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Brown Sugar Bejewelled Pancake Stack with Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

Some may say that there is a certain element of sadness in a single stack of pancakes. Breakfast, or at least the Sunday variety, is often accompanied by endless chatter or in fact none at all – solitude shared with another as you pour over different sections of the paper. Brunch appears to be an exceptionally social meal, filled with ‘how do you like your bacon?’, ‘shall I push down the plunger on the cafetière?’ and ‘can you pass the magazine section over once you’re done please?’ So to offer up a dish that is single serve for one of the nicest meals of the weekend bar a beautiful roast, it seems a rather odd choice.

Brown Sugar Bejewelled Pancake Stack with Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

I am however finding that I enjoy stolen moments of solitude more and more these days. My weeks are punctuated with the usual calamity of a newsroom, which to those in the know, will understand is a place where one simply cannot work in silence. You tune out the noise and just press on. But in these small pockets of quietness, when all I can hear is the slow rumble of the boiler, the kettle snapping to life and the turn of the page in the latest novel I’m reading, I appreciate every morsel of silence. Even as I type this, the only sounds one can hear are some birds chirping outside my window and the squeaky tapping of the laptop keys. It’s rather nice to just enjoy the silence.

Brown Sugar Bejewelled Pancake Stack with Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

I imagine there are others out there who live alone or often cook for one, and thought a single serving of pancakes would appeal. Instead of offering the usual stack, dripping with viscous maple syrup and bacon so crisp it shatters, I thought I’d take a rather fresh approach, adding a caramelised depth to the pancakes by stirring in a touch of brown sugar and some sweet spices for added warmth. To counteract the mellowness of the dish, bright jewels of pomegranate, raspberry and blueberry litter the stack like sweet and sharp punctuation notes. But the real star I must admit is the strawberry vanilla sauce, a sort of hodge-podge quick jam that will make you long for the pick-your-own season. Strawberry and vanilla work so well together and just bring this vivid pancake stack to life with a jammy sweetness to round it off. Cosy up on the sofa, read a book and keep the kettle on rotation and enjoy those quiet moments to yourself. When this stack appears in front of you after your efforts, you will be glad there is no-one around to steal a bite.

 

 

You Will Need

100g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp soft light brown sugar

1/8 tsp cinnamon

A pinch nutmeg

1 egg

125ml semi skimmed milk

 

For the fruit salad

1/3 pomegranate, seeds removed

1 handful raspberries, halved

1 handful blueberries

 

For the Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

65g strawberries, hulled and chopped

15g caster sugar

¼ tsp vanilla paste

2 tbsp water

Mint sprigs, to serve

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and spices then crack the egg into the dry mix. Using a hand held electric whisk, incorporate the egg then slowly add the milk bit by bit until you have a smooth batter that is dropping consistency. Set aside. Combine the fruits in a bowl and also set aside.

Brown Sugar Bejewelled Pancake Stack with Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

For the Strawberry Vanilla Sauce, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. As the sauce begins to bubble, compress with a masher to create a thick consistency and continue cooking over a medium heat until slightly jammy yet still pourable. Once finished, pour into a small ramekin. Reheat if required.

Brown Sugar Bejewelled Pancake Stack with Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter to grease the pan, wiping down with kitchen roll to avoid excess greasiness. Using a ladle, pour a scant ladleful into the pan and cook until bubbles appear across the pancake. Flip using a fish slice and cook for a further minute before removing to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter until you have three to four pancakes. Stack on a plate and top with the berries. Pour over the sauce and serve with lashings of coffee.

Brown Sugar Bejewelled Pancake Stack with Strawberry Vanilla Sauce

pistachio cake

There is this silent, yet omnipresent fear within each blogger that threatens our very existence in this online world – the day blogger burnout arrives. It swoops in slowly, the recipes starting to sink like stones, the photographs blurred and flat and soon progresses to words that wont flow from your fingertips. In many ways, it mirrors that feared condition of writers block, but as a writer by trade, I have no other option but to power through that interview or the article at work because a deadline looms no matter how hard it is to get the words to appear on screen. Yet as a blogger, the responsibility is entirely your own. There is no editor tapping their foot waiting for witty and well-structured sentences to magically appear. There is no photographer patiently editing pictures for you to use at your leisure. Your subject is a bowl of butter and sugar sitting in your kitchen, unaccounted for as you struggle with the creativity to bake it into something magical. As bloggers, we take on the all-consuming task of writer, photographer, editor and social media expert. Then the piece is done and we start the process again. Those with a hardcore schedule keep at it day in day out, never seemingly losing focus and uploading beautiful and inspiring content multiple times a week. It’s no wonder that sometimes it gets too much, and you have to take a step back.

cakes

Don’t get me wrong, I love the responsibility that comes with my baking blog – I write sentences that I know I couldn’t in other articles, structure sentences the way I would a conversation and take endless photographs rather than just one beautifully crafted shot. But it is tiring and time consuming, and when your cake fails to rise for the third time in four days, it feels easy to slump on the floor and let the thing burn in the oven, convinced you are a failure and that you’ve lost your touch. It’s incredibly easy to be hard on yourself, especially when there are so many other inspiring sites and ideas out there. You feel lost in a sea of words, scrabbling to grab hold of just a few to keep you afloat, but when the sentences are jarred together for the sake of hitting publish, blogging loses its loving feeling. Recently I’ve felt the same, tempted to post nearly-there recipes with words written in snatched moments, but it feels forced and unnatural. To me, blogging is an exciting and fun way to share my love of words and cakes but when I don’t feel inspired by my own content, it’s difficult to see how any reader would feel anything but the same.

garlic mushroom pizza

Dealing with blogger burnout can seem like a risk. There is the fear that followers will dissipate, the stats will drop and the site will look tired and outdated. But there is hope in taking a break, regaining your thoughts and re-evaluating what it is you want to bring to the internet. Much like a well needed holiday, the chance to reflect rather than churn out content tirelessly will give you the space to dream up those ideas that have lingered long enough in the back of your mind. When you feel the passion once again rising in your fingertips, that feeling of incessant typing because your ideas and thoughts are too brilliant to miss capturing on the page, then it will feel like the break following the burnout was worth it.

strawberry galette

If you feel like you’re losing your grip, then you should take that step back. Go on an ideas trip – as cliché as it sounds I get my best ideas at all hours of the day, so forever carry a notebook with you and scribble down ideas as you experience life without the chains of a blogging schedule weighing you down. Be inspired by the seasons and take a trip to markets and parks to get a feel for the time of year, imagining what you would eat in that very moment that encapsulates your surroundings. Blogger burnout is not a lifelong prognosis – those ideas that fuel your desire to tell stories and take pictures will return. You just need to give yourself space to let it happen.

strawberry scones

I’ve shared a few pictures in this post from recipes that haven’t inspired me to write or been a particular success – including a pistachio cake I am determined to perfect – to show what I’ve been up to these past few weeks during my radio silence. I’ll be back properly this weekend with a delicious bejewelled pancake stack that will kickstart your weekend in style – and my return to the blogging world from my own blogger burnout.

Lemon and Honey Marshmallows

It takes a couple of moments of consideration before you realise that marshmallows, like asparagus and rhubarb, have their own short season. It seems obscure that a sweet should have a time and a place, for every moment is a good moment to enjoy the fluffy sweetness of a marshmallow, even just for a minute. But thinking about those soft clouds of sugary fluff, the flavour profiles of most are more comforting and cosy rather than bright and fresh. They conjure images in the mind of dusky campfires, their consumers dangling speared sweets on sticks into spitting flames before eating their fired edges with trepidation. They are piled high in mugs of hot chocolate, instant or homemade, to melt into pools of sweet creaminess when the weather outside is splashing fat raindrops on the windows. Yes, marshmallows are given a short season of comfort without us ever realising it.

Close up of marshmallow mix on a whisk

That is not to say it isn’t impossible to spring forward with a palate pleasing marshmallow. The start of this new month heralds the arrival of lambs, bunnies and Easter eggs in a range of pleasing pastel shades, which I admit were the inspiration for these lemon flavoured sweets. Replacing part of the water used in the sugar syrup with freshly juiced lemon, it becomes rather easy to bring a brighter flavour to the humble marshmallow. Those pillows of meringue gradually increasing in volume thanks to vigorous whisking become flecked with little dots of zest. And honey replaces my go-to golden syrup to provide a subtle sweetness to mellow the lemon’s tartness. There is an element of comfort in this recipe – think hot toddies without alcohol or ginger – but the taste is pure spring. Like a new beginning and a new season for the candy normally confined to the colder months.

 

Recipe inspired by The Little Loaf

 

You Will Need

6 leaves of gelatine

100g cornflour

100g icing sugar

2 egg whites (about 80g)

285g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

2 large lemons

4 tbsp clear honey

Zested lemons

Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water and set aside to soften. Lightly grease a 7 x 7 square tin with oil (I used olive) then line with baking parchment. Lightly oil again then whisk together the cornflour and icing sugar in a bowl. Using a couple of tablespoons of the powdered mix, dust the inside of the tin until all sides are covered to prevent the marshmallow mix sticking.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg whites, two tablespoons of the caster sugar and the pinch of salt but don’t whisk yet. Zest the two lemons on a chopping board and reserve for later. Cut each lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a measuring jug. Two lemons will provide around 100ml of juice, which produces a fairly tart flavour, but if you would like your marshmallows to be more subtle, reduce the juice you use to 75ml (about 1 ½ lemons). However much juice you use, top up the liquid to 150ml with cold water.

marshmallow fluff on a whisk

Place the remaining caster sugar and the honey in a large saucepan and sieve over the lemon and water mix to remove any pips or large pieces of pulp. Place over a medium heat and prop in a sugar thermometer. Once the syrup reaches 110oc, turn on the mixer to medium high to whip the egg whites. Once the syrup reaches 115oc, remove from the heat, squeeze the water from the gelatine sheets and stir into the saucepan. Turn up the speed on the mixer and once the meringue is looking shiny and stiff, carefully pour in the hot syrup, taking care to avoid the beaters. Whisk on high until the mix increases in volume and the bowl cools down to room temperature. Once the marshmallow mixture is thick, shiny and leaves a trail once the whisk is removed, stir through the lemon zest then quickly scrape the mix into the tin, levelling off and smoothing with a spatula. Leave to set for at least four hours.

Once the marshmallow has set, dust a chopping board with a little of the powdered mix and oil a sharp knife. Turn out the marshmallow onto the board, dusting the top then carefully cut into squares. Dust each square evenly in the cornflour and icing sugar and repeat. Store marshmallows in the icing sugar and cornflour mixture to avoid them sticking together and keep in an airtight container. Serve as an after dinner palate cleanser or present in treat bags tied with ribbon as an Easter gift.

Lemon and Honey Marshmallows Close Up

Strawberry Doughnut // VSPP

When I was on study leave during high school, I would have a little lunchtime tradition for spurring me on/consoling my efforts/congratulating me on a good exam (delete as appropriate). I’d walk up to our local shop in the village to purchase a packet of chicken supernoodles (classy) and a pink doughnut from the bakery display right at the front of the store. Filled with all sorts of creations, throughout my childhood i would choose between the fat, thickly-iced cupcakes half dipped in sprinkles with a solitary smartie on the other side, empire biscuits with sparkling jelly sweets and my sister’s favourite, the mallow cone. But when it came to my teenage years, I would always go for a pink dough-ring to accompany my super healthy lunch, normally consumed ignoring my history notes and watching awful wedding shows on the obscure sky channels.

I have to admit there is always the temptation to purchase one when I go back home, stuffed into a paper bag, the icing sticking to the paper. Eaten on the sofa accompanied by a coffee, luckily without any school notes to ignore. The only doughnuts available around these parts are those mass produced versions in neat rounds with perfect sprinkles, stuffed with sickly sweet jam or the tiny ones sold in plastic boxes in volumes of 15. Sometimes you just want a bite of nostalgia. So naturally, I turned to the kitchen.

Iced Strawberry Doughnuts // VSPP

I’ve been desperate to try homemade doughnuts for months, but have been rather put off by a lot of sources. One of my baking books (intended for the home baker) announces one shouldn’t bother if they don’t own a temperature regulated deep fat fryer. Others stick to baked doughnuts which are more cake-like their slightly-crisp fried counterparts. But despite the off-putting posts and books, I was keen to give it a go and thus my interpretation of my study leave doughnut was born.

I won’t lie, fried doughnuts aren’t the most therapeutic of baking projects – if you need to whack the heck out of a dough then choose a bread rather than this enriched one, as it is very delicate and sticky. But after all the proving, frying and dipping in glaze, they are picture perfect even if they are a bit knobbly, squint and lopsided. But I think that’s what I love about them – you couldn’t just pick up one of these doughnuts in a supermarket. They may not be uniform, but they are born from my nostalgic memories of those study leave lunches and to me, that’s what makes them perfect.

Strawberry Icing Blob // VSPP

 

Adapted slightly from Joy the Baker

 

You Will Need

1 sachet fast action dried yeast, plus two tablespoons warm (not tepid) water

240g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

3 egg yolks

60g unsalted butter, room temperature

250ml whole milk, room temperature

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla paste (optional)

Vegetable oil for frying and kitchen towel to drain excess oil

 

For the strawberry glaze

150g icing sugar

2 – 3 tbsp boiling water

4 drops strawberry flavouring

2-3 drops red gel food colouring

Enriched Doughnut Dough Ingredients

In a bowl, whisk together the yeast and the water and leave for five minutes until the mixture is foamy and bubbling.

Doughnut Dough before Proving

In the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with the dough hook attachment, add the flour, yolks, butter, milk, sugar, salt and vanilla if using, and mix on low speed until combined, then up the speed to medium high for three minutes. Stop the machine and scrap down to ensure it’s all combined, then sprinkle with flour to prevent a crust from forming then cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm environment to prove for 1 ½ to 2 hours – I placed mine next to the boiler.

Doughnut Dough after first Prove

Once proved and doubled in size, carefully empty the dough onto a clean, well floured work surface and roll to ½ inch thickness with a floured rolling pin. Using round cutters around 2-3 inches wide, cut around nine circles from the dough and using a small 1 inch cutter or bottle top, cut out holes from the middle of the doughnuts. Don’t re-roll scraps. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and spread with an even layer of flour then carefully place the doughnuts on the sheet, adding the doughnut holes to be used as testers. Cover with the tea towel and leave to prove for a further 30 minutes.

Doughnut Dough after first prove

Once the doughnuts have puffed up slightly, fill a heavy bottomed pan with vegetable oil and heat to 180oc on a sugar or digital thermometer. Carefully remove a doughnut hole from the sheet and place in the oil, cooking for one minute on either side. Remove from the pan once cooked and drain on a plate covered with paper towels. It should be golden and cooked inside. Repeat with the remaining doughnut holes, keeping an eye on the temperature before cooking the doughnuts.

Start with one doughnut to gauge the speed they cook and aim to fry for two minutes on either side, using a timer to guide you. If the doughnuts are cooking too quickly, take the pan off the heat and continue frying – the oil should come down in temperature slightly but keep using your thermometer to check. Once golden either side, remove each doughnut using a fish slice and drain on paper towels before transferring to a paper towel lined wire rack to cool completely. Repeat until all the doughnuts have been fried.

To make the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar and the boiling water to a paste, adding a little more water if necessary to make it smooth but not too runny. Add the flavouring and the colouring – I went for baby pink which was around three drops, but if you want a deeper colour add a few more. Chose the best side of each doughnut and dip in the icing, carefully twisting and letting the excess drip off before leaving to dry on the wire rack. Once the iced doughnuts have dried, serve with coffee. They are best eaten the day they are made.

Strawberry Doughnut // VSPP

 

Healthy No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I think I may have fallen slightly in love with my food processor. What started out as a hesitant attempt to use my new kitchen gadget has quickly become my go-to for just about everything. From healthy brownies to orange cakes, it seems that I am incapable of writing a recipe without sneakily whirring a few almonds or pureeing a few satsumas in this magical machine of mine.

Before you chastise me for breaking my handmade baking ethos yet again, I offer up a plate of these beautiful no-bake cookie bars with pleading, Puss in Boots eyes in order for you to consider adding one to your kitchen gadgetry. Another case of pure kitchen magic, these bars are made with no butter, sugar, eggs or flour, yet retain that sweet, crumbly bite that can be found in a simple oatmeal cookie.

Health No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I made these cookie bars for my bake club this month, as the theme was *all natural ingredients*. While some went down the ‘butter is natural, right?’ road, I as usual took it all too literally and went a bit raw diet/clean eating on the group. Just like when someone asks me to ‘just bake a cake’, I will still be smoothing the ganache at 1am to make it is just right. Like the baking freak I am.

Tweaked slightly from Shutterbean’s recipe, I swapped the cashews for almonds to give these bars a real punch of flavour. I also switched up the maple syrup for honey for a sweeter stickiness but kept those all-important dark chocolate chunks with a good pinch of Cornish salt. Although baking without eggs and flour can seems a little challenging, this recipe took less than 10 minutes to make before the mix chills out in the fridge for a few hours. I seem to say it a lot these days, but it really is like baking magic. I think my food processor is fast becoming my favourite kitchen toy.

Adapted slightly from Shutterbean

You Will Need

240g whole almonds

20g rolled oats

3 tbsp honey

¼ tsp cinnamon

Pinch grated nutmeg

90g Deglet Nour dates, pitted

Pinch of fine sea salt

60g walnuts, chopped

50g 70% dark chocolate, chopped

No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Ingredients

Line a 7 x 7 square tin with baking parchment and set aside. In a food processor, whizz together the almonds and the oats to a fine powder for around 30 to 60 seconds. Add the honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, dates and salt then whizz again to a dough that clumps together when squeezed in your hand.

Cookie Dough Mix

Add the walnuts and chocolate and pulse briefly to mix through then scoop the dough into your prepared tin. Press down into an even layer with your knuckles or the back of a spoon until smooth, then place the tin in the freezer for an hour or chill for four until your cookie bars are solid. Remove from the tin and slice into rectangles or squares. Keep chilled in an airtight container before serving.

Healthy No Bake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Thai Butternut Squash Coconut Noodle Soup

This soup is so good, that people will do anything to get their hands on it. This isn’t an exaggeration – a portion of this beautiful Thai inspired soup destined to be my lunch one afternoon went missing, tub and all, from my office kitchen. To this day we don’t know who ‘soup thief’ is – who, in turn also stole a sandwich at the same time – and I never saw that tub again. It’s all excitement at my work, I tell you.

Before it was stolen, it began life in a large Le Creuset pot, filled with lightly spiced cubes of butternut squash, creamy coconut broth and spindly lengths of vermicelli noodles. Handfuls of not-so-authentic spinach are stirred through right at the last minute, to wither slightly before being ladled into bowls and topped with fresh mint and a twist of black pepper. It’s so simple, warming and full of goodness, that I can almost forgive the soup thief for their crime. If they were after a hug in a bowl, that is indeed what they stole.

Washed Spinach in a Colander

I came across this recipe a few months ago, going through back issues of delicious magazine in search of some new dinner inspiration. The original recipe cites two servings, but I believe you can stretch it to three easily or four for lunch-sized portions. If you eat a gluten free diet, this is a perfect new recipe for you – just ensure you use gluten free stock cubes and that your noodles have been packaged in a gluten-free zone. You can also make it a little more authentic with pak choi leaves, but I like the simplicity of spinach – plus its cheaper. Filling enough to be made on a weeknight for dinner then packaged up for office-based lunches, it’s the perfect way to ensure you have a meal filled with goodness whilst sitting at your desk. I’d probably advise some sort of Ross Geller-inspired ‘my soup!’ sticker on the Tupperware though, just to avoid causing a scene if it does go missing.

 Adapted from delicious. magazine December 2011

 

You Will Need

2 tbsp thai red curry paste

450g butternut squash (around half), diced into 1cm pieces

400g can of full fat coconut milk

400ml vegetable or chicken stock

2 nests or one long sheet of dried vermicelli rice noodles

100g fresh spinach (or two heads of pak choi if you’re feeling authentic, leaves shredded)

Salt and pepper to taste

Mint leaves and cracked black pepper to serve

Vermicelli Rice Noodles

Place a large stock pot over a medium heat and once hot, add the curry paste and fry for a minute. Add the squash cubes and stir to coat with the curry paste, cooking for 2 minutes. Cover the squash with the contents of the coconut milk can and the stock and stir to combine. Simmer for around 20 minutes until the squash is tender.

Stirring Spinach into Thai Butternut Squash Coconut Noodle Soup

With your hands, break the noodles into smaller chunks and add to the soup, stirring to combine and cooking for three minutes. Add the chopped spinach and stir through until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste then remove from the heat. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with cracked black pepper and mint leaves.

Thai Butternut Squash Coconut Noodle Soup

 

Sour Orange and Spice Almond Gluten Free Cake

A couple of weeks ago a bought a net filled with bright orange satsumas. Perfect little squashed ovals of sunny delight, bursting with sweet flavour that could be devoured at my desk as part of my resolution to quit my love affair with the office vending machine.

But instead of the sweet fruit I had devoured by the bucketload before the New Year, this bundle was lip-puckeringly sour – the type of sour that builds over the bridge of your nose and spreads across your face like a wave of heat. I would turn red with every slice, the skin impossible to separate from the pith, sending peals of juice squirting over my desk with every attempt. I wanted to throw the lot away but I just couldn’t resign these satsumas to the bin, no matter how awful they were. So I made a cake.

Sour Orange and Spice Almond Gluten Free Cake

It may seem like an odd start to a recipe – boiling the sourest oranges imaginable with a pinch of cloves before blending into a paste, but it’s rather therapeutic. Filling my kitchen with the sweet scents of orange and clove, it was like Christmas-but not quite had re-arrived in my flat. Blended into a chunky paste and mixed with the gluten-free fanatic’s favourite almonds, those sour-as-hell satsumas were transformed into the softest, pillowy sponge – sticky from the fruit but balanced by the nuts. Sweet spice lifts each slice with warmth without the hot flush the fruit on its own would bring. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – baking is just like magic.

 

Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson

 

You Will Need

3 satsumas or clementines, sour if they need using up

4-5 cloves

250g ground almonds

225g caster sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp mixed sweet spice (I used a pumpkin pie spice)

1 tsp baking powder

A few pinches grated nutmeg

6 eggs

2 handfuls blanched almonds


Place the oranges in a heavy bottomed pot with the cloves, cover with water and bring to the boil, leaving to simmer on the hob for two hours. Meanwhile, blitz the ground almonds, sugar, sweet spices and baking powder together in a food processor to make the mix super fine and to remove lumps.

boiling sour oranges

Once the fruit has been cooking for two hours and is soft, drain the fruit and leave to cool. Cut into pieces and remove the pips then blend in the food processor to a paste. You can keep some chunks for texture or blend until like fine marmalade – the choice is yours.

six eggs cracked into a bowl

Preheat an oven to 190oc/170oc fan and grease and line a 7 x 7 cake tin. In the bowl of a stand mixer – or a large bowl if mixing by hand – whisk the eggs until starting to foam, then beat in the almond and sugar mix. Tip in the orange paste and beat before pouring the batter into the cake tin, levelling with a spatula and dotting with the almonds.

Sour Orange and Spice Almond Gluten Free Cake

Place in the oven to bake for 1 hour. The cake will start to brown quite quickly, so cover with tin foil after around 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing the baking parchment and cooling the cake completely on a wire rack. Cut into 9 squares and serve, ideally with some crème fraiche or natural yoghurt.

Sour Orange and Spice Almond Gluten Free Cake

Double Chocolate and Raspberry Vanilla CupcakesWhere do you stand in the great Valentine’s Day war? Are you an advocate, bursting with excitement for a meal at a fancy restaurant or  thrilled at the thought of your loved one opening the card you lovingly pick out for them in Paperchase? Perhaps you are a hater, preparing for an epic night of horror movies and popcorn, hibernating from the pink hearts and overpriced chocolates or maybe you’re hitting the town with your mates – it is a Friday after all. Wherever your heart lies on February 14, I think we can all agree on one thing – we love cake.

I have a funny little relationship with cupcakes. Everyone seems to adore them, all pretty and precise with perfectly piped buttercream. But they are kind of awkward to eat – I normally end up with frosting on my nose. If it were my choice I would happily accept a slice of cake any day, but as I made these cupcakes for one of my many Valentine’s (lol) for her flatwarming, I thought I would indulge her love for all things pretty in pink. Don’t say I’m not good to you Nicola.

Double Chocolate and Raspberry Vanilla Cupcakes

You might be surprised to know this post falls under my Frugal February project, in which I use up baking odds and ends in a bid to reduce waste in my household. In this recipe, it’s the double chocolate ganache that has been given a second coming after I froze the leftovers from frosting a ‘Sorry You’re Leaving’ cake a few weeks ago. Rather than throw the surplus away, I scooped it up and placed in a freezer bag, smoothing out all the air and freezing. So simple and yet so convienient for frosting a batch of fragrant vanilla cupcakes – simply defrost overnight in a bowl. See, cupcake making isn’t all perfect piping – it can be really easy.

These cupcakes are so utterly romantic that they would make the perfect gift for your sweet toothed sweetheart this Valentine’s. The milk chocolate just takes the edge off the bitterness of the dark ganache and the sweet nubs of raspberry give little bursts of colour and flavour – like little edible rose petals. And of course, with a great hunk of vanilla sponge underneath, these cupcakes are enough to slay even the most hardcore Valentine’s hater. And even if you don’t have a Valentine, make them anyway and enjoy them with the friends you hold dearest before you paint the town loveheart red. Make cake and don’t declare war on Valentine’s just yet.

Cupcake close up

 

Cupcake recipe from Red Magazine

 

You Will Need

For the cupcakes

175g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

175g caster sugar

175g self raising flour

3 eggs

½ tsp vanilla paste

½ tsp baking powder

 

To finish

300g leftover ganache from this recipe, having used ½ 70% dark chocolate and ½ good quality milk chocolate

2 tbsp freeze dried raspberry pieces

Tip: If using frozen ganache, unwrap and place in a bowl covered with clingfilm and leave to defrost overnight.


Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan and line a muffin tin with 12 cases. Place all of the cupcake ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (or if using a hand held mixer, a large bowl) then beat together until smooth – about five minutes. Divide equally between the 12 cases and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly in the tin then remove each cupcake and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Double Chocolate Ganache

Place the now defrosted but cold ganache in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. This will help to bring back the shine of the ganache as it will have gone matte in the cold. Warm through until the bottom begins to melt then remove from the heat and whisk vigorously until you have a smooth and shiny ganache. Leave to cool for around 10 minutes.

How to frost cupcakes with ganache

To frost your cupcakes, take a spoonful of ganache and blob it onto the top of a cupcake. Using the back of the spoon, smooth the ganache right to the edges of the case. To finish, use the back of the spoon to firmly swoop around the cupcake, twisting as you go to create a rustic swirl. Sprinkle with the frozen raspberry pieces and then serve to the one you love.

Valentine's Cupcakes

Date and Pecan Buttermilk Scones

I get a quiet satisfaction out of using up every last scrap of an ingredient. There is nothing worse as a baker than throwing eggs in the compost bin or pouring cottage cheese milk down the drain. Ambient foodstuffs like flour and sugar can last a lifetime (or until my next baking project) but there are so many odds and ends that can turn quicker than it takes to make a batch of scones. It’s a frustrating fact of life.

I mused over this for a while, and came up with the idea of Frugal February. Dedicated to making the most of surplus ingredients and showing you how to store all those odds and ends, it’s the perfect way to keep your bank balance intact, your fridge clear of opened and unused cartons and more egg yolks than you can deal with. But equally, it’s about using these things to the best of your ability; lest you end up with a tetris of food parcels in your freezer that you have no idea how to use. I hope that for the next month, I can help you get rid of those little bits and pieces to turn them into delicious treats without throwing anything away.

I thought I would first turn my attention to buttermilk. Although you can make your own by souring regular milk with lemon, I buy almond milk for my morning breakfast so never have it in the fridge. But by buying a carton, you inevitably end up with around 100ml that will have you scouring the internet for a use-it-up recipe. I’ll save you the bother – it’s rather difficult.

cutting scones without a cutter

After baking my favourite chocolate fudge cake for my friend Andy who parted for London a few weeks ago, I had around half a carton of buttermilk to use and some dates from my no-bake brownies. Thus, the first Frugal February recipe was born – Date and Pecan Buttermilk Scones.

This is back to basics baking. The kind you can do in your pyjamas, without your contact lenses in and sporting a top knot on a lazy Sunday morning. Butter is fed through fingertips to resemble breadcrumbs, then sugar and spice and all things nice (namely dates and pecans) are added to the mix. Stir with your hands – it’s a Sunday after all. With half a carton of buttermilk, these sweet scones come together in a flash to create a lightly brown dough speckled with sticky dates and pecans. I patted into a square and cut into nine scones because it’s easiest. If you are a rolling pin and cutter kinda person go for it, but the nature of these scones are more rustic than perfect. A quick brush of buttermilk and a smattering of chopped nuts send these scones off to the oven in style. In just 15 minutes you will have a warm plate of scones to take back to bed, coffee in hand and the February rain dripping down the window. It’s February, be frugal.

 

You Will Need

200g self-raising flour

55g cold unsalted butter, cubed

2 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar

50g pecans, chopped

50g dates, pitted

A grating of nutmeg

140ml buttermilk, retaining the carton to use to brush the scones

 

Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc and line or grease a baking sheet. Place the flour and the butter in a large bowl and rub together, feeding the butter through your fingertips until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.

butter and flour

 

Stir through the sugar – you can do this with your hands – and add the pecans, reserving around a tablespoon’s worth to top the scones. Using kitchen scissors, snip the dates into chunky pieces and add to the bowl along with the nutmeg, giving the contents a good mix. Add the buttermilk and stir with a spoon then bring together to a shaggy dough with your hands.

pecan topped sconesTip the contents of the bowl onto a clean, floured surface and bring together gently with your hands. Pat into a square shape around 1.5cm thick and cut into nine squares using a sharp knife. Place the scones on the prepared tray and brush with the buttermilk from the container. Sprinkle over the reserved pecans and bake for around 13-15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool slightly then transfer to a wire rack, eating slightly warm with coffee.

Date and Pecan Scones with Brown Muscovado Sugar

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf

This is the first time I have ever made banana bread. I know, I know – saying so is like admitting you’ve never melted Scotbloc to make rice krispie cakes, licked cake batter off your elbows or baked Tom and Jerry strawberry cakes from a packet. It’s one of these fundamental starter recipes, like scones or pancakes, walking hand in hand with blackened bananas to create something new from something old. It’s like wasteless baking. Good for the soul.

But it’s no surprise that I don’t have surplus bananas lingering on the windowsill, slowly speckling from muddy brown to black in the sunlight. I’m not a massive fan of the fruit as it is – I’ll rather blend it frozen into a mango smoothie or bake it on hot coals for a smoky, apple sauce texture. But I somehow had a hankering for a loaf cake last week, so I dutifully smacked around a couple of bananas and left them to age for two weeks. I’ve heard this makes the flavour of the cake more intense and judging from the result, I would say that method has its merits.

over ripe bananas for banana bread

I researched a few recipes before I came across this one on the BBC Good Food site, but I wanted to cram in as much flavour as possible – anything sunshiny that will distract from this miserable month of January.  I decided it needed some extra texture, and so added my favourite lemon and poppy seed combination for a little crunch and a citrusy zing. At the last minute, I threw in a handful of blueberries in impulse and I am glad I did – they burst into pools of colour and give the cake a lovely spring-like flavour.

I love the way this loaf slices; each thick, doorstop slice is speckled with poppy seeds and you can see little golden flecks of lemon here and there, spread throughout the loaf. A jammy burst of blueberry punctuates the slice, adding a sweet stickiness with each bite. I had planned to add a lemon glaze, but I greedily hacked into it with a bread knife and immediately decided there was nothing else required. It might seem simplistic, but some of the best bakes are. I still have fond memories of those strawberry fairy cakes after all.

Slice of Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf

 

Adapted slightly from BBC Good Food

 

You Will Need

140g unsalted butter, softened

140g caster sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

140g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 very ripe bananas, mashed

1 tbsp poppy seeds

Zest of 1 lemon, plus ½ to ¾ juice to taste

80g blueberries

 

A couple of things to point out – I followed the original recipe’s specifications for a 2 lb loaf tin and was returned with slightly flatter banana bread although it did take a shorter time to bake. If you prefer the look of a taller cake, go for a 1 lb and bake for a little longer – you might want to add a tin foil hat to the top to stop it browning too much.

banana bread ingredients

Preheat an oven to 180oc/160oc fan and grease and line a 2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and a third of the flour and beat again. Add the remaining flour and baking powder and beat again to a thick batter. Add the mashed banana, poppy seeds and lemon zest and juice and beat together. Fold in the blueberries then pour the mix into the tin, levelling with a spatula. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the tin from the oven and cool for 10 minutes then lift out of the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into slices and serve with coffee.

Blueberry Lemon Poppy Seed Banana Loaf and Black Coffee