First bake: cheddar and leek muffins

Cheddar and leek muffins

I made these savoury cheddar and leek muffins for work last month along with the rum and mint brownies I blogged about last time. I do like a good savoury bake, with my all-time favourite being Dan Lepard’s courgette and mozzarella muffins. So, how did these compare?

They were pretty damn good, truth be told! The method was as you would expect – mix together the dry ingredients, mix together the wet ingredients, combine the two and bake. I used a large leek and it looked like a LOT, but it turned out to the right amount for the muffin cases. I also did my usual thing of adding more cheese than specified whenever a recipe calls for it, but that’s pretty much the law for any cheese lover.

The recipe rather intriguingly calls for mustard powder. I didn’t have any so just used some actual mustard instead. I can’t say I could actually taste it, but maybe that’s because of all the extra cheese I threw in…

Cheddar and leek muffins

Taste-wise, the muffins were very similar to the courgette and mozzarella ones, but without the chilli kick. I think I still prefer the latter but these were still very nice indeed – I just can’t shake off my chilli-saturated upbringing! I’d quite like to try making these again with different kinds of cheese (and maybe some chilli) – I can imagine them being lovely with smoked or flavoured cheese.

The recipe

Can be found online here:

First bake: rum and mint brownies

Rum and mint brownies

I can’t believe I haven’t posted in so long! In my defence, I’ve been laptop-less for a while as it’s away being fixed, and I’ve also been to Berlin since my last post. Anyway, let’s move on to more important things.

I like chocolate, rum and mint, but I don’t think I’d ever had them all together until I made these lovely brownies from a Dan Lepard recipe. I’ve been meaning to bake these for a very long time and finally took the plunge when it was my turn to bake for the office last month.

What intrigued me about the recipe was not just the flavour combination, but also the use of cream cheese as a carrier for the mint flavour. I wasn’t sure how well this would work, but it did indeed work wonderfully.

The method involves creating the cream cheese and brownie mixes separately and then combining them in the tin before baking. Lepard recommends a particular type of peppermint oil for these, but I just used good ol’ peppermint extract from the supermarket. For the rum, I used my favourite, Captain Morgan’s Spiced (which is golden rather than dark, but I like to rebel).

Rum and mint brownies

Everything went to plan, although my brownies looked nothing like the ones in the recipe! This didn’t seem to affect the flavour, which was pretty damn good – the chocolate and mint is very After Eight-y, with the rum adding an interesting note. They went down a treat in the office and I do think I’ll make these again!

The recipe

Can be found on the Guardian website here:

First bake: crumpets

I’m an unabashed crumpet addict, but have always been wary of making my own – it’s just always seemed too difficult. However, the Paul Hollywood How To Bake book I recently acquired has what seems like a relatively straightforward recipe, so I thought I’d give it a go over the weekend.

The recipe involves making a batter that you leave to rise for a couple of hours. Because of this and the amount of cooking time required, I would recommend starting veeeerry early in the morning if you want fresh crumpets for breakfast! The rise of the batter is aided by 14g of yeast and some bicarbonate of soda that’s added at the end of the two-hour rise before being left to rise further for another 10 minutes.

The recipe calls for skimmed milk, but I only had semi-skimmed – I’ll try it with skimmed next time to see if it makes any difference to the crumpets.

Crumpet batter

Crumpet batter

As you can see, the risen batter ends up with bubbles that turn into holes in the finished product. Cooking the crumpets involves using crumpet rings and an oiled pan. Once I got going, it took about 8 minutes to cook them until the surface had set, and then a couple of minutes on the other side to slightly brown the crumpets. I only had 2 crumpet rings, though, and the recipe makes around 20, so I spent a good few hours simply cooking all the batter! I’m going to get a couple more rings to make things easier next time.

Cooking crumpets

Cooking crumpets

I also found that the first batch of crumpets stuck to the rings no end, but the rest of the crumpets came away with ease, so it’s worth bearing in mind if you find you also have some hassle with the first couple you do.

The finished crumpets were definitely worth the effort, though. We had some fresh from the pan, soaked through with butter (of course) and topped with scrambled eggs, followed by some more with Nutella (my choice) or golden syrup (my boyfriend’s choice). They were absolutely delicious!

I would definitely recommend making your own if you’re also something of a crumpet fiend. It really is worth the time and effort! They do seem different to shop-bought, but in a very good way.

Scrambled eggs on crumpets

Scrambled eggs on crumpets

The recipe

From How to Bake by Paul Hollywood. There’s a Paul Hollywood recipe online but it seems different to the one in the book!

Re-bake: Devonshire honey cake

Devonshire honey cake

Honey is a wonderful ingredient – you can spread on toast or crumpets, or mix it with some Greek yogurt, or stir it into lemon and ginger tea for the perfect pick-me-up when you’re ill… the list goes on. I’d never really come across it in cakes until a few years ago, when I saw this recipe for Devonshire honey cake in my trusty little BBC Good Food book. I’ve baked this and other honey cakes since, and nothing else comes close to this recipe in terms of the sheer loveliness of the honey flavour.

The first time I made this cake, it initially seemed to be a bit of a disaster – it took far longer to bake than the recipe said, and when I cut into it the middle wasn’t completely cooked. It was still well and truly edible and delicious for all the honey in it, but I didn’t even think about attempting it again until my boyfriend suggested it while looking at me pleadingly.

So, I tried it again last week, determined to make the recipe work. I followed it to the letter and thought I’d cracked it when the mix looked perfect (and tasted amazing too – baker’s prerogative!).

Devonshire honey cake mix

Devonshire honey cake mix

However, alarm bells rang once again when I checked on the cake at the end of the cooking time and it was still very wobbly. I left it in for another good half hour or so and it seemed fine. I brushed the honey glaze on top as required (although you can barely see it in the pics) and left it in a tin until my boyfriend was next round to sample it.

Devonshire honey cake

Once I finally got round to slicing it up, I found the cake seemed very dense in texture. Luckily, it didn’t taste at all dry, presumably because of all the honey in it. In fact, it tasted delicious, but I’m still rather perplexed by the texture as, the last time I made it, it had a much softer and larger crumb!

Devonshire honey cake

I can only assume this is down to the type of honey I’m using – I may invest in something beyond Asda’s own squeezy honey if I try to bake this cake again. I’m sure I’ll nail it one day!

The recipe

Can be found on the BBC Good Food website here:

First bake: milk bloomer

Milk bloomer
Last month, my boyfriend announced that his new year’s resolution is for me to bake more bread. Yes, me. To support this resolution, he kindly got me a copy of Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake book, which is full of bread recipes. I sighed and got on with it.

The first recipe I decided to make was this milk bloomer, based on a recipe for milk loaf (which, funnily enough, I’d already ripped out of a magazine with the intention of baking it at some point in the distant future).

I have vague memories of milk roll from my childhood, although whether I actually ate any or simply gawped at the packet in Asda and wondered what Blackpool Tower had to do with bread is a question for another day. I was more drawn to what the addition of full-fat milk would do the texture of the bloomer, being a fan of a sturdy outer crust and a lovely soft crumb when it comes to bread.

I don’t have the most amazing track record with bread, bar some Spanish bread I made last year, so I was surprised when everything seemed to go to plan. The milk is added warm to the mix, and everything is kneaded for a good 5-10 minutes – I managed to knead for the full 10!

The rise was rather impressive – the dough doubled in size in the space of an hour on the first rise, then expanded massively on the baking tray after I’d knocked it back and left it to rise inside a plastic bag, as advised by Mr Hollywood.

By this point the dough was nothing like the shape I’d originally envisioned, but I pressed on, baking it for the full cooking time. It seemed fully baked when I took it out of the oven. I should have left it to completely cool, but I only managed to leave it for a few minutes before I started circling it like a vulture with a bread knife.

Unsurprisingly, it was very soft due to just coming out of the oven – but in a lovely, fluffy way, rather than in the dense, undercooked way that I’ve previously experienced with most breads I’ve tried to bake. The taste was wonderful – rich, nutty and full-flavoured, it was the perfect accompaniment to a wedge of mature cheddar and a slick of butter.

Milk bloomer

Sliced milk bloomer – apologies for the gloomy pic!

The two of us managed to polish off the entire bloomer in a little under 3 days, which I’d like to say is testament to the deliciousness of the bread rather than our greed. I will definitely make this again, and soon!

The recipe

Can be found in How to Bake by Paul Hollywood.

First bake: Not a Christmas cake (part 2)

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
Well, I finally got round to decorating the Christmas cake I made in December – and it almost looks too good to eat!

I’ve had this recipe from Asda magazine for a Christmas decorated with rather crazed-looking penguins for a few years, but have never quite got round to making it. So, I’m very pleased to have finally attempted it with a moderate level of success.

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
The cake had matured for around 2 months before I decorated it, and I diligently fed it brandy every week over that period. Thankfully, it turned out to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the icing, despite all the booze!

I started off by covering the cake with marzipan, then a layer of sugarpaste. I deviated from the recipe here as it called for more sugarpaste to create an iceberg/ravine scene, but I felt it would make for ridiculously thick icing, so I kept it simple.

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
Then my boyfriend and I started on the fun task of creating the penguins. This was fairly easily done with pre-coloured icing and a couple of cake decorating tools to help with cutting and placing tiny, tiny blobs of icing on other tiny blobs of icing.

We also made piles of snowballs to show that the penguins were in the middle of a snowball fight, and a snow penguin just for fun! My favourite bit is the ‘secret’ penguin on the cake board, who is definitely going to win the fight by popping up out of nowhere.

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
I was surprised at how easy it was to decorate the cake overall – despite taking a cake decorating course a couple of years ago, I have zero confidence in my ability to make cakes that actually look nice! I would love to attempt this again with another scene like this – would a woodland scene be too adventurous…?

Not a Christmas cake slice
So, what does the cake actually taste like? It does indeed taste like an extremely drunken Christmas cake! I shared it out with friends last night, and the brandy was the first thing we all commented on – not that the booziness detracts from the loveliness of the cake in anyway! It is extremely delicious, especially with the marzipan, and all the different kinds of fruit make for a great flavour. I’ll probably give it another go for next Christmas, albeit actually in time for December 25th!

Re-re-bake: millionaire’s shortbread

Millionaire's shortbread!I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with millionaire’s shortbread. I absolutely love to eat it, but making it is such a pain when you cannot for the life of you get the caramel to set! Happily, I think I’ve actually managed to nail it this time thanks to the power of social media.

The shortbread base itself was nothing particularly special – just good ol’ butter, sugar flour and a little salt. No problem.

Millionaire's shortbread - baseI was absolutely determined to find out how to make the caramel properly, so I took to Facebook to ask my friends on there for any tips. Lo and behold, Rachel over at A Jar of Happiness came to the rescue with what looked like (and actually was) a foolproof recipe.

I made the caramel, poured it over the shortbread base and left it in the fridge overnight to set. And yes, I may have resorted to a spot of ‘fridge and pray’ action, for any Great British Bake Off fans out there!

Millionaire's shortbread - caramelI was incredibly, incredibly relieved when I took the tin out of the fridge and I could actually touch the caramel without it coming away on my finger. Maybe there is a baking god up there after all…?

After that, it was a simple matter of melting some milk chocolate, pouring it over the caramel and giving it another few hours in the fridge to set before slicing it up into bars. I used a bar of Choceur chocolate from Aldi, which is an excellent range of chocolate and very reasonably priced (I’m nibbling away at their rum raisin and nut chocolate as I type).

Millionaire's shortbread - chocolateTaste-wise, the shortbread was absolutely divine. At first, I was a little worried that it might have been too salty due to using salted butter and then adding more salt on top, but the sweetness of the caramel and chocolate makes a pleasing contrast – I probably wouldn’t add any salt if I used dark chocolate in this recipe in future, though.

If you too have struggled with making the perfect millionaire’s shortbread, give this recipe a go!

Millionaire's shortbread!The recipe

Makes 16 small squares, 12 small bars or 8 large bars

For the shortbread:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 175g butter
  • Pinch of salt

For the caramel:

  • 100g butter
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 397g can of condensed milk

For the chocolate:

  • 200g good quality milk or dark chocolate (if you choose the latter, opt for 50-60% cocoa content)
  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/130C fan/gas mark 2. Line a shallow 20cm square baking tin with baking paper.
  2. To make the shortbread, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  3. Rub in the butter until it forms clumps, then press the mixture into the bottom of the tin.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until it’s a pale golden brown. I had to leave my shortbread in my gas oven for about 50 minutes before it got to this point, but your oven may differ to mine! Leave the shortbread to cool in the tin.
  5. To make the caramel, melt the butter and sugar in a pan, stirring all the while. Keep stirring as you add the condensed milk and turn the heat up to boil for 1 minute.
  6. Pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread and set the whole lot in the fridge, for a couple of hours minimum but ideally overnight.
  7. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and pour over the set caramel, tilting the tin to make sure it gets into all the corners. Return the shortbread to the fridge to set for a further 30 minutes or so.
  8. Cut up the shortbread into squares or bars. Stuff your face and feel happy!