Saturday 27 February 2016

Five on Friday... Five from my week

Posts have been composed in my head all week, all very entertaining and amusing of course. Profound thoughts (ha!) come to mind and then are joined by other less profound musings until all I have is a jumble of ideas... it gets worse as I get older!  So in my head is where all these imaginary blog posts have stayed. So instead of entertaining and amusing you, I bring you a brief round up of my week via Five on Friday. Although I suspect by the time I actually publish this it will be Saturday!

1. Textiles in Focus

Last weekend it was the annual event that is Textiles in Focus. I was there on Friday and Sunday morning teaching a couple of two hour workshops on making little books. Mostly we made these little blizzard book structures but played around with some other folded books too. It was pleasant, stress free and I have come away with lots of samples that will probably end up as gifts or being sold.

2. Gluten Free Baking

I am getting more and more requests for gluten free baking and so this week I have been experimenting. The recipe for these dark chocolate and banana slices came from Baking in Pyjamas and hand on heart, they are one of the most deicious cakes I've tasted. I may have eaten several in one sitting... maybe, just saying!

3. Crumpets!

I confess to having a weakness for hot buttered crumpets so when Delicious magazine claimed they were easy to make, it was a challenge to be taken up. It was something I had never even thought about making before. They were easy... and they were delicious. And I might have eaten several of these in one sitting too... except youngest son beat me to it!

 4. A little cardigan

The landlords of our village pub (as of this weekend no longer our landlords... but that is another story) have recently had a baby girl. Josie had been looking around charity shops for hand knitted stuff for her baby, so I made her something new. Gill had made this pattern for her beautiful neice so I borrowed the pattern and it knitted up in no time. So mach easier making little cardigans than big ones... but maybe I should stop procrastinating and get back to my big one.

 5. A special cake

I'm about to go off and deliver this cake in about ten minutes... nothing more to add really!

Which just about sums up my week. There have been many more cakes and plenty of baking and I could probably do food based posts every day. But for the sake of balance that is probably why I haven't posted every day! There has also been lots of walking and time spent with family and an interesting story or two to tell.. But that is all for another time... along with all those other profound thoughts and interesting and funny ideas!

Joining in... rather late... with Amy for Five on Friday!

Saturday 20 February 2016

A Pineapple Cake

This past month has flown past and it is time to reveal my February bake for the Cake Slice Bakers. Each month members of the group, all keen bakers, select a recipe from a choice of four taken from Maida Heatter's Cakes. The recipes this month were a poppy seed cake, a chocolate pudding cake, a coffee cream sponge and a pineapple upside down cake. What to choose... I have only eaten a poppy seed cake once before and I really wasn't keen, so I ruled that out, but I could easily have made any of the other three... And still might make them all. But what swayed it for me was this tin...

A moulded tin made just for individual pineapple cakes which I've had for a while but only ever used a couple of times (If you happen to click on the link I can assure you I did not pay anywhere near that for my tin, which is available in the US for just $13 but over four times the price in the UK) I did think maybe I wasn't challenging myself enough with this recipe as I have often made pineapple upside down cakes in the past, but it is different from what I would usually do so it seemed worth a try.

I usually just put a dollop of golden syrup in the tin, topped with the pineapple and then a regular Victoria sponge mix, but this starts with a mix of melted butter and soft brown sugar. The recipe is for a single cake to feed 6 to 8 but as there were only three of us eating I halved the recipe and just filled three of the individual tins. (I have given you the full recipe though)

The cake itself was a fat free whisked sponge flavoured with pineapple juice which made for a lovely light cake.

And this was the result... A gorgeous golden cake topped with toffee glazed pineapple.

Served warm with some whipped cream, also flavoured with some of the pineapple juice, it made a perfect dessert for our meal last Sunday. A soft light cake with a crunchy toffee exterior. I imagine it would be less crunchy if made in a big tin but just as tasty. I would definitely make this again as not only was it delicious but also very easy to throw together. The recipe does say to bake for 45 minutes but in the small tins it only took 25 minutes, so I would suggest watching it carefully, and Maida also suggests adding an apricot glaze when it comes out of the oven. As I didn't have apricot jam I skipped this bit and I don't think it made much difference. I've given the recipe for the full sized cake which Maida Heatter suggests baking in a large skillet or pie dish but a large cake tin would do just fine... Although individual tins do produce very pretty cakes if you can track down a tin at a reasonable price!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (adapted from Maida Heatter's Cakes)
You will need a large cake tin approx 10" (not loose bottomed)

  • 65g unsalted butter
  • 110g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 x 225g tins of pineapple in natural juice
  • 6-8 glace cherries
  • 135g sifted plain flour
  • 1/3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons of pineapple juice from the tinned pineapple
  • Preheat the oven to 350 deg F, 180 deg C, 160 deg fan.
  • Melt the butter in a small pan and pour into the base of your tin
  • Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter
  • Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice and dry the slices on kitchen paper.
  • Arrange the pinapple rings in the tin on top of the sugar making a pretty design (so easy in the individual tins!) You may not need all the slices. Then place a cherry in the centre of each slice.
  • Now prepare the cake batter by sifting together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • Using an electric beater whisk the eggs together in a clean bowl until thick and creamy and then gradually add the sugar, still whisking until the mixture becomes thick and pale.
  • Add the vanilla and pineapple juice and whisk until just smooth.
  • On a low speed whisk in the sifted dry ingredients until just combined.
  • Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. (My individual cakes only took 25 minutes)
  • Remove from the oven and immediately invert the tin onto a clean plate. Wait for a minute or two to allow the topping to settle and then remove the tin. If you wish you can brush with melted apricot gaze but this didn't seem necessary. (Melt 3-4 tablespoons of smooth apricot jam to make the glaze)
  • Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream!
See what the other cake slice bakers have made this month:


Wednesday 17 February 2016

Book Club

Are you an avid reader? Do you belong to a book Club? I can't remember a time when I didn't read. When we were young having money to spend on a new book was a real treat. I have memories of being taken to a book shop after school, a shilling in my hand and being allowed to choose my own book, of coming home and enjoying the fact I could read the words, loving the illustrations... I always loved the illustrations. Later, in my early teens I read my way through all the large print Agatha Christie books in the library... nothing to do with my eyesight, they only had large print copies! After that in later teens I graduated onto the classics followed by Feminist literature and "edgy" stuff during my university days. Now I read anything, novels, non-fiction, magazines and of course, blogs. 

And I love belonging to a book club, because it not only means I sometimes read a book I would otherwise not choose which I then end up enjoying, but sometimes there is a bit of swapping and borrowing that goes on too. At our last meeting I borrowed Brooklyn from my friend Anne. When we read Nora Webster by Colm Toibin back in June I wasn't sure I really liked it... I enjoyed the style and the prose but couldn't connect with the characters.  At the time I did think I might like to try more from this author  and when I heard him being interviewed on Desert Island Discs a few weeks ago I was charmed and also intrigued to discovered Nora Webster was essentially his own story. He sounded such a lovely man that I knew I wanted to give his writing another chance. I'm glad I did because Brooklyn is a beautiful story about a young Irish girl called Eilis who emigrates to New York in the 1950s to find work. She stays in lodgings in Brooklyn and is homesick, but just as she starts to build a life and find friendship she receives news that means she has to return to Ireland where she faces an awful dilemma. A beautiful story that had me gripped from the beginning right through to the last words.

Tonight is our book club meeting. A mixed and diverse group, we meet in the local pub where we often have a small light hearted quiz or game related to the book, followed by a discussion led by one of the members. The book we are discussing this evening is Do No Harm by Henry Marsh. This is a classic example of a book I would not have picked up if it hadn't been on our book club list but I found it fascinating.

"Do no harm..." words from the Hippocratic Oath, is a memoir by eminent neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. As Mr. Marsh points out, writing with great candour and compassion, the brain surgeon can do great harm. Just a slip of a millimetre can make the difference between success or paralysis, or worse. Mr Marsh comes across both pompous yet at the same time humble, brilliant yet vulnerable but all the time showing great kindness towards his patients. It was a compulsive read that I really enjoyed... and I know I wouldn't want his job for anything!

There is a moment in the book when Mr Marsh refers to Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Although I now have no recollection of the context of the reference, I did remember it was a book Stewart had on his bookshelf, so have started to read this over the past few days. It is an interesting analysis of how and why we make choices and decisions but it is a bit slow going and repetitive and feels like reading a text book, so I'm not sure if I'll finish it. 

Of course long time readers of my blog will know this is not the only book club I belong to... The other one is just a small group of seven of us and we meet in each other's homes. This just about sums us up really...

Sunday 14 February 2016

Tulips and Roses

This week I have been the recipient of a lot of kindness. Lots of kind words from many of you who recognise the need to talk more about mental illness. And then on Tuesday one of my students who had read my last post brought me flowers... Just because! Thank you Julia, they are beautiful, still going strong and bring me cheer every time I see them. This week has been marginally better and I'm appreciating each small step in the right direction.

As well as tulips there have been roses this week... Of the sugar variety.

 When we had out kitchen refitted, the fitter Julian asked whether I would be able to make a big cake for his wife's 40th birthday... For a surprise party. Could it have a bit of an eighties theme... Or better still Guns n Roses? Being busy having babies in the 1980s and 90s I am a bit clueless about the music scene at the time but I had at least heard of Guns n Roses and after a bit of research decided that a cake in the form of Slash's hat might work.

This was above and beyond anything I had tackled before and required meticulous planning, starting with four layers of chocolate brownie torte, each an 8" cake in its own right, layered with vanilla buttercream. This was then "crumb coated" with more buttercream to seal the cake and provide a sticky surface for the fondant layer to adhere to.

Each step felt like a challenge... rolling and lifting the single layer of black fondant to cover the cake... smoothing it out to minimize the cracks etc (I didn't get rid of them all)... and then lifting the cake onto the fondant covered cake board. I was hugely relieved when I got to that stage!

Modelling all the extra bits seemed easy after that. Well, relatively easy!

I learned to use lustre powder, brushed on with gin to create a metallic effect as well as picking up other skills that I hope will be useful in the future.

As for Julian... he was thrilled with the result. I hope Jody was too... and that she enjoyed her party last night!

And no sooner than I finished that I was finishing off Valentine orders... personalised cookies

And four of these Brownie Rolo Hearts. There were spare roses left from the big cake so I thought they added a special touch.

Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

Sunday 7 February 2016

My Week...

I didn't really intend to disappear for quite so long but you know how things are sometimes and life just gets in the way.... And it has been one of those weeks. Up and down. Fortunately, I think there is starting to be a greater awareness of mental illness than there once was, although there is still a long way to go, but while much is written about living with the illness, which I know is a living hell, living with someone who suffers is no walk in the park either. And no one seems to speak about it because we are not the ones who are ill. I want to make things better but know I can't, all I can do is be there to offer tea and hugs and to listen when necessary. Sometimes I get shouted at or worse, I often lie awake at night worrying but still all I can do is be there with the tea and sympathy. It's not easy and I'm tired... Very tired. Some weeks are just harder than others and then I get cross because I end up feeling sorry for myself which is absolutely no use to anyone, least of all me. And I didn't even intend to write all this because I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me either and I don't want to whinge... So I almost deleted it all. But then I stopped and thought again because there are lots of people out there suffering from mental illness or supporting someone who is suffering and we don't always know who they are... So be kind to everyone. It is easy to believe that others have a lovely charmed life but we all have our crosses to bear and they are not always obvious. So just be kind....

Anyway that was a very long winded and round about way of getting to what I was going to write about. I was just going to tell you that Gill and I had another day out at Backstitch for a day sewing... Except I got half way there and realised I had forgotten my sewing machine. Like I said... One of those weeks when my mind has been elsewhere!

But I did manage to cut out another Viola reversible skirt and use Gill's machine to get it started.

And then when I came home I finished it off. I still can't get the hang of this Selfie lark but I'm sure you get the idea...

Another skirt made of "baking" fabric... My third!

But they are such lovely fabrics! And I do enjoy wearing them!

And in other news this week... I have joined in with Penny who writes a lovely blog called The Homemade Heart for her Cookery Calendar Challenge. Like Penny I have a rather large collection of cookery books, some of which I hardly use. Even though I cook a meal from scratch virtually every night I mostly stick to tried and trusted favourites, sometimes trying something new I've seen in a magazine but mostly being quite boring and sticking to what I know. So the idea of the challenge is each month to pick a book from the bookshelf and cook two new recipes from it. I happened to mention I didn't have any Mary Berry cookbooks a few weeks ago and Mum bought me this new one... "Mary Berry cooks the Perfect". As I've only tried one recipe from it so far I thought it would be a good one to start with for February... So watch this space!

Of course, I never have any problem experimenting when it comes to baking and I love trying out new recipes. This week I have been trying out new Brownie recipes to find the best gluten free recipe I could. There were no actual disasters and everything was gobbled up in no time but the best ones were these below, adapted from a tried and trusted recipe but with gluten free flour. Thirty two Brownies eaten this week... Although to be fair Joe was working on a roof over the road and was popping round for his tea breaks with his work mates so I didn't eat them all myself.

And for the business I've launched "Cupcake Friday" in an attempt to get people buying cake... January was a bit quiet if I'm honest! Last Friday was my first day trying it and the Sticky Toffee cupcakes were a big hit. I've now got to decide which flavour to offer in two weeks time.

And today there were some peanut and chocolate chip cookies... just because I fancied them. I might share the recipe one day but I've already written a much longer post than I intended and I'm supposed to be going out in five minutes.

So that was my week ... the coming week is very busy with plenty of baking orders so I might be away a while. Catch up with you soon xx