Monthly Archives: January 2011


Coffee and Macadamia Cupcakes

These cupcakes could work with a multitude of different nuts but I decided to veer away from the classic walnut and use my favourite, the macadamia. The sponge is deliciously fluffy with a mellow coffee flavour without being too sweet. The light airy icing packs an extra coffee punch and topped with toasted macadamias and a dusting of bitter chocolate (I used Willie’s Venezuelan Black 100% Cacao), these are the ultimate treat for the discerning coffee fanatic!


175g unsalted butter, softened
175g light brown soft sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp decent instant coffee dissolved in 3 tsp boiling water
1 tsp milk
50g macadamia nuts

(25g toasted macadamias optional garnish)
(grated chocolate optional garnish)


  • Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a muffin tray with 12 cases.
  • Place the macadamia nuts on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes until golden brown.
  • Allow to cool slightly before roughly chopping.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
  • In a free-standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for a good 5 minutes until pale and fluffy.
  • Add a tablespoon of flour before slowly adding the egg, mixing all the time until fully incorporated.
  • Now fold in the flour until just incorporated before adding the coffee and milk.
  • Finally fold in the macadamias and stir until combined. Do not overmix.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling 2/3 full.
  • Place in the oven for 17-20 minutes until springy to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool completely on a cooling rack.
For the icing

375g icing sugar, sifted
120g unsalted butter, softened
4tsp decent instant coffee
20ml boiling water
20ml full-fat milk
  • In a cup, pour the boiling water over the coffee and stir to dissolve before adding the milk. Leave to one side.
  • Cream together the butter and icing sugar until it starts to come together.
  • Slowly add the milky coffee mixture and beat on a high speed for a couple of minutes until light and airy.
  • Pipe or spread onto the cupcakes.
  • Top with toasted macadamia nuts and a light grating of chocolate if desired.
Makes 10-12 cupcakes depending on case size.

The amount of icing here is quite generous as everyone likes a different amount on their cupcakes. If you do happen to have any leftover, why not bake a few chocolate cupcakes and top with the remaining icing to make mocha cupcakes? Mmmmm…Think that’s what I’ll be trying tomorrow!


Sunday Baking With Friends

After the success of the Vanilla Cupcakes I decided to try out a similar Hummingbird Bakery recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes. I’m not a massive fan of really chocolatey cakes so rather than going all out on the cocoa, I iced them with vanilla buttercream to cut through the richness. I particularly like this recipe as it is a light fluffy sponge which is not too heavy on the cocoa. To give it an extra ‘je ne sais quoi’, I iced it Mr Whippy style with the addition of a mini 99 flake! I also made 6 extra large cupcakes rather than the 12 the recipe suggested.
Also baking in the kitchen today was my friend Katie with her Carrot Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery Cookbook. Having not had much luck with Primrose Bakery in the past, I have to eat my words and say I was pretty impressed with this Carrot Cupcake offering. Katie topped them with her own orange cream cheese icing which was definitely the cherry on the top. We also found that this icing worked well with the Chocolate Cupcakes for something a bit different.
For Katie’s Orange Cream Cheese Icing simply blitz the following ingredients together –
600g icing sugar, sifted
200g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
grated zest of 1 orange
Yields enough to ice 15-20 cupcakes
You can’t beat a bit of Sunday baking with friends…

Vanilla Cupcakes

After yesterday’s tastings, I thought it was my turn to give vanilla cupcakes a go. Drawing from the verdicts yesterday, I decided to test out the Hummingbird Bakery recipe and tweak it to correct the niggling flaws by improving the vanilla flavour and adjusting the cake to icing ratio.

I therefore doubled the amount of vanilla extract to 1/2 teaspoon. This gave the desired flavour although next time I am going to try using vanilla bean extract as I think this could improve the taste further. The texture came out perfectly, light and fluffy.For the icing I found using a Wilton 1M piping nozzle lightened the buttercream in comparison to the thick layer from the shop-bought cupcake.

It is worth noting that the recipe doesn’t seem to stretch to 12 cupcakes as prescribed. My batch produced 10 small cakes so I would probably double it next time to achieve 12 large ones. Similarly, I didn’t find it to be enough buttercream. Increasing the recipe by two thirds should do the trick.

To give the cupcakes the finishing touch, I topped them with a pinch of sugar balls, a dusting of glitter and a sprinkle of stars and hearts made using left over off-cuts of coloured sugar paste cut out with my new plunger cutters.

Vanilla Cupcake Tasting

Today I embarked on a mission in search of the ultimate vanilla cupcake. To achieve this, I visited some of London’s top cupcake outlets, Hummingbird Bakery, Primrose Bakery and Lola’s to put them to the taste test.

Luckily I had a couple of people to help act as jury so here’s what we thought….

First up was Hummingbird Bakery‘s offering from the Wardour Street shop in Soho. This was the smallest cupcake of the three with a large icing to sponge ratio. However the sponge was the lightest and it had a very subtle vanilla flavouring. At £1.75 it also came in as the cheapest as well as boasting the most sophisticated packaging. No danger of a squashed battered cupcake with its snazzy box!

Next up was Primrose Bakery‘s, purchased from a counter in Selfridge’s. None of us liked this one. We all found the sponge too dry and the flavour wasn’t particularly palatable either. Our conclusion: not worth the £2.05 price tag.

The final cupcake on test was from Lola‘s, also bought from Selfridge’s, but from their own well-stocked counter. This was the winner on flavour with a good hit of vanilla without being overly-sweet and a soft buttery sponge. You could see the vanilla beans in the sponge and icing so this pricier contribution obviously paid off in taste. The sponge was quite dense compared to Hummingbird Bakery‘s lovely light offering but it was by far the largest cupcake and had a price to match at £2.25.

And the winner is…..

We came to a unanimous decision that Lola’s was the clear winner. However Hummingbird Bakery wasn’t a bad second. All that was lacking was a bit of flavour which could be easily fixed with a touch more vanilla and perhaps a slightly larger sponge to offset the generous icing. Trailing way behind in last place is the Primrose Bakery which was a real disappointment, especially as their book promises so much with beautiful photos. Perhaps a cupcake purchased directly from their bakery would give better results but having been let down by their Lemon Cupcake recipe from the book as well, I’m sorry to say I’m beginning to lose interest.

1) Lola’s
2) Hummingbird Bakery
3) Primrose Bakery

On a separate note, I tried Lola’s flavour of the month from their stall in Topshop, Oxford Circus, and they’re definitely onto another winner. Toblerone was this month’s newbie and although very simple, consisting of merely chocolate sponge and vanilla buttercream topped with a Toblerone chunk, it was still effective. I opted for the mini cupcake so it was a couple of bites of joy and one that I will certainly be recreating at home.

And so I shall leave you with this….

to get those salacious taste buds salivating!


Mini Sponge Cakes

Every Tuesday my little puppy Toby goes for a walk on Horsell Common with his siblings. I use this day each week as an opportunity to test out some cakes and gather some feedback from the other dog-owners. Short on time this morning, I roughly knocked up some mini sponge cakes to sample some decorating ideas. 
And so here are the results…a little rough around the edges but they were a bit rushed!

I don’t yet have any mini cake pans so I used mini 3″ pudding basins instead. A standard sponge mix of 175g each of butter, sugar and flour to 3 eggs produced 5 mini cakes.

I think the cakes came out effectively and would make pretty little gifts. However, before I make some more I will invest in some mini pans as the shape of the pudding basins made it difficult to fit a ribbon flush to the cake without trimming the cakes down further.


A Weekend Away In The West Country

This weekend I travelled to Somerset to visit my brother and his wife for some gardening, dog walks, a bonfire and plenty of good food. We set off armed with my flapjacks, oat and raisin cookies, lemon and poppyseed drizzle cake as well as my belated Christmas gifts of home-made cushions. Arriving late, we were greeted with Nigella’s Spanish chicken with chorizo and potatoes, from her recent book entitled Kitchen, which was a real hit.

On the Saturday we visited Wells, the second smallest city in England to have a look at the cathedral and a browse of the local market. They had a few local cakes but with  no sign of the cupcake stall I was promised, I settled for a rosewater macaron. This wasn’t particularly to my liking. I found it to be far too heavy on the rosewater and therefore too floral for my liking. It was a brilliant pink colour though but unfortunately it got a little crushed in my bag before I had an opportunity to photograph it! After a few Somerset ales in a lovely old pub, we headed back for a bonfire before cosying up inside by a smaller fire with the grubby dogs and my new copy of Julia Parson’s A Slice of Cherry Pie. I am yet to test a recipe from the book but am really enjoying reading it and find the notes so interesting. It has  inspired me to try duck eggs in cooking and Julia’s Duck egg chocolate cake is top of my list!

Sunday morning was spent in the garden, weeding the vegetable patch  to make room for the broad beans that we then sowed. I am going to have to return in April to sample the produce. Apparently they are just like little sweets! We also harvested the final new potatoes, about 30 kilos in total, so we all went home with a boxful to keep us going.

…And so an enjoyable weekend away in the country but now time to get back in the kitchen and baking!

Lemon and Poppyseed Drizzle Cake made in 18.5x9cm loaf tin


Fruity Flapjacks

After watching Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy this week on BBC2, I was inspired to make some flapjacks. This recipe is loosely based on the one in the programme and I think works rather well. The dark muscovado gives the flapjack a treacley toffee taste and it is both chewy and crunchy without breaking your jaw or losing any fillings!


175g unsalted butter
175g golden syrup
175g dark muscovado sugar
200g jumbo oats
150g mixture of dried fruits and nuts
(I used Waitrose berry & nut sprinkle)
zest of half a lemon
zest of half an orange
½ tsp ground ginger


  • Preheat the oven to Fan 140°C and grease and line an 8″ square tin.
  • Put the butter, golden syrup and sugar in a small pan and stir over a gentle heat until all the ingredients are melted together and smooth.
  • Place the oats, nuts, berries, lemon zest, orange zest and ground ginger in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
  • Now pour the melted butter syrup mixture over the oats and mix together.
  • Pour the mixture into the tin and press down firmly and evenly.
  • Place in the oven for 40 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin on a cooling rack for 30 minutes.
  • Carefully remove the flapjack from the tin using the paper to help lift it.
  • Cut into 12 rectangles whilst still slightly warm. If you leave it to cool completely, it will be more difficult to cut.

Easy Dinner Party For Twelve

This is my version of the classic French dish, Beef Bourguignon and is the perfect main for a dinner party of 12. It can easily be prepared in advance and reheated when ready to serve.

I use two large Le Creuset casserole dishes for a stew of this size so just follow the method as normal and divide the ingredients evenly between the two dishes. Also, to save time fiddling around prepping the silverskin onions, I cheat by using the ones in jars with sweet vinegar. If you soak and rinse them in water a few times, it gets rid of the harsh vinegariness. If catering for smaller parties, I usually use the smallest fresh shallots I can find.


2.5-3 kg beef stewing steak, cut into inch-sized cubes
2 onions, very roughly chopped
2 large carrots, very roughly chopped
4 sticks of celery, very roughly chopped
1 bulb of garlic, leave cloves whole with skin on and crush slightly
3 tblsp flour
2 bottles of wine
2 bouquet garni (one for each pan)
for the garnish
600g baby button and chestnut mushrooms
365g silverskin onions (1 large jar drained)
500g smoked bacon lardons
a couple of knobs of butter
4 tblsp brandy
a large bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

  • Preheat the oven to 140°C.
  • Heat 2 tblsp of oil in a large casserole dish over a medium heat.
  • Add the beef (in batches if nececssary) and fry until brown all over.
  • Once all the beef is browned, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and put to one side leaving the juices in the pan.
  • Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic to the pan and fry for 8-10 minutes until softened and lightly golden, adding more oil if necessary.
  • Now return the beef to the pan and sprinkle over the flour and seasoning.
  • Pour over the wine, add the bouquet garni and bring to the boil before covering the pan and putting in the oven for 3 hours.
  • After the first hour, check on the stew every half hour. If it seems to be drying out, just add a little hot water or beef stock.

  • Half an hour before the end of the 3 hour cooking time, prepare the garnish.
  • Firstly, in a large pan, fry the lardons over a medium-high heat in a tablespoon of oil for 8-10 minutes until golden and crisp.
  • Now remove the lardons with a slotted spoon so that the fat remains in the pan.
  • Add the silverskin onions and fry for 5 minutes or so until golden brown all over then remove from the pan and set aside with the lardons.
  • Now add the mushrooms to the pan and fry for around 5 minutes before adding the butter and brandy and cooking for a further minute. Set aside with the lardons and silverskins.
  • Once the 3 hours is up, remove the stew from the oven and using a slotted spoon, remove the beef and put to one side.
  • Now pass the rest of the stew through a colander to remove the onion, carrot, garlic and celery.
  • Return the jus and beef to the pan and add the garnish.
  • Give the stew a good stir. If serving immediately, place the stew on a low heat for a few minutes to ensure that the garnish heats through.
  • If preparing in advance, leave the stew to cool before covering and storing in the fridge until required. When you are ready to serve it, gently reheat on the stove with a lid on, and stir frequently until bubbling throughout.
  • Scatter with the parsley and serve with a jacket potato, salad and crusty bread.
For pudding, another course you can prepare the day before, Lemon, ginger and raspberry cheesecake. This is quite a sharp lemon cheesecake with a ginger biscuit base and raspberries folded through which add a lovely colour. The acidity of the lemon cuts through the creamy cheesecake resulting in a refreshing pudding, the perfect way to follow a rich Bourguignon. To avoid any runny cheesecake catastrophes, I use a bit of gelatine to help set this cheesecake and give peace of mind!

200g pack of ginger nut biscuits
2 lumps of stem ginger (from a jar)
50g unsalted butter, melted
900g full-fat cream cheese
200g golden caster sugar
7g gelatine leaves, soaked in cold water
2 lemons, zest and juice
300 ml tub of double cream, whipped to soft peak
a large handful of raspberries, some broken up, plus extra to decorate

Take a 20cm/8″ springform tin and place a large square of greaseproof paper (larger than the base of the tin) on the bottom of the tin.Now put the tin together, flat side up (see picture 1) so that the greaseproof lines the bottom but is trapped in place (see picture 2). Grease the sides of the tin using butter.
  • To make the biscuit base, blitz the ginger nuts in a food processor along with the stem ginger until it resembles bread crumbs.
  • Pour it into a separate bowl and stir through the melted butter before pressing this mixture into the base of the tin.
  • Now line the sides of the tin with greaseproof paper, leaving an inch of paper above the tin.
  • Place the tin in the fridge whilst you make the filling.
  • Wipe out the food processor with a piece of dry kitchen towel.
  • Place the cream cheese, sugar and lemon zest in the food processor and blitz until smooth.
  • Put the lemon juice in a small pan and bring to the boil.
  • Add the soaked gelatine and stir until dissolved.
  • Turn on the food processor and slowly pour the lemon and gelatine mixture down the spout to blend with cream cheese. If you do this slowly, it will start to set the cheesecake, which is what you want to achieve. If you do it too quickly it will make it really runny.
  • Place the cream cheese mixture into a large bowl and gently fold through the whipped cream followed by the raspberries. The mixture by this point should seem stiff and almost set.
  • Remove the tin from the fridge and spoon the filling onto the base, flattening out the top with the back of a spatula.
  • Place in the fridge for a couple of hours to set.
  • Once set, remove the cheesecake from the tin. Peel the base of the tin from the paper. Using the paper, lift the cheesecake onto the serving plate and slide out the paper. Now peel the paper from sides of the cheesecake and place back in the fridge until ready to serve.
  • When ready to serve, remove from the fridge and generously top with raspberries.
And there you have it, a foolproof dinner party for twelve! I promise there won’t be any leftovers!

American Style Oat and Raisin Cookies

I needed something sweet to take for the ladies on my dog walk this morning and being short of time I decided to quickly rustle up some cookies.

I have been meaning to try out this recipe ever since I came across it on one of my favourite blogs The Art of Being Perfect. It is an American recipe so I have converted it into metric and tweaked it slightly. However if you prefer American measurements, the original recipe is here. I think these cookies are a real success, a good balance in oats and fruit, and when eaten fresh they have a beautifully crisp exterior and chewy middle. I cannot recommend them enough!


300g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
175g butter, melted
200g brown sugar
100g golden caster sugar
1 tblsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
150g oats
175g raisins or sultanas


  • Preheat the oven to Fan 160°C and line 3 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, cream together the melted butter and sugars until smooth.
  • Now add the egg, yolk and vanilla and beat for a couple of minutes until the mixture becomes paler and lighter.
  • Add the flour and beat until incorporated before adding the raisins and sultanas and stirring until just combined.
  • Roll the dough into balls (slightly larger than a golf ball) and place well spaced out onto the lined baking trays.
  • Place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until brown around the edges but still soft in the middle.
  • Leave to cool for a few minutes on the trays before transferring to wire racks.
  • Serve with a glass of milk.
Makes approx 18 cookies.


Blueberry Cupcakes for Blue Monday

Today is apparently the most depressing day of the year so why not phone in sick and take a baking day? And what could be more appropriate for Blue Monday than Blueberry Cupcakes? I happened to come across some half-price blueberries further reduced the other day so couldn’t resist buying them and experimenting with some blueberry cupcakes! They can be left plain as a muffin or frosted with lavender tinted vanilla buttercream for extra wow factor. A little lemon zest added to the buttercream would also be a nice touch. I have used quite a dense sponge in this recipe to stand up to the juicy blueberries.


135g unsalted butter, softened
100g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g plain flour
35g self-raising flour
2 tsps milk
100g blueberries

for the buttercream
170g unsalted butter, softened
230g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
food colouring (optional)

a few extra blueberries to decorate (optional)


  • Preheat the oven to Fan 160°C and line a muffin tray with 12 muffin size cases.
  • Sift the two flours together in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

  • In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and vanilla.
  • Slowly beat the egg mixture into the creamed butter and sugar.
  • Gradually add the flour until incorporated before adding the milk.
  • Once the mixture is smooth and evenly mixed, gently fold through the blueberries.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two thirds full.
  • Place the tray in the oven for 18-20 minutes until the cakes are golden brown on top and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Meanwhile make the icing by beating together the butter, vanilla and icing sugar until pale and fluffy incorporating a few drops of food colouring if desired.
  • Once the cakes are cooled, spread the icing on top of them using a small flat knife.
  • Makes 12