First bake: cherry and almond muffins

Cherry and almond muffinsCherry and almond. Almond and cherry. It’s one of those pairings you just can’t go wrong with (unless you don’t like cherries or almonds, of course. In which case, get out of here!). I’ve dabbled in cherry and almond bakes before, such as this cherry Bakewell cake, but wanted something simpler to make on a sweltering weekend.

I slightly adapted a recipe I found online to make these. I really wanted to bake with fresh cherries so I was pleased I found a muffin recipe that uses them, but I wanted to add an extra dimension flavour-wise by chucking in some vanilla extract and flaked almonds. I also have no idea what ‘baking liquid’ is, so I just substituted that for butter.

Cherry and almond muffinsThe muffins were very easy to make and came out perfectly – delightfully fluffy and saturated with gorgeous cherry and almond flavours. I don’t think they would have been half as good if I’d used glace cherries!

You could substitute the cherries for similar fruit like blackberries, blueberries or blackcurrants. But the cherries work wonderfully with the almonds! Of course, you could also swap the almond flavour for something else, such as hazelnut or coconut – this is definitely one of those recipes where you can experiment without much going wrong!

The recipe

Makes 12

  • 175g butter, melted
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 300g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 0.5 tsp baking powder
  • 250g cherries, stones removed and quartered
  • 50g flaked almonds
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases.
  2. Beat together all of the ingredients except the cherries and flaked almonds, until fairly smooth.
  3. Fold in the cherries and almonds and stir gently (don’t overmix, or your muffins won’t rise or be nice and fluffy!).
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack and dust with a little icing sugar.

First bake: chocolate orange and vanilla zebra cake

Chocolate orange and vanilla zebra cakeI was casually lounging around in front of the TV one Saturday when a mention of ‘zebra cake’ made my ears perk up. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t seem to be an actual zebra-shaped cake, but it was pretty impressive anyway – to the point where I thought I’d try it as an early birthday cake for my boyfriend/guinea pig.

The cake was actually a ‘crouching tiger, hidden zebra cake’ invented by Lorraine Pascale and featured on a recent repeat of Fast, Fresh and Easy Food. It’s so-called because the top of the cake is meant to look like tiger stripes with the orange and dark brown, while the inside looks like a zebra thanks to the white and dark brown stripes within.

This amazing appearance is created through some slight faffing; you make separate vanilla and chocolate orange mixes (like you would with a marble cake), but instead of bunging both in the tin and randomly swirling them around for a marble effect, you spoon a little of each mix into the centre of the tin, taking care to alternate between the two.

Chocolate orange and vanilla zebra cake mix

Chocolate orange and vanilla zebra cake mix in tin

By carefully spooning a little mix in the middle of a blob of the other mix, you create a target-like effect as the mixes slowly spread out towards the edges of the tin. As you can see from the picture above, I wasn’t quite as neat as I’d have liked! This picture was taken when I’d used about a third of the mixes, but bear in mind I had to use a slightly smaller tin than the one specified. I mysteriously ended up with more vanilla than chocolate orange, so I made some orange drizzle fairy cakes with the leftover vanilla mix.

Once you’ve used up both mixes, you simply bake until the cake is nicely risen. It took me a little longer to get there than the recipe states, but that’s because of using a smaller tin and therefore having to contend with a taller cake!

I was a little disappointed that the top of the cake wasn’t quite as stunning as Lorraine Pascale’s, but it still looked slightly tiger-ish! I was more pleased with the inside of the cake – there were definitely zebra stripes there, messy as they were!

Chocolate orange and vanilla zebra cakeTaste-wise, this was a rather delicious cake. I would probably add more orange zest for a tangier flavour next time, but it was still great with the amount I put in. The cake replaces butter with sunflower oil, presumably to make the mix easier to spoon neatly into the tin, but this also created a lighter, fluffier texture that was rather pleasing.

This is definitely a cake to consider if you want to make something that looks a little different! If the top of your cake doesn’t quite go to plan, you could always make a chocolate orange buttercream to hide it!

The recipe

Available on Lorraine Pascale’s website here:

First bake: lemon and raisin cookies

Lemon and raisin cookiesI was looking for something fairly easy to bake a few days ago – something that didn’t involve me having to schlep to the shops for half the ingredients and that could be knocked up and cooled pretty quickly. I came across this recipe for lemon and raisin (or sultana, as it was in the book) cookies in my trusty BBC Good Food book and it seemed pretty perfect!

Unlike most of the lemon-based baking recipes I’ve tried in the past, the lemon flavour for these cookies comes from lemon curd rather than zest. I was a little dubious about how strong the lemon flavour would therefore be, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised!

Lemon and raisin cookies

Lemon and raisin cookies, pre-bakng

The cookies were pretty simple to make – create a breadcrumb-type mix with flour and butter then stir in the rest of the ingredients, shape into balls and bake. The recipe says it makes 30 cookies, but I got 48 (!) out of my mix. To be fair, they were pretty small! I used raisins rather than sultanas as that’s all I had, but I can imagine the recipe would work nicely with the more subtle flavour associated with sultanas.

After baking the cookies and leaving them to cool, I made a simple icing using icing sugar and lemon juice, which I drizzled over the cookies rather haphazardly. The icing definitely helps the lemoniness of the cookies and lends a bit of extra sweetness.

All in all, this is a recipe worth making if you’re a fan of all things lemony. I have to say they seemed to be more like biscuits than cookies at first, but they’ve softened a bit since I baked them and are probably more cookie-like now. They’re very more-ish, so be warned if, like me, you’re trying to shed some pounds…!

Lemon and raisin cookiesThe recipe

From BBC Good Food’s 101 Cakes & Bakes and also available online here.