Saturday, April 30, 2011

Garden 2011

The weather's picked up over the last couple of weeks (mostly!) so there's been a flurry of activity in the garden - mostly from Leigh. He's been tidying, mowing, edging and weeding and doing lots of sowing again. Hopefully we should see lots of fruit and veg this year and Zachary has been planting lots of sunflower seeds, so we have those to look forward to as well.

Of the more established plants, our magnolia has flowered for the first time this year - we've had it about 3/4 years

And the wisteria we planted 2 years ago is also flowering for the first time

the clematis is blooming well

and Leigh's new fruit trees are blossoming so hopefully we'll get some fruit from those too.

The garden is looking fab. We had the chickens running over the whole garden last year, which led to decimation of the lawn, no blueberries and lots of bulbs being dug up. However, we've shut them into the bottom third of the garden this year so hopefully, things can grow a bit more freely, and the boys will have a safer time in the garden. Here's to a good summer!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding - William and Catherine

We were out for the day today with Leigh's parents so missed the TV coverage live, but fortunately were travelling in the car at the time of the service (and I remembered to set the Vision box for it as was so that I can gape with awe at the dress) so heard William and Catherine make their vows. It was lovely and I don't know whether it was just this occasion, or remembering my own wedding, but it brought a tear to my eye. Just that very intense emotion of promising yourself to another person for your lifetime. I have now cheated a bit and watched a clip on the Royal Channel (I never knew there was such a thing!) on You Tube of Catherine arriving at Westminster - she looked wonderful and the dress was magnificent. Really understated but incredibly beautiful. I'm looking forward to seeing the trees in the Abbey now!

We went to Sudbury Hall and The Museum of Childhood today, which is National Trust property about half an hour from us. I'd been before, with the boys and Leigh's mum last summer, and knew it was well worth another visit. The Museum was great again - what I really enjoy about it is that there are toys for children to play with in all the exhibit rooms, and there are demonstrations and things for them to see, which makes the whole experience a bit more interesting for them, and a bit less of a rush round for us trying to leave before they get bored! We managed to get Zachary to go through the Victorian chimney exhibit (yes he was far braver than all the girls and led the way!) - see his soot mark of honour

and we sat in on the Victorian school lesson which was really well done. See the naughty boys at the back of the class

and Leigh's tasty new hat!

Also, Leo found himself a new vocation at one of the exhibits

and who thought ice creams could be quite so hilarious!

Better still, after lunch we discovered that the gardens are also pretty great - Annie and I didn't get that far last year, but beyond the hedge is a wonderful lawn for picnics, a lake with geese to feed, a lovely shady wooded area with great play equipment and some rather nice topiary too. Still haven't made it into Sudbury Hall itself but next visit hopefully...

Thursday, April 28, 2011


We went swimming today with the boys and Zachary discovered he could swim on his own with his armbands on! This is great. I think that previously he's been a bit nervous of trying on his own (that is, with noone holding him under his shoulders for support) but found out quite by accident today that he could float in the pool with his armbands on. So he tried this a few times, just lifting his feet from the floor and floating, and then was encouraged to have a go at kicking his feet and moving his arms...and then no stopping him! It was brilliant. Just now need to try and repeat this in a swimming lesson and we could move towards him having a go without the bands on at some point.

And he's also had a haircut. It's much much shorter and he almost looks like a different boy but after a couple of days bedding in, I think it looks fab and has considerably cut down the time spent washing and drying it at bedtime!!!!

Here it is 'before' on Easter Sunday

and 'after'

Monday, April 25, 2011

POP Cakes Go Forth

All wrapped and ready to go!

POP Cakes The Third

So, day 3 and we now decorate the chocolate cakey balls of yumminess. The recipe uses candy melts (which I managed to get from Hobbycraft) for the coating of the cakes. I wondered why they didn't just use chocolate, but I think the melts are a bit cheaper, they come in lots of different colours and seem to behave better than chocolate - they melt more smoothly, and dry out quicker. So, melt the candy melts, then dip about 1cm of the lollipop stick you're using into the liquid and push it into one of the cake balls. Then using the stick, dip the ball into the melted candy until it's covered, using a spoon to help.

Gently shake off any excess, then stand the lollipop while you decorate it. I used playdough and polystyrene to support the lollipops - both worked reasonably well.

Leave to dry and then store. The recipe suggests that they will last about 2 days normally, or about a week in the fridge, but if they're in the fridge, they need to be covered. I bought some candy bags and ties in the same pack as my lollipop sticks. Hurrah!

Here's my handy helper!

and my 'decorating station'.

I think next time, I need to try and get my balls a more even and smooth shape, possibly heat the candy melts a bit more as towards the end it was not covering as evenly as at the start, and invest in some posher decorations. Leigh has suggesting crystallising flowers - nice!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

POP cakes II

Then crumb the chocolate sponge when it's cool

Beat together some cream cheese and icing sugar

Combine the 2 mixtures to make a sticky mess! Using 30g at a time, form into 20 balls and leave for a few hours in the fridge to harden (I am going to have to leave them overnight, as a few hours from now will be bedtime!!)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter cake 2011

No Simnel cake for us this year - I'm cracking out a lemon and coconut cake courtesy of the Easter Asda magazine. Pretty tasty too, although as with my last 3-layer cake, the sponges seem to be slightly undercooked. I put them in for the time suggested, a skewer came out clean, but still when I got the cakes out of the tins, they were a bit undercooked underneath. Need to work on that!

I have also found a recipe for POP cakes - they're little round cakey, lollipopy things. I'm going to put them together tomorrow but first you start with a chocolate sponge (fortunately this appeared to bake properly!)...

The lemon coconut cake :

225ml milk
5tbsp lemon juice
350g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 2 large unwaxed lemons (my 2 lemons provided me with all the lemon juice I needed)
100g dessicated coconut
300g plain flour
1 1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
225g butter
4 eggs
Filling :
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
300g soft cheese
1/4tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp lemon juice
150g lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line 3 20cm shallow cake tins. Put the milk and tbsp lemon juice in a jug. Stir and leave to stand for at least 5 minutes.

Put the rest of the lemon juice in a pan with 75g sugar and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and coconut. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

Cream the butter and the rest of the sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time.

Fold in the flour, milk and coconut mix. Transfer to the tins, level the tops and bake for 25 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack.

For the filling, cream the butter and icing sugar (although I thought I had creamed well, I was still left with some lumps of butter in the final filling. I suspect it was not softened as much as it should have been), then beat in the soft cheese, vanilla and lemon juice.

Sandwich the cakes with the lemon curd and two-thirds of the filling. Spread the rest on the top and decorate, if desired.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mummy mistake no. 104

Leo and I were waiting in the changing rooms for his swimming lesson a couple of weeks ago when he started to climb into the lockers. He was enjoying this and we started playing a bit of peepbo opening and shutting the door. Then he went a bit quiet and I suddenly realised that he didn't had an absorbent swim nappy on and that he could just be sitting quietly in the locker weeing on the floor...hurriedly removed my child and went for a swim. Ooooops!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nigella's cakes

I tried Nigella's Soot's Flapjack this week as I need to find a 'regular' flapjack recipe (Rachel Allen's has too many bits and seeds in for L's liking!) and my sister swears by this one. It came out okay...but too dry - basically just crumbled into nothing!!! We think it might be because I used porridge oats instead of rolled oats and they sucked up too much of the liquid. So I'll buy some more this week and give it another go.

Meanwhile, the Madeira cake came out ace.

240g softened unsalted butter
200g caster sugar, plus an extra 2 tbspn for sprinkling
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
210g self-raising flour
90g plain flour

2lb loaf tin

Preheat the oven to 170C (I used 160ish for my fan oven)/gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar, and add the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time with a tbspn of flour with each. Then gently mix in the rest of the flour and finally, the lemon juice. Sprinkle with caster sugar as it goes into the oven, and bake for 1 hour or until a cake-tester comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack and let it cool in the tin before turning out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Birthday cakes

Leigh bought an android phone recently and Zachary's been quite taken with Angry Birds - I'm hoping he doesn't see this video otherwise I might have a job on my hands for next year's birthday cake!!!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Birthday lemon fondant cake

I have recently seen two lemon cake recipes which have caught my eye. The first was a lemon fondant cake in the April Good Food magazine, and the other was a lemon coconut cake in the latest Asda magazine. My brother-in-law has a birthday tomorrow and I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out one of the cakes...saving the other as an Easter cake!

Now, I made the cake as per the recipe, but have decorated it differently, so have not included their description of decoration in the recipe below. The recipe as printed had a marzipan layer directly on the cake (held on with more lemon curd), then the fondant icing, which is coloured yellow and has coloured marzipan roses and leaves on the top. My cake is for a boy. I went for very simple - white fondant icing with his name piped on! I think I did not make the icing quite thick enough though as most of it seemed to drip off the bottom of the cake - however a change of plate when the icing had mostly set, has made everything look much better! My only issue with making the icing thicker is whether I would then have had a problem getting it spread over the cake. Maybe, although there was a lot of icing. As you might guess, my problem with icing is usually one of finesse - slightly too heavy-handed and I just end up pulling up the edges of the cake and having icing spotted with cake crumbs!

Also, the cakes were pretty moist after the drizzling of the lemon mixture and it was pretty hairy transferring them to a plate and then again to another plate, especially as it's a triple layer cake. I was convinced I was going to leave half the cake behind. At least it's all ready now.

(I will post a picture of the cake cut open when it's ready)

350g very soft butter
350g caster sugar, plus 1 tbspn
250g self-raising flour
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
150ml pot natural yoghurt
2 lemons, zest and juice

8 tbspn lemon curd

For the icing - fondant icing sugar and some blue food colouring

Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line the bases of 3 x 20cm sandwich tins. Beat the butter, sugar, flour, eggs, almonds, yoghurt, all the zest and half the lemon juice together. Divide between the tins and bake for 20-25 mins until a skewer poked in the centre comes out clean (you may want to change the shelves around after 20 minutes to ensure the cakes cook evenly). (the cakes came out much paler than I was expecting but the skewer came out clean so I trusted that. Haven't tried the cake yet to check it's cooked - I'm hoping it's the use of the yoghurt which affected the colour). Mix the juice of the second lemon with 1 tbspn sugar, poke the cakes a few times with a skewer and drizzle over. Cool in the tins on wire racks.

Sandwich the 3 sponges together with the lemon curd and decorate as you wish!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Lemon meringue tart

Delicious!!! Yum, yum yum. Took a while to put together, but well worth it - I made the pastry base when both boys were out, and then made the lemon filling and meringue topping when they were both around. I needed Leigh's extra pair of hands for the last 2 stages to help manage the children (!) but it wasn't too complex, just lots of little stages.

Only 2 notes to make - I misread the ingredients for the pastry and mixed together a whole egg with 2 tbspns water, rather than just the yolk. So there I was feeling all superior that although the recipe appeared to instruct the use of all the liquid in the pastry mix, I had realised this would be far too much and used just under half, when Leigh came along and burst my bubble, pointing out the actual listed ingredient! Ooops.

And I also had a bit of an issue with leaking after it came out of the oven (no,not me personally - the pie!). As the pie was cooling, a clear syrupy liquid started leaking out from the base of the tin. Leigh had a look on which suggested that this can happen with meringues on lemon meringue pie (here), although when we cut the pie open, it looked more as though it was the lemon filling which was weeping sugar syrup. Not sure why this happened - my tin was slightly larger than described in the recipe, although it's not very deep, so I thought the 2 would compensate for each other. I shall have to investigate...

Here we are going into the oven

out of the oven

and a cut slice - I was convinced it wasn't going to set properly, but it came out really well and the filling was lovely and smooth - fortunately no scrambled eggs!

(the Great British Book of Baking)

Pastry :
175g plain flour
a good pinch of salt
1 tbspn caster sugar
115g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 medium egg yolk mixed with 2 tbspn ice-cold water

Lemon Filling :
3 medium unwaxed lemons
40g cornflour
300ml water
3 medium egg yolks
85g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter, diced

Meringue Topping :
4 medium egg whites
200g caster sugar

22cm loose-based deep flan tin and a baking tray (I greased my tin)

To make the pastry in food processor, put the flour, salt and sugar into the processor bowl and pulse until just combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. With the machine running, add the yolk mixture (yep, you would have thought that this sentence would have given the game away, but still I didn't realise!) and process until the dough comes together. If there are dry crumbs, add some water a tspn at a time until you have a slightly firm dough.

Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for 20 mins, then roll out on a lightly floured surface (or using the double clingfilm technique!) to a circle about 28cm across and use to line the flan tin. Prick the base with a fork then chill for 15 minutes (this allows the dough to relax after it has been handled and reduces the risk of shrinking in the oven). Heat the oven to 190C (I set my fan oven to 175C)/375F/gas 5. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for about 15 minutes until lightly golden and just firm. Remove the paper and beans, lower the oven temperature to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is crisp and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool while making the filling. Leave the oven on and put the baking tray in to heat.

Rinse the lemons, then grate the zest into a heatproof bowl. Add the juice and cornflour and stir to make a smooth paste (mine was still quite liquid at this stage and I thought I'd have trouble later, but it thickened up perfectly). Bring the water to a boil in a medium pan and pour it on to the lemon mixture, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When thoroughly combined, pour the mixture back into the pan and cook, stirring continuously until it boils and thickens (I don't know whether I had the hob too high, but it thickened REALLY quickly after I put it back in the pan and almost took me by surprise). Reduce the heat and simmer gently, stirring, for a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the egg yolks, quickly followed by the butter and sugar. Spoon the filling into the pastry case and spread evenly.

Put the 4 egg whites into a large bowl and whisk until they stand in soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the sugar to make a stiff glossy meringue. Pile the meringue on top of the lemon filling so it is totally covered. Stand the tart on the hot baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, until the meringue is a golden brown. Leave to cool, then unmould and serve at room temperature.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Rustic courgette, pine nut and ricotta tart

I would here point out that the word "rustic" does appear in the title of the recipe as printed in Good Food - it is not something I added based on the way it looked when it came out of the oven (although of course it did!).

Very tasty, shame Leigh's not big on ricotta, but at least I've tried it out now. I halved the quantities and it came out quite well.

2 tbsp olive oil
4 courgettes, thinly sliced
2 x 250g tubs ricotta
4 eggs
large handful basil leaves, shredded
grating of nutmeg
50g Parmesan, grated
1 large garlic clove, crushed
500g block puff pastry
dash of flour, for dusting
large handful pine nuts

1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan. Sizzle the courgettes for 5 mins until golden around the edges, then set aside. In a bowl, beat the ricotta with the eggs, basil, nutmeg, half the Parmesan and the garlic. Set aside.

2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a rough round about 40cm wide, then transfer to a baking tray. Spread the pastry with the ricotta mix, leaving a 4cm border. Press the courgette slices into the ricotta, then scatter over the pine nuts and remaining Parmesan. Bring the sides up over the edge of the ricotta, pinch to encase the filling, then bake for 30 mins until the filling is puffed up and golden.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Battenberg Cake

So my next challenge from the Great British Book of Baking is Battenberg Cake. Now I love marzipan and love Battenberg and thought I would give this a go.

The cake was named in honour of the marriage in 1884 of Queen Victoria’s Granddaughter, Princess Victoria of Heese-Darnstadt, to Prince Louis of Battenberg (they later changed their name to the more English-sounding Mountbatten). It is thought to represent either traditional German two-tone cakes, or the four Battenberg princes (Louis, Alexander, Henry and Joseph).

My interesting moments for this cake started with trying to work out how to divide my 18cm square tin into 2 halves with foil. I had absolutely no idea how the book envisaged this happening and you tube was no help either. Anyway I bodged something which worked reasonably well (would have worked better if I had actually placed it in the centre of the tin!), but think next time I might try card wrapped in foil as it should give a more sturdy wall. Also I was surprised at how small the cake was - although typing that now I don't think it was any smaller than the cakes you buy in the shops, just that compared to say a Victoria sponge, it does seem smaller... or maybe we're just greedy and eat huge slices of cake!!!

The cakes rose too much in the middle so I need to remember next time to try and put a depression in each rather than just levelling off. When I was preparing the cakes to put them together, it felt as though I was almost cutting off more than I was leaving! And my marzipan stuck to the table. All was going well until I tried to lift the cake from preparation area onto a plate and left half the bottom of the marzipan behind. Errrr - see photo. Also I might try more marzipan next time for a sightly thicker layer as I love the stuff. Had to throw my apricot-smeared off-cuts away quickly, otherwise there was the distinct possibility of me rolling them into a ball and eating like an apple... I’m not kidding.

Here is my divided tin on leaving the oven

The finished product showing the 'good' side

and the not so good side!

The sponge came out really well though and it all tasted great.

Sponge :
175g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 medium eggs, beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract
175g self-raising flour
1 tbsp milk
a few drops of red or pink food colouring

to finish :
350g white marzipan
8 tbspn good quality apricot jam

Also need a 20 x 15cm Battenberg tin or an 18cm-square cake tin, greased with butter and the base lined with greaseproof paper, and divided into 2 halves with tin foil.

Preheat the oven to 180C/170C ish fan/350F/gas 4. Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat until light in colour and very creamy in texture. Mix the eggs and vanilla, then gradually add to the butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour into the bowl, add the milk and gently fold the ingredients together using a large metal spoon. Divide the mixture in half. Spoon one half into 2 sections of the Battenberg tin, or into half the divided square tin (make sure the foil divider is folded over the side of the tin so it is well secured), and spread evenly. Add the food colouring (no Zachary, adding food colouring is not something you can help with!!) a few drops at a time to the second portion of the mixture, mixing it in well so there are no streaks; the colour will tend to darken on baking so don’t overdo it. Spoon this pink mixture into the remaining sections of the Battenberg tin or the other side of the divided tin. Spread evenly, then bake for 25-30 minutes (28), until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and run a round bladed knife around the inside of the tin and the dividers to loosen the sponge, but do not unmould. Stand the tin on a wire rack and cool completely.

Carefully, turn out the sponge and remove the lining paper. If the cakes have risen unevenly in the oven, trim them with a long sharp knife so that the short sides are exactly square. If using the square tin, cut each sponge in half length-ways. Roll out the marzipan on a work surface lightly dusted with cornflour or icing sugar to a rectangle measuring 20cm x 30cm. Heat the apricot jam with a tablespoon of water, then push through a sieve to make a smooth puree. Brush one long side of one strip of pink cake with jam and set it jam side down on the marzipan so that it is lined up along one short side. Brush the 3 other long sides of this strip with jam and set a yellow-coloured strip, lightly brushed on the long sides with jam, next to it and another one, also brushed with jam on top of it. Lightly brush jam on the last pink strip and place it on top of the yellow one to make a 2-layered chequerboard pattern (can split the 4 pieces again to make a 4-layered pattern). Wrap the marzipan neatly over and around the whole cake, leaving the ends visible. Trim off the excess marzipan and slice off the ends to neaten. The top can be left plain or pinched along the edges decoratively.

It's coming...