Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Spiced Pumpkin Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Today I've got a recipe for you that was sort of born out of a desire to have just a little bit less wastage when it comes to food and I'm sure it's something that quite a few of you will have had hanging around in your kitchen in the last week or so.  Yes it's pumpkin!  I adore carving pumpkins but I don't really know what to do with all those innards that you end up scraping out.  Mr Normal Kitchen and I went totally over the top as usual and bought the biggest pumpkins we could lay our hands one - one each of course - so by the time we were done there was an ice cream tub full of flesh looking a bit lonely and in need of a home.

Originally I thought about making a pumpkin pie but I didn't have a huge amount of time so I would have needed to buy a pastry case to do this.  I didn't really fancy that idea much so I started searching for pumpkin cake recipes.  I adore carrot cake and figured this was in the same arena.  I found a few recipes but none of them grabbed me completely so I took my favourite bits from a few, cobbled them together and basically made it up as I went along.

I am so pleased with the result!  So now I'm sharing it with you so you can also find a good home for some of your scrapings.  And I say 'some of' on purpose because unless you make a few of these cakes you're probably going to still have some leftovers!

spiced pumpkin cake cream cheese frosting Ingredients:

Spiced pumpkin cake
4oz butter
8oz dark brown soft sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5oz plain flour
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8oz grated pumpkin
3 1/2oz chopped dates

Cream cheese frosting
3oz butter
8oz cream cheese
3oz icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat your oven to 200C or 180C fan

2. Put your dates in a bowl and cover them with water to soak.  I just left them as long as it took me to make the rest of the mixture so it's only a few minutes but worth doing.

3. Beat together the butter and sugar until totally combined and light and fluffy.  Then add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat again.  The mixture shouldn't curdle but if it does add a little of the flour to help.

4. Add the flour, spices, bicarb of soda and baking powder and fold in until completely combined.  I say this because it's the proper way to do it but honestly I carry on using my hand mixer and my cakes turn out perfectly well.

5. Drain the water off your dates and add them to the mixture along with the pumpkin.  Fold in.  (I didn't use my mixer here, ha!)

6. Line a brownie tin with baking paper and add your mixture to the tin, spreading it flat and evenly into the corners.

7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes.  The cake will be a gorgeous golden brown colour and slightly sticky to the touch, mmmm.  It also fills the house with an amazing aroma while baking so if you're selling your house here's an alternative to fresh bread!

8. Leave to cool in the tin then use the baking paper to lift it out.

9. For the cream cheese frosting beat the butter until fluffy and then add the cream cheese, vanilla and icing sugar.  Beat together until well combined.

10. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake before cutting into slices.

The cream cheese frosting is optional but I found it a great addition to the cake.  Alternatively you could serve the cake warm with thick custard for a delicious winter dessert.  It's a surprisingly light cake and very moist.  Not too rich and dare I say it a nice alternative to sticky toffee pudding occasionally.

In case you're interested here's a little pic of the pumpkin I carved this year too.  Happy Hallowe'en everyone.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Sewing Blog Land - Part 1

gutermann sewing thread

Now that my life involves spending several hours a week on train journeys I have endeavoured to find useful and interesting ways to pass the time.  The tablet I bought a year ago as a treat to myself has proved to be one of my best purchases ever and something I would sorely miss should it not be available.  BBC iPlayer has become a very good friend and given my new found love of sewing (and the fact that it's not exactly straightforward to sew on a train) I've also launched myself wholeheartedly into the world of reading sewing blogs.

There must be gazillions of new blogs springing up on a daily basis but way before sewing became so fashionable again (fashionable, get it? Ha, I amuse myself at least) there was already a strong community of people out there making gorgeous garments and blogging about it.  There are plenty of established and hugely informative blogs to read and believe me when I say I have been reading A LOT of them.

It doesn't seem to matter what you're struggling with or want to learn about SOMEONE SOMEWHERE will have written a blog post telling you how.  Oh, and probably linking to about 10 other lovely sewing blogs also explaining it, but in a slightly different way.  You know, in case that way is more your thing.  It seems to be such a lovely community and I am absolutely loving dipping my toe into it.

floral satin fabric

As a total beginner to sewing who hasn't been on a course at all, these blogs have provided an absolute ton of useful information.  I may have only made two finished garments so far but frankly I think that's bloody good because I can, and do, wear them both.  Without getting arrested for indecent exposure.  They have been through the washing machine and survived as garments as opposed to the mangled mess of fabric and thread I expected, they have allowed me to learn a heap of new skills which I can use again and again, and they have empowered me to think about my wardrobe in a whole new way.

As I've mentioned before I'll be changing things up a bit around here and you can expect to see a lot more sewing based posts from me.  Effectively if I make it, there's a chance I'll blog about it, be it cake, clothes, greetings cards, Christmas decorations, papercut art, whatever.

What about you?  What do you make outside of your normal blogosphere?

fat quarter collection

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Chocolate and Raspberry Tart - Michel Roux Desserts Challenge Recipe 4

chocolate raspberry tart

Following hot on the heels of recipe number three from the Michel Roux Desserts book comes recipe number four – a gorgeous looking chocolate and raspberry tart.  With my paté sablée already chilled in the fridge for a good hour I was finally ready to move on to the tart proper.

First of all I had to roll out my pastry to approximately 3mm thick and use it to line my tart tin.  Enter problem number one.  If you’ve read my last post about making the paté sablée you’ll know that I had to add extra flour to get it to a rollable consistency.  Once I started working with it however I wondered if I needed to add yet more – that pastry was just soooooo delicate.  I could roll it but as soon as I tried to move it, it just fell apart.  The chances of getting it into the tin without it not only ripping but darn near crumbling were exactly nil so I needed a new plan.

pate sablee ready to roll

Rather than adding more flour and going through the chilling process again I decided to get a little creative.  I wasn’t at all sure that adding extra flour would be the right thing to do anyway so instead I removed the base from my tart tin, laid it on the worktop and rolled the pastry directly on to it.  Once the pastry was just over the edges I lifted the whole thing and dropped in back into the outer of the tin.  Voila!

pate sablee pressed into tin

Well sort of anyway.  I still had to faff around with the sides of the tin, pushing the pastry up the sides and trying to make it vaguely even.  There will surely be no prizes for this technique but in my defence I did stop short of using a pepper pot as a mini rolling pin to work inside the tin.  I absolutely guarantee the lid would have fallen off and the whole thing would have ended up in the bin if I had.

Once the paté sablée had been pressed into submission I had to bake it blind, finally my baking beans got an outing.  I swear I bought these two years ago after having them on my wish list for about five years before that and they’ve never made it out of the tub before.  Ridiculous.  I need to make more tarts.

pastry case baking blind

The rest of the tart came together easily with the raspberries being pressed on to the base of the pastry case before covering in the chocolate mixture and then chilled for at least two hours.  I opted for 70% dark Lindt chocolate for this – a sort of compromise between the Valrhona that Michel Roux recommends (ouchy expensive) and the Sainsbury’s own dark chocolate I often use when I’m baking less intentionally impressive things if you see what I mean.  (In fairness it’s much nicer tasting than you might expect, but the cocoa content is low.)

completed chocolate raspberry tart

So was all that pastry faffing worth it?  Oh yes, it most definitely was; this tart is absolutely divine.  Not the most complicated thing to make pastry aside but my goodness the results make it seem as if you slaved for days.  This is probably partly down to using good ingredients and it wasn’t cheap to do – I think I spent about £10 altogether using the Lindt and proper butter.  There’s also one ingredient you might not have to hand quite so readily as you need liquid glucose.  I happened to already have some and it’s not that hard to find.

completed chocolate raspberry tart

I was actually hugely proud of the taste and texture of my pastry in the end.  Somehow I managed to end up with a very crisp and even pastry case that tasted really good.  Absolutely no hint of sogginess whatsoever and an impressive sound and crumbliness when I cut through it.  Maybe my odd technique isn’t quite to be sniffed at after all.

completed chocolate raspberry tart

completed chocolate raspberry tart

The tart is quite rich with that dark chocolate and the sharpness of the raspberries is a wonderful, juicy refresher cutting through the richness.  If you wanted to balance it even further you could serve with cream or ice cream but either way I found a small slice perfectly satisfying.  I would definitely make this tart again for an occasion.  It’s impressive to look at, impressive to taste and you can easily make it in advance of a dinner party.  Another hit for me from this very impressive book.

flapjacks coating oats flapjacks pressed in tin

Friday, 13 June 2014

Pate Sablee - Michel Roux Desserts Challenge Recipe 3

flour mountain pate sablee

I am often inspired to bake more when I have more people to feed and as my parents came to stay for a couple of days I thought it was about time I dusted off my Michel Roux Desserts book and cracked on with my personal challenge of making every recipe in the book.  I’d already earmarked a chocolate and raspberry tart as a ‘must try this soon’ item so obviously it was essential that I went through the whole book, assessing every recipe before finally deciding on the one I’d already stuck a bookmark in.  Yeah I like to waste time that way.

Obviously with this being Michel Roux the instructions do not include laying your hands on a shop bought pastry case.  No no, you must make your own.  This is a first for me but come to think of it I’ve never bought a shop one either, I’ve simply never made a tart like this!  Honestly the more I bake these days the more I wonder if I’ve ever actually made anything other than sponge cakes.

flour icing sugar butter pate sablee

Making paté sablée is one of those glorious recipes that makes a crazy mess of your kitchen.  Not only do you need to make your pastry on a nice clear work surface, said pastry recipe includes icing sugar, that well known coverer of all things within a half mile radius.  And egg yolk, minus the white.  Mmmm gooey separation with fingers, sticky.  I made a right royal mess doing this pastry and once everything was incorporated I was pretty sure my results were not as they should be.

sticky pate sablee

Instead of a pliable ball of dough at a rollable consistency I had a sticky mess which just would not let go of my fingers.  (No pictures of this I’m afraid, I was too busy being covered in goo.)  I’m positive these recipes are rigorously tested before printing so either I did something wrong or pastry making is just one of those dark arts where you need to use a bit of judgement.  It’s not the most complicated of recipes and I followed it closely so my money’s on the dark arts option.

I figured that even after a spell in the fridge this pastry wasn’t going to be suitable for rolling so I added a little more flour and worked it into the dough.  It got a bit better but I still needed to add a bit more again.  I was worried about overdoing it so I only added enough to get the dough to a just combined consistency, also bearing in mind that when it did come time to roll it out I’d be flouring my work surface too.

pastry dough pate sablee

Once the flour shenanigans were out of the way I wrapped my paté sablée in cling film and whacked it in the fridge to chill out.  Even though I wanted to use it for my tart straight away pastry isn’t fond of being too warm and the instructions definitely implied that overworking it would be bad bad bad.  A spell in the fridge was definitely in order to let it recover from my hot little hands.

And that’s it.  Paté sablée done and one chocolate and raspberry tart coming up in my next post.

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Lack of Baking and General Life Stuff

Well my poor blog and blog readers have been well and truly neglected lately.  It's been about 6 months since I last posted and if I'm being completely honest I haven't even thought about my blog much at all in the last three.  It's not because I'm not interested in it any more and have lost the desire to post, it's simply because life has a habit of really getting in the way.

Six months ago my hubby and I made a huge change in our lives when we moved to the north west - back to where I grew up and where I am much happier.  To do this however we have had to face a number of big challenges and establish a new way of living our lives.  Hubby has started a new job up north and I have stayed in my old one in London which means I still live half the week down South - away from my home and my husband - and I spend vast amounts of time and money on travelling between the two.

I'm not looking for your sympathies here (well maybe a little bit!), it was our choice to do this.  But anyone who's ever tried to relocate knows how hard it is for one person, let alone when both of you have careers to try and manage.  I really love my job and the company I work for suits me very well.  I don't want to leave but I do want to be up north so this is the compromise we have reached and we'll do this until it just doesn't work any more.

I won't bore you with all the details of some of the horrible things we've been through in the last few months, suffice to say it's been super challenging and there has been a lot of teeth gritting, tears and the odd total meltdown.  That's life kids, and I really did promise myself I wouldn't waffle on too much in this post.  In amongst it all there hasn't been a lot of baking going on and realistically I can't see that changing a huge amount in the near future.  I still want to carry on with my Michel Roux Desserts challenge, and actually I did make a fruit crumble out of the book a couple of months back, but there isn't (and won't be) a blog post to go with it.  I also made a Tunis cake at Christmas which went down a storm with my picky husband, but see above statement about blogging about it.

I haven't been completely uncreative however as I have been carrying on developing my sewing skills and as well as the lavender bags, make up bags and minor alterations I was doing I have now made two whole garments from scratch.  Yes TWO!  The first was an a line skirt (for those that don't sew this is pretty much the most basic clothing you can make) and the second was a pretty, loose fitting top which I am super proud of.  It's soooo much better than the skirt already and I am patting myself on the back at the progress I'm making in the sewing stakes.

Which brings me (finally) to the point of this post.  I'm going to shake my blog up a little.  I'll still be blogging about baking but I'm also going to write about other creative things I do.  I figure that someone who's interested in baking might also be interested in other creative pursuits so hopefully no one will mind too much.  If they do, well they can skip that post of course!  Let's face it there are no rules to this blogging lark, I can write a post about damn near anything I fancy.  You might not want to read it but that's OK, I won't force you.

So that's it for now.  I hope you're all well and stuff.  Let's not leave it so long next time.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Saturday Snacking at Swirly Whirlys

At the weekend the hubby and I managed to get a very rare entire day together and we spent it visiting various small Cheshire towns including taking in the Tarporley Country Market.  We met some lovely traders who all produce their goods locally and sampled amazing cheeses by Mrs Bourne's Cheshire Cheese as well as some unique golden brie from Tiresford Guernsey Gold.

After a good look round the beautiful town we moved on to Nantwich where our stomachs led us to seek out a cafe for a mid afternoon snack.  There are many tea rooms in Nantwich, both independents and well known chains but one in particular caught our eye.  Swirly Whirlys Coffee Shop and Creperie has an inviting exterior and with the magic word 'crepe' calling us over we didn't need asking twice.  Inside turned out to be even nicer with a lovely quirky feel, clean, bright decoration, gifts and homewares scattered around for sale and (most brilliantly of all) copies of the Beano comic placed under the glass table tops.

Eating here turned out to be a brilliant decision as not only is this cafe run for an exceptionally good cause with proceeds going to St Luke's Hospice, there's no compromise on the quality of the food and drink on offer either.  As we arrived a little late in the day they were all out of scones so I couldn't have the chosen cream tea but the carrot cake I opted for instead was absolutely delicious.  It was moist and crumbly with just the right amount of icing and the wedge was a good size, not stingy and not overwhelming.

Hubby is a huge fan of crepes and chose one with banana, toffee sauce and clotted cream on the side.  He was very impressed with the size of it.  So often cafes seem to get your hopes up with their descriptions of large crepes loaded with toppings then let you down with something weedy and stingy but this definitely wasn't the case here.  The large crepe was folded with banana inside and extra on the side, a good dollop of delicious clotted cream and plenty of sauce on top.  Happy hubby.

We shared a large pot of tea served in a proper teapot and with proper cups and saucers.  Service was with a smile and everyone was warm and friendly so you really do get the impression that they're making a lot of effort here.  The people who work here care about what they're doing and the atmosphere is great.  Given the charitable nature of this coffee shop I think customers come in ready to be pleased too and for me it all works really well.

Upstairs there are many more gifts and trinkets for sale, both new and nearly new, but we didn't manage to venture up there this time.  I can see me visiting Swirly Whirlys many times in the future so next time I will make a point of going upstairs and I'll also try to take some photos to show you just how gorgeous it all is.  In the meantime if you're ever in the area I highly recommend you check it out for yourself.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Vanilla Ice Cream - Michel Roux Desserts Challenge Recipes 1 and 2

For my very first recipe in my personal challenge to bake my way through the Michel Roux Desserts cookbook I randomly selected vanilla ice cream.  I've never made ice cream before and there was no particular reason for starting here other than I had some egg yolks that had been separated from their whites and some double cream in the fridge, both of which needed a good home.  Happily making the ice cream meant ticking two recipes off in one as you start by making crème anglaise, another first for me.  Ready?  Off we go.

milk sugar vanilla pod
I began by placing my milk, sugar and vanilla pod in a pan on a medium heat to slowly bring it to the boil.  For the umpteenth time I dreamed of a nice, flexible gas hob instead of the cruddy electric one I'm stuck with in this flat.  I already boiled a pan of milk over last week and didn't fancy a repeat.  With one mistrustful eye on my pan of milk mixture I began to work on my eggs.

I put the yolks in a large glass bowl with the rest of the sugar and began to whisk by hand.  This in itself is a novelty as I almost exclusively use a handheld mixer but I wanted it to be authentic and all the proper chefs use a metal whisk*

*in my head they do, whether this is true or not I don't know

eggs sugar whisking
The recipe says to whisk until the mixture goes pale and has a ribbon like consistency.  I was really pleased when it got noticeably paler and kept going, swapping hands occasionally to give my underused arm muscles a rest.  See baking properly makes you fit as well!  I kept lifting the whisk out to see if the eggs were looking ribbon like yet and couldn't make my mind up but as my milk wasn't boiling yet I kept going a bit longer.

egg ribbons

Eventually I felt happy that I had ribbons and also that the eggs had gone a little paler again and turned my attention back to the milk.  It wasn't boiling yet so I daringly turned the heat up a notch and stirred it constantly to distribute the heat evenly and make sure it wouldn't suddenly boil.  It started to bubble very gently at the edges and the vanilla seeds had broken free of the pod giving that lovely speckly appearance that only real vanilla produces.  Heaven already.

milk sugar vanilla
When it was on the cusp of proper boiling I whipped the pan off the hob and poured the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly.  I made sure it was all well combined with the whisk and then returned it to the pan.  In the meantime I'd turned the heat on the hob down to low and now I continued to cook my crème anglaise, stirring it all the time with a wooden spoon and making sure that it didn't boil.

The recipe said to do this until the crème anglaise thickened a little but didn't give an indication of how long this would take.  I felt that my crème anglaise had thickened a bit pretty much immediately but I was sure it was supposed to be cooked longer than this and become a bit thicker still so I kept going.  After about 6 or 7 minutes I thought it was done so I removed it from the heat and poured it into a glass bowl to cool.  I placed this bowl in another bowl with ice in it to speed up the cooling process and stirred it periodically as instructed to stop a skin from forming.  By this point my kitchen smelt like a little corner of heaven.  Is there anything more divine than the aroma of vanilla?  It's a good job I didn't have a crumble or pie anywhere near or we might have got no further and crème anglaise would have simply disappeared as it was.

cooling creme anglaise

Once the crème anglaise was cool I removed the vanilla pod, added the double cream and stirred it well through.  The recipe calls for an ice cream maker but I don't own one so I had to resort to the freezing and whisking method.  I put the mixture in a plastic tub and froze it for half an hour before whisking it with a fork.  I repeated this after another hour and then again after a further hour before leaving it for a final proper freeze overnight.

vanilla ice cream

Each time I whisked the ice cream I took great pleasure in licking the fork afterwards (don't worry I used a clean one each time) getting the tiniest taster of the amazing flavour I had managed to create.  I really was so impressed at the succulent richness of the ice cream and it was obvious that the high quality vanilla pod I used was shining through in all its glory.  Even before it was frozen I was planning dinner parties in my head where I could show off my amazing home made ice cream and receive the wondrous adulation of my most food critical friends.  Yes, yes I know.  Get over yourself Amy, you're only following someone else's recipe, the credit really belongs to Michel Roux.

frozen vanilla ice cream

So what of the finished product?  Well it is BEAUTIFUL.  This ice cream is rich and decadent - the sort where you only want one or two scoops and you savour it slowly, enjoying the smooth, creamy texture and the deep, rich flavour.  To throw large quantities down your throat in a rush would be insulting to the quality and depth of it, it deserves to be appreciated fully.  It's important to use a really good vanilla pod for this and not just an extract or essence.  The flavour would be lacking and a bit of a waste of your efforts considering it does take quite some time to make.  It's been said time and time again in baking that it's important to use high quality ingredients and this is even more true when there are so few of them.

homemade vanilla ice cream
I think it would be fair to say that the texture is likely to be better using an ice cream maker instead of freezing and whisking repeatedly.  Now that I have had such encouraging results from my first attempt my head is full of ice cream ideas and I would definitely consider buying a proper maker when I have more storage space.  It simply isn't possible right now.  I won't let this stop me in the meantime though, the alternative method is certainly good enough to get delectable results and I'm absolutely delighted with my first two recipes of the challenge.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Personal Challenge - Baking My Way Through An Entire Book

choux pastry caramel
When the amount of time available for baking is limited by a full time job, a long commute and the everyday tasks of running a house (and a husband!) it can sometimes feel that I end up making the same things over and over.  Delicious they may be but it's hardly developing me into a better baker or expanding my repertoire.  In the past when I've had more free time I have definitely been more experimental and I've been thinking of ways I can push this a bit more again.