Cardamom Loaf

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In previous weeks I had been feeling a little low, a little overwhelmed with the relentlessness of time as it barreled past me without a care for the terror that the imminent prospect of graduating struck into me. But luckily for you, Dear Reader (have been force-fed far too much Romantic/Victorian prose lately), I recently had a small epiphany in which I basically decided to enjoy life again. I wasn’t depressed before, don’t get me wrong – I just wasn’t quite getting the balance of anxiety and no anxiety right. And when I’m happy, I tend to bake, and generally bake better than I do when I’m stressed – I’m sure that’s the same for everyone. This lovely loaf cake here, displayed in rather artsy photographs (sometimes you just have to run with it) is consequently the first bake in a while I’ve been properly pleased with. It was fun and simple to make, something a little bit different and turned out pretty much the way I wanted it 🙂

Cardamon is a somewhat lesser known spice I think (unless you’re an actual chef or baker, obviously) and is, to my knowledge, usually used in savoury, especially Indian, cooking. I found this unusually flavoured cake in my wondrous Hummingbird Bakery book, ‘Cake Days’ – I never get tired of flipping through its pages and have tried about 5% of the recipes in there so far, so there’s always the promise of a new recipe that catches my eye. You use the round black seeds from the cardamom pods here, scraped out the pod and ground in a pestle and mortar (or approximation of that if you don’t have one like me) to a powder. Crunchy chunks of cardamom would not be a good thing; it has a pretty fierce kick whole, a bit like a whole black peppercorn does, but when ground and mixed into a smooth cake batter, the whole cake is infused with an amazing hum of spice and the smell is unbelievable! Have I sold it to you yet?   Thought so, here’s the recipe so you can recreate it yourself now!

Ingredients

  • 190g unsalted butter (as usual, I used a substitute spread and it worked fine)
  • 190g caster sugar
  • 10 cardamom pods; split them open, take out the seeds and crush these in a pestle and mortar. Discard pods.
  • 3 eggs
  • 190g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 25ml cream (recipe asked for soured, I used double which I thought was fine, soured would add a bit of a tang to it)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 

 

Method

Step 1: Cream the butter and sugar together with the crushed cardamom seeds until light and fluffy. Break in the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each egg. You could beat the eggs separately beforehand to make this easier.

Step 2: Sift the flour and baking powder together into the liquid mixture. Add the salt and combine. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl and your spoon to get all the flour incorporated. 

Step 3: Stir in the cream and vanilla. Prepare your loaf tin by greasing it with butter and then dusting with flour (sprinkle some in then tap the tin upside down to remove excess). 

Step 4: Pour the cake mix into the loaf tin and bake at 170C/Gas Mark 3 for 50-60 minutes. I know this is eons but it needs it – mine took about an hour and 5 minutes, because my oven is very uneconomical and pours heat into the kitchen instead of keeping it sealed inside to bake my cakes. Grrr. We do have a very warm kitchen, though. 

Step 5: When your cake is cooked, a skewer pushed into the middle of the cake should come out clean and the top of the loaf will be springy but firm. Leave to cool for a bit in the tin, then turn out (mine came out perfectly!) onto a wire cooling rack. Store in an airtight container, slice to serve. Great with any nice herbal/fancy teas. My tea preference is peppermint 🙂

Source: the hummingbird bakery ‘Cake Days’ baking book. Honestly, this will impress people with how unusual but amazingly tasty it is. My housemates liked it a lot. Enjoy!

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Banana Chip and Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Firstly, let me apologize for the radio silence – its been almost a week since my last post! – for which I can only excuse myself by saying I’ve been very busy… I have an ominous feeling that this summer just gone will have been the last lengthy period of absolute nothingness I’ll have been able to indulge in for a very long time. Probably until retirement.

I do enjoy having lots to do, generally; I’m really getting into most of the material for my course at the moment, the aforementioned musical I’m a part of this semester is going fantastically, and paying for a monthly gym membership means I’m hoiking myself out of bed for two or three fitness classes a week and some occasional swimming sessions. N.B: everyone should go to Zumba, I went today for the first time in yonks and had a ball!! So far, so active, healthy and productive. But… here’s the rub. I find that having to squeeze baking into the melee of everyday uni life, rather than wafting around in the holidays taking hours over a simple batch of biscuits (or attempting lemon meringue three times over just because I can) , reduces the quality of my bakes. I’m a firm believer that, unless you train yourself to work in such an environment, like they must have to on Bake Off I suppose, stress has a big impact on how your food turns out. Unless I have lots and lots of time without a certain cut-off point, I find it hard to switch off whilst I’m baking, and not let opticians appointment times, Childe Harold’s pilgrimage, and career prospects invade my headspace. I don’t doubt that this is the case for almost all the other food bloggers I follow, bakers, chefs and fellow students around the world, but that knowledge doesn’t mean getting the balance right is any easier, unfortunately.

However, I do have a recipe for you, finally. I have pinched it ever so cheekily from a really interesting food blog I like to follow (with really lovely photography too) called ‘Pastry Affair’, by Kristin Rosenau. I did read the copyright rules on Kristin’s site, and I think, I hope, it doesn’t count as infringement if I direct my readers to her site, which is what I’m going to do for the recipe. My cookies fell sadly short of the ones pictured there – I place the blame wholly with the Lurpak I had to use for making them spread ridiculously and consequently become far too thin and crispy. Still, the taste was there, and I liked my small change of dark chocolate chunks instead of chips, because I think biting into a chunk of chocolate in a cookie can be one of life’s greatest pleasure’s if you’re really in need of some comfort. So without further ado, here is the link to Kristin’s recipe – if you ever read this humble article Kristin, I’m indebted to you and also sad that I couldn’t do these cookies proper justice due to the absence of any butter/butter-like substance in my fridge excepting Lurpak, which I can affirm does not do cookies any favours texture-wise; the spread is far too soft and melts really quickly. Now, without any ado, the link:

http://www.pastryaffair.com/blog/chocolate-banana-chip-cookies.html

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Source: ‘Chocolate Banana Chip Cookies’, Pastry Affair by Kristin Rosenau. Do check out her blog, its lovely and well-written and much more established and exciting than mine. 

   

Fruit ‘n’ Oat Cookies

So, I had some fruit to use up this weekend – a banana and some Gala apples which I’m not particularly fond of to eat raw – and was determined to stay away from my go-to using up fruit recipe; banana cake. So I made banana cookies! With apple. And oats. And cinnamon, and nutmeg…all of these ingredients sounded a promising combination to me, so I was hoping when I put them together in dough form they would come out as little baked rounds of gooey, sweet but slightly spiced deliciousness. And I’m pleased to report that they pretty much did. They have quite a soft crumb (may add slightly more flour next time) and spread quite a bit on the trays, but I was really pleased with the texture – the banana kind of melts and goes gooey but not runny, whereas the apple holds its shape and has a bit of resistance still when you bite into it. The oats add a nice healthy chewiness too, and if you wanted to counteract that completely I think sprinkling granulated brown sugar on top of these before they’re baked would be fantastic.

It felt like the first time I’d baked in ages when I made these last night; I think its because I’m so busy again and the days are so full I forget what I’ve done and when. It was good to get round to making these, and to experiment a bit and have that anticipation when they’re in the oven and cooling when there is a possibility that they might actually taste like the worst thing you’ve ever made. Its nice when that doesn’t happen 🙂 Think I will definitely be making these again, leftover fruit recipes have a new addition to their collection!

Ingredients

  • 125g butter
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 banana
  • 1 apple
  • good pinch of cinnamon 
  • 1/4 (approx, or to taste) grated nutmeg bulb (is that what you call them? bulbs? feel free to comment and correct me if not!)

 

Step 1: Cream the butter with both types of sugar. Gradually add the beaten egg, plus the vanilla extract, and mix well. 

Step 2: Sift in the flour and cinnamon, add the salt and grate in the nutmeg. Mix to form a softish dough, scraping all the flour from the bottom of the bowl and incorporating. Now chop up your banana and apple into small cubes – you want bitesize chunks so they’re easy and enjoyable to eat – and fold carefully into the cookie dough. Use a metal spoon and go slowly, trying not to mash up the banana which is easy to do as you’re using fruit slightly past its best so softer than normal.

Step 3: Dollop onto a lined or greased baking tray in tablespoon-sized blobs, spaced well apart to allow room for them to spread, and bake for around 15 minutes at 180C/Gas Mark 4.

Step 4: Important!!! Let the cookies cool on the trays before you move them to a wire cooling rack, otherwise they will fall apart. Cool completely – or eat warm if you fancy it – and store in an airtight tin. Very satisfying and not so rich as a big double chocolate cookie that I’m so fond of. Means you can eat more of these! Enjoy 🙂

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Source: BBC Good Food, ‘Millie’s Cookies recipe’ (I’ve never had a Millie’s cookie so can’t say whether they do resemble them or not, but anyway I tweaked the recipe a bit and they’ve got fruit in and stuff so they’re better 😉 ).  

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

Crumble is such an autumnal dessert, I always think – warm and comforting, the perfect antidote to the rainy day blues. I made this the other evening for my housemates when we were sharing a meal as we often do – which is a beautiful and very sociable thing by the way, try it with whoever you live with if you don’t cook/bake together already – and it went down pretty well, especially paired with some ice cream. I didn’t make my own ice cream this time I’m afraid; life has significantly increased in tempo recently – which is great, and I’m so enjoying being busy again! – but means shortcuts to cooking and baking are usually necessary sacrifices. 

I picked up some blackberries in the reduced section (99p!) that were perfect, but weren’t going to stay that way for very long, and then my housemate brought out some sorely neglected apples from her room that were slightly past their best, but still definitely usable to cook with. I suddenly remembered I had a little bag of leftover crumble mix from a few weeks ago in the freezer and bob’s your uncle, we had a crumble (that almost rhymes). You can use a huge variety of different fruits in a crumble, I think I like a hard fruit – like apples, pears, or rhubarb – put together with a soft fruit like berries, plums or maybe apricots best. Experiment; use your favourites/the forlorn-looking ones in the fruit bowl. Even if you don’t have crumble mix frozen (if you don’t, make extra now and then you’ll have leftovers to freeze for next time), this is probably the quickest pudding you can make to round off a lovely stew, casserole, roast dinner or any equally substantial, cold-weather meal.

For the crumble topping:

  • plain flour
  • butter (if using proper butter, unsalted, cubed and at room temp)
  • brown sugar
  • rolled oats (like you use for porridge)

**I haven’t included measurements here – if you want them ask ANYONE, or the internet I suppose, and they’ll have the proportions – I tend to do it by sight now because its a very forgiving recipe and depends on the size of your crumble, which depends on what dish you have and how much fruit you’ve bought. Basically, if the mix is too wet in the first stage; add more flour, too dry; rub in more butter. Oats and sugar are optional (but its a bit boring without, to be honest) and the quantity is to your liking really. Other things you might want to add to the topping could include raisins/sultanas, crystallized ginger, fudge or toffee pieces, dried apricots…endless possibilities! Anyway, back to the recipe:

 

For the fruit filling:

  • a couple of handfuls of blackberries
  • 3 or 4 medium sized apples, preferably crunchy rather than soft or mushy

 

Step 1: Rub the flour and sugar together between your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Step 2: Combine the basic mix with soft brown sugar and oats, and then add any other exciting embellishments you think will take your crumble to the next level.

Step 3: Core and dice the apples (you can peel them if you like but the skin is where all the flavour is!) and cover the bottom of your dish with them. Scatter over the blackberries, then pour the crumble topping over the whole lot, getting into all the corners and covering all the fruit. If your fruit isn’t pre-cooked or very soft, add a tablespoon or so of water to the fruit before topping with the crumble mix, and if it is very sharp, sprinkle extra brown sugar on.

*As I had a ready-made bag of mix rather than making it to fit the crumble, there wasn’t quite enough to cover the fruit as much as I normally like to; however, the general consensus was that less crumble mix made the pudding lighter and not stodgy which was a good thing after a filling hot dinner. 

Step 4: Pop the assembled crumble into an oven heated to around 180C/Gas Mark 4 for 25-30 minutes. The topping should be golden brown, and the fruit cooked through but not too mushy so that it holds its shape and has a bit of texture. Serve warm with ice cream, custard, cream, toffee sauce, golden syrup…or just plain if you’re not a pudding glutton. Lovely.

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Sources: None really! As I said this one was mostly off the top of my head but crumble recipes are the easiest things in the world to find and remember or adjust. Thanks to our honorary housemate who bought the cute dishes shown in the photograph as a housewarming present for us all! X

Movie Night Treat – Peanut Butter Fudge

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In the absence of popping corn (as in to make your own popcorn on the hob in a pan) in ALL the shops within reasonable walking distance I visited, I had to settle on fudge as the snack of choice for a Sunday film night. Me and my boyfriend went to watch Silver Linings Playbook – which, by the way, is in our humble opinions fantastic, and extremely well-acted – as it was showing at our university union for fewer pennies than you normally have to pay to see a film. I do love being a student sometimes. Well, most of the time, to be honest – the real world is hurtling towards me (or I suppose the other way round really) relentlessly now term has started, causing mild terror and an increasing sense of how lucky I am to be here surrounded by all these opportunities.

Speaking of which, I recently auditioned for the musical Spring Awakening, which is being put on by the university performing arts society, and made the chorus, plus I have a lovely little shared duet part so anyone reading this in the Sheffield area – look us up! Come and see it! Our first rehearsal was tonight and went swimmingly – honestly the drama lot are the most enthusiastic group of people you could ever wish to meet; we clapped at everything and generally had a ball. In short, it’s going to be fantastic! and will be playing a significant part in my life for the next 9 weeks, so was worth effusing about now.

Back to the fudge! The peanuts add a lovely crunch – I do like a good bit of texture in fudge to get your teeth into – but on the other hand, i have to say the texture isn’t world-class; mine at least haven’t set particularly well and have had to be kept in the fridge which shouldn’t be necessary. However, make it if you’re a fan of the old CRUNCHY, not smooth, peanut butter (again, smooth is an atrocity and crunchy is requisite for this recipe) whip these up – no baking required, in fact! – as they are so quick and tasty, and let me know how yours tuned out/suggest improvements 🙂 It is very indulgent and my decidedly un-sweet tooth has to be in the mood for these little sugary cubes, but fudge really hits the spot when you need it most.

Ingredients

  • 125g real butter (I used unsalted but then had to add a pinch of salt at the end, so salted is probably a good shout depending on your tastes)
  • 500g soft dark brown sugar
  • 120ml milk
  • seeds from 1 vanilla pod
  • 250g crunchy peanut butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt (if needed, to taste)

Step 1: Melt the butter slowly, over a lowish heat, in a saucepan big enough to hold the majority of the ingredients.

Step 2: Stir in the sugar, then milk until the mixture comes together and is a lovely dark brown syrupy colour.

Step 3: Take off the heat, and mix in the vanilla seeds and peanut butter, and salt if using.

Step 4: Pour the whole lot into a bowl on top of the icing sugar, and combine carefully (icing sugar puffs up at the slightest movement and settles over everything making for lots of wiping down surfaces afterwards) and thoroughly until there are no lumps/sticky scrapes of icing sugar left on the sides of the bowl. This is easier to make sure of if you use a clear glass mixing bowl, if you have one.

Step 5: Plonk the gooey fudge mix into a lined (i.e. with baking paper) tin – square is best, about 20cm across but if you have to use something smaller like I did, simply leave the fudge for longer to set in the fridge and cut the strips in half to get cubes, if you see what I mean. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours, or as required, until it is set and you can cut it cleanly into pieces. Keep in airtight tupperware, probably also lined with baking paper so it doesn’t glue itself in.

Lovely stuff! Any sort of fudge would make a great Christmas gift (I know its WAY too early to think about that for most people, but for the forward-planners and scheduled organisers…) in a pretty box, and its easier to make in large batches – this recipe makes loads! And perhaps I will trek to bigger supermarket for popping corn for our next cinema date and try out some of the frankly irresistible popcorn recipes I’ve been checking out soon 🙂

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Source: BBC Food, ‘Peanut butter fudge’ from The Delicious Miss Dahl.