batches, interspersing with the milk (flour-milk-flour-milk-flour) and adding the baking powder/salt to the flour as you sift it into the cake. The batter is quite stiff at this point.

Now introduce your egg whites. I find the easiest way of doing this is to sacrifice one fluffy spoonful to loosen up the batter, and then gently fold in the rest in two batches. Be gentle and respectful of the egg whites and they will pay you back in spades. Spoon the batter over the waiting pineapple and bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes or so, until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out onto a plate and serve with vanilla ice cream.

I had a little fear this cake would rise up over the low frying pan, but even though is threatened to it stayed put. I was also afraid it would stick to the skillet and I'd end up soaking it off in a bowl of hot water, but that didn't happen either. It's quite a flat little cake with a brown, syrupy topping - not like the primary colours of the pineapple upside down cakes I see elsewhere - but it is hella tasty.

I also found some gooseberries for sale in the greengrocer this week and I am currently concocting a cupcake recipe with them. Watch this space.

Monday 13 June 2011

Late this night

I've been up late doing some final exemplar answers for my year 11s, who take their second History paper tomorrow.

A couple of interesting things.

Firstly, I was trying to find "For Good" from the Wicked soundtrack, which was on tonight's Glee finale and I wanted to listen to; and I accidentally found "Everything is good for you" by Crowded House, which must be an album track I've had sitting on my hard drive for years and years but have never heard. It is an amazing song and maybe my anthem for this month.

It's not a great recording. I'd urge you to find a better one.

Secondly, I saw an ad for Google Chrome which featured this project. As someone who works with teens I was touched to find such a thing exists out there. I'm looking forward to reading more. I am supportive of anything that tries to make the awkward years of adolescence a little easier to bear.
I also found it interesting the Google would pick something which might be viewed as controversial to advertise their product. It's impressive that a multinational would throw their weight behind the campaign that way.

Finally, I forgot about our hilarious pilot on the flight back from Iceland in February. I can't believe I forgot for so long his amazing speeches and jokes over the PA system throughout the flight! I am going to have to talk to Tom and Jon tomorrow at work and see what they remember, but I do recall him saying, at the start, "If you're a nervous flier like me, you should look at the safety card..." which got a big laugh. His quips had more people paying attention to the safety demonstration than I'd seen in a long time.

Do you watch the safety demo? I must admit, I always, always do. I always check out my nearest exit too, and think through what I'd do in an emergency. I have a colleague who worked for years on fishing boats around the Falklands, and the first thing he does in a new place is check out his exits. He says you get used to doing that when you live on a boat. I read a review of a book about how to survive disasters once which said this was good practice, too.
I also always listen because it seems only polite to the cabin crew, you know? Even if it's all on the vieo screens nowadays.

I should also say, though, that if you're ever on a plane - don't applaud when the plane touches down. I hate that. I don't expect my pupils to applaud me when I teach a lesson. I'm not going to applaud the pilot for successfully enabling autopilot to land the plane: it's his job! Humbug.

On our recent flight to NY, poetic justice had a say and I was on a plane with about 50 secondary school pupils. They applauded when we touched down. They also screamed on take off, ignored the safety demo and sat in the aisles playing cards for half the flight. And then talked loudly about bombs and terrorists whilst queueing to go through immigration (both Mr Z and I edged away from them at this point). I took notes on what to brief my pupils NOT to do the next time we take a flight.

Anyway. I should go to bed. I do intend to blog about NYC soon.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Sunday Baking: Chocolate Hazelnut Honey Cake

On the ski trip two years ago, Louzle and I visited a fancy deli run by a man who spoke no English. This led to lots of amusing pointing and gesticulating, including him making a sign of a big chest and repeating "Forte!" over and over again, regarding a balsamic vinegar. We still giggle at that one.

Anyway, whilst there I was tempted by a jar of chocolate hazelnut honey. I don't know why; I don't really like honey, but it looked interesting. Unfortunately, when I got it home I opened it up and had a taste and found it to be uninteresting, so it sat in the cupboard until my clear out last month and got it out to throw it away.

It received a reprieve though, since it seemed a bit wasteful to bin it. I decided to try and bake with it. I tried searching for recipes using chocolate honey, but drew a blank, so in the end I just decided to adapt a regular honey cake recipe.

250g butter
100g Muscovado sugar
240g jar chocolate hazelnut honey
3 eggs
1/4 cup strong filter coffee (I thought this would take the edge off the sweetness)
300g self-raising flour
Pinch of bicarbonate of soda

Melt the butter, sugar and honey in a saucepan. Once metled, boil for one minute and then take off the heat. Leave to cool for 15 minutes or so, so that the eggs don't cook when you add them (I put my saucepan in a couple of inches of cold water in the sink).

Whisk the eggs with the coffee and pour them in a steady stream over the honey mixture. Sift the flour and bicarb into a bowl and pour the egg mixture into it, beating until smooth. The batter is quite runny.

Bake at 140 degrees C for 50 mins to an hour until firm.

Chocolate glaze:
100g dark chocolate (I used 85% because I didn't want it to be too sweet)
50g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Put everything except the vanilla in a bowl and microwave for about a minute until the chocolate is melted. Stir until smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour over the cake while still hot so it sinks in a little bit. I then sprinkled over some toasted hazelnuts.

The hazelnut is the most prominent flavour, then the honey. This isn't a usual pairing which is why it tastes unexpected, but it is very nice. I was going to add walnuts - honey and walnuts seems more natural to me - but I think it would clash with the hazelnut flavour.

All-in-all, a win - though not one I can repeat unless I can find the honey again!

ONOs #3

I've been back on the Overnight Oats this week. I didn't make it to the supermarket last weekend so I had to get creative with what was available at Tesco Express. Here's what I had:

Monday: Chocolate soy milk, Greek yogurt and raspberries
Tuesday: Innocent kiwi apple smoothie, Greek yogurt and blackberries - I wanted apple juice, but there was none to be had. However, this was such a winning combination I repeated it on Wednesday with the rest of the smoothie.
Thursday I skipped oats because I had a conference that provided breakfast. I missed the oats, though.
Friday: Innocent acai, blueberry and pomegranate smoothie, a tsp soured cream (needed using up) and blueberries. This was less successful. The banana in the smoothie, which I don't normally notice, was quite strong in ONO form.

This weekend I have found apricots at the green grocer, and bought rhubarb yogurt and fresh rhubarb. Looking forward to experimenting with more varieties next week.

Friday 10 June 2011


Elena encouraged us to BALANCE for this week's Weekword.

I'm balancing on a big rock here at Lulworth Cove, on a Geology trip last summer.

I'm a lucky person. I have a lot of balance in my life. Some of it I make an effort to create, though.

In teaching, we hear about balance a lot, of the work-life variety. To maintain this, I try to make bits of my job as close to what I like in my life as possible; the ski trip is a great example of this. If I'm going to be spending a lot of time working, it needs to be at something (and with people) I love!
Sometimes the balance tips a little far to the work. This always seems to happen in the spring, and when I'm doing exam board work. However, there are times when the balance tips towards life: I love my August salary payment, because I know, when I collect it, that I haven't done an hour's work in the past month to earn it (it's lieu payment for all those hours extra I did in the spring!); I also love the travel opportunities afforded to me by the extra income from the exam board. So, I'll live with a short-term imbalance: it evens out over the year.

The other thing I have been thinking about this week, in terms of balance, is self-others. People are quite often lumped into the category of selfish or selfless and then seem to remain there, in the minds of others, when I think there is fluidity here too. Everybody needs a balance between how much they focus on themselves and their needs, and how much they focus on others. Sometimes, like work, one will be a priority; but over time I think it probably evens out in the same way. Maybe it's over a long time, but still.

Pop on over to Elena to read everyone else's posts on balance!

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I like to always keep handy around the place

1. Tweezers
2. Arnica cream. I walk into things regularly.
3. Prosecco. You never know when a celebration might be required.
4. Real coffee.
5. Dental floss.
6. Ice cream. It's the yang to the yin of Prosecco.
7. Hair conditioner. There can be no hair washing without it.
8. A nail file.
9. Berocca.
10. Fresh flowers. A small extravagance to brighten the place up.

New York report to follow at the weekend, hopefully.