Peppermint Tea Cupcakes

I have had my eye on these cupcakes for a really long time but I always end up drinking my supply peppermint tea and completely forgetting to bake anything!

This time I was determined to follow through and bought a whole new stash of teabags for the occasion. However, In true Diary of a Bake-A-Holic style I didn’t read the recipe until I wanted to start baking; I realised you have to let the teabags brew in water for 30 minutes and also in the milk used for icing. I took this as an excuse to have a tea-break (peppermint tea, of course) and got out my book to entertain me while I waited.

Two cups of tea and a few chapters later I was asked if I was actually going to bake; I looked up confused and realised an hour had already passed! Eek! I jumped up to get on with the baking.

The recipe follows the standard Hummingbird Bakery method, mix dry ingredients with butter; mix wet ingredients together; then whip it all up together until nice and smooth.

Peppermint Tea Cupcakes

This was distributed amongst 24 cupcake cases (I doubled the batch to take some to work the next day) and cooked in the oven for around 20minutes.  Once they were out to cool I started on the icing, which was again the same method of butter icing but with pre-brewed peppermint tea milk.

The icing smelt absolutely divine and I have to confess, I did end up ‘tasting’ it a few times before I even decorating the cupcakes! I finally managed to get the icing in a piping bag and used a ‘Wilton 2D’ nozzle to pipe a small rose in the centre of each cupcake.  They went into cupcake boxes and were shipped to work the next day.

I couldn’t actually wait till the next day to try them out so tried one out after dinner with a cup of … you guessed it, peppermint tea.

These cupcakes are quite sweet so may not be to everyone’s taste.  The sponge itself has a really subtle hint of peppermint and is delicious enough to have on its own.  The icing comes out quite sweet but you the delicate taste of peppermint still comes through.  These cupcakes are very addictive so be prepared to have more than one! They have become another favourite cupcake recipe by the Hummigbird Bakery; I can’t wait to try some out some other tea-based delights.

Peppermint Tea Cupcakes

Iced Chocolate Traybake

This was the last ‘advent present’ I had to make for my team advent calendar and this recipient was the easiest to bake for, as he beats me on the sweet-tooth front. I figured, what could be sweeter than an Iced Chocolate Traybake???

I set about getting all the ingredients together and was pretty surprised when I realised that I needed apricot jam for the cake. Would apricot jam really go with chocolate cake and chocolate icing? Well I guess I was about to find out.

I mixed the cocoa powder and water to make a thick paste and put it aside to cool for a while before dumping all the ingredients in a bowl and whisking them together.  Yes people – it is, literally, that easy!

I poured all the ingredients into my baking tray and put it in the oven for around 40minutes.  Once out, I left it to cool and made myself a cup of tea before starting on the icing.

 Iced Chocolate Traybake

The icing was made up of chocolate melted with 6 tablespoons of water, which is then beaten in with the icing sugar (yum!).  Once this was ready I spread the apricot jam over the cake and then the icing over this.  I actually found it quite difficult to spread the icing evenly; the apricot jam made the icing difficult to work with.

Recipe 64 - 3

I finally got a (almost) smooth look before I gave up. All that was left to do was to cut the traybake into squares, eat any stray crumbs, and pick the nicest-looking squares to go into the ‘advent present’; the rest of it got boxed up and carted off to family, friends and my tummy!

 Iced Chocolate Traybake

I absolutely loved this cake, as did the ‘advent present recipient’ and anyone else who managed to grab a slice from the kitchen before it disappeared.  It is very sweet and might not be to everyone’s taste but personally, I found it scrumptious! I’m not the biggest chocolate cake fan but I absolutely loved this, the apricot jam went really well and the chocolate was not overpowering at all.

Dairy-Free Blueberry and Coconut Cake

Continuing with the advent theme, my second advent present went to a colleague who is lactose intolerant.  I was determined to make her something dairy-free, as she normally just takes the bullet and eats my cakes regardless.

I found this recipe on the BBC goodfoods website and had to give it a go. It seemed pretty simple to do, whisking the ‘wet’ ingredients in one bowl and the ‘dry’ ones in another – all you have to do is alternatively fold in the flour and soya milk into the ‘wet’ ingredients.  I didn’t use soya milk for this recipe but stuck to coconut milk instead.

Dairy-Free Blueberry and Coconut Cake

Then a quarter of the mixture went into the tin before adding the blueberries into the rest of the mixture.  Then everything went into the tin and into the oven for around an hour and 15 minutes.  Once cooled, I sliced up the cake and wrapped it for her present (unfortunately at the time I only had black ribbon – which isn’t the most festive colour but I had to work with what I had!)

Dairy-Free Blueberry and Coconut Cake

The rest of the cake went into the office kitchen for whoever else was feeling peckish that day.

I have to admit, I’ve always been a bit wary of dairy-free cakes, as I feel like it wouldn’t taste as good but this recipe is gold.  The coconut works amazingly well with the blueberries and there isn’t that ‘oily’ aftertaste you usually get with oil-based cakes.  A definite new favourite of mine and one that I will make a lot more in future.

Dairy-Free Blueberry and Coconut Cake

Yorkshire Gingernuts

This year we had a team advent calendar: each person had three days to fill with lovely treats for the person who opened it. Being the office baker, everyone could guess what would be waiting for them – some form of Christmassy baked goodness.

I managed to pick three people who had completely different tastes in baked goods (yes guys – not everyone is like me and loves everything!).  I planned each ‘gift’ and attempted to make the type of thing they liked the most – so my first colleague got some Yorkshire Gingernut biscuits baked using Mary Berry’s recipe.

This was pretty quick and simple to follow – the butter and golden syrup go into a pan and are heated whilst the dry ingredients are mixed together. The melted butter is then added along with the egg.

The most difficult part of the recipe was getting 50 biscuits out of the batter – I went a bit OCD and weighed the total amount of batter, divided it by 50 and started measuring out each amount before baking them in sets of 10.  You’d think it was a pretty clever way to do it and it’s good if you’re a perfectionist like me who likes everything the same size – but it takes forever!

Yorkshire Gingernuts

Finally all the biscuits came out the oven and I had a quick taste test with my cup of ‘well-done-you-finished-baking’ tea. I have to admit, I wasn’t ‘in love’ with them; the ginger taste is a bit too subtle for my taste and it’s not the sweetest of biscuits.  Not really my kind of thing – but the advent recipient loved them (phew!).

 Yorkshire Gingernuts

These are (apparently) really nice with some Yorkshire tea and perfect for someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth.  Not my personal favourite, I have to admit, but they did look great.

A Gingerbread Mansion

Last year I had planned to make a gingerbread house but never actually got round to it; a serious lack of time lead to a lot of gingerbread men and women being made instead.  This year I was determined to make a seriously cool gingerbread abode – I designed and made the blueprints for a gingerbread mansion.

You may ask why I had such big plans? Well, if you’ve ever read my posts before you’ll have gotten used to my insane ideas where I’m normally in over my head. My motto: ‘go big or go home’. OK so that’s not actually my motto but it works here.

First thing you need to do when making a gingerbread house is to make the blueprints for it – my building design was essentially four basic-shaped houses stuck together to make a mansion.  This in itself took around 2 hours; apparently geometry isn’t my best subject – I was more of an algebra type girl anyway.

 Then came the preparation of the batter – this year I went for Mary Berry’s recipe to see how it would differ from last years.  I made three times the amount of batter as I had a LOT of building parts to make. I started by mixing the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ginger and rubbing in the butter – this was, actually, quite a calming exercise and I was quite happy rubbing everything in while watching a Christmas movie on TV.  The golden syrup, sugar and egg is mixed in and kneaded until a smooth dough is made.

Gingerbread

By this point my hands were getting quite tired but I figured I was practically halfway there.  I started rolling out the batter and cutting out the shapes; there was a pretty good one-woman production line going but it still took around 2 hours to get all the pieces cut and baked.  I had planned to have a gingerbread Christmas tree but I simply didn’t have enough batter left.

 Gingerbread

The house was now seriously smelling like Christmas and the family were very excited about what I had come up with – the entire dinner table was covered with bits and pieces of my mansion.  Personally, at that point I was happy if I never smelt gingerbread again but I had to power through.

After a quick break for the gingerbread to cool (and a cup of tea, of course!), I started putting together the mansion.  I whisked together some icing sugar and egg whites to make a stiff icing to use as the ‘glue’.

Gingerbread

My dad and I spent the next 2 hours painstakingly putting each piece together; I never realised how dramatic and tense making a gingerbread house can be! We finally got the walls up and got started on the roof.  As each section dried I piped a decorative pattern on each of the joints for extra strength – and to hide all the ugly glued bits.  The last touch was to pipe chocolate icing onto the roofs and sprinkle some coconut to make it look like it had snowed. Add a snow covered floor and some snowmen and hey presto. My very own gingerbread mansion!

Gingerbread Mansion

On Christmas day the gingerbread house/mansion took pride of place at the centre of the table, everyone was pretty amazed, not only at my sheer luck but also at how long it took to make – 9 hours! They were so amazed that no one wanted to break into it – it was a completely different matter for me, I couldn’t wait to tear it apart!

 Gingerbread mansion

We only managed to get through the side extensions on Christmas day, but continued to work our way through until it was all gone!

The gingerbread itself was moreish – and a lot softer than you’d expect from a gingerbread biscuit.  I much prefer this recipe and will definitely use it again – just not for a very long time, I need to get over my ordeal first!

Dark and Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

Normally when I bake brownies, I think of it as a bit of a ‘childish’ treat – I have no idea why I have this connection as I never had brownies as a kid.  The inner workings of my mind is a pretty terrifying place to spend any time in so I didn’t bother to figure out why I have the connection, and started getting down to this ‘grown-up’ version of a timeless classic.

The first difference this recipe has to other brownie recipes is that it doesn’t use cocoa powder; instead Mary Berry decided to thrown in another bar of plain chocolate. And let’s be honest, what person is going to say no to another bar of chocolate, huh?

I broke up the pieces of chocolate, added the butter and put my bowl over a simmering pot of water for it all to melt.  This is when I realised I was using a plastic bowl that would start to melt itself at any second … aargggghh! I dashed back into the kitchen, to look for another bowl whilst holding the first one above the pot (so it could still get heat without burning a hole in the plastic).

After 5 minutes of looking for a glass bowl I remembered that, naturally, we don’t have any. Cue a very long, exaggerated ‘ugh’ sound before accepting defeat and holding the plastic bowl over the pan for the time it took to melt the chocolate and butter which, if you didn’t know, takes quite a while!

The chocolate finally melted and I was able to get on with the rest of the baking.  I chopped up an endless amount of walnuts, and put them to the side, ready to throw in at the last stage.  The whisk then came out and whipped up the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and coffee … Wait … coffee?! Yes folks, if an extra bar of chocolate isn’t enough of a sugar rush; Mary Berry decided to throw in an extra shot of caffeine. I guess this is another reason why it should be considered a ‘grown-up’ brownie recipe.

Once this was all whisked, I stirred in the chocolate and butter mixture and folded in the flour, walnuts, and a heck of a lot of chocolate chips.  Now I understand the use of ‘indulgent’ in the title of the recipe. The batter was poured into the tray tin and baked for the recommended time.

Now, you’re normally meant to let the brownies cool a bit before cutting them up, as the gooey middle sets better once it’s cool – but I was tired, and very hungry after watching all that chocolate melt and decided enough time had been spent on brownies for one day.  I attempted to chop the brownies up into equal pieces, nibbled on the bits that came off in the process and packed up the whole lot to take to work the following day.

Dark and Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

There is one thing I do know about brownies, no matter what you put in them, or what they taste like – they are generally devoured in the work place.  Normally, I’m good with ‘taste-testing’ and only have a small piece/slice of whatever I bake but with these brownies, I couldn’t help but have an extra slice (or two…OK four in total!) The were definitely rich, but not sickeningly so – the coffee added a nice kick to balance out the sweetness of the chocolate.

These brownies should come with a warning however –no matter how old you are, you will get an insane sugar/caffeine rush from eating these.  OK so maybe don’t do what I did and eat 4 in one go, but I can say that attempting to eat only one of these moreish little delights is almost impossible, they’re just that good!

 Dark and Indulgent Chocolate and Walnut Brownies

The 2-4-1: Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

Need I say more? Even the name of these scrumptious little delights get my mouth watering, metaphorically … and a little literally!

I’ve made these cupcakes before and was more than happy to make them again; my excuse this time being that it had been a while since I’d taken anything to the office and my colleagues were suffering from baked-good-withdrawal-symptoms.  Ahem … any excuse to bake!

These cupcakes followed the pretty basic vanilla cupcake recipe; to be honest the hardest part of the challenge was not to eat all the strawberries before they could be used.  I tend to follow a one-for-you / one-for me strategy when it comes to strawberries and have resorted to buying twice the amount in the recipe just so there’s enough for everyone.

This time there was the challenge of not eating the cupcakes when I was chopping them up, and when I was distributing them among the cupcake cases. I’m a hopeless case!

Despite all these setbacks, I did manage to distribute the chopped up strawberries to all the cupcake cases and quickly filled the cases with batter  (up to 2/3rds full).  I figured this would stop me eating any more strawberries!

The cupcakes took around 25 minutes to bake – as my oven has randomly decided to take much more time to cook anything – and came out a light golden brown. Yum. The first cupcake went straight to my mum, as she didn’t want any cream-cheese frosting (wtf?!). The rest went onto a wire rack to cool down while I made my icing.

It is the icing/decoration that turns these strawberry cupcakes into cheesecake cupcakes.  I whipped up a batch of Hummingbird Bakery cream cheese frosting, and twirled it in the famous Hummingbird Bakery style.  Once this was done I crushed up a few digestive biscuits and sprinkled them on top of the icing.

The cupcakes were packed up and taken to work the next day – all 24 were gone by lunchtime!  Thankfully I did manage to get my hands on a cupcake to ‘taste test‘ before they all disappeared.

What can I say about this recipe? It’s literally a two-for-one situation: the strawberry cupcake on the bottom is tasty enough on it’s own, but add the ‘cheesecake’ part on top – what else could you want in life?

The All-in-one – Victoria Sandwich

Have you ever wondered why it’s called a ‘Victoria Sandwich’? Apparently, it’s named after Queen Victoria, who favoured a slice of this sponge cake with her afternoon tea.  As for the sandwich bit – well I guess that part’s pretty obvious!

Now that my family have finally accepted that baked goods are to be a permanent feature in their lives – they’ve started to get quite demanding.  Any dinner parties that take place are now required to have one of my cakes as dessert – regardless of whether I am attending or not.

In the same way, I am now expected to bring dessert to any dinner parties I am invited to.  I’ve argued that, as it is someone else’s dinner party, surely they should get a chance to bake but – apparently – this form of logic is completely lost on them. And as there is absolutely no argument that I can ever win with my family, I tend to go with the flow (it also gives me an excuse to get some baking done for the blog so I shouldn’t complain!)

This particular time I was baking a cake to take to a dinner party. I actually wasn’t asked to bake until a few hours before we had to leave so I panicked and went for the trusty Victoria Sandwich. The ‘large’ and ‘all-in-one’ parts of the title bode well so I went with it.

 Once again Mary Berry went for the ‘throw it all together’ method of baking but I didn’t follow the exact instructions and went for something different.  I whisked together the butter and sugar (as always) and then added the eggs.  Instead of whisking in the flour and baking powder, I decided to go old-school and fold it in.  Why? I have no idea – maybe with a 2 hour time limit (which included getting myself ready) I decided I had way too much time on my hands. I don’t know.

Once the batter was ready, I split it between the two cake tins, attempted to make it even, gave up and put it in the oven for 25 minutes. They came out golden, even and springy to the touch – perfect! If only all my cakes would come out this way.

After a few minutes cooling time, I took them out of the cake tins and peeled off the baking parchment.  I kept the nicest looking cake the right way round but turned the other one (which was also nice – just not as flat on the top) upside down.  This would become the bottom layer so I figured this technique would make it as flat as possible.

Once cooled. I spread strawberry jam on the top of the flattened cake before placing (i.e. accidentally dropping) the second layer on top.  Thankfully it didn’t break! Just before leaving I sprinkled caster sugar on top – et voila!

I had packed the Victoria Sandwich into my trusty cake tin and got in the car ready to leave.  Somehow (and I blame this completely on my father’s driving skills), between us leaving the house and getting to the dinner party, the top layer of the cake slid half off the bottom … AARGH!

OK, so it was fixed really easily (I, quite literally, slid it back into place and cleaned off the excess jam) but it’s one of those things that only ever manage to happen to me.

Thankfully there were no other mishaps and the cake went down a treat – two guests even tried to ‘judge’ it in the same way as Paul Hollywood and Marry Berry from The Great British Bake Off – thankfully that feedback was positive (although they did say ‘no soggy bottoms’ which I believe refers to pastry and not sponge cake!).

There’s not much to say for the taste of this cake, everyone knows what a good Victoria Sandwich should taste like – and this is definitely a recipe that will create that perfect sponge!

Jane’s Fruit Cake

Why is it Jane’s? Well I can’t answer that, but it was the fruit cake that my mum has been asking me to bake for a while. So I finally gave in and decided to give it a try.

I can’t help but love Mary Berry’s instructions – they generally consist of mixing everything together in no particular order and bunging it all in the oven! Great for everyone else but unfortunately not for a perfectionist like me.

So instead of throwing everything in, I started by mixing the butter and the muscovado sugar, then added the eggs and buttermilk and finally the wholemeal flour.  I did question what the wholemeal flour would add (or detract) to the recipe, but I have full faith in Mary Berry and will do (almost) anything she says – or writes.

Finally, I stirred in the currents and sultanas and began to pour the batter into my cake dish.  This was when I realised that my 23cm-diameter cake tin was definitely too short for all the batter I had.  Cue the very speedy preparation of another, smaller, cake tin – and hey presto we have a mama cake and a baby cake.

I managed to fit the cakes into the oven and put the timer on for … 3hours?!?!?! Of course this is always the last thing I read and I managed to pick the cake with longest cooking time ever. * Sigh *

I took one last quick look at the recipe as I sat on the sofa with a cup of tea when I realised that I had to sprinkle the almonds on top of the cake before I put it in the oven.  Oops.

I ran back to the kitchen (I’m not joking, I actually skidded around two corners!), ripped open the packet of flaked almonds, and held my breath while I opened the oven door, quickly sprinkled almonds on the batter, and slammed it shut again.  I strolled back into the living room, sat down looking thoroughly pleased with myself, and found two parents with their mouths hanging open. I told them I forgot to sprinkle the almonds, which, apparently, wasn’t enough explanation for my dramatics.  I then explained that cakes sink if you open the oven door too much and even with this perfectly rational argument, I got nothing. So I gave up and settled down with my tea and my book.

Jane’s Fruit Cake

About 3 hours and a good few chapters later, I checked on the cakes to make sure they were dark enough, springy to the touch, and that they passed the skewer test.  Thankfully the cakes passed all three and I got the bigger one out for the taste test with the family.

Now I’m not the biggest fan of fruit cakes – I just don’t understand the concept of dried fruit, in general, and specifically in cake. Despite this, the cake was actually OK – definitely not my favourite – but the muscovado sugar added a really nice flavour and the wholemeal flour gives a nice texture. The parents, who happen love fruit cakes, devoured it so I guess that’s a good sign. I did plan to ask them to describe it to me but they went straight to bed claiming exhaustion for having to wait so long for my baked goods.

A Not-So-Pretty-But-Very-Tasty Chocolate Cheesecake

I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate-based desserts, as I find them too rich and quite sickening.  That’s not to say I don’t eat chocolate, or wouldn’t try something new and chocolate related – I just tend to prefer the fruity version.

However, The Hummingbird Bakery claims that: ‘there must be a chocolate version of everything’ and apparently everyone – present company excluded – agrees.

I offered a colleague a baked ‘thank-you’ treat for helping me out with a project and you can imagine my surprise (or lack thereof) when he requested a chocolate cheesecake. * Sigh * – well – if you can’t beat them … use the Hummingbird Bakery recipe to join them.

Every aspect of this cheesecake has some sort of chocolate in it; so if you’re like me and are still on the same bar of chocolate that you started 6 months ago you might want to pop to the shops and buy some more.

The base was a simple job of crushing up lots of biscuits, adding in some cocoa powder and mixing it all together with melted butter.  I squished this into my base-lined and pre-greased cake tin and popped it into the fridge to cool while I started on the cheesy bit.

The cheesy part of the recipe used pretty much the same method as the New York Cheesecake but with melted chocolate added into the mix.  To melt the chocolate, you must heat it over a saucepan of simmering water. Naturally, I couldn’t find any ‘heatproof’ bowls so had to make do with a plastic one that I held on top of the pan whilst making sure the bottom didn’t touch the metal as it had a tendency to melt on contact – great.

When combining the cheese to the chocolate, it’s best to stir the cream cheese mixture into the melted chocolate a little at a time.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is to ensure that the temperatures even out nicely.  Thankfully, I managed not to mess this bit up. The chocolate-cheese mix was then spooned onto the biscuit base and put in the oven with a water bath for 40-50 minutes.

BAKING TIP:

DON’T trust your gut instinct – take the cheesecake out EVEN if you think it’s not quite done.

Why? The cake will continue cooking once it’s out the oven; so taking it out when it’s ‘almost’ cooked will ensure it’s perfect by the time it’s cooled.  If you’re like me and you panic and keep it in the oven for longer it will crack – like this cheesecake did!

The first thing I thought was ‘how am I going to make this look good enough to take to work?!’ The answer was nothing. Ah well – home-baked cakes can’t always look stunningly beautiful. I gave up and left the cheesecake to cool on the counter while I got on with other stuff (i.e. I had a nap).

My brother sauntered into the kitchen while I was upstairs and helped himself to about a quarter of the cheesecake! What, you may ask, was his reason for eating something that was clearly labelled ‘DO NOT EAT – TAKING TO WORK’ ? Well, as the older brother, apparently he trumps colleagues on baked goods.

However, he somehow managed to cut out the majority of the crack! His chocolate craving ended up being a blessing in disguise – I could admit to him eating it and no one would know that there had been cracks in it. Genius!

The chocolate cheesecake didn’t last very long once it was put out in the department kitchen the next day; apparently the Humingbird Bakery’s statement is pretty spot on.  Everyone really enjoyed it – and although it was the teeniest bit too rich for me – I would actually consider making it again.