My Bread-Baking Journey: Part One – Granary Rolls

I have a confession – I’ve never made bread before.  Shocking I know; I’ve been baking for almost 2 years now and have never built up the courage to attempt bread.  I’ve looked at the bread sections in recipe books with a mixture of longing and fear.

When my mum went to Iran, I finally had to face my fears. My dad’s gone all vegan on us, and my mum (great wife that she is) had started baking bread for him. While she was off for a month, the job of bread-baker turned to me.Read More »

Chocolate Victoria Sponge

Chocolate Victoria Sponge

It’s been a while since I’ve baked anything – the thought of having to turn the oven on and create a sauna out of my already ‘too-hot’ kitchen gives me the shivers. So when I was asked to bring something to a girly night in, I gritted my teeth and made the quickest, the simplest and the girliest cake possible: the good old chocolate Victoria sponge.Read More »

Marbled Chocolate Ring Cake

I saw the photo of this cake in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and thought – ‘it looks fit, I must try it’. Yes people, I described a cake as fit. I’m sorry, it had to be done.

I needed a reason to try out this marbled chocolate cake and luckily, my neighbours were due to come round for dinner; technically not a dinner party, but excuse enough for dessert.Read More »

Chocolate Chip American Muffins

Since the success of my Lemon and Raspberry Tart, I’ve got a bit ambitious and decided to try another first – muffins!

OK, so I know it doesn’t sound quite as terrifying as it could be, what’s hard about muffins right? I don’t know what it is about them that have made me really nervous about baking them; but I figured I have to start making them at some point – why not start this weekend?!

 The recipe was pretty easy to follow if I’m honest.  I mixed together the flour, baking powder and rubbed the butter in to get to a ‘breadcrumb’ consistency.  Then I stirred in the sugar and chocolate chips. I was slightly worried at how little sugar I used until I started adding the chocolate chips ­– there were so many! Thankfully, there was enough left over for me to nibble on whilst I carried on with the rest of the recipe.

In another bowl I mixed the eggs, milk and vanilla essence before pouring it all in to the ‘dry’ ingredients. According to Mary Berry, this batter is meant to be a bit lumpy so I tried not to get too freaked out by the fact that I was putting lumpy batter into muffin cases – it felt so wrong! Oh well – into the oven they go.

 Chocolate Chip American Muffins

Now these muffins are titled ‘American’ so I figure they should come out pretty big – maybe not! When I think of muffins, I think of huge, delectable, muffin-top treats; these were more like extra-large cupcakes.  They also came out a mixture of colours – for some reason some were beautiful and golden-brown, whereas others were a little more … ahem… light-yellow? Ah well. If anyone complained, I’d blame it on my temperamental oven.

As I packed up the muffins to take to work the next day, I started to worry  about what people would think; I don’t normally do very well on my first attempt at baked goods (you should have seen my first ever cake!) and didn’t want my ‘baking-goddess’ reputation to diminish.  On the other hand, I wasn’t about to force my parents to eat their way through 12 muffins so off to work they went.

 Chocolate Chip American Muffins

Now I usually prefer muffins to cupcakes, mainly because one is enough to satiate my sweet tooth; but I just wasn’t feeling these muffins.  Simply put, I think they weren’t sweet enough for me. This is not to detract from the recipe, however, they tasted great with my morning brew, and everyone else seemed to love them.  They were especially pleased with the muffin to chocolate chip ratio.

 As my first muffin attempt – I’d say I was quite happy with them (the perfectionist inside me is not easily pleased!). However, I have decided to reserve judgment until I have attempted a few more recipes. There’s a chance for these American Chocolate Chip muffins yet!

Apple and Cinnamon Cake

I had planned to make this cake for Christmas day, but my Gingerbread Mansion took up a lot more time than expected so I had to make it later on.  I was making my first ever Iranian meal and decided that we would also have to have some sort of dessert as well.

I chopped up the walnuts and peeled, cored and grated the apple ready to go into the mixture.  The recipe is pretty easy: essentially you throw everything except the cinnamon and apples into a bowl and whisk it together until it is thoroughly blended.  Then you pour half the mixture into the cake tin, spread the apple and cinnamon on top of that, and then spoon the remaining cake mixture on top. That’s, literally, how easy it’s meant to be. I put the cake into the oven and carried on with the main courses while it baked.

We have a new oven in our kitchen, a beautiful double oven that I adored, until now.  During the first attempt at this cake (yes – there were two attempts!), I did what I always do: set the timer and go off to do something else until the alarm goes off.  Usually an extra few minutes is needed but generally, this method has always worked for me.

 This time, I smelt something that wasn’t that beautiful baking scent and went back to the kitchen 15minutes earlier to investigate.  The cake was burnt – not just a little burnt – a lot burnt! I had no idea what went wrong: the temperature was right, the time was right – I couldn’t explain it.

With a broken heart I took the cake out and dejectedly popped open the tin to look at the damage.  My mum, who was teaching me how to cook the Iranian main course ate some and deemed it edible, but I refused to serve it – I’m the cake queen; I was determined to try again.

Apple and Cinnamon Cake

Thankfully I was at a point in cooking the main course where I could stop; I had planned to have a cup of tea in front of the telly but I resorted to a glass of wine and a grim-faced second attempt at the cake. This time I turned the temperature down slightly and set the timer for 30 minutes.

I quickly checked the cake once the alarm went off and thankfully, it wasn’t burnt … but it wasn’t cooked either. I quickly slammed the door shut and set the timer for 15minutes at a time until it had cooked. I left it to cool while I made the rest of the food.

Recipe 65 - 3

The rest of the meal went really well and everyone was amazed that I managed to not only cook so much, but make it taste almost as good as my mums (lets be real – no one can cook as well as her!). When it came to serving the dessert, I was so happy that it hadn’t burnt that I completely forgot to sprinkle a little light muscovado sugar and icing sugar on top before cutting everyone a slice.

Recipe 65 - 4

The cake was beautiful – not too sweet, not too cinnamon-y, the layer of apple in the middle also made it beautifully moist.  I’m not the biggest fan of sultanas so would probably cut them out if I made the cake again.

Recipe 65 - 5

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.

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