Yuletide Greetings

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Indeed, Yuletide greetings to you all.

Today is the day of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, celebrated as the festival of Yule in ancient and modern Pagan traditions. Yule was the traditional mid-Winter festival of ancient Europe, before being adopted and adapted by The Christian Church into the festival of Christmas. Being the shortest day of the year – that is, the shortest period of daylight between sunrise and sunset, obviously every day is always 24 hours long – the festival of Yule is based around the celebration of the sun returning and bringing life back to the world with the (gradual) move out of Winter towards Spring.

Whatever you want to call it – this time of year always makes me want to bake and feed people! So I do like to mark the Solstice with a bit of baking. Of course, the Chocolate Yule Log derives from the tradition of the Yule Log which was an actual wooden log that was burnt to celebrate the Solstice. I didn’t fancy lining myself up for the stress of trying to roll my own Chocolate Yule Log – instead I decided to go down the route of orange, marzipan and cinnamon as ingredients that make me think of warmth and sunshine.

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I used this recipe from Sweet Paul for Norwegian Skillingsboller, that’s Cinnamon Buns, although this recipe has an awesome twist of added marzipan! It takes a bit of time to make as it is a yeasted dough, so you need to leave it to rise, but other than the waiting the recipe is pretty easy. Note: mixing the butter into the dough is very messy!

Mine turned out a bit, haphazard looking – but this isn’t GBBO and I’m not marking myself on presentation or uniformity, it’s all about taste for me.

The finished buns are delicious, I’m going to struggle to restrain myself from eating them all. I did a taste test when they were warm and they were amazing – I’ve also had one cold and it’s still really good, but it might be worth zapping one in the microwave for a few seconds to warm before eating.

I also made these Tangerine and Marzipan Muffins from Olive Magazine. I haven’t tasted one of these yet, I’ve been too busy focussing on the Cinnamon Buns, but they smell really yummy 🙂

UPDATE: I’ve just tried one of thee and they are lovely! Light and orangey and not too sweet, surprisingly! Recommended 😊

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I have a feeling I may take a few steps backwards on my weight-loss over the next week :/

Hope you are all enjoying the festive season, whatever you celebrate and whatever you eat!

Love

Betty

Blackberry Crumble Cake

One of the best things about having moved from our titchy flat into my parent’s house (temporarily) is their kitchen. In the flat we had a pitifully small box masquerading as a kitchen with barely enough storage space let alone enough surface space to indulge my joy of cooking and baking. I think I did pretty well with the space I had, but it’s so nice to have the space to move around and not have to stack ingredients, bowls and tins on top of each other whilst baking.

I had decided I wanted to make something for dessert after Sunday dinner over the weekend, but was torn between a good old cake or a warming autumnal crumble using the blackberries my mum had gathered from the garden. Luckily enough, I came across the idea of a crumble cake and my decision was made!

Berries Collage

I used a combination of two recipes; the preparation of the berries from this one from the BBC and the overall method from this one from Hippapotamousse (although I used Vitalite instead of butter due to Pete not eating dairy).

It was actually very quick (other than the 40-60 minute bake) and easy to make and I was very pleased with the result. More importantly, it was also very yummy. I had maybe expected the berries to be a bit more tart but I don’t know if the lack of zing is due to the wild berries or the method of preparation from the BBC recipe.
It all went down very well with the family. My parents had theirs with yoghurt while Pete and I had ours with ice cream (vegan ice cream for Pete, obviously). I was quite tempted to zap it in the microwave for a few seconds before serving, to properly embody the crumble side, but didn’t in the end as I was worried the jammy fruity middle might get unnecessarily hot and destroy my taste buds. If I make this again I think I might take the risk though.

Construction collage

I only found Hippopotamousse’s blog while searching for a good recipe for a blackberry crumble cake, her’s was by far my favourite and I’ve also had a good look around the rest of the site and really like her recipes, as well as the fact that she is also a scientist. Plus, she is a far better photographer than I am – beware looking at her site if you’re hungry!

Complete Collage

I have, of course, been keeping up with The Great British Bake-Off, which has fuelled my desire to bake somewhat. I’m a bit torn on my favourite this year – I quite like Kimberley and shee seems to be a very good baker, but she’s possibly a bit over confident, I like Christine and Becca but their baking has seemed a little hit and miss, I’m very torn on Frances, she’s very inventive but can also be a bit hit and miss and I’m not totally convinced by all of her novelty bakes (although I adored her Secret Squirrel Cake), I am not a fan of Ruby at all, I find her annoying and I don’t like the way she seems to skate by by the seat of her pants.

Who else watches GBBO? Do you have a favourite, or least favourite?

Hope you are all well,
Love

I had a scream!

It’s no secret that Halloween is one of my favourite occasions of the year. I love the dressing up, themed food and cheesy not-very-scary camp horror (not so much the proper scary horror).

As Halloween fell on a Wednesday this year, we only had a small gathering of a few friends, a few drinks, loads of cake and a scary movie. I would have quite happily gone with Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (if you haven’t seen it you really should) but we ended up watching The Woman in Black. Everyone spent the week telling me how scary and jumpy it was, so I was pretty scared to watch it, but it honestly wasn’t that bad – thankfully.

I struggled to come up with a costume idea this year, especially as I’m working on limited funds. My dilemma was resolved thanks to The Vintage Fair who ran a competition to win a Pearls & Swine Devil Horn Fascinator, which I won! So that obviously had to be the centre piece of whatever I wore. In the end I just went for a demon type look, pale face, dark eyes, dark lips, blood and horns.

Halloween Costume 2012

My boyfriend Pete dressed up as some kind of scary Viking warrior. He completely covered his face in fake blood. Fortunately it was slightly easier to get off than the masses of black face paint he wore last year that took forever to scrub out of his beard. It’s probably a good job we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters.

Pete Halloween

I also did a fair bit of baking. We recently had a new oven fitted in our flat, and I was very excited to find out how much better it was at baking cakes than the old one. They turned out fantastically 🙂
In recent weeks I seem to have had a fair amount if luck in competitions I have entered. As well as the horned fascinator, I also won a Halloween Modelling Kit from Renshaw. The Kit was only available to buy at The Cake & Bake Show, or through this competition, so I was pretty excited to have won one! Fondant modelling has never been a strong point of mine, but I gave it a go. The ghosts and pumpkins were much easier than the witches hat, black cat or spider, so I mostly stuck to those.
I went a little crazy on the decorating front and used a mixture of rice paper eyeballs, sprinkles, plastic toppers, fondant models and fondant covered biscuit shapes. Oh yeah, and edible glitter, lots of edible glitter!!

Halloween Cupcakes

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Of course we had pumpkins too! We were both set on out-doing last years efforts. Mine didn’t work out to be quite as impressive as I had intended, and Pete very nearly bit off more than he could chew. In our own tradition, our pumpkins go to the vote to see whose is best – based on judgement of our guests, I think I won this year. What do you think? Mine is the haunted house, Pete’s is the howling wolf.

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I hope you all had a great Halloween. It is a great excuse for a party, some indulgence and a bit of silliness 🙂 Any good ideas for next year’s fancy dress would be more than welcome!

Next event on the calendar – Thanksgiving! So I’ve only got a few weeks to work off all of the Halloween cupcakes before then :/

Love,

Betty

x

Homemade Nutella

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of Nutella. I’d always rather have a straight-up, no messing chocolate spread than a hazelnut chocolate spread. However, I first decided to make my own ‘Nutella’ a few months ago when I was reading Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ book and cookbook and really trying to reduce the amount of processed foods and sugars in my diet.
Recently I have let things slide a bit and have been no where near as good at watching what I eat. However, I still always have a jar of this spread in my fridge for some slightly-less-guilty snack time. As it’s based on Sarah Wilson’s recipe it is low sugar and so much healthier than regular Nutella – not that that’s hard, real Nutella is more than 50% sugar (56.7g of sugar per 100g). I am personally horrified that this stuff is advertised as a great breakfast for kids, and don’t even get me started in Nesquik….anyway.

Honestly, this so yummy and really not very hard to make – I have it smothered on rich tea biscuits, often as a mid-afternoon snack 🙂

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The recipe is based on one from Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ cookbook, I have made some changes based on personal taste and availability of ingredients.

Homemade (Low-Sugar) Nutella

  • 1 cup nuts – I have mostly used hazelnuts (obviously), but have also tried mixing in some other nuts, particularly Brazils, but you can experiment
  • 1/4 cup cocoa (Sarah Wilson states Raw Cacao, as this doesn’t have added sugar, I have used both raw cacao and regular cocoa and don’t notice much difference in taste)
  • 4 tablespoons honey (Sarah uses Brown Rice Syrup as this contains more complex sugars, but I have found it really hard to get hold of and, personally, have no problem with honey!)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla 
  • 1 tablespoon nut oil (Sarah says Macadamia, I use Groundnut, but I don’t see why you can’t just use your own oil of choice)
  • 1/2 cup milk (again, Sarah says coconut but I use soy but regular milk, or any other milk should be fine. Amount can be increased or reduced depending on your desired final texture)
  1. Spread nuts on a baking tray and bake at 180 degrees C for 10 minutes (until browned)
  2. Rub as much of the skin off the nuts as you can
  3. Grind nuts in a blender/food processor (I only have a mini food chopper, which doesn’t completely puree the nuts but I quite like the slightly rough texture it produces)
  4. Mix in the rest of the ingredients
  5. Spoon the mixture into a sterilised jar* and keep in the fridge

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The latest batch that I made and photographed actually turned out a little thicker and drier than past batches, which you can kind of see in the pictures. I think I may not have put enough milk in. You can also see it’s  not as smooth as ‘proper’ Nutella, but that’s because of the limitations of my food processor, I quite like the chunks, makes it feel a bit healthier 😉 It’s still yummy despite all this 🙂

In theory, having this should help me be healthier, if I eat a couple of rich teas with this spread instead of a more calorific dessert. I’m still working on that in practise though :/

Anyone discovered any interesting or different recipes lately?

Love

Betty

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*To sterilise a jar, wash it and place the jar and lid (not a plastic lid) in the oven at around 150 degrees C for 20 minutes. Fill and seal jar straight from the oven (using oven gloves!)

Hannah Banana: THE Vegan Cake Lady

Recently, I was lucky enough to win a competition run by Hannah Banana Bakery to celebrate her reaching 2000 Facebook followers. My prize was a 9 inch cake of my choice!
Hannah Banana Bakery is based in Southampton and is run by Hannah who single handedly creates beautiful  cakes, cupcakes, cakepops, cookies, cheesecakes, wedding cakes and even chocolates, that are all vegan and can also meet other dietary requirements such as being gluten free, sugar free or soy free! I have followed her on Facebook for a long time and her cakes are always amazingly creative, beautifully decorated and consistently receive fantastic reviews. In March this year she even won first prize in the Vegan Cupcake category at Bournemouth Cupcake Camp!
I am super envious of her, not only because her cakes look and taste better than mine, but because she started training and setting the business up while still finishing her PhD – I’m in the final 9 months of my PhD and I can’t imagine doing anything alongside it, I only just manage to squeeze in blogging!!

For my prize I selected a red velvet cake with ‘cream cheese’ frosting, but it was a hard choice as she has a fantastic range of yummy flavours. It wasn’t for a particular occasion, I just love cake, so booked my prize in for the earliest available time (as a one-woman show, and being in high demand, she can get quite busy so it’s wise to make a booking well in advance!). I collected my cake, I’m not sure but I think all large cakes need to be collected, but her smaller treats can be posted, even her cupcakes thanks to some pretty ingenious packaging!

The cake was beautifully presented and came in a great box that I am totally going to reuse, she even finished it off with cute little red heart sprinkles and a ‘Made with Love’ ribbon. My cake was very simple so is by no means any measure of her talent (check out the gallery on her website to see just some of her amazing decorating skills!), but I still loved it!
Obviously, with a cake, looks are important but are far from everything. Some people may be suspicious of vegan cakes, but you shouldn’t be, especially not if they’re made by Hannah. Honestly, if you didn’t know, I doubt you would notice any difference between a vegan cake and a ‘normal’ cake. The texture was great, not heavy or cloying, really moist and very, very yummy – I could probably have eaten a whole bowl of the frosting (not that the cake wasn’t good, but I bloomin’ love frosting!!). I had intended to share it with work colleagues, but instead my boyfriend and I polished it off all by ourselves  :/ (over a few days, not all in one go).

Hannah is really lovely and so hard working, and she produces great results! I will definitely be buying cake from her again, and will recommend her far and wide. If I can come up with a good idea, I would love to commission her to make my birthday cake 🙂
I’m also going to be lucky enough to learn some of Hannah’s decorating skills, as she’s been kind enough to donate her time to run the cupcake decorating at my WI group, the Sotonettes, next week. I am very excited.

Hannah has a blog where you can keep up to date with her new cake recipes and ideas, her seasonal creations and events where she will be selling cakes. She also posts vegan recipes on Lasthours.org.uk – here.
Thank you so much Hannah! I tried to think of a good Bon Jovi reference to get in here somewhere, but I just couldn’t make it work :/ Hannah- her cakes are tres bon (jovi)………

Hope you are all having a good weekend,
Love

PS. Apologies for the lighting in the pictures, my flat is so dark but my flash is so bright :/

Taste the Rainbow (Cake)

Note: This is not a post about Skittles, although Skittles are great!

Yesterday was my boyfriend Pete’s 25th Birthday 🙂 He was working all day, which was a bit sad for me (although he loves it as he works with dogs at the Blue Cross), but that gave me plenty of time to prepare a special birthday evening for the two of us.
My main task was baking him a birthday cake. He always says he’s not a big cake fan, but a birthday cake is a necessary part of a birthday as far as I’m concerned (plus I love cake and baking). I had decided exactly what kind of cake I was going to bake ages ago, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time – Rainbow Cake!
I was a bit nervous about it all going horribly wrong, but it was actually surprisingly easy. The main drawback for me was that I only own one circular cake tin, so had to bake each layer one at a time :/

(This is actually a slightly adjusted recipe from the one I used, as next time I’d prefer a bit more cake batter to work with.)

A few additional points;

  • Although the number of colours might look intimidating, remember – you can mix your own, so you only really need a red, yellow and blue, then mix the green (blue & yellow), orange (red & yellow) an purple (red & blue) yourself!
  • I used a silicone cake ‘tin’ which I very lightly oiled to be extra sure the cake didn’t stick. If you’re using a metal cake tin remember to grease and line to avoid sticking.
  • Keep an extra close eye on your layers as they’re much thinner than a standard cake. My oven is poor so takes longer than most :/ Bake until the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed or a cocktail stick/skewer comes out clean.
  • Allow cake to cool slightly before removing from tin, then leave to cool fully on a cake rack before frosting
  • As usual, I cheated on the frosting and used Betty Crocker’s Vanilla Frosting which I got from Tesco, but you can get a much greater range of flavours and alternative brands on AmericanSweets.com A lot of these frosting’s are ‘accidentally vegan’ as they contain nothing even close to an animal (or natural!) ingredient, but do be careful to check ingredients as not all brand/flavours are vegan suitable. For my cake I used around a can and a half of frosting to frost between layers and all around the outside – for this modified recipe it might be closer to 2.
We had a lovely evening. Pete got to open all his presents – I got him lots of sweets and biscuits (all suitable for his cow-product-free diet), lots of books, some comics and a torc bangle from St Justin Jewellery. I think he was pretty happy with his haul. I cooked duck legs (£2.50 for 2 in Tesco!) with hoi sin noodles, followed by the cake, then we chilled out with beer/wine and watched Ironclad- the DVD his brother bought for him 🙂
I’m very glad he had a good birthday evening 🙂 It all makes me excited for my birthday though – shame that’s still five and a half months away!!
Hope you’re all having a good weekend,
Let me know if you have a go at the rainbow cake. I promise it is easier than it looks, it’s more about time than skill.
Love,

Bake, Rattle & Roll

I’ve had a serious cupcake craving ever since Monday when I saw all the yummy cupcakes at the ZOMG launch party! I finally got a bit of time to bake this afternoon and wanted to share the process with you. I’ve also recently acquired some new retro fonts, so I’ve also been playing around with annotating my photos 🙂

Ingredients

Recipe










Tips:
  • Check if your cakes are cooked either by pressing on the top and seeing if the cake bounces back or inserting a cocktail stick into the middle and seeing if it comes out clean. My oven is really poor so actually took about 25 minutes, even though the recipe said 15! Keep an eye on you cakes (but don’t open the door too early or they might sink!) and get to know how effective you oven is.
  • I’m still a frosting cheat, I used Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Buttercream Frosting  from a can, because it’s easier. It whipped it up with my electric mixer before pipping (been working on my pipping skills!).
  • My cupcake cases are silicone, which means they can be washed and reused instead of just throwing away paper cases 🙂
  • Go as crazy as you like with your decorations. I buy most of mine on eBay but I fancy trying out some sweets as decorations soon, jellies and buttons and dolly mixtures!
Let me know how it goes if you try making your own; they are pretty yummy if I do say so myself 🙂
Love