Monday, 13 February 2012

6 Nations Bake Off - Wales vs Scotland - Welsh Cake vs Shortbread

So the time of 6 Nations is upon us again, countless hours of rugby watching and pub going on a weekend. Our household is very much split during this tournament - my husband is Welsh, my daughter is (technically) Scottish, and I am English. In honour of this annual celebration of national pride I am drawing inspiration from 2 traditional baked treats; the Welsh Cake and Scottish Shortbread.

Traditional Welsh Cakes


225g plain flour
85g caster sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp baking powder
50g cubed butter
50g cubed lard
50g currants or sultanas
1 egg, beaten


Tip the flour, sugar, mixed spice, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Then, with your fingers, rub in the butter and lard until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the currants. Work the egg into the mixture until you have soft dough, adding a splash of milk if it seems a little dry - it should be the same consistency as shortcrust pastry. 

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of your little finger. Cut out rounds using round cutter, re-rolling any trimmings (you can experiment with different shapes if you dont have a round one; to date I've made rounds, hearts, gingerbread men and stars!). Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan with lard, and place over a medium heat - this is important because if you have the pan too hot the outside with burn and the dough won't cook evenly. 

Cook the Welsh cakes in batches, for about 3 mins each side, until golden brown, crisp and cooked through. Delicious served warm with butter and jam, or simply sprinkled with caster sugar. 

Scottish Stem Ginger Shortbread


125g butter, room temperature
50g crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped
50g caster sugar
150g plain flour
35g ground rice
2 tsp ground ginger


Preheat the oven to 150˚C. Mix all the ingredients, apart from the stem ginger, together in a mixer until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and briefly knead in the stem ginger. Roll out to 1cm thickness; shape into an 18cm square. Put in the fridge for 1 hour to firm up. Cut into 12 fingers.

Bake the shortbread for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and loosen the biscuits from the baking tray. Leave to cool for about 5 minutes, before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Shaken and Stirred: Mojito Cupcakes

Although the Vodka Martini, "shaken not stirred" is the cocktail James Bond is best known for, it is not the only one by far. There are actually many mixed drinks which the famous spy has through his adventures in both the films and Ian Fleming's novels. The Mojito is one of the very few to be on the big screen but not in writing. This happens very late in the releases - 2002's Die Another Day - and is a possible reflection of the popularity of the cocktail at the time of production and was a fitting choice for the Cuban setting. As is his usual style, 007 uses this drink to introduce himself to the beauty of the story, in this case Jinx.

Now, this is my all time favorite cocktail, in my opinion, you cannot beat it; so what better than all the things there is to love about a Mojito in a cupcake! A little bit of online research will yield many many mojito cake recipes but this is my slightly altered version.


120ml buttermilk
1/2 tsp rum
210g self-raising flour
110g butter
150g icing sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
Green food colouring (if required)

100g caster sugar
4 tbsp Mojito mix (pre-mixed stuff from the supermarket - if you cant get any of this use 2:2 water:rum)
zest of 1 lime
handful of mint leaves

400g cream cheese
50g butter
icing sugar to taste (I use about 100g)
2 tsp rum or mojito mix
zest of 2-3 limes

This makes quite a lot of batter, and I made a combination of large cupcakes (in a muffin tin) and mini cupcakes and still had some leftover (that was after I had my silicone case-related disaster - useless inventions!) 


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. In a bowl, mix together the buttermilk, rum and vanilla extract. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the butter and sugar on high speed until creamy. Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture (while mixing at low speed), then 1/2 the buttermilk mixture. Add another 1/3 of the flour, then the remaining buttermilk, and finally the remaining flour. Scrape the edges of the bowl to ensure all of the flour has been incorporated. Add food colouring - I find the gels work best to create a mint green sponge - beat until well mixed. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, filling the cases halfway.

3. Bake for 20 mins in the preheated oven. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup.

4. In a small saucepan, bring liquid mix and sugar to the boil. Once the sugar dissolves, remove from heat and add the zest of lime and mint. Let steep for at least 5 minutes.

5. Once the cupcakes are cool you need to add the sugar syrup. This can be done using a small paring knife to a small plug in the tops of the cupcakes and set aside. Drizzle the syrup evenly over the cupcakes, place the plugs back on each cupcake. Alternatively I use a syringe to fill the cupcakes by first making a small hole with a cocktail stick - I find this is a lot less fiddly!  

To make the icing: 
With the stand (or an electric) mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter at high speed until creamy. Reduce speed and add the icing sugar gradually. Beat for 1 minute until well incorporated. Beat for another 2 minutes at high speed. Scrape the edges of the bowl, add the rum and lime zest. Beat one last time at medium speed.

Once cupcakes are fully cooled, ice with the cream cheese icing. Decorate with lime zest and mint leaves.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Bakin' The Aikens Way

Tom Aikens. This chef first came on my radar when I was introduced to IronChef UK and then again when I was pregnant.

My better half took me on a weekend away to London when I was 8 months pregnant, and after purchasing even more baby items in Covent Garden decided to go to Somerset House for lunch. If you have never been to Tom's Kitchen, go it is absolutely fabulous and has the most amazing little deli shop too, which has (in my opinion) the world's best chocolate brownies.  These were, my now famous, late pregnancy craving - to the point where when my husband went back to London in the weeks leading up to my due date he had to make a special stop at Tom's Deli to bring me back some brownies - London to Edinburgh is a long trip for a brownie!

The brasserie offers a rustic and informal style of dining and features the same familiar and comforting dishes as his original Chelsea kitchen. I have never had the opportunity to go to his flagship restaurant in Chelsea but I am sure if the standard we witnessed is anything to go by then it is definitely something to experience if you are in the area.

It might seem like I am waxing lyrical here but I cannot stress enough the impression this place left on me. Anyone who has been or is pregnant will tell you it brings its own special challenging, one of which being the astronomical list of food stuffs you can and can't eat! The staff here were truly fantastic and could not do enough to help, they made the whole situation effortless - even down to the bar manager taking the time to come and find out the sort of flavours I enjoyed so he could create me my own mocktail - I missed my cocktails whilst I was pregnant! Gorgeous food and impeccable service!

After this it seemed inevitable that purchasing the cookbook would follow. The recipes are graded in three categories, easy, medium and challenging. The latter category requires a lot of time & detail with the food and some forethought (basically, don't try and whip these up for a quick meal when you get in from work), but the medium and easy recipes are well set out and easy for the domestic cook. There are notes on what can wrong on some of the recipes and how to avoid mistakes which is a useful addition especially for someone like me who is more than a little accident prone. It provides a good range of different recipes, from bread and cakes to petite fours. This book has, what I consider to be, a foolproof scone recipe, and they taste amazing fresh out of the oven:


225g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
55g unsalted butter
30g caster sugar
150ml milk

This makes approximately 15 scones depending on how thick you make them and the size of the cutter you are using. They are also really quick to make - about 30mins prep, then 7 mins in the oven.

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7

2. Sift the flour with the other dry ingredients into a bowl then rub in the butter and stir in the sugar. Make a deep well in the middle, then pour in the milk. Mix together with a palette knife.

Gingerbread Man Scones
3. On a floured surface knead the dough very lightly until it is just smooth. Roll out to 2.5cm thick then cut into small rounds.

4. Brush the tops with a little beaten egg or dust with flour, and bake in the preheated oven, towards the top, for 7 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack (...if you can!!!)

This recipe is for the plain scones, but you could also use it as a base recipe for fruit or cheese scones. For a fruit scone add 30g of dried fruit to the recipe. For a cheese scone, add 30g of grated cheese, omitting 30g of the butter and all of the sugar.  

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mocha Kisses Cupcakes

I was looking for some new inspiration for my regular cupcake recipe, and I found it, although I cannot take all credit for these as it was my niece (another budding baking enthusiast) that gave me the idea. Combining a joint love for all things chocolate and an addiction to coffee, the Mocha Kisses Cupcakes were born.Why not give these a try for Valentines Day if you special someone has a passion for chocolate or coffee :-)


115g baking margarine, softened
115g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
100g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
8 Hersheys Kisses

To decorate:

100g unsalted butter, softened
15ml cold espresso or very strong coffee (made up)
190g icing sugar
Chocolate Decorations (I used white chocolate stars)


1. Preheat the oven to 190C(170 C fan oven)/375F/Gas 5. Line your desired tin (cupcake or muffin tins will work fine) with muffin cases.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat the margarine with the sugar until pale and creamy-light in texture. Gradually whisk in the eggs.
3. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder on top - at this point you can also add 1/2 tsp of powdered espresso for those who cannot get enough of there caffeine. Using a large metal spoon, carefully fold the dry ingredients into the mixture until well combined.
4. Spoon a heaped teaspoon of the mixture into the cake cases, and make a slight indent in the middle of the mixture. Place one of the Hershey's Kisses in the indent and then cover with the remaining cake mixture. This should create a nice chocolate center when cooked.
5. Bake on the middle shelf in the oven for 16-18 minutes until risen, and just firm to the touch.
6. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool before icing.

For the icing:

Place the butter in a bowl with the espresso or strong coffee and beat until soft. Gradually sift and beat in the icing sugar to make a smooth, creamy icing. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe a generous swirl on top of each cake. Alternatively if you do not have a piping bag, create a swirl on the top using a palette knife. Decorate with chocolate before serving.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Tale of the Croquembouche

These days my better half and I have a bit of a reputation with my parents - namely going a bit over the top when they come round for dinner. This is not intentional, but both of us love to cook, so it's a perfect excuse to break out the cookbooks and whip up a 3 course meal.

This tale starts with the realisation that cooking for 7 family members is NOT the same as cooking for 4, no it is an altogether different challenge. Add to the mix that it's also my Dad's birthday and my equally ambitious suggestion of making a white chocolate croquembouche instead of a traditional cake.

There are a couple of key things to note here:

1. I have never, in my life, made choux pastry
2. I have never made any type of profiterole
4. I have no concept of size
5. I have made caramel once, a very long time ago
6. I did not own a piping bag or a working thermometer at the time
7. Throughout all of this I still have to feed, entertain and change a 10 month old baby

So I started prepping about 9am, knowing that we didn't have to meet the rest of the family until 6.30pm that night. Things were going well, I'd knocked out the starters first - Goat's Cheese Truffles, Bacon & Cheddar Cheese Straws, and my own recipe Parma Ham, Parmesan & Pesto Roulades - then prepped everything for my better half to make a slow cooked Beef Bourguigon, courtesy of the Masterchef Kitchen Bible.

When my husband appears in the kitchen to start his part of the cooking, he quickly establishes that there is definitely not enough beef to feed 7 people. Convinced I had doubled the recipe for 4 correctly it didn't occur to me to actually look at what the quantity of meat actually was! So my less than impressed better half makes a quick stop to the local shop to try and source some more meat (I probably should mention this is on December 30th in a little village in the middle of rural South Wales...awkward!). In the meantime, I have made a start on my Choux pastry utilising my new Great British Bake Off book that was lovingly presented to me for Christmas. So far so good, the pastry seems to be going well and looks a relative success. No need to ring the alarm bells yet regarding the main course either, they had some beef, all be it the only meat they had left in the store, but we now had enough for 7 hungry family members.

So the main course is done and in the slow cooker bubbling away, whilst my better half disappears upstairs again, the time has come for me to shape my batter into profiteroles. Now this is where my lack of piping bag comes into play. When I read the recipe I thought, no problem haven't got a piping bag but I do have a squeezy bottle with similar piping attachment that will work fine - WRONG - my husband comes into the kitchen to find me furiously squeezing choux pastry out of a plastic decorating bottle in an attempt to form profiterole-like shapes on a baking tray:

Me: "The recipe says this will make 42 profiteroles, there's never enough pastry for that many!"
Husband: "How big are you supposed to make them"
Me: "1-2cm - that's what I've done"
Husband: "Go get a tape measure"
Me: *Rummages through kitchen drawer - measures batter* "Oh, oops!"
Husband: "It's centimetres not inches! Spoon that back into the bowl and I'll show you how big they should be"

You got the idea...anyway about 3 profiteroles in and he is discovering my frustrations with the squeezy bottle - it just isn't off my devoted other half goes again to see if the same shop he was in an hour ago has a piping bag (it's a tall order I know). Long story short, no piping bag, so we set about shaping them with a dessert spoon instead. We manage to get the first batch glazed and into the oven. Success! We end up with about 35 usable profiteroles and the creme patisserie goes without hitch.

Enter into the arena - Caramel

So the version of Jo's recipe in the GBBO book calls for the sugar to be dissolved in water, then brought to the boil rapidly to a light caramel - 160C on a sugar thermometer. Now I have a thermometer which goes to 100C, no problem I think when it hits the red we'll know we're well on the way - WRONG again! I made two batches, neither of which would take, our baby girl has had more than enough of spending the day in the kitchen with Mummy, and my slightly irate (totally justified) husband is shoeing me out of the kitchen, with our daughter in toe, to go get changed.

When I return to the kitchen, it seems he has been struck by the same problem, coupled with the discovery that the thermometer doesn't actually work. At a complete loss I turn to the trusted internet for divine intervention. We have enough ingredients left to go for one more attempt at caramel. Then I find it, Delia Online - How to make caramel, I can hear my mother's voice in my head "you can't go far wrong with Delia" - my Mum has always been a fan of Delia Smith, the family copy of the Complete Cookery Course is looking a bit worse for wear these days. So here we were pinning all of our hopes on Delia to save the croquembouche birthday cake...and it only bloody worked! I might add that by this time it was already 6.15pm and we had yet to assemble the damn thing!

As I am not blessed with a croquembouche cone to assemble this with, we opted for the cake board option. The squeezy bottle finally came into its own for filling the profiteroles with the creme patisserie. Working as quickly as we could we started frantically dipping the profiteroles into the caramel and sticking them to the cake board gradually forming some resemblance to a tower. Then came the attempt at spun caramel...when they warn you that this is messy, oh god it's an under statement, ask my husband he had the blistered fingers to prove it...yes I did feel extremely guilty, but we finally had an assembled croquembouche complete with candles to sit in the middle of the dinner table. It wasn't the most technically brilliant profiterole tower ever made, nor was it the most precisely made, but it tasted great!

I think I will just need a bit more practice, this definitely would never have been pulled off without the teamwork from my husband (only now is he realising the drawbacks to me baking lots of lovely different things!) This is also where the name 'Bakin' Me Crazy!' came from :-)

The only disappointment is that I don't have a better photo of the finished product - this is after it had been sat on the table for a few hours.

MORAL OF MY TALE - If a recipe calls for specific equipment make sure you use it, and it's best not to put yourself under specific time constraints if you are attempting something complex for the first time - if you can at all help it!!!

Stained Glass Window Cookies

Now biscuits have always been a bit of a nemesis of mine; namely the baking of said biscuit which is kind of very rarely goes to I have decided, in this case, practice will indeed make perfect. So the recipe itself was pretty straightforward, and doesn't require much more than you will probably have in your kitchen cupboards (with the exception of boiled sweets, these I didn't have).

The result of these biscuits was however a little disappointing - the biscuit itself is rather boring - but nevertheless it is an easy recipe to do with children and the 'stained glass' effect will probably fascinate them. However it has got me thinking on ways to improve the flavour of the recipe so watch this space...

Ingredients (makes approx 20 biscuits depending on your cutter size)

100g unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
100g caster sugar
1 free range egg (lightly beaten)
275g plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
Crushes Boiled Sweets (various colours)


1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Depending on how reliable your greaseproof paper is I find you may want to double line the tray to prevent the bottoms from burning.

2. Using a electric mixer with a paddle attachment (if not, the old school by hand method works perfectly well as well) cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until combined.

3. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, little at a time. Beat until mixture is well combined.

4. Gradually stir in the flour until the mixture comes together as a dough. I say add this gradually as you don't want to make the dough too dry, otherwise your biscuits will come out too dry and hard.

5. Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface to about 0.5cm thick, then cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Ideally you should use shapes which you have different sizes of, for example I used a 12cm/4½in star and a 4cm/1½in star cutter.

6. Transfer the biscuits to your pre-lined baking sheet. Using your smaller cutter stamp out the centre of each biscuit on the baking tray, making sure you leave a good edge around the outside.

7. Using a rolling pin crush the boiled sweets in their wrappers. If you find this too difficult/messy you can pop a few into a ziploc freezer bag and crush them inside that instead - this is useful if you are making several of the same colour. Completely fill the hole in each biscuit with the crushed sweets.

8. Bake the biscuits for 8-10 minutes or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside on the baking tray until they have cooled to allow the boiled sweets to harden. Once they have cooled gently lift the biscuits on to a wire rack with a palette knife.

At this stage you can also ice the biscuits to decorate is you so wish or leave them plain - either way they look good!

If you want to add icing decorations then I find the following works well:

400g icing sugar
3-4 tbsp water
2-3 drops of food colouring or gels (optional, white gives a nice professional looking finish)

Sift the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir in enough water to make a smooth paste. At this stage you can add your desired colouring. Then you are ready to pipe or drizzle on to the biscuits.

Monday, 9 January 2012

2012 - The Year of the Cake!

Double Chocolate Whoopie Pies
I've got a new baking blog, that will allow you to follow my baking journey. So if your a baking fan come and check out my blog of trial and error baking...

I've decided to record the recipes I use, partly to save them somewhere where I can always find them. I was given a recipe file one Christmas, the kind where you write your own recipes in each section, but I just can't take to it - it's currently sat on my kitchen shelf stuffed full of magazine cuttings, internet printouts, freebie supermarket recipe cards and various other snipets on paper! So I decided, as I have reignited my love for baking, that a blog might be the way to go. As my better half would tell you I have never been a fan of blogs or blogging, in fact I would go as far to say that I just didn't understand the point...and yet here I am embracing it for all it's worth.

I have always loved cooking, but this year I have reignited my love of baking, partly thanks to my maternity leave allowing my the time to bake and also the time to watch copious amounts of step programs such as The Great British Bake Off; Baking Made Easy, Nigella's Kitchen - you get the idea! I'm totally self taught, if I don't know what something is or how to do it I'll turn to the ever faithful internet to help me along my merry way (never underestimate the power of Google & Wikipedia). My friends and family will tell you I'm a bit of a social media addict at the best of times, so you can also find me on Facebook & Twitter if you so wish :)

Other than that; my name is Zoe, I'm married and I'm a first time mum to my daughter, Chanel.