Fig, pear and ginger flapjacks + other bakes + an odd October

I can’t believe my last post was at the start of the month. A lot has happened since then! See below or skip straight to the bottom for my fig, pear and ginger flapjacks recipe.

Also, happy Diwali to everyone who celebrates!

Literary stuff

I had a great time going to three events at the Manchester Literature Festival. I’ve never been before, but there were quite a few interesting events on this year.

I went to events for The Good Immigrant (a collection of essays about what it’s like to be a second-generation immigrant in Britain); an anthology of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre called Reader, I Married Him and edited by Tracy Chevalier; and an examination of writing about the Lancashire coastline, featuring Andrew Michael Hurley (The Loney) and Jenn Ashworth (Fell). They were all really inspiring and gave me a lot to think about as someone who would like to write a book one day!

I also nabbed a free, signed copy of Jenni Murray’s A History Of Britain In 21 Women as part of a festival giveaway, which I’m rather chuffed about!

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Outside of the festival, I also went to see the wonderful Becky Chambers talk about her two books – The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet (READ IT NOW IT’S SO GOOD) and the newly released A Closed And Common Orbit (I’m waiting for the paperback to come out before I read it, but also READ IT NOW). She’s a really funny, intelligent woman, and it was a pleasure to hear her talk about video games, science and what it’s like to write a novel.

Goodbye, Bake Off

I did, of course, watch GBBO to the end, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried a little at the end of the final (it’ll never be the same without Mary, Mel and Sue).

I was originally rooting for Benjamina to win (that pina colada roulade… oof!), but I’ve also loved Candice throughout, especially since That Pub, so I threw my support behind her when Benjamina left.

Credit: Radio Times

Credit: Radio Times

I’m thrilled that she won in the face of a stupid amount of abuse on social media over her looks, as well as the fact that *gasp* she obviously wanted to do well in the competition – rather than being all British about it and pretending that it didn’t matter if she won or not. OF COURSE it matters when you take months out of your life to practice making ever more complicated baked goods in an effort to please Paul and Mary. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t.

I’m rather gutted that there’s no GBBO at all next year, but I’m hoping that the BBC will film Candice and Jane’s baking road trip and screen that instead next summer!

As an aside, the final technical challenge was brilliant and exactly what a technical challenge should be (none of this ‘make something you’ve never heard of’ malarkey).

The horrible bit

The biggest low this month was being mugged on my way home from the Becky Chambers event earlier in the week. I wasn’t hurt, but was rather shaken up by having my bag snatched and being pushed over by two blokes bigger than me who could just jump out of and into a car and speed off.

It’s made me quite anxious about leaving the house and getting home from work, especially as the nights are drawing in, but I’m hoping that I’ll get over it soon. I can’t very well stay indoors for the rest of my life!

The thing I’m most angry about is that they took things that wouldn’t have had any value for them (although they did manage to squeeze £45 out of my bank card), but meant a lot to me. I also resent going through the long and expensive rigmarole of having the locks changed, replacing my phone and other things that were in my bag, notifying the relevant people, etc. All so some low-lifes can no doubt buy some cheap booze and fags before doing it again to another unsuspecting soul.

Baking!

I have also been baking this month, so don’t worry! Unfortunately, all of the photos were on my stolen phone, so I’ve only got some snaps from Instagram to share.

Mary Berry’s lemon and poppy seed traybake

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This was a really easy cake to make. I settled on this after my husband requested something lemony for my next bake.The sponge was wonderfully light and soft, with plenty of flavour. I deviated a little from Mary’s recipe and put the zest of two lemons instead of just one into the mix – it really made a difference to the flavour, I think.

The recipe is on Mary Berry’s website.

Banana, raisin and rum drizzle loaf cake

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This is pretty the same as the banana, rum and raisin loaf I’ve made before, except that I made a rum drizzle (50g icing sugar mixed with 2-3 tbsp of dark rum) to pour over the top of the warm cake. This seemed to make the cake exceptionally boozy, which I’m sure Mary Berry would approve of!

Fig, pear and ginger flapjacks

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Last week I really wanted to bake something, but couldn’t be bothered going to buy particular ingredients, so I made do with what I had in – dried figs, a pear from my mother-in-law’s garden and my trusty store cupboard. I pretty much just jazzed up a basic flapjack recipe, with good results!

The flapjacks were wonderfully autumnal, if not a little soft due to the fruit – but still very nice if you don’t mind bits of flapjack falling everywhere! The recipe is below.

Makes 16 flapjacks

  • 1 pear, peeled and diced
  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g soft brown sugar (I used 40g golden caster sugar and 135g dark muscovado sugar)
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup (I used 2 tbsp plus 2 tbsp of syrup from a jar of stem ginger)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 0.25 tsp ground cloves
  • 325g porridge oats
  • 100g dried figs, chopped
  • 1 ball of stem ginger, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
  2. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin with baking parchment.
  3. Toss the diced pear in a little lemon juice and sugar, and set aside.
  4. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar, syrup, ground ginger and cloves, stirring frequently.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oats, figs, drained pear pieces and stem ginger.
  6. Press the mixture into the tin and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden. It may still be soft in the middle at this point, but it should firm up as it cools.
  7. Cool completely in the tin, then turn out and slice into 16 squares.

Here’s to a more normal November!

Watalappan (Sri Lankan coconut milk custard)

Sri Lankan watalappan with mango and bananaAnother week, another Sri Lankan feast! This time, my husband cooked lots of rice and curry for our friends, and I made a dessert that we had a fair bit of when we were on honeymoon – watalappan, a set custard made with jaggery, coconut milk and lots of spices.

This is a great dinner party recipe, as it can be made in advance and left in the fridge until required. I used this recipe by Peter Kuruvita, who has also written a brilliant Sri Lankan cookbook that we use and that apparently is considered something of a bible by chefs in Sri Lanka!

I followed the recipe exactly, but I served it with toasted fresh coconut, in-season Indian mango and sliced Keralan bananas, which were the closest thing we could find to the bananas we ate a lot of in Sri Lanka. I also drizzled the plate with golden syrup as recommended by Kuruvita as a substitute for palm syrup.

The only tricky thing was baking the custards – they seemed to take longer than stated, but I reckon that’s just my oven rather than the recipe being at fault. They did eventually cook after I turned the heat up slightly.

The resulting dessert was rather wonderful – the sweet, spiced coconut custard combined with juicy mango and flavoursome bananas offered a perfect balance of flavours. It’s a great recipe to use if you’re planning a Sri Lankan or Indian feast and want an easy dessert that will impress!

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Banana and cumin cake

Banana and cumin cakeAs promised, I’ve had a go at making one of the desserts we had in Sri Lanka. My husband cooked a wonderful Sri Lankan rice and curry feast for his family the other week, so I decided to make banana and cumin cake to serve as the dessert.

Banana and cumin cake
I couldn’t find any recipes for this online, so I adapted a banana and walnut loaf recipe from my Delia book, swapping out the walnuts for cashews and adding more in the way of spices.

The main sticking point was the question of how much cumin to use. The cake we had in Sri Lanka offered up a burst of cumin with the occasional bite, so it wasn’t packed with the stuff, but I didn’t want to under-spice it, either.

Banana and cumin cake
I decided to use a teaspoon of cumin seeds, but as it turned out, I should have followed my husband’s advice and used more! I only got a hint of cumin when I tasted the cake, which was slightly disappointing, but the cake was delicious anyway and at least I know for next time!

Banana and cumin cake

Banana and cumin cake recipe

Makes 1 loaf, serving 8-10

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 80g butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 55g dark muscovado sugar
  • 55g jaggery, crumbled (you can buy this from Asian grocers)
  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • seeds of 3 green cardamom pods, ground
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (I used 1 tsp and got a very very subtle flavour)
  • 50g cashews, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk in the butter, egg, sugar and jaggery until you get a sandy texture, almost like large crumbs.
  4. Mash the bananas in another bowl and whisk them into the flour mixture, along with the ground cloves, ginger and cardamom.
  5. Fold in the lemon zest, cumin seeds and cashews.
  6. Transfer the mix to the loaf tin, level the top and sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top.
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  8. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve on its own or warm with ice cream.

Banana and Malteser spread muffins

Banana and Malteser spread muffinsAs usual, my first thought on realising that my one remaining banana was too far gone to eat was: “What can I bake this into?”. I decided to adapt my trusty recipe for banana and Nutella muffins by swapping out the Nutella for…. *drum roll* Maltesers Teasers spread. Et voila! Banana and Malteser spread muffins.

If you haven’t yet seen this wondrous creation in the shops, the Maltesers spread is basically a jar of chocolate spread with lots of little malty bits in it.

*gets a spoon*

A photo posted by The Very Hungry Baker (@mooingzelda) on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:30am PDT

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I KNOW.

Anyway, the muffins were very easy to make, as always. There were only two issues: 1) I should have made more than 8 muffins, because some of them had a really pronounced muffin top, even for actual muffins. 2) The Maltesers spread wasn’t particularly malty after the muffins had baked, which was a shame. But they were still nice.

Banana and Malteser spread muffins
I think that if I was to make these again, I wouldn’t combine the spread quite so well with the rest of the mix as I did the first time. Keeping the spread as big solid lumps of chocolatey, malty loveliness should make the muffins a bit more Malteser-y… hopefully!

Banana and Malteser spread muffins
Still, as you can see from the photo above, the muffins turned out lovely and moist, and they tasted very much of both banana and chocolate, which is always a good thing. Just be sure to follow my instructions below if you want to detect a bit more of the malt.

Banana and Malteser spread muffins
Banana and Malteser spread muffins recipe

Makes 8-12 (depends on how much mix you end up with!)

  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 tbsp Maltesers Teasers spread
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/180 C fan and line 8-12 holes of a muffin tin with paper cases or squares of baking paper.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  3. Beat together the egg, vanilla extract, butter and milk in a separate bowl or jug.
  4. Add the egg mixture and banana to the flour mixture and stir until only just combined (you should still see streaks of flour in the mix).
  5. Spoon half of the mix into the muffin tin, then divide the Malteser spread equally between each hole, dropping the spread into the middle of the mix.
  6. Spoon the rest of the mix over the spread in the muffin tin.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Cool in the tin for a few minutes and then finish cooling on a wire rack.

Banana and chocolate spice cake

Banana and chocolate spice cake
I wonder if there’s anything else you should do with overripe bananas other than put them in a cake? There probably is, but baking a cake is always going to be my first choice. I ended up making this banana and chocolate spice cake after ending up with three very ripe bananas earlier in the week, and it’s so good!

The recipe is from Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen, which I picked up for mere pennies in a sale a couple of months ago. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from the book, and it went like a dream.

Banana and chocolate spice cake
The cake is basically your typical banana cake with spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. The recipe says you can also add a handful of chopped nuts, but I opted for some chopped milk chocolate instead.

I also substituted the creme fraiche with soured cream, as that was all I had in (and I know from experience that soured cream is a truly magical cake ingredient!), as well as swapping the light muscovado sugar for light brown sugar.

I had to leave the cake in the oven for close to an hour rather than 45 minutes as called for in the recipe, but it was perfectly baked when it did come out.

Banana and chocolate spice cake
Believe me when I say that this is a truly scrumptious cake. The spices and banana go together perfectly (especially the cardamom) and the pockets of chocolate take the cake to the next level.

I’ve mostly been having this cold, but last night I tried it warm with ice cream and that was delicious too! I do have one (nice) problem though: it’s such a big cake that I’m struggling to get through it all by myself. I would recommend baking this when you have a crowd to feed!

The recipe

An adapted version can be found here. To make the same version as mine, make the following substitutions:

  • Swap the golden caster sugar with normal caster sugar
  • Swap the spelt flour with plain flour
  • Swap the unsalted butter for salted butter
  • Swap the creme fraiche for soured cream
  • Swap the nuts for 65g of chopped milk chocolate

First bake: banana and Nutella muffins

Banana and Nutella muffins

For someone who loves bananas, I always seem to have at least one lying around in a state of over-ripeness. There aren’t many baking recipes that call for just one banana, but I did find one in the form of an old WeightWatchers recipe for banana and Maltesers muffins.

Banana and Nutella muffins

Now, it’s been a long while since I last counted ProPoints to the point of obsession, so I had no compunction whatsoever in fattening up the recipe and swapping Maltesers (which I like) for Nutella (which I bloody love). The end result was these very lovely muffins.

Banana and Nutella muffins

They were very easy to make – the key, as always, was in stirring the mix just the right amount so it wasn’t quite combined. A few seconds more and they probably would have ended up extremely rubbery. Just to warn you, the recipe only makes 8 medium-ish muffins – you could make 4 massive ones or 16 mini ones if you wanted.

Banana and Nutella muffins

The muffins tasted exceedingly nice – the banana was pleasantly strong, with the Nutella adding a lovely, decadent sweetness. For an experiment with a low-fat recipe, it all turned out rather well!

The recipe

Makes 8 muffins

  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 tbsp Nutella or other chocolate hazelnut spread (or even peanut butter!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g melted butter
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/180 C fan and line 8 holes of a muffin tin with paper cases or squares of baking paper.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  3. Beat together the egg, vanilla extract, butter and milk in a separate bowl or jug.
  4. Add the egg mixture, banana and Nutella to the flour mixture and stir until only just combined (you should still see streaks of flour in the mix).
  5. Spoon the mix into the muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until risen golden, before cooling.

First bake: banana, rum and raisin loaf

Banana, rum and raisin loafThere have have been a few more bananas going uneaten and therefore in a perfectly ripe state for baking with at work recently, so I took it upon myself to take some home and turn them into a piece of baked deliciousness a couple of weeks ago. The result was this rather sumptuous banana, rum and raisin loaf, which I sort of invented from this recipe.

Generally, it’s ideal to soak dried fruit overnight to make sure they properly soak up the flavours of the liquid. However, I only had time to soak the raisins in the rum for about half an hour! I don’t do very well at following soaking instructions (remember my rum and raisin biscuits?) but I usually manage to wing it as I can still taste the booze!

Banana, rum and raisin loaf mix

Banana, rum and raisin loaf mix

The rest of the loaf was very easy to make. I added a splash of rum to the mix (as I had some rum left over from soaking the raisins) but I’m not sure how much of a difference this made! However, the resulting loaf was lovely – soft, fruity and very definitely tasting of rum.

I would recommend this recipe if you have bananas to use up but would like to make something a little more grown-up than standard banana bread. The great thing is I couldn’t very well tip the leftover rum back into the bottle, so I mixed it with some ginger beer and lime juice for a refreshing drink. Waste not, want not!

Banana, rum and raisin loafThe recipe

Makes 10 slices

  • 140g butter, softened
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 140g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 50g raisins
  • About 40-50ml rum (I used Captain Morgan’s Spiced)
  1. Soak the raisins in the rum in a covered bowl for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight. Drain and reserve the rum.
  2. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Butter and line the base and sides of a 2lb loaf tin.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, adding a splash of leftover rum if you want, then slowly add the eggs with a little flour. Fold in the remaining flour, raisins, baking powder and bananas.
  4. Pour into the tin and bake for about 30 mins until a skewer comes out clean. Mix yourself a nice drink with the leftover rum while you wait. Cool the loaf in the tin for 10 mins, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.