Sing a song of sixpence…

Now that the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in, there is no better excuse to indulge in a bit of comfort eating to make us feel a bit better.  I try as much as possible to cook a Sunday lunch each week so that we can all sit down as a family and enjoy a meal together.  Call me old fashioned but I really see the value in doing this for our little family.  Besides, it gives me an opportunity to bake and try out new things, which keeps me happy.

One of the new things I have been trying out is an old favorite which for some reason seems to have passed me by in the last few years.  Not sure why.  Maybe it was because I was not fortunate enough to taste one that inspired me enough to want to start making my own. This is possibly a consequence of living ‘down south’ but there is no excuse for the bad ones out there, and they are far to fattening to eat a bad one!  I guess I should say what I am talking about, although you may have guessed from the title of this post.  It is of course the humble pie!  So what was it that got me thinking about, and then baking pies?  Well it was quite innocent really, and a bit by chance.  A good friend of mine gave me a new recipe book as a gift and in there was a fabulous looking pie recipe that caught my eye.  It was just what I fancied, and I guess you could say the rest is history.  Once the first one was a success, I have gone on to try a few, and have now come up with a recipe that combines a number of seasonal ingredients to create a pie which for me is worth making every time.  After serving this to my mum one week, she went out and brought me the cutest little blackbird pie funnel, so now with a blackbird to put in my pie and a nursery rhyme to sing with the kids, pies are a regular feature in our house.  If you are reading this and can’t remember the last time you made a pie, give this one a shot and you might just find yourself in a whole new world of Sunday lunch heaven!

Mushroom, Chestnut, Stilton and Guinness Pie

This is a vegetarian pie but is hearty enough for any meat eater to enjoy.  The addition of Guinness is down to my Irish roots, but it helps to make a rich flavoursome gravy which is one of the reasons this pie stand out.  It is perfect to eat at Christmas time too, and can be made in advance and frozen once the pie filling is in and the pastry lid on top.   I have included the recipe for puff pastry, but if you have not got the time or energy to make it, just add some ready made puff pastry to your shopping list and use that instead.

Serves 4

Puff pastry

  • 300g/10 1/2 oz plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 300g/ 10 1/2 oz unsalted butter – cold but not solid
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice (jif will do)
  • 140ml icy water
  1. Put the flour into a bowl with the salt, then rub in 50g of the butter with the fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs and is well incorporated
  2. Add the water and the lemon juice and stir into a dough using a round bladed knife and then your hands.  We are trying to keep the pastry as cold as possible, hense the mixing with a knife first.  Cut a cross into the top of your dough ball and then wrap with cling film and put in the fridge
  3. Put the remainder of the butter on the counter between two sheets of cling film and bash with a rolling pin until it is half its original thickness.  Then fold up and do it again, and again if needed until the butter is pliable but still cold.  Beat into a square approximately 13cm width and length
  4. Retrieve your dough from the fridge and roll out into a cross shape with four (for want of a better word) flaps, leaving a slightly thicker central square once all flaps are rolled
  5. Place the butter in the centre of the dough and fold flaps in to cover the butter
  6. Turn dough upside down and roll carefully into a rectangle and then fold bottom third in to the centre third and the top third into the centre third, (a bit like folding a letter)
  7. Give dough a quarter turn so folded edge in on the left and follow step 6 again
  8. Complete another 4 turns and folds, at which point your puff pastry will be ready.  Can be keep in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen

Pie filling

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 250g/9oz chestnut mushrooms cut in half
  • 2 carrots cut into bite size chunks
  • 150g/5 1/2 oz cooked chestnuts
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 250ml Guinness
  • 100ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 100g/3 1/2 oz  stilton cheese
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 200c/400f/gas 6.  Heat oil in pan and fry onions until golden and soft.  Add mushroom and carrots then saute for another 10 mins
  2. Stir in the chestnuts and thyme, then add the Guinness and simmer for 3-5 mins
  3. Add stock, worcestershire sauce and sprinkle in the flour stirring until fully mixed in.  Cook stirring regularly for another 15-20 mins until the liquid has reduced and thickened to look more like a gravy.
  4. Add stilton and season with salt and pepper. Stir until melted and combined
  5. Put pie filling into your pie dish. Place pie funnel in the middle if you have one, otherwise you can use an upturned egg cup
  6. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and lay it over the top of the pie dish leaving a slight overhang.  Trim with a sharp knife and seal edges with the back of a fork or by pinching with your fingertips
  7. Brush top of the pastry with beaten egg, gently prick the top with a fork and bake for around 35-40 mins until risen and golden.

I like to serve mine with new potatoes, a green vegetable and some additional gravy.

31/10/2011. Savory Baking. 1 comment.

A birthday cake with X factor!

Making and decorating cakes was really where my passion for the world of baking began.  When I moved to London in 2002 to live with my now husband, I was desperate for him to pop the question.  This was mostly because I knew he was the one (obviously), but also because I had decided that I wanted to make and decorate my own wedding cake.  With no past experience of cake decorating or baking to that level, I had effectively set myself a little creative challenge to get stuck into.  So when he did get down on one knee and asked the big question, my head was an ecstatic whirl of wedding plans, but my predominant thoughts were, what is the cake going to be like?  How will I do it?  Flavours?  Colours? Tiers?  You may have noticed my little plan there already,  but what I have effectively done with my intro is engineered an opportunity to put in a picture of the said wedding cake.  I’m still as proud of it today as I was then.

Since my wedding three little bundles have arrived in my life and I love now to bake and make their birthday cakes.  Just to see their little faces light up when presented with a birthday cake is so rewarding for me.  My son’s recent first birthday was no exception, and I wanted to share how I made his cake  because it is one of the easiest I have done, and yet I think that it looks amazing.  It is unisex, and probably suitable for a 1-4 year old, so pretty versatile, which is what we busy mums need.  So here it is:

The Hungry Caterpillar cupcakes and cake

The nice thing about this cake is that you can do it in stages.  I made it over a couple of nights, cooking the cupcakes and cake first and then decorating the next night.  Don’t be put off by what looks like a lot of instructions below, it’s really not that bad and a lot of fun to do.

Equipment

  • 24 white cupcake cases (in fact you only use 22 but the mix makes 24.  Perfect opportunity to test your work)
  • 12 hole cupcake tin (if you happen to have two of these then even better as you can cook all at once)
  • 6″ cake tin
  • 6″ thin cake board
  • Piece of cardboard approx 55cm length, and 45cm width (I just used brown tape to stick two bits of cardboard together)
  • Green or spotty wrapping paper
  • Cake smoothers – these are a ‘must have’ item as you cant really decorate cakes with sugarpaste without them.  All major cake decorating shops should sell them
  • Greaseproof paper

Chocolate cupcake recipe

Cupcakes made to this recipe create the most divine ‘melt in the mouth’ sponge and for me this is the main event in a cupcake.  The icing makes the cupcake look beautiful, but it is normally too much for me to eat. I class myself as a ‘scrape and dump’ girl when it comes to cupcake icing, so the sponge needs to be good!

Ingredients

Makes 24

  • 350ml milk
  • 200g dark chocolate (chopped)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 120g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 300g self raising flour

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4
  • Put milk, a third (83g) of the sugar and the chocolate into a pan and on a low heat melt together stirring frequently. The mixture should be smooth once fully incorporated.  Put to one side
  • Mix butter with an electric mixer until creamy, then add remaining sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy
  • Gradually add the egg, then sift one third of the flour into the mix and fold with a large metal spoon.  Now add a third of the chocolate mix and fold, then the flour again, and so on until all the flour and chocolate are mixed in
  • Spoon into cases and bake for 15-18 mins

6″ Sponge cake recipe

Baking a sponge cake all in one tin is slightly different to the norm of splitting the cake batter into two shallow cake tins.  It takes a bit longer to cook and you have to make sure you do the knife test before deciding it is done as it may look done on top but is not done all the way through inside.  For this recipe I have halved the ingredients of a normal 8″ sponge cake.

Ingredients

  • 112g unsalted butter
  • 112g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 112g self raising flour

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4 and grease and line tin with greaseproof paper
  • Cream butter and sugar together in a bowel using an electric mixer
  • Add vanilla to eggs and beat together
  • Then add the egg mix to creamed butter and sugar tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition
  • If the mix looks like it might curdle, add a tablespoon of flour and then continue with the eggs until all added
  • Sift flour into mix and fold with a large metal spoon
  • Transfer mix to cake tin and cake for 35-40 mins, making sure you have checked it is done completely before taking out of the oven.  Cool on a wire rack.

Decoration – What you need

  • Large icing bag (I like the disposable ones from Lakeland, and don’t throw away after the first use, they are really easy to clean and can be used several times) and a large star piping nozzle
  • Red, yellow, green and black food colour paste
  • 5mm width red ribbon (optional but it hides a multitude of sins at the bottom of the cake where it is difficult to get completely smooth)
  • Tube of ready to write icing
  • 500g sugarpaste
  • Green, brown and red smarties (the rest in the bag can be for you as reward for baking this masterpiece!)
  • Chocolate sugar strands

How to put the cake together

  1. To make the base simply cover your cardboard with your chosen paper
  2. Bake your cupcakes and sponge cake as the method describes above
  3. Make buttercream by mixing 250g room temperature butter with 800g icing sugar and 4-6 tbsps of warm water (if you have a cover for your mixer, it is good to use it at this point as the icing sugar does tend to make a cloud of sugar whilst mixing)
  4. Divide the buttercream into two bowls.  Colour one pale green and the other dark green
  5. Prepare your icing bag by cutting the end off if disposable and inserting the nozzle.  Add half of the light green butter cream to your icing bag and start piping round the outside edge making overlapping circles as you go in towards the centre. Stop the pressure when the bag is at the centre and pull up sharply to finish.  Ice as many cupcakes as you can until the icing runs out
  6. Now put half of the light green icing in the same icing bag (don’t worry if the two greens mix up as this all adds to the look of the cake) and ice cupcakes until it runs out
  7. Now mix the remaining light green and dark green buttercream together.  Probably only needs three turns as we are looking for a marbled effect not fully mixed together.  Put a couple of spoonfuls aside for the sponge cake later
  8. Ice the remainder of your cupcakes
  9. Using the picture above as a guide place the cupcakes onto your board.  Don’t worry too much about where your light green, dark green or mixed cupcakes go, but perhaps consider placing the shades together if you can
  10. Cut the sponge cake in half and fill with jam and some of the reserved buttercream.  Place the two halves together again and smear with remaining butter cream.  Place on the thin cake board
  11. Take two thirds of your sugarpaste and colour with the red paste.  I use a cocktail stick to dot the paste onto the sugarpaste and then kneed until fully mixed in
  12. Sprinkle some icing sugar onto your surface and roll out the sugarpaste until it looks big enough to cover the top of the cake and the sides as well.  As you start to lift the sugarpaste to place onto the cake put your rolling pin in under the paste to help support it.
  13. Once sugarpaste is on the cake smooth it down onto the sides right down to the bottom and ease away any creases.  You might find that the sugarpaste wants to ‘ruffle’ up at the bottom but try and move these ruffles to the very bottom away from the cake where they can be trimmed off later.  Use your smoothers to rub over the top and then round the sides. Trim off excess sugarpaste by running a sharp knife around the bottom of the cake.  Don’t cut up flush to the cake, leave 1-2 cms and then use your smoothers again to rub round the bottom of the cake.  Covering cakes is a case of practice makes perfect so don’t worry if it is not completely smooth.  Minor imperfections can always be covered up,  (see next step)
  14. Move the cake into position on the board.  Wrap the red ribbon round the bottom of the cake and stick the ends together with pritt stick.  I did another bad of ribbon half way up as well and stuck red smarties on the sides (to help cover my own imperfections) but you can choose not to do this is you don’t want to
  15. Colour three small amounts of sugarpaste yellow, green and black.  Make two yellow flat ovals for the eyes, another two slightly smaller green ovals for the pupils, then make a small green button shape for the nose and stick in place with the writing icing.  Now make six black little booties and place half a cocktail stick in to the top of each leaving half of the stick still exposed.  Use the above picture as a guide and place the booties by pushing the cocktail stick under the relevant cupcake.  Finally, make two black antennae and use a cocktail stick to attach them to the cake by pushing the stick half into each antenna and half into the cake.  If you have any red or green sugarpaste left you can make a flat strawberry like I did in the picture to write happy birthday on.  To do this simply roll and cut to shape.
  16. Finally, put green and brown smarties and chocolate sugar strands on the edges of the cupcakes which make the back of the caterpillar.  And there you have it your very own Hungry Caterpillar and a very happy child!

24/10/2011. Tags: . Celebration, Sweet Baking. 2 comments.

What to do with a pumpkin, other than the obvious?

I love this time of year for lots of reasons, and one of them has to be the abundance of pumpkins that are around right now.  Even though I managed to grow two of my own this year, I still could not stop myself from getting another one as I passed by a local farm shop with pumpkins piled as high as my 6 year old!  We are used to seeing pumpkins used for one thing at Halloween, but the beauty of these amazing vegetables is that they are so versatile and extremely good for you.  Yes they are a bit of a nuisance to peel and cut up, (for some recipes) but the effort is well worth it.

The Americans have raved about pumpkin pie for a long time, and since I have made my own I have been raving about it too. My eldest and middle child both eat my pumpkin pie which makes it even more worthwhile.  A pudding with one of your child’s 5 a day…what more could you ask?   The sweet, silky, orange flesh is stunning mixed with cinnamon; the perfect pudding to serve up at a Halloween party or on fireworks night with lashings of warm custard to keep your guests smiling.

This is the recipe I use, with a few tweaks of my own for added wow!

Deep Pumpkin Pie with cinnamon and orange pastry

Serves 6-8

Need to use a proper (medium sized) pie dish for this recipe.  I tried with a quiche dish and it was not a great result as the filling cooked before the pastry did!

Ingredients

1/2 a small pumpkin seeded (about 500g)

3 tbsp of caster sugar

2 tbsp of agave syrup (I add this to cut down on the raw sugar a bit)

1 tbsp of cornflower or custard powder

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

3 eggs separated

1 tsp vanilla essence

310ml (10 1/2 fluid oz) milk

1 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg

The Pastry

210g plain flour

Zest of one orange

1 tsp ground cinnamon

A pinch of salt

100g cold butter

3-4 tbsp cold water

  1. Preheat the oven to 190c/375f/gas 5 and grease your pie pan all over.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place cut side down on a foiled baking sheet and place into the oven to cook for about 1 hour until the pumpkin is tender.
  3. For the pastry, put the zest, cinnamon, flour and salt into a bowl and mix with a  wooden spoon.  Add the cold butter then cut this into the flour with a knife.  Once the dry ingredients have incorporated as much as possible with the knife, get stuck in with your hands to rub the butter in lifting the mixture up and dropping it back into the bowel from high as you rub it through your fingers.  This ensures that air is incorporated into the mix, and this is what helps the pastry to be light.
  4. Then slowly add sprinkles of water until the pastry just holds together.  Wrap in cling film and let it ‘cool’ in the fridge for 30 mins
  5. When the pastry is ready roll out onto a lightly floured surface and lift into the greased pie pan, trim the edges and prick all over with a fork
  6. Once the pumpkin is soft and cooked, spoon out the insides into a food processor and puree until really smooth.  Weigh out what you need for this recipe and if you have any spare you can freeze for next time or for when you make muffins or bread.  Or if you have a baby like me, use it as an ingredient for some baby food, it is super smooth and combines with lots of flavours.
  7. Once the puree has cooled stir in the sugar, agave syrup, cornflour, cinnamon and ginger.  Then add the egg yolks, vanilla essence and milk.  The mix will be quite fluid,but don’t let this put you off.
  8. Whisk the egg whites until frothy but not stiff.  If they are too stiff then it will be difficult to incorporate into the pumpkin mix and you will end up with a burnt layer of egg white on top of your pie.
  9. Gently fold in the egg whites to the pumpkin mixture.
  10. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie dish, and cook in the oven for 10 mins at 210c/410f/gas61/2 and then bake at a lower heat of 190c/375f/gas 5 for a further 40 mins or until set in the middle and lightly browned around the edges.
  11. Serve with either ice cream, cream or custard.

17/10/2011. Sweet Baking. 2 comments.

Baking and beyond!

Well, the first thing that I want to say is that I am a bit excited about this blog.  That may sound a bit indulgent as it is mostly about myself and what I get up to, but it is excitement more about the fact that I can share and document all the creative ideas I have, and the results of my work.   The bonus is that some of you might get inspired (you never know) and try out one of my recipes or attempt a homemade project that I have shared and it might just make your day that you did.

You may know that I have three young children so involvement of little ones tends to happen quite a lot with the things I do.  I’m hoping this will mostly be a good thing, as being creative with my kids doubles the fun in my eyes.  There are however, times when I really enjoy doing stuff on my own.  Baking can be one of these things, especially when I am trying out something new or a bit challenging.  I see it as ‘me’ time!  I have recently started to try my hand at pastry, macaroons, and bread to name a few.  Every night this week my husband has come home to find me baking something new.  Lucky him I say!  Using my creative streak (which is always longing to be used) keeps me happy and if I can teach myself some new skills along the way, all the better! Plus he gets to taste all of my creations!  I’ve got a few ideas for a homemade Christmas as well.  Will add these to my blog in the next few weeks.

I’m planning to blog about once a week, and I would love to hear what you think or want more or less of.  So get stuck in and enjoy.

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10/10/2011. Uncategorized. 6 comments.