Friday, 27 December 2013

Blackberry and Elderflower Cakes

Hello lovely people! I hope you all had a brilliant Christmas. Mine has been very busy (isn't life always?) - I was in Paris with Fraser for four days, then finally got back to Cumbria to weather-madness and frantic Christmas preparations. There hasn't been time for a great deal of cooking, other than Christmas dinner, of course, though I do know that Zosia took her annual gingerbread house to a new level this year and made a gingerbread castle. As you do.

However, it's my birthday party this weekend and we're doing an afternoon tea type-thing, so to the kitchen! I'm planning on making little lemon drizzle cakes and more spiced Christmas biscuits, but I'm also hoping to re-create something I did this term. Enter please blackberry and elderflower cakes.

Ingredients (makes 12):
For the cakes
- 150g butter
- 150g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 3tbsp elderflower cordial
- 200g self raising flour
- ½tsp baking powder
- 1 tin of blackberries, drained (or 150g fresh)

For the buttercream
- 75g softened butter
- 275g icing sugar
- 2tbsp elderflower cordial
- 1 tin blackberries (or 75g fresh)
- 12 fresh blackberries
- few sprigs of lemon thyme
- elderflowers (if in season)

For the cakes
1. First, preheat your oven to 180°C and grab some muffin cases. If you have a muffin tin pop the cases in the holes, but if not don't worry, you can just use a normal baking tray.
2. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. You want as much air in there as possible, so give it some proper elbow grease!
3. Add the eggs and elderflower cordial, then mix in so there are no streaks.
4. Carefully fold in the flour. You need to make sure it's all mixed in whilst at the same time not beating out any of the air you've worked in, so be gentle with it.
5. Add the blackberries. I think the tins are genius - they're so much cheaper (unless it's blackberry season and you can pick your own) and are great to have in the cupboard, but just use whatever you can find.

Most beautiful cake mix ever?
6. Divide the mixture between the 12 cake cases, then bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on your oven) until a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool.

For the buttercream
1. Beat together the butter and icing sugar until thick, light and creamy. Pour in the elderflower cordial and stir through.
2. Add the tinned blackberries along with a splash of the liquid from the tin (just to give an extra hit of colour) and stir in. If your buttercream is a bit runny, you can just stir in more icing sugar.
3. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a nozzle of your choice. Don't have a piping bag? Use a plastic sandwich bag and cut off one of the corners!
4. Once your cakes are properly cooled, ice away! Start from the outside and swirl in towards the middle.
5. Adorn each cake with a fresh blackberry and a couple of thyme leaves. You can also sprinkle over some tiny elderflowers if they're in season (June) for an extra bit of pretty.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

4am Essay Biscuits

So Rachel and I both had massive essays due on Monday; cue stocking up on tea and fizzy drinks as we prepared for the inevitable all-nighter. We made one big mistake though: there was no baking in the house. So at 4am on Monday morning I made Burnt Butter Biscuits to fuel us.

Yours will be much prettier than mine because it won't be 4am. Or maybe it will be - I'm not judging.

There are a grand total of 4 ingredients, and they take 5 minutes to make. I reckon they're the only thing I could've made at 4am, which should give you an idea of the ease! In terms of taste they're pretty special too: warm, buttery and melt-in-the-mouth, and the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
The perfect biscuit? Maybe.

- 100g butter
- 100g caster sugar
- 150g self-raising flour
- 1 egg

1. First, preheat the oven to 180°C. Then grab a saucepan and throw in the butter. Melt, and keep on the heat until it turns a golden brown colour (or is generally starting to burn the bottom). Put to one side to set a bit for 5 minutes while you weigh out the other ingredients and beat your egg.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar, then tip in the egg and mix. Stir in the flour 'til there are no white streaks.
3. Grab small amounts of dough and roll them into balls (put your index finger against your thumb knuckle: about that size) and place onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. They'll spread out a fair bit, so I'd say no more than 6 per baking tray (unless it's 4am, in which case just make random-sized balls and throw them all onto one tray...).
4. Use the back of a fork to flatten them slightly, then bake for 15 minutes until golden. Sprinkle with caster sugar and allow to cool and firm up, then dunk in cups of tea to your heart's content.

I'm not entirely sure how many the mixture should make because I didn't size them properly - but I'd guess something between 12 and 18. Also, I can't claim they're super-powered-biscuits until we get the marks back, but we both got our essays in on time. So that's definitely something.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Spaghetti Bolognese

As a child, I never much liked spaghetti bolognese. My sister always loved it - I have a vivid memory of a trip to Disneyland Paris more than ten years ago, and her spilling bright sauce down her new white Disney princess dress. 

The issue for me was always the pasta - I swirled and swirled my fork but just ended up doing what Fraser dubbed the 'furtive spaghetti face', as I anxiously tried to ensure I wasn't getting pasta all over my chin. It took me much longer than I'd like to admit before I realised I could just cut the damn things (though Mum and Shannon mock!), and suddenly my resentment of the whole dish vanished.

Since being at university in particular, I've loved making this. Cook in bulk, pop the leftovers in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch or freeze for next week's tea. It's an all-round winner!

Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, grated
- 1 stick celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 300g Quorn mince
- 1tsp each of dried oregano and rosemary
- 400g chopped tomatoes
- 400g kidney beans
- 1 Oxo cube
- glass of red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1tbsp red pesto
- handful fresh basil, torn
- salt and pepper, to taste

Some chopped mushrooms would go really well in here too, though I'm personally not a fan.

1. Grab yourself a large saucepan, and throw in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic along with a knob of butter. Cook these gently for about 10 minutes, until softened.


2. Tip in the Quorn mince (no need to de-frost) and cook 'til it starts to brown, then crumble over the Oxo cube and add the dried herbs, chopped tomatoes, red wine, kidney beans, pesto and bay leaf.
3. Bring the sauce to a boil, then allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes. This is a good time to sort out your spaghetti, too - 75g per person.
4. Season your bolognese to taste, and scatter in the fresh basil. Mix in the pasta, sprinkle with cheddar and enjoy your fork-swirling (/surreptitious cutting).