Empire biscuits are one of those special bakes that stay with you from the moment you take your first bite. How the biscuit crumbles, the jam oozes out the sides and sticks to your fingers and the icing thickly coated across the top leaves your teethmarks in its sugary shell. Of course, the best part is the jelly sweet on top, saved for last. The merits of a good empire biscuit are based on what colour the sweet is – red and black the most superior of course.
As a child I had a system for eating an empire biscuit, largely to savour it for as long as possible once it was removed from the paper bag. I’d twist the two biscuits apart and eat the bottom one first, enjoying the sweetness of the sticky bright pink factory jam which bared no resemblance to the jars in the cupboard. Then came the iced biscuit, the jelly sweet removed and more sugar would hit, heat creeping across my nose at the sweetness of it all. And finally that sweetie would be popped in my mouth and the process would be complete. These days I don’t have the patience I had as a child and when I choose an empire biscuit from the cafe at work, I devour it in one go for a pre-lunchtime sugar hit. I sometimes pick one up for my breakfast on especially unorganised days.
Yet due to my Veganuary challenge, the dinner plate sized biscuits so conveniently located in relation to my desk were out of bounds and so I sought refuge in the internet for a vegan version. Aimee’s recipe for crumbly jammy dodgers looked like the perfect starting point and so on a snowy Saturday, I made these pretty little biscuits topped with all my favourite coloured Jelly Tots, which are accidentally vegan. You could use the classic glace cherries if you wish, which is how my Mam makes them, but if you’re sticking to a vegan diet, some may contain red dyes that contain some questionable ingredients.
4 heaped tsp seedless jam, whisked in a bowl to loosen up a little
70g icing sugar
3 - 4 tsp boiling water
Small handful of Jelly Tots
To make the biscuit dough, beat together the vegan butter and caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer for around 2 to 3 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla paste and flour, then slowly beat to combine to a soft dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan and line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper. On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll the dough to the thickness of a pound coin. Using a 4cm round cutter, cut out as many biscuit shapes as you can, rerolling the scraps until all the dough has been used up.
Arrange the biscuits on the baking trays then place in the oven to bake for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly golden around the edges. Cool on the trays for five minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the biscuits are cold, match up the biscuits then place a dollop of jam on the underside of one biscuit and top with another the right side up. Repeat with the remaining biscuits until the jam has been used up.
To decorate, mix together the icing sugar and the boiling water to a smooth yet slightly thick icing. Dollop onto the top of each empire biscuit and smooth to the edges with the back of a spoon. Top with a jelly tot then leave the biscuits to set. Store in an airtight container for up to five days.
So far in 2018, the hardest challenge I’ve come up against is not diving into the large box of Tunnock’s Teacakes sat on top of our microwave. It’s not necessarily because they are my favourite treat in the world (although they do rank highly in my top biscuits of all time) but more the fact that they are so convenient. I have been officially vegan for seven days now and the worst part has been the lack of sugar in my life. Those fat globes of marshmallow and milk chocolate have been staring at me for days now and I can practically taste the stash of Galaxy hidden away in the cupboard. I didn’t realise up until now how much sugar I had been consuming before, because now I’m reaching for satsumas for kicks. If someone mentions how fruit is ‘nature’s candy’ one more time, I may lob an apple at their head. I’ve gone vegan, I’m not on a diet, okay?
I’m taking part in Veganuary for a personal and professional challenge, and a week in, I feel as though I have turned a corner. Becoming bored with the same meals, I ignored my usual peanut butter porridge made with almond milk and decided to make vegan pancakes on a Saturday morning instead. And quite honestly, I was shocked at how fluffy they were without a single egg or drop of cow’s milk. The agave gives these pancakes enough sweetness without having to rely on caster sugar and the vinegar helps puff them up like clouds. In just seven days, I’ve fallen in love with the magic of vegan baking.
As I sat with my pancake tower, drizzling over as much agave syrup as I could get away with, I realised this challenge is going to be more about preparation than I realised. As soon as I picked up a few ingredients for vegan baking, I knew I had enough in my arsenal to make it to the end of the month without a trying to score a Ripple. Especially now that I have this pancake recipe in my back pocket – oh and the new vegan Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. That stuff is seriously addictive.
This recipe makes enough for a sizeable stack for one or two smaller stacks accompanied by other vegan breakfast essentials such as fruit, Linda McCartney sausages or a tofu scramble.
110g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp agave syrup, plus extra to serve
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (I used rice vinegar as it was all I had in and it tasted fine)
½ tsp cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg
125ml almond milk (or other vegan substitute)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
A handful of blueberries to serve (I used frozen)
Add the flour, cornflour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl and whisk together. Add the remaining wet ingredients and whisk again until a smooth batter forms. Set to one side.
Place a pancake pan or frying pan over a medium heat and grease lightly with a little dairy free spread or vegetable oil. Once hot, dollop a heaped tablespoon of batter into the pan and form into a circle. Leave to cook for around 20 seconds until it starts to bubble then flip over onto the other side. Cook for another 20 seconds then transfer to a clean tea towel and cover to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter.
To serve, stack up the pancakes and top with the blueberries then drizzle over the syrup.
In less than 12 hours, 2017 will have come to an end and a new chapter will begin. I must admit to being mildly nervous at the thought of a sprawling new year, one with only a few plans and trips in place and the rest laid bare, a literal empty calendar. When I began 2017, I had no idea I would live in three different flats, move across the country to a new city and start to build a home with C. The year took me by utter surprise, yet through the very good and the utterly terrible, I’ve made it to the 31st in one piece and eyeing up a bottle of champagne as per usual.
Christmas has been rather magical this year, spent with lots of family and friends in one large party after another and while I’m not 100% sure where I will be when midnight strikes (last minute as always), I at least know I have a wonderful network behind me as I take my first tentative steps into 2018. Similar to last year, I’ve split this post into two – a round up of my top recipes and posts on Victoria Sponge Pease Pudding today and a more detailed look at the year just past in early January. I’m surprised yet again that my more personal posts have been favoured over cakes and brownies, but I’ll take that knowledge into 2018 with me when I brainstorm some new content ideas.
For now, crack open the champagne, enjoy an endless cheeseboard, first foot, dance till dawn and see in 2018 in style. Happy New Year.
For Pancake Day, I returned to my childhood with a rather colourful stack of pancakes covered with syrup, strawberry cheesecake ice cream and mini marshmallows. I also made my first GIF for the blog with this post, a rather wobbly attempt at pouring syrup over the stack but it seemed to go down well, especially on Instagram. This was also one of two recipes I shot in my second flat of the year before our move to Glasgow – I’ll never forget that teeny tiny kitchen.
Trying to keep a surprise like a stack of Nutella brownies a secret from my boyfriend proved a little difficult on his birthday, especially now that we live together. Yet he was delighted with his own personal brownie supply in lieu of a cake – luckily I remembered a candle though.
I became so attached to this banana loaf that I have lost count of the number of times I’ve remade it since, with additions of walnuts and lemon glazes. It’s the perfect no-effort-necessary bake to whip out on a Saturday morning with any blackened bananas lying around.
Another childhood favourite came to the blog in 2017 when I finally recreated my school favourite the Smartie Cookie, This post was so popular in fact, it made it into my top nine on Instagram pictured at the top of this post. These fat, chewy cookies are a delicious reminder of being little – and also one of the last recipes I shot in my old flat.
These ice cream sandwiches were an exciting post for me, as I partnered with Scotty Brand to promote their range of soft fruits in the summer. An easy no-churn ice cream was swirled with homemade raspberry coulis and bites of raspberry before being sandwiched with soft cookie dough slabs. After rigorous testing (and to claim back freezer space), I took a large bag of these sandwiches individually wrapped on a hot day into the office – they were gone in minutes.
This was a nerve-wracking bake for me, as it was the first bake-off competition I entered in my new office in Glasgow. I had agreed to take part but my genoise sponges collapsed into doughy pancakes in the oven, forcing me to scrabble together a sponge cake with just a few eggs and blocks of butter left in the fridge. I fell into bed at some ungodly hour having finished and happily won second prize for cake design. This cake somehow taught me to persevere when the odds are stacked against you – who knew cake was so wise?
I love writing these retrospective year in review posts, as it’s rather nice to look back and see how far I’ve come in the last 12 months. This particular one makes me laugh slightly, as I had no idea what would be in store for me over the next year.
2017 also unexpectedly saw me give up caffeine, my ultimate bae due to health reasons. It was incredibly difficult, perhaps more so that I went completely cold turkey, but more than six months on I can see how it has changed me for the better. A good read if one of your resolutions is to not become so dependant on the dark stuff in 2018.
I didn’t film as much as I had planned in 2017, and so I only uploaded this one holiday film to my Youtube channel. But it was truly a magical holiday spent in one of my favourite places with my wonderful family. Some people question why I still like to go abroad with them, but I hope this post explains my reasons why (spoiler: it’s because they are so much fun).
This has to be one of my favourite blog posts I have ever written and also one of the most personal. As we marked ten years since my Grandpa passed away this year, I shared some thoughts about coming back to the village where he lived and where my father and uncles grew up. It was an emotional time and I’m so pleased I captured the feeling of arriving in this special place in writing, as I received many comments and messages from people all over the world who love Tayvallich just as much as I do.
Making gingerbread in the days leading towards Christmas was never a tradition in my family. We didn’t build houses dripping with sweets or stamp out the imprints of men and press sultana buttons into their chests. I more closely associate festive baking with trays upon trays of mince pies, many of which would make their way into the freezer for a warming homemade batch at a moment’s notice. Or perhaps my Granny’s Christmas cake, where my sister and I would separate the fondant from the marzipan as in our minds the latter was the devil. Of course, the sweet treat I look forward to the most is my Mam’s clootie dumpling, a piece of fabric dusted in flour and a sweet spiced fruity mix tied inside and steamed for hours. I don’t think anything, even pigs in blankets, sprouts or chocolate coins spell Christmas the way a spoonful of dumpling, a swig of flaming brandy and a dollop of custard does for me.
Therefore the decision to make a batch of gingerbread biscuits was not steeped in any memory or sense of nostalgia, but rather a bottle of gin that landed on my desk from Darnley’s, along with a gingerbread spice mix with plenty of juniper and a star cutter. I suddenly envisioned that, once our tree had been put up in the flat to the tune of a Christmas movie, the kitchen would fill with the scent of gingerbread and puffs of icing sugar as I piped intricate snowflakes and splattered gold shimmer onto iced stars. Yet each year, I forget that Christmas isn’t a cookie cutter scene from a movie. Gifts are bought in a rush, sellotape forgotten on the shopping list yet again. Parties and drinks seem to come out of nowhere after a slow November, and there is panic trying to see everyone with a smile when there are Amazon orders piling up. Naturally there are a fair few arguments about ornament placement, control of the television remote and just utter festive fatigue. It’s almost nice in a way to be reminded that the perfect Christmas does not exist, and to stop being so stressed.
And so in that spirit, that is how I came to make these gingerbread stars and snowflakes. Not in my perfect scenario, but instead in silence. Pieces of our faux Christmas tree lay unsorted on the floor by the window and decorations halfheartedly searched through. In my pyjamas, I rolled the dough whilst listening to a true crime podcast as my boyfriend tapped away on his laptop without a carol to be heard. Piping and flooding biscuits, dusting with glitter and splattering with gold, I finished them at 11pm and went straight to bed. The next evening, as we put up our tree in higher spirits with new baubles and playing A Christmas Carol in the background, these biscuits became the perfect treat to nibble on as we worked away. And in that moment, the start of my Christmas felt perfectly imperfect, just the way I like it.
Darnley’s Gin sent me a bag of this lovely spice mix to use in some festive baking. To make your own, combine 1 and ½ tsp ground ginger, ½ tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ground cloves, ½ tsp ground coriander, ½ tsp ground cumin, ½ tsp ground mace and 6 juniper berries. Pulse in a spice blender or use a pestle and mortar until the mix is smooth. Use the entire quantity in the below recipe or 4 tsp if making a double or triple batch.
-For the biscuits
85g golden syrup
175g soft dark brown sugar
1 quantity gin-gerbread mix (see tip)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
350g plain flour
1 egg, lightly whisked
-For the icing
300g icing sugar
1 tsp gin (I used Darnley’s spiced gin)
Edible gold powder
Edible pearlised glitter powder
Place the golden syrup, butter and sugar in a saucepan and stir over a medium heat. Once melted together, cool the mixture for 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile whisk together the spice mix, bicarbonate of soda and flour in a bowl. Pour the sugary buttery mix into the bowl and add the egg, stirring to a sticky dough. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.
Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan and line two large baking trays with baking parchment. Flour a clean work surface and cut the dough in half (this makes it easier to roll). Sprinkle the dough and a rolling pin with flour and roll to the thickness of a pound coin. Using a star cutter, cut as many shapes as possible from the dough, rerolling the scraps and then using the second half of the dough. Space the stars well apart on the tray and place in the oven to bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven once golden and cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining stars.
Once the biscuits have cooled, make the icing. In a bowl whisk together the icing sugar, 1 tsp of gin and enough water to create a thick icing roughly the consistency of toothpaste. Place a narrow piping nozzle in a disposable piping bag and cut the bag around half a centimetre from the tip then spoon in the icing.
For the splattered stars, pipe an outline around the edge of each star and leave to air dry for about five minutes. For the snowflakes, pipe a simple linear design with some dots for decoration, leaving to air dry. You should have enough icing to do 12 snowflakes and 12 stars.
Snip the tip off the icing bag and squeeze the remaining icing back into the bowl, adding more water a tablespoon at a time until it is still viscous but runny. To flood the star biscuits, spoon icing a teaspoon at a time into the middle of each star and using the back of the spoon or a skewer, tease the icing into to corners to create a neat shape. Leave to dry completely.
To decorate, use a clean paintbrush to dust the icing snowflake shapes with the pearlised edible powder to create a sheen. For the splattered stars, mix ½ tsp gold edible glitter with a few drops of gin and a little lemon juice until well mixed together, then load up the brush and flick it firmly downwards over the iced biscuits to create irregular splatters. Leave to air dry then transfer the biscuits to an airtight box where they will keep for five days.
Darnley’s Gin sent me some of their products to try, however this is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.
As it happens, some of my friends aren’t big fans of birthday cake. While I’m sure the sentiment of a dark chocolate fudge cake would be appreciated, for some there is another sweet treat they prefer to be laden with candles on their big day. For Chris’ birthday I baked these fudgy smoked salt Nutella brownies which went down a treat and for my 27th, he piled up my favourite doughnuts made in Finnieston and laden them with candles. So when my best friend happened to be popping round for drinks, dinner and our 117th viewing of Scary Movie 3 ahead of her birthday, I decided to forget about cake and make cinnamon rolls instead.
Vegan baking doesn’t scare me half as much as it used to, partly due to the amazing rise in blogs, restaurants and cafes dedicated to dairy free, egg free and gluten free treats. Since starting my own space on the internet six years ago, flax eggs, applesauce, aquafaba and avocados have been instrumental in making cakes that anyone can eat. My bestie, who has been vegan for years, is constantly teaching me new things about how to modify so-called classic bakes and the knowledge is exciting to explore. So when she stepped into my flat to the smell of coconut oil, caramelised sugar and yeasted swirled buns, she was delighted to find the cinnamon rolls covered with candles were vegan friendly in her honour. Incidentally, she explained, cinnamon rolls are her favourite and I hadn’t even realised.
These cinnamon buns are really rather easy to make and don’t take too much effort to transform into swirly buns of spiced goodness, aside from a little kneading. The flavour is roughly the same and I didn’t really miss the buttery filling as coconut oil provides a lighter flavour when sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. While I left these rolls plain, served slightly warm as my vegan friend and three omnivores devoured them with prosecco after the candles were blown out and wishes made, they would be equally as tasty with a quick glaze for extra sticky sweetness.
In a saucepan, whisk together the flour and water over a low heat until the mix creates a thick paste. Set to one side to cool.
Once the paste has cooled, add to a large bowl and mix in the lukewarm water until smooth. Sprinkle over the yeast, mixing well. Add the flours, sugar, salt and oil then mix to create a shaggy dough. Turn out onto a clean floured surface and knead for ten minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Rub the dough with a little drizzle of olive oil and set back into the bowl, covering the top with clingfilm. Leave to prove in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours until doubled in size.
In a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg then set aside. Brush a 23cm round tin or 20cm square tin with a little coconut oil then set to one side. Turnout the dough onto a well floured surface and roll into a 40cm by 30cm rectangle. Brush over the coconut oil then sprinkle over the cinnamon sugar.
Starting from the short end, tightly roll the dough until you end up with a thick sausage shape. Using a sharp knife, cut off any untidy ends, then cut eight equally sized buns. Arrange the buns cut side up into the baking pan then cover with clingfilm. Leave to prove for a second time for 30 minutes until puffed up.
Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan and once hot, remove the clingfilm from the tin, place the tin on a baking sheet and bake the cinnamon buns for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Pull the buns apart and enjoy warm with coffee or candles and champagne. Drown in a sugar glaze if you wish, but these buns don’t really need it.
On Saturday morning I awoke in a tangle of bedsheets with frost clinging to the window frame. The flat was silent, my toes creeping along the wooden floors the only noise as I found some cosy slippers and flicked the kettle on to boil. Hands cradling a decaf coffee, I buried myself back under the covers to warm up. My day stretched ahead of me, my weekend empty. I was alone in the flat with my time to use as selfishly as I wanted. I could take myself out to brunch, see the Christmas market in town, walk around the park surrounded by dying leaves. But I knew I really just wanted to bake a pie.
The simplest things in life can really bring you more joy than you realise, especially when you have neglected them. I filled the stereo speakers with Laura Marling, Regina Spektor and Bombay Bicycle Club and set to work with my hands, rolling and tucking and layering and plaiting pie dough. Apples sharp and crisp peeled and sliced for tossing with spices and sugar. A caramel made with the spiced apple juices. The smell of a freshly baked pie, edges crisp and lattice flakey pulled from the oven and dusted with a puff of icing sugar snow. My greedy hands ate a slice too quickly, caramel starting to pour from the not-quite set pie. But I was allowed. I was on my own and I could do as I pleased.
I’ve been thinking a lot about company recently, both too much of it and not enough. I’m surprised at how other people make me feel like myself whereas a weekend of my own company seems daunting, like spending time with a stranger. I used to know her so very well and yet it felt rather brave to be completely in my own company for a while to reset. But while my weekend was a luxury I did not know I needed, I also walked to the post office to send a parcel of Nutella brownies to someone who could use a little comfort. That’s what baking brings me, a chance to lose myself arranging a lattice and listening to music on my own while also brightening someone else’s day with a box of homemade goodness. As the holidays begin to creep up on us, it’s worth remembering to take a little time out for yourself, but to also be there for those who could use a little company.
120ml buttermilk (Alternatively squeeze a little lemon juice into 120ml regular milk and leave to thicken for a minute)
-For the filling
5 apples (I used a mix of braeburn, granny smith and bramley)
1 tbsp lemon juice
50g caster sugar
35g soft light brown sugar
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
10g unsalted butter
1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornflour
1 egg, whisked
Icing sugar, to finish
To make the pie crust, put the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix together before adding the butter. Using your fingertips, break down the butter into chunks, as though you were making shortcrust pastry. Don’t rub in the butter too fine, you want the mix to be textured - some bits of butter rubbed in finely with other larger pea sized pieces.
Once roughly combined, stir through the buttermilk or homemade buttermilk with a knife and bring together with your hands, adding a little flour if it feels too sticky. Divide into two and wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for at least one hour - I made mine the night before to save time, bringing the pastry out the fridge around 20 minutes before rolling out.
Once you are ready to make the pie, dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out one half of the pastry into a large circle slightly bigger than your pie tin. I used a 23cm tart tin and this worked fine. Once rolled, carefully lift the pastry into the tin and press down lightly into the corners. Fold the edges outward but inside the tin to create a rounded top, then place the pie in the fridge while you make the filling.
Peel the apples, core them, then slice fairly thinly and place into a bowl. Add the lemon juice, sugars, spices and salt, mixing together well before adding to a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices for the spiced caramel. Leave for at least 20 minutes.
Pour the strained spiced apple juice in a small saucepan with the butter and place over a medium heat. Let the mixture bubble and reduce for around 3 to 5 minutes - once it is bubbling furiously, remove from the heat. Place the apples back in the bowl and cover with the spiced caramel, stirring together.
Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan as you assemble the pie. Pour the caramel apples into the pie crust and level off with a spoon then place to one side as you make the lattice. Roll out the second pastry disc as before, cutting into 10 equal strips longer than your pie.
To make the lattice, I followed the tutorial linked above then made two plaits with the leftover pastry scraps. Brush the lattice and the edges of the pie with the egg wash then place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 45 to 55 minutes until the pie crust is golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for at least an hour to let the juices settle. Dust with icing sugar and serve in slices with ice cream.
The first time I drank coffee was high in the mountains of Italy on a skiing trip with my family as a teenager. Each morning before our lessons, we would bundle downstairs to breakfast in bulky salopettes and thermals for eggs, pastries and hot chocolates. My Dad would order deux espressi per favore and tipping a sachet of sugar into each, would throw back each espresso like shots at a bar. I was curious, sleepy from hours of skiing and early nights, and tried one, sans sugar. Within the week I was hooked on black coffee, less so the skiing.
When we returned home, I started drinking coffee before school, convinced it would make me feel more alert for double periods, testing subjects and those *torturous* free periods. I’d cool it a little with cold water and gulp it down before running for the school bus and if I missed my morning cup, the school’s Nescafe vending machine was just 50p away from a coffee hit. Years later we discovered everything on the menu was decaf, my morning hit nothing but an imitation.
It wasn’t until university that my coffee addiction really took hold. In my halls of residence, I kept a kettle, mugs and coffee in my room so that all I needed to do was reach slightly out of bed to turn the switch and I’d have coffee ready in minutes before a 9am lecture. While most students discovered Red Bull, I drank my black coffee and Diet Coke, possibly up to eight cups a day to fuel the hangovers, all nighters and seminars. And who needed to dirty teaspoons as a student when I could simply eyeball how much I needed by shaking the jar into a cup? If I measured it out, each would have been at least four teaspoons thick.
So when my GP sat me down six months ago and told me to quit caffeine for health reasons, I didn’t quite realise the impact it would have on me, both physically and mentally. I walked out of the surgery and straight into the nearest Tesco, stocking up on peppermint tea, decaff coffee and later caffeine free Diet Coke. I walked back to work and from that day, I didn’t touch caffeine again. At the time, going cold turkey was a great idea but in reality, this chain-drinking coffee addict should have taken weaning myself off a little slower.
The headaches were the worst, thumping against my brain as I sat at my desk, desperate for anything but paracetamol to take away the pain. I became so sleepy that straight after work I would doze for hours. Walking into the kitchen with my little tub of decaf coffee made me feel sad when I saw colleagues preparing French presses, using Nespresso capsules or clutching Starbucks cups for their morning hit.
I won’t lie, it was tough to give up the dark stuff but I concentrated so hard on the alternatives to break through the withdrawal. Where once I couldn’t see a morning without coffee, a cup of decaf began to satiate my morning ‘craving’. It may not have a physically effect, but mentally I feel more ready for the day with something that resembles an old routine. Caffeine free Diet Coke in it’s golden cans began to taste nice ice cold from the fridge and I became diligent at looking at wrappers and ingredients to see what I could and could not drink or eat. As boring as it sounds, my energy levels returned when I started exercising more, taking up high intensity pilates classes. Even tipsy in a nightclub, I remembered lemonade wasn’t filled with caffeine and changed my vodka coke order. Quickly, life without caffeine became second nature to me.
It’s hard to break a habit and while black coffee obviously isn’t as addictive as other substances, it would make my heart rate skyrocket, make me jittery and keep me awake at night. Thankfully those symptoms are a thing of the past and I feel so much better for it. And aside from tiny ingestions of caffeine in chocolate, I’ve kicked the caffeine habit for six months now, which most of my friends are pretty surprised at given my 13 year coffee drinking career. So while I may miss that morning coffee and the scent of a fresh pot in a percolator, I simply appreciate the smell in every coffee shop I visit before asking ‘do you do decaf?’
I wasn’t supposed to have made this cake. At midnight, I lay on my bed furious with myself that yet another attempt to make genoise sponges had transformed into three dense pancakes that were both rock hard and doughy at the same time. I was baking for a charity bake sale, the first since we moved to Glasgow and I was determined to bring in something. But eight eggs down, not a lot of icing sugar left and the hours ticking by, it didn’t seem possible. I contemplated giving up for around fifteen minutes but eventually I dragged myself up, worked out a recipe with the scraps of ingredients I had left in the kitchen, put on a podcast and started to bake. At 3am I was covered in icing sugar, tired from multiple rounds of washing up and the kitchen was covered in a light dusting of icing sugar snow. Yet I had a workable cake I could assemble in the morning. I went to bed so exhausted but happy. I don’t think I would have slept as contently if I had given up trying.
This cake wasn’t about winning prizes or showing off, rather just showing up. Baking is my way of saying hello, whether it’s bringing in cookies to break the ice or whipping up scones for guests. To think that I would turn up without a bashed cake box filled with sugar seemed impossible to me and while I doubt anyone else would have cared too much about there being one less cake to slice up and sell for pennies, I would have. I woke early and tip toed into the kitchen, easing the chocolate nest from clingfilm and dripping salted caramel down the sides of the cake. I shot a few pictures before I tentatively walked with the cake in my hands (with assistance from C of course) and unboxed it for the table. When I stood back and saw it with the others, it made me happy that I hadn’t let my baking failures hold me back from dusting myself off and trying again. Oh, and it won second place for design which was lovely.
I saw a few pictures of Pinterest of these spindly vermicelli rice noodle nests and based the design of the cake around it. Toying with the idea of pastel buttercream, i instead made a batch of caramel with a healthy helping of smoked sea salt (far nicer flavour that the regular flakes in my opinion) and stirred it through a classic buttercream with a dribble of double cream as I had some left over. I then poured the last of the caramel into a squeezy bottle and after a few crumb coats of buttercream, carefully piped around the edges to create a drip effect. I filled the chocolate nest with a mix of Galaxy Golden Eggs and Cadbury’s Mini Eggs for a little colour, then pressed it into the cake with a good dollop of extra buttercream. Walnuts were toasted chopped and dusted with edible gold and the sides of the nest given a little brush for some shimmer. Since I made this cake so late, I didn’t take any notes for a recipe, but if you’re looking to make this yourself, I’d suggest three 20cm vanilla sponges, one batch of salted caramel, one batch of buttercream similar to this, around 70g of toasted walnuts covered with edible gold dust and this guide to making a chocolate vermicelli noodle nest. Happy Easter Monday, I’m off to finally open my chocolate egg.
It’s a sure-fire sign that autumn has arrived when the supermarket fruit aisles, packed with rows and rows of strawberry punnets casually change their place of origin from Great Britain to Spain. We wave goodbye to home grown strawberries, soaked in summer rain and bathed in short bursts of sunshine for fruits produced thousands of miles away. Scottish strawberries have that first hint of sour that spreads across the nose in a burst of heat and the juiciness of the first bite results in a red streak dribbling down our chin. And while those soaked in sunlight all year round mean we can grab our strawberry fix any time we like, it’s no secret that homegrown strawberries are the king of them all.
It may seem rather strange that I am lamenting the end of strawberry season yet producing a recipe full of them in October, but in my defence these cupcakes were created weeks ago for Muddle Magazine. The lovely team asked if I would create a recipe based on Norfolk Cordials strawberry and lime fruit syrup and of course I jumped at the chance. A magazine created by Scottish cocktail subscription service Tipplebox, I was delighted to be named Blogger of the Month in their October issue. And so inspired by sweet cordial, which I would 100% add to a cold glass of prosecco, I pulled out my finest cupcake cases and got to work creating these pretty little cakes. Surprisingly light, the sponge is filled with ground almonds to offer a wholesome bite while soft strawberry and lime offers sweetness with a tang of citrus. The fluffy cream cheese is also spiked with a good helping of fresh lime and finished with a strawberry, they look rather picture perfect.
While my mind may be full of brambles, apples and pumpkin spice, these cupcakes are worth stepping backwards into those forgotten summer months for one last strawberry fix. Preferably with a nice chilled glass of prosecco.
Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar using a handheld mixer until pale and creamy. Add the almonds and beat to combine then add the beaten eggs a little at a time.
Add the flour and the baking powder and briefly beat into the cupcake mixture before adding the lime zest and milk. Beat again then fold through the strawberries.
Divide the mixture between the 12 cupcake cases then bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven to cool slightly then place the cakes on a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl for 1 minute until creamy. Add half the icing sugar and beat for 1 minute until pale and creamy, then add the remaining icing sugar and beat until well combined .Add the lime juice and beat until soft.
Scoop the frosting into a piping bag fitted with a round nozzle and pipe a large blob onto each cupcake. Top with half a sliced strawberry and serve. Cupcakes will keep for up to three days in an airtight container.
September has not paved the way into the autumn months the way I thought it would, leaves curled on the ground, trees russet and crimson and a coolness in the air. The autumn we’re sold each year, written in thick liner on a Starbucks cup and wrapped in a tartan scarf has not yet arrived. Gloomy skies invite thundering rain so hard it soaks through my boots rather than a gentle frost on the pavements to slide upon. You could say I’m a little perturbed, ready to envelop myself in thick knits and blankets till March when the weather is still holding onto those last few days of summer. I bought autumnal candles in crisp apple and an intriguing white pumpkin scent, but even the flickering flames could not make it feel like the seasons had turned. So I made a sweet spiced loaf instead.
I’ve made a pumpkin spiced loaf before, but I’ve been on such a sweet potato kick recently that I was curious to see how the change in texture would fare in a similar bake. Pumpkin puree is rather smooth but it’s orange hued potato cousin is chunkier and yields a softer, more cake like result. With leftover unseasoned mash in the fridge, I stirred together the most autumnal colour of cake I’ve ever made, the hue coming through as a batter and even when cooked. Sweet spices naturally enhance the flavour, especially cinnamon, and as I took a lick of the spoon, realised it is far closer in taste to a pumpkin spice latte than my previous loaf. It bakes slowly, filling your kitchen with the scent of autumn the way a candle never could and continues to do so as it cools. A quick, vanilla-speckled glaze gives the loaf a sweet tang and toasted pecans offer bite to each dense and soft forkful.
Today as I walked home from work, my footsteps crunched under an amber-coloured leaf and I smiled a little. Perhaps all the seasons needed was a slice of sweet potato loaf to be persuaded into changing.
Tip: To make an easy sweet potato mash, peel 400g of sweet potatoes and cut into chunks. Cover with water in a saucepan and simmer on a medium heat for around 10 to 15 minutes until tender. Drain then mash well. To use in this recipe, ensure the mash has cooled enough so that it won’t scramble the eggs.
400g mashed sweet potato (see tip)
60g greek yogurt
½ tsp vanilla paste
125ml vegetable oil
210g plain flour
240g caster sugar
35g soft light brown sugar
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
70g icing sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste
2 tbsp water
Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan and grease and line a 2lb loaf tin. In a large bowl, whisk together the sweet potato, eggs, greek yoghurt, vanilla and vegetable oil until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients then carefully fold into the sweet potato mix. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 70 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the loaf for ten minutes then take it out the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
To decorate, toast the pecans in a frying pan on a low heat for a few minutes until fragrant, taking care not to burn them. Roughly chop and set to one side. To make the vanilla glaze, whisk the icing sugar, vanilla paste and water together until smooth then drizzle over the cake using a spoon. Scatter over the toasted pecans then cut the loaf into slices and serve. The loaf will keep in an airtight container for up to five days.
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