Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Ava's Mint Choc-Chip Daisy Cupcakes

These mint choc-chip cupcakes not only look pretty but taste amazing too.  Inspired by Ava, our young friend, these cupcakes were decorated with pretty pink flowers and a green 'grass' buttercream.

Daisy Themed Mint Choc-Chip Cupcakes

Recently we were introduced to two new family friends, Victoria & Ava (big wave to Victoria & Ava!)  Mum & I had planned for us all to enjoy a lovely family picnic at a well equipped local park.  Mother nature, however, had other ideas; the temperature dropped dramatically and the day before they arrived from the warmer climes of Essex a reasonable amount of snow fell here in Yorkshire.  The snow soon disappeared, but the chilly weather, as you may recall, lingered a few days longer putting an end to our picnic idea.   All was not a washout though.  Following our indoor picnic we took a leisurely stroll to the local park and wandered around the butterfly house, watched Ava whilst she tried out the climbing frame and swings before pitting our muscles against those of Mr E & my brother on the exercise equipment!

Walking home our young friend Ava spotted some beautiful daisies.  Many were tinged with a deep pink to their petals, and being like many young girls who love all things pink, floral and glittery she made a beeline for those prettier ones.  With a fist full of daisies we made our way home to assemble a daisy chain!  It's been (cough) years since I last picked daisies and built a chain; I'm not sure who enjoyed the activity the most, Ava or I!

Pretty Daisies
Images courtesy of Pixaby

So, having been inspired by our young friend, I donned my pinny and rustled up some daisy themed cupcakes.  OK, the sugar flowers are actually blossom and not having the skills (yet) to pipe a daisy you will have to imagine them to be daisies!  Having decided to flavour the cakes, I rapidly came to the conclusion that mint would be an effective flavour for the green grass.  And what better accompaniment for mint than chocolate!  Both cocoa and chocolate chips were incorporated into my preferred sponge mixture, the Victoria sponge.  These mint choc-chip cupcakes were then topped with a green buttercream, which had been lightly flavoured with mint.  My attempt at using icing to represent grass using a number 133 nozzle certainly requires more practice, the cakes resembled an overgrown, neglected garden and nothing like the manicured lawns fitting of stately homes that I was aiming for!  So having scraped off the offending icing, I started again with a small star nozzle (number 32) and decorated the mint choc-chip daisy cupcakes more classically with a cluster of small swirls before finishing the bake with a few sugar flowers.   

Monday, 16 May 2016

Croque Madame Muffins with Asparagus

Asparagus works beautifully in these fun croque-madame muffins.  Their portable shape  makes them a perfect and delicious snack when out & about.  

Croque Madame Muffins with Asparagus

Way back in November I made our first croque-madame muffin, a quirky take on the classic French croque-madame of which our muffins bore no visual resemblance!  The classic croque-madame consists of ham and cheese which is laid onto a slice of toasted bread, this is topped with bechamel sauce and once lightly grilled a fried egg sit on top as the crowning glory.

These muffins, inspired by the wonderful Rachel Khoo, were far more interesting and fun having been baked in a muffin pan.  Sliced bread is laid within a muffin pan hollow, before adding a vegetarian ham substitute, egg, bechamel sauce and topping it all with a grating of mature cheese before popping into the oven for a few short minutes.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Yorkshire Curd Tart

This delicious tart is made with easy to make curds, and includes currants, lemon and finely grated nutmeg.  Being traditionally baked here in Yorkshire around Whitsuntide, this tart would be lovely served with some double cream this weekend.

Yorkshire curd Tart, made with homemade curds, nutmeg and currants

Grab your coat and purse, we're off to buy a new frock for Whitsuntide.

Wikipedia tells us that Whitsuntide is the week which follows Whitsun.  Whitsun is the seventh Sunday following Easter Sunday, and this year it falls on the 15th May.  It is the name used in Britain and Ireland for the Christian festival Pentecost and marks the end of the Easter cycle which began with Ash Wednesday.  Wikipedia goes onto say that in 1978 the traditional Whit Monday holiday was replaced by Spring Bank at the end of May.  Whitsun was marked by church parades called Whit-Walks and even Whit fairs.   Especially for the Whitsun festival children often had a new outfit bought for them.  Often those outfits were showed off to family, friends and neighbours who gave a few pennies to the child! 

Food, in all of its delicious forms, often plays a part in religious holidays.  Just think of Easter and Christmas and all of the delicious goodies which are shared at that time.  Whitsuntide is no-different, though perhaps it was celebrated on a smaller scale.  Flavours of Yorkshire recipe book tells us that Yorkshire Curd Tarts were often made at this time of year in and around Yorkshire.  It's a delicious bake which sadly is infrequently seen in bakeries these days.  Like most tarts, they can be made individual or family sized.  The tart tin is lined with a sweet pastry (technically called pate sucree by patisserie chefs) which is filled with a mixture of curds, lemon, sugar, eggs, butter, spice and dried fruit.

Yorkshire curd tart made with Mixed Spice and cottage cheese!
Many old recipes morph and change over the decades and end up being made as families prefer them.  I learnt this when I made our Pikeltes a little while ago, not one recipe on the internet was the same; some included yeast in their mixture, others not and so on.  The same is true for the Yorkshire Curd Tart.  I made my first Yorkshire Curd Tart last year largely following the recipe in Flavours of....Yorkshire Recipes, compiled by Julia Skinner which includes many Francis Frith historic photographs of the area. (Having done a little search on google, I'm sure there will be a Flavours of recipe book compliled by Julia Skinner for your county.)  The preamble of that recipe suggests that allspice is the distinguishing characteristic flavour of Yorkshire Curd Tart, but suggests that mixed spice may be more suited to modern tastes.   It also listed raisins or sultanas as the dried fruit.  The Foodie Bugle, however, writes of different spice and dried fruit which was traditionally included in the humble Yorkshire Curd tart.  Although she mentioned that finding an authentic recipe was difficult she makes reference to a home cook, Mrs Tasker, who lived in Brayton, near Selby, way back in 1741.  The recipe which Evie, the author of The Foodie Bugle, ultimately shared was made with nutmeg and currants, so really quite different to the one which Julia Skinner compiled.   Deciding to mark Whitsuntide again this year, I chose to try the nutmeg and currant version.  It's worth noting that Betty's Tea Room, here in Yorkshire, also uses the very same spice and dried fruit.


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Out & About - Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea at Holdsworth House was such a treat, being set in a beautiful historic building which retains a wealth of period features.  We certainly couldn't fault the service and the selection of vegetarian finger sandwiches and baked goodies were inviting, delicious and generous.  It was certainly well worth the visit.    

The Afternoon Tea Selection

Our wedding anniversary rolled by earlier last week and to celebrate Mr E had arranged, some weeks previous, a mystery treat.  With a twinkle in his eyes he teased me most days prompting me to guess what that surprise would be.  A trip to the Yorkshire coast.  A journey on a steam train.  A little family party.  A holiday.   No.  No.  No and no were the answers.   Wondering what I should wear for the occasion (well, us girls do like to dress appropriately) Mr E eventually shared his well kept secret and told me that we were going to be enjoying afternoon tea at Holdsworth House, a historic local hotel.  I was elated and having browsed their website I couldn't wait for the afternoon to arrive.  He clearly knows me better than I know myself,  it's such a perfect gift to me given my clear fondness of cakes and pastries.

Holdsworth House is a Jacobean property having been built in 1633.   It's a stunning period house which has retained many of its period features of mullioned windows, wood panelling and open fires.  Their gardens really inspire too.   The hotel is situated near a busy town, Halifax in West Yorkshire, and yet is secluded enough to feel as though you're away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.  In fact, if you're a fan of the drama Last Tango in Halifax you will have no-doubt seen Holdsworth House as some of the scenes were filmed there!  


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Chocolate Orange & Sweet Potato Bundt

This chocolate orange bundt cake with sweet potato truly is delicious and light.  Made with a relatively small quantity of refined sugar, the sweet potato adds a little extra sweetness as well as bringing vitamins and minerals to the baked treat.   It really has to be tried to be believed.
Chocolate Orange and Sweet potato Bundt Cake

Chocolate and orange is a classic flavour combination that we all know and love.  But sweet potato in a cake?  Surely not?  Well believe me, it really does work.  Rather than being heavy and stodgy as you may imagine a bake with potato to be, this cake is seriously light and packed full of delicious chocolate orange flavour. 

Baking with potatoes
I was first introduced to cakes made with potatoes a few short weeks ago when the lovely Sarah over at Tales From The Kitchen Shed shared her recipe for Chocolate Potato Muffins.  They truly looked and sounded amazing.  Like all of her recipes, her step-by-step instructions made it clear that the muffins were a doddle to make.  That week, before visiting my parents, I made a small batch in the form of mini bundts cakes.  My parents, like Sarah's tasters, certainly couldn't tell that the mixture included mashed potatoes.  As Sarah explains the inclusion of mashed potato in bakes is nothing new, it was widely used during the second world war when traditional baking ingredients were heavily rationed.  She goes onto say that the potato rich batter results in a beautiful bake, which I couldn't agree more with, that stays moist for two or three days when stored in an airtight container.


Sunday, 24 April 2016

No-Knead Bread

Good things come to those who wait as far as this no-knead loaf is concerned.  The bread is no-fuss to make and requires only a few short minutes of hands on time.  The long prove results in a flavoursome well aerated loaf which is lovely served alongside a salad, as a traditional sandwich or simply toasted.  

Tasty No-Knead Bread

One of the bakes I love to make in our kitchen is bread.  The aroma we are treated to as the bread bakes is second to none and of course homemade bread is far tastier than that manufactured using the Chorleywood Bread Process.  That said, I have a bone (or perhaps bones or even tendons and ligaments) which has sadly decided that it doesn't enjoy bread making.  My wrists, especially my left wrist, complain bitterly when I knead bread and as a result I reluctantly hung up my bread baking pinny a month or two ago in the hope that they will recover!  I've really missed getting my hands onto the silky dough and breathing in those delicious smells as it bakes.  Mr E even bought me a stand mixer last year, complete with dough hook, to take the strain off my wrists but unfortunately, despite the product's claims, its kneading abilities were sadly lacking.....and so to cut a long story short we have resorted to purchasing our bread from the local supermarket :-(

No Knead Bread with Wholemeal Flour

That is until now.  Homemade bread is now back in the menu!  Yaay!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Side-by-Side Baking, Butter Quality

A side-by-Side Baking experiment looking at how three different butters can affect the flavour and colour of a basic sponge. 

A side by side baking experiment

I'm sure that you've read in many recipe books and food magazines the phrase 'buy the best you can afford'.  It's a phrase used to refer to all manner of ingredients; flour, chocolate, butter, and other general food stuff.  But does more expensive actually mean better quality and flavour?  Or are those extra pennies simply paying for fancy packaging and marketing?  It therefore occurred to me to undertake a little side-by-side baking experiment to look at a commonly used baking ingredient, butter, to try to determine if the extra money spent on a more expensive brand is actually worth it.

Now to be honest, I usually purchase the supermarket's own mid-range unsalted butter for my baking.  Not only is there quite a difference in price compared to branded butters but as my mum said, when she assisted in my taste test, "surely butter is butter", meaning aren't they all the same anyway?  This particular Side-by-Side Baking experiment is designed to, hopefully, help me decide if there is any appreciable difference in a baked product when using a more expensive butter.    


Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Butterfly Buns with White Chocolate Wings

The butterfly bun is a firm favourite at any children's party.  In this version of the classic, I have used giant white chocolate buttons which were liberally coated with sprinkles to replicate the colourful symmetrical wings.

Butterfly Buns

The classic butterfly bun has a special place in my heart.  I fondly recall making these little cupcakes when I was a wee girl with my lovely Mum.  Standing on a chair to help me reach the work bench I'd assist my Mum by positioning the wings into the buttercream before finishing them with a blob of strawberry jam to represent their eyes!

A few months ago I came across a baking blog which had shared a recipe for these beautiful buns.  They looked absolutely delicious, but it fascinated me that she hadn't given her butterflies any eyes ;-)   Having done a little search on the web, it appears that although some dress their decorated butterfly buns with a jam eye, like Mum & I do, the vast majority don't.  It appears that even Mary Berry is in the 'without eye' camp.   To be honest, I rather like my butterfly cakes to have an eye in the form of a small amount of jam positioned next to their wings.   This is the style Mum always showed me and I'm not going to change that.


Monday, 11 April 2016

Vegetarian Chicken & Leek Pie

Made with a meat substitute,  these creamy individual chicken and leek pies are housed in a hot water crust pastry shell making them a lot quicker and easier to prepare. 
Vegetarian Chicken and Leek Pie

Savoury pies are perfect comfort food, being ideal for those early spring days when the weather is still a little chilly.   Mr E and I really enjoy generous deep filled pies served with new potatoes and a mixture of vegetables.