Monday, 22 November 2010

TSR Bakers November Bake - Homemade Oreos

I've quite a bit of catching up to do. I can't believe how quickly the year has passed and now it's not far off Christmas once again. I really need to get cake, pudding and mincemeat making over the weekend. One of the best parts of the whole event is definitely the baking. In my opinion the most enjoyable parts of christmas are ordered thusly, starting with most enjoyable: Taking delivery of the real tree and decorating it and the house; the baking; cooking the meal; leftovers and finally presents.
Anyway, in the spirit of catching up, here is the much delayed November bake from the TSR bakers that I should have posted ages ago, so apologies for that. This month's bake was Homemade Oreos, selected by Internet Gems. I must say I've neve been a big fan of actual Oreos, they're alright, but I'd always choose a chocolate digestive or a bourbon over one. Homemade oreos on the other hand are completely delicious and so easy to make too. The biscuit part is crumbly, melting and the bitterness of the cocoa is perfectly complimented by the sweet vanilla buttercream filling. I'll never buy a pack a of oreos ever, not when I can have these instead. So yes, go try them.

Homemade Oreos
Makes around 25 sandwiched cookies

For the biscuit dough:
160g plain flour
8tbsp cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
250g sugar
140g room-temperature butter
1 large egg
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then, using an electric mixer, add the butter and the egg. Mix until the ingredients come together to form a dough.

Take a pinch of the dough (about a small teaspoon sized amount) and roll into a ball. Place on a lined baking tray and slightly flatten the ball. Space the balls at least two inches to allow for spreading and bake for nine minutes at 190 degrees.
Remove from oven and leave to cool on tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire tray to cool completely.
For the filling:
115g soft butter
260g icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
a little milk if required, to thin the icing.
Cream the butter then add the icing sugar, vanilla and milk if using. Spread on the flat side of one cookie (I used a piping bag) then top with another cookie, flat side down.
They keep very well too, the cookie softening only slightly, which is no bad thing with this type of cookie.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

TSR Bakers October Bake - Monkey Bread

Yes, yes, I know it's long past the beginning of October and I did bake this well over a week ago, but I just haven't gotten round to writing it up. Going to work whilst still suffering the dregs of flu is no fun and it's been as much as I can bear to do to just flop through the door and curl up into a foetesian ball on the sofa and lament the fact that I didn't win the Euromillions last week.

So October's TSR bake is the inscrutably named Monkey Bread, a neither fish nor fowl affair, as I wouldn't really count it as bread and it lacks anything vaguely monkey related such as bananas, and was sort of chosen by Procrastibaking and the recipe is here.

Whilst a little involved, though by no means difficult, it is certainly worth it. Sweet, buttery, warm and doughy, it reminds me a little of me.

On my travels around the infonets, I've discovered that Lakeland stock a tin designed just for monkey bread, recipe included! Perhaps if I'd won the Euromillions I could afford such frivolities...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chocolate Banana Muffins for an autumn day

Finally on the tail end of the flu. Now I just have a horrendous cough that forces me to get up at night, the result being I've had a grand total of about 12 hours sleep in the past 3 days. Fell asleep on the sofa at 8am this morning after getting up at 6am after 2 hours sleep. Ergh.

I can tell I'm on the mend though, because when I did get up I felt like eating something other than the obligatory tea and toast that I've been surviving on for over a week, and better yet I felt able to bake something easy. Mr. Tart's very generous mum bought us some presents earlier in the week to cheer us up and I got 3 baking books, one of which is Nigella Lawson's new book, Kitchen, which is full of lots of lovely recipes I can't wait to try and this recipe for Chocolate Banana muffins is taken from it. Warm, soft, sweet and chocolatey with an air of being nourishing, combined with a milky cup of coffee, these certainly hit the spot for my flu addled senses. They're also super quick and easy to whip up. I think it took me longer to separate the paper cases than it did to weigh out and mix the ingredients.

Chocolate Banana Muffins
Makes 12
3 over-ripe bananas
2 eggs
125ml vegetable oil
100g soft light brown sugar
225g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tablespoons of best quality cocoa powder (under no circumstances using drinking chocolate,- doing so will summon the devil)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C and line two 6-hole muffin trays with paper cases.
Mash the bananas with a fork into a rough, slightly chunky paste, and whilst continually stirring add the eggs, sugar and oil and combine. Then add the flour, bicarb and cocoa powder and stir until just mixed. Don't over work otherwise you'll end up with tough, chewy muffins. Spoon into the paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes. Eat straight from the oven warm. They'll also keep for a couple of days in an airtight container, and can be easily revived by popping them in a warm oven for a few minutes.
As it was a beautiful sunny autumn morning today, I went and sat outside in the garden to enjoy these muffins. This time of year is the absolute best for me. It's still just warm enough to sit outside with a cardigan on, but it's suitably cool to feel cosy. I'm lucky enough to have a cobnut (relative of the hazelnut) tree at the end of my garden which is dropping its fruits everywhere. Every few seconds there was a clack or tock as the nuts dropping on the table or the paving. I've started to gather up the nuts but there just seems to be thousands of them! Plus moving a bit too fast at the moment makes me dizzy, so this may be a job for when I'm fully recovered.

At any rate, the garden was beautiful in the soft autumn sunshine so I tried to capture some of it. I'm sure the garden also smells lovely, but I have no sense of smell at the moment. Enjoy!

One of the carrots still growing, the aptly named Autumn King variety. This one has tomorrow's sunday lunch written all over it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Fig Bars and flu

I haven't done any baking for a while, firstly I was busy stripping the foul pink floral wallpaper off of our bedroom walls so I could decorate it and then this week The Tarts household was struck with plague. Well, flu. So cooking has been limited to toast and canned tomato soup, which is the only food I've been able to taste, and indeed been able to cook thanks to the time limit on my standing upright ability.

I made these fig bars before all of the above nonsense struck after managing to get a glut of beautiful black figs. I ate alot of them just as they were- fresh, sweet and jammy, wrapped in parma ham or with a little piece of sharp feta or creamy, tangy gorgonzola. As I had so many a few became a little too soft for my liking so went about looking for a recipe to use them up, with my love of fig rolls in mind. Fig rolls with their sweet, jammy filling wrapped in a crumbly golden stodge that is neither pastry nor biscuit are really rather heavenly, and I don't know if it's jst me but there's something very war time retro about them.

Anyway, I found this recipe for Fig Bars which seemed to be a happy mix of traybake and fig rolls. The flour based mix forms both the base and the crumble topping (so one less bowl, which is always good) and the figs are jammy, sweet, slightly spicy and wonderfully warming. Truly lovely.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Sunday Baking- Stem Ginger Cookies

I don't often bake cookies and I've no idea why, but I'm on course to change this, starting with these stem ginger cookies. I hated stem ginger as a kid and I blame my mum's favourite- ginger jam, which assaulted my senses when I tried it as a child. Things have changed and now I don't quite feel complete unless I have a jar of syrup drenched amber globes of ginger stashed somewhere in my kitchen, and liking stem ginger feels to me like a very grown up thing to do. I like ginger snaps but sometimes find their tooth snapping qualities a little undesirable, so these soft, chewy and slightly crisp on the edges, cookies are a perfect balance. Highly recommended.

Amber gold
Stem Ginger Cookies
Makes 30 small or 20 medium cookies

350g self raising flour
pinch of salt
200g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp ground ginger
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
115g unsalted butter
90g/generous 1/4 cup of golden syrup
1 large egg, beaten
150g stem ginger in syrup, roughly chopped

-Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C and line 3 baking sheets baking paper.
-Roughly dice the butter and place in a small saucepan with the golden syrup (add a bit of the preserving syrup from the ginger if you want) and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until just warm.
-Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt, caster sugar, ground ginger and bicarb. Stir to combine.
-Pour the melted butter and syrup mix over the dry ingredients, then add the egg and two thirds of the stem ginger. Mix with a spoon to combine and then use your hands to bring the dough together completely (it will look like there's not enough liquid, but be patient and when yo mix with yor hands it will come together, honest).
-Roll 20-30 balls (for rough measurement I'd say a well loaded teaspoon will produce a small cookie and a scant dessert spoon will yield a medium one. For super mega big cookies, a good tablespoon) of the dough and place on the baking sheets, with plently of room for them to expand, I'd say no more than 2 rows per sheet. Flatten slightly with your hands and then sprinkle each cookie with a little of the remaining stem ginger.
-Bake for 12-15 minutes, dependent on your chosen size of cookie, until light golden in colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the sheets until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.

-Store in an airtight container, but only after scarfing down enough warm, spicy cookies to make you feel sick.

And for the love of all that is holy, if you finish up a jar of preserved stem ginger, DO NOT throw away the syrup. It is divine drizzled over ice cream or pancakes or use it to sweeten herbal tea, or hot water with some lemon juice and some of the syrup is wonderfully warming. Can also be used in place of normal sugar syrup in cocktails. Anything! Just don't waste the nectar of the gods!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

TSR Bakers September Bake - Scones

Scones are one of those sweet treats that have something of the nursery about them. For me they're not really associated with high tea and oddly cut sandwiches but sunny days in the garden, eaten with soft salty butter and runny strawberry jam. Despite this, I don't tend to make sweet scones, prefering savoury cheese ones, mainly because Mr Tarts doesnt particularly like sweet treats, but cheese scones always go down well.

So this month's bake was a good choice, courtesy of Cakecuccino. The recipe makes 8 so I divided the mix and made 4 sweet scones and 4 cheese. Recipe can be found here for 8 sweet scones.

I often find scones can be quite dense, but these were soft, crumbly and delicious. I suspect the addition of double cream instead of milk is responsible. Will definitely be making these again!

Monday, 23 August 2010


It's feeling distincly autumnal here at the moment and there's no complaints from me. I wasn't awake to experience it but apparently last night we had a storm of biblical proportions that caused some flooding in places. Hooray for living at the top of a hill! For me, one of the best things about autumn, aside from cooler weather, is blackberries which I love, and as my sister and me discovered last week, less than a 1 minute walk from my house is a huge patch of brambles! We picked 3 plastic tubs worth of beautiful berries, some big and small, some sweet, some sour, but all delicious and completely free!

For a Sunday teatime treat I made blackberry and coconut squares which were super easy to make and absolutely delicious. The base becomes a soft, moist cake, topped with juicy blackberries and a lovely crunchy top plus you only need one bowl to make it, which for me is a great pleasure as I don't own a dishwasher. They seem to keep pretty well too.

Blackberry and Coconut Squares

250g self-raising flour
25g oats
280g soft brown sugar
200g cold butter , cut into pieces
75g desiccated coconut
2 medium eggs, beaten
350g frozen or fresh blackberries
-Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Tip the flour, oats and sugar into a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingertips until only small pea-size pieces remain. Stir through the coconut, then fill a teacup with the mixture and set this aside.
-Stir the eggs into the bowl of mixture, then spread over the bottom of a lined baking tin (31 x 17cm), or a 21cm square tin. Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon, then scatter over the blackberries. Scatter over the reserved teacup mixture and bake for 1 hr-1 hr 15 mins until golden and cooked through (if you poke a skewer in, it should come out with moist crumbs but no wet mixture). Leave to cool, then remove from the tin and cut into squares.

You could probably throw in some diced apple for a twist and raspberries would make a more summey version. And for all of those among you who have an irrational hatred of coconut...
Shame on you.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

TSR Bakers August Bake - Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars

This is a little bit late, but you'll have to forgive me as I was working all weekend (boo to working weekends!) and it takes me a good two days to recover from it. Yes, I hate my job that much. Anyway, this month's bake was Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars as chosen by The White Cat Baker. I love pretzels, both the crunchy kind and the soft doughy kind, but had never thought of baking with the former, but these are a lovely treat indeed. Whilst still warm from the oven, they are almost cake like, soft and slightly crunchy and chewy roun the edges. Once cold and after spending a day stored in a cake tin, they are denser, chewier and more like a square inch thick cookie, with the chopped up pretzels within having more the texture of shortbread biscuit. Truly lovely.
Recipe can be found here.

I couldn't find good quality chocolate chips or mini pretzels (that didn't have sour cream and chive flavouring on them) so I substituted them with these lovely chocolate buttons I found in a deli and giant pretzels and they worked just fine too. Still, would be nice to get my hands on some good quality chocolate chips, so if anyone has any recommendations, I'd love to hear them. And I've no idea what all this bittersweet/semisweet stuff is all about, so I used the dark chocolate buttons for the majority and a handful or so of the milk and that seemed to give the right balance.

Right, back to applying for jobs. Meh.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Baking instead of applying for jobs

I hate going through the rigmarole of applying for graduate jobs. Bloody baby boomers had it easy and now they're intent on making their children's generation as difficult and miserable as possible. So what better way to make yourself feel that you're doing something productive whilst simultaneously putting off what you should actually be doing than a spot of baking?
Case in point- Snowy Mountain Cupcakes, which are chocolate sour cream cake topped with pillowy, silky marshmallowy icing.

These are from Cupcakes! By Elinor Klivans which is a book I've had for ages but I've yet to bake from, until today. It's an american book so everything is measured in cups and sticks which is probably why the cake didn't turn out quite how I expected (I don't trust cups and sticks of things, I need grams!!), the cakes sunk quite dramatically once out of the oven. Fortunately I had a lot of batter left over, so I put some more in the oven this time filling the paper cases to the very top and baking them for more than the 20 minutes recommended. It didn't matter too much, as icing hides all sins and they do look quite heavenly.

I'll share the recipe later as it's quite lengthy (and lengthy, complex recipes are the best when you're putting off something you dread doing). In the meantime, make like myself and drift away from the worries of the world by gazing at the silken points of the icing on these cakes.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Sunday Brunch in the garden with Jack

Ahh Sunday morning, get up, do nothing for 3 hours then decide you're hungry and in the mood for pancakes. Leisurely whip up pancakes-drench in maple syrup, caramelise some apple slices to go with the pancakes, boil up a pot of a coffee and then transport yourself into the sunshine in the garden to be joined by Jack.


Jack is a cat we've been semi-looking after for a while now. We noticed him hanging around more in the autumn last year. He looked in a bit of a sorry state as his long fur was quite matted and he was rather thin, but he seemed bright and friendly enough. We tried to give him some of the food that our own cat eats but no matter what it was he didn't seem interested. We kept an eye on him, we weren't, and still aren't sure if he belongs to anyone. We called the RSPCA to ask for advice who told us there wasn't any room for him at the local shelter where we adopted our cat (Poppy) so they couldn't help us, but if he appeared and we could keep him in we could call out a collection officer and if one was available they could come out. Unfortunately by this time Jack was only appearing in the small hours of the morning, so frustrated by the RSPCA we've tried to look after him. We took him to a vet that didn't need an appointment and got most of his matted fur shaved off and got him checked over. The vet wasn't able to give any medication/vaccination as we had stated that he wasn't our cat, merely a stray we were concerned about. Anyway, that's roughly Jack's story. Some days he'll turn up serveral times and some days we won't see him at all. I worry that he's either a stray that's just about coping with being semi-feral, or if he's some old person's cat who can't look after him properly, or worse he's just neglected. He's decided he likes Go-Cat so that's what he's fed on mainly, and he now lets himself in at 4/5am through the catflap to help himself. We can't get him to stay of his own accord so I think we're going to have to keep him in a room until he realises that he can live here. Our own cat Poppy is an anti-social little bugger and hisses at him if he gets too close, but she's learning to accept him and we love him to bits. I just pray I'm not robbing someone of their pet, but if I am they should take better care of him.

Jack's sad story aside, if you would like to make your own American style pancakes and eat them lazily with a fork in a sunny garden or in front of a window, then here's the recipe:

225g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
30g butter, melted and cooled (I leave this out when I can't be bothered with it)
250-300ml milk
butter, for frying
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl, mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and then combine the two with a whisk.

Drop ladlefuls into a hot, buttery frying pan, turn and when golden brown and serve with whatever you want.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A short post about the veg plot

Down at the bottom of the garden, among the birds and the bees...

...there's a lot of dried out peas, because the silly temperatures whilst we were away killed them! Nevermind, I shall save them for seeds for next year.
The garden did go a bit bananas whilst we were on holiday and I'm sure it was twice the size when we came back. I love growing my own veg, not because I revel in escaping into my 'Good Life' life, although that is part of it, more I find growing veg wonderfully aesthetically pleasing. A lawn is so boring by comparison. We pulled up a few of the carrots, a turnip and picked a courgette which I gently cooked in some butter for a couple of minutes. Beautifully sweet and tender, it tasted like summer on a plate.
Anyway, the garden was so beautiful in the afternoon sunshine I had to take some photos and share them. I'm mulling over the idea of doing some baking today. I really shouldn't because I'm trying to lose weight, but I've got some gooseberries in the fridge that really are crying out to be baked.

Scarlet flowers on the runner beans

The veg plot in all its glory.

Courgette flowers curled up in the shade of their own leaves.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Back to the grind

Well, we're back after 6.5 glorious days holidaying on the Isle of Man; spent too much, ate too much, drank too much and just generally had a wonderful time relaxing and enjoying the Island. Enjoyed some very expensive and very lovely wine with Mr. Tarts' mother and ate some very wonderful meals. I don't photograph meals in restaurants as I think that's a bit bum to say the least, so you'll just have to take my word for it. This year's Manx restaurant winner for me was easily The Highlander Steakhouse in Greeba, probably the best steak I've ever had in a restaurant, with smokey BBQ ribs for a starter that could be eaten with a knife and fork as the meat just fell off the bones, and all rounded off with a wonderful sticky toffee pudding.
After a bit of hunting, we managed to track down the very popular manx Loaghtan (pronounced loch-tonne) lamb at Radcliffe Butchers in Castletown, and bought half a fillet so that we could sample it. I slow roasted it for about 3/4 hours, necessary as loaghtan is very lean, with some rosemary. We ate it with some crusty bread and it was incredibly tasty. It's very strong tasting, verging on gamey and was a delight. As soon as my bank balance recovers I intend to order a whole leg to roast and have a proper feast on this breed of lamb that nearly became extinct. Radcliffe butchers also stock an amazing range of their own handmade sausages in interesting flavours of which we tried three: cheese and oregano, honey and wholegrain mustard and apple and smoked bacon, all very delicious. Word to the wise, the sausages were HUGE, and you only need one. We were greedy and ate two each and felt like pigs after. I really wish I'd taken a pic of the butcher's window.
A field of Loaghtans at Cregneash
A Loaghtan giving me the ol' evil eye
A pair of very cute Loaghtan lambs in Cregneash.
As usual, we've come back with a hoard of things, which this year includes a selection of paintings/framed maps/engravings, 2 fridge magnets, 1 ashtray, a large bundt tin, a pretty pie dish, 2 mugs, a bag of manx soda bread flour, manx rapeseed oil, a vintage jelly mould, a jar of quince and rosemary jelly and yes, a cuddly toy. A Brucey Bonus is yours if you can guess which animal said cuddly toy is of. Please send your entries to the comments section.

Other than that, there was a lot of taking in lovely sights, driving around the island and enjoying the divine Davisons ice cream in Peel harbour (below).

Other assorted holiday pics:

Greedy donkeys at the island's Home of Rest for Old Horses

The view out of the cafe at Niarbyl

Dramatic scenery down at the Sound.

And finally a pic of Cregneash, a beautful little hamlet that's lost in time, really.

Of course the worst part of a lovely holiday is returning from it. Patience is key, as eventually Mr Tarts and myself will be buying a one way ticket.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Away for a week

Off on holiday for a few days, back to Mr. Tart's homeland, where the cat's have no need for tails and the drivers have no need of a speed limit.

Well, there's ongoing debate about the latter. But the former is a sure thing.
Exhibit A-
The Isle of Man is becoming a bit of a food lover's paradise. For one thing, for all food produced on the island, it is illegal to add anything artificial to it. The island is also famous for Queenies- small scallops local to the sea around the island, prized for their sweet flavour and Loaghtan (meaning Brown Mr. Tart's has just informed me) lamb, which is naturally very lean and delicious, even if the breed does look like the devil incarnate.

They scare the bejeezus out of me...

Anyway, back in a few days, and I shall share all adventures had on the island and the tale of the double cherry semifreddo that's currently setting in my freezer.

Elderflower Bundt and Cupcakes

Elderflower cordial seems to be a rather fashionable drink nowadays and you can even buy elderflower liquer, which I've yet to find in a supermarket. Indeed when I made the trip to Sainsbury's to buy elderflower cordial, they didn't even have the normal bottles of Bottlegreen elderflower cordial, forcing me to buy a smaller, pricier bottle instead. No matter, lifes to short to worry about every pound, and thrown in as a bonus I discovered a bottle of elderflower and strawberry cordial, which is quite possibly the nectar of the gods. But why settle for just drinking this wonderfully delicate and floral syrup, when you can combine it with cake?! No one need settle, for I have the answer in the form of elderflower and strawberry and elderflower cupcakes. I'm sure you could make these with any good quality cordial and I've got a morello cherry cordial I'm keen to try at some point.
I recently purchased and silicone mini bundt pan, which is why bundt cakes are thrown in here. I just wanted to try it out and the result was so pretty, I'm glad I did. Anyway, here's the recipe so you too can have lovely, delicate and summery cakes to scarf down.

Elderflower (and Strawberry and Elderflower) Cupcakes/bundts
Makes 24 small fairy cakes or 12 large cupcakes
140g butter at room temperature
140g caster sugar
3 eggs
4 tbsp elderflower cordial (or other flavours should you wish)
600g icing sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Preheat the over to 190 degrees and line the cake tin(s) with paper cases (or butter the bundt tin)
Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Beat in the flour and add half of your chosen cordial and mix well until smooth. Pour into the cake cases and bake for 12-15 min for fairy cakes 15-20 for larger cakes, until slightly golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the remainder of the cordial and lemon juice. If you wish you could add some appropraite soft fruit into the icing -chop it fairly finely and then use a spoon/fork to press the fruit against the side of the bowl to break it up. Drizzle over the cooled cakes and decorate as you please.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

TSR Bakers' 1st Monthly Bake- Black Magic Cake

Chocolate cake and I have always had an unhappy relationship. I'd like to think I'm a fairly accomplished baker, but a good chocolate cake has always alluded me. Photos in cookbooks always show a dense, fudgey cake, glistening and beautiful, but when I make it, it looks like a brick and makes you cough dust.
Therefore, considering my record, Black Magic cake may indeed be magical. Dense, moist and wonderful, I highly recommend it. Even before icing it looked amazing.

Frost it with whatever you wish, but to me, a glossy cake like this deserves ganache. To make ganache heat 200ml of cream and 220g of chocolate, I used half milk and half dark to make a semi-sweet ganache.

Decorated with some sugarpaste stars and you have a magic cake.

Recipe can be found here:

Go see the other TSR Bakers' blogs here: Dulwich Munchies, Cakecuccino, The White Cat Baker and Internet Gems.

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