Saturday, 17 December 2011

Yule Trees, Lights, and Treats

More often than not I seem to accidentally pick this bench. And it always brings a smile to my face, for an obvious reason; someone in the long distant past (No-one I know i'd like to add) has carved my name on the arm. And so many a memory of shopping days, dates, people-watching sessions, waiting for rendevouz etc have been peppered with some comment about my supposed vandalism. All very amusing of course, but it fixes this place and all the varying experiences I've had around it together in my mind. Me and a group of friends were even interviewed on it once. I think we talked about vampires...And  every time this little thing, six scratches on a bench, has been noticed and noted, filed away in the brain. So what if the shopping trip was a failure. I had 'my' bench, my Christmas coffee (my first of the holidays, a Toffee Nut latte, and very good it was too) stollen from Huffkins in my bag, my cape and a lovely walk through the crisp wintery sun home ahead of me, to be greeted with some excellent news from my genius little brother. I won't go into it, but so very proud of him, even more so than usual...

I thought I'd accompany this with some more suprisingly sunny winter days, these from Oxford 

Trees on Brasenose Lane, and into Radcliffe Square

And some light of a different kind, a few blurry shots from the Christmas Lights switch on a fair few weeks ago, again in Oxford.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas Cupcakes with Spiced Cream Cheese Icing

Just one of the various things I've been forcing my brother to take to school this week (well what else am I meant to do in the holidays?) other delights include some dubious looking cheesecake-cupcakes (not to be posted) and sweeter-than-sweet coconut florentines...The old 'stuffing oneself with food at Yuletide' trick is fully in force.

The basic cupcake recipe was taken from ‘Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery’ by MarthaSwift and Lisa Thomas, although the idea is from a Hummingbird Bakery recipe. My version was a bit haphazard, so this may need some tweaking (partially because I can’t really remember what I put in them, except it’s a mixture of lots of Christmassy tastes)
This recipe made 24 mini cupcakes and 6 normal sized ones

105g butter
10g (ish?) marzipan, cubed and softened
225g caster sugar
2 eggs
275g self raising flour
100ml milk
20ml orange juice 
(a good one like Innocent Juice is fine)
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
A couple of handfuls of raisins, chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries or any other dried fruit you fancy
A good glug of brandy 

Spiced Cream Cheese icing
(this is half the recipe in the book, and was just enough for my amount of cupcakes)
85-90g cream cheese
225g icing sugar
60g unsalted butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon mixed spice (again, or to taste)
Some dried cranberries to decorate

First put your dried fruit in a bowl and glug the brandy over it. Leave this for as long as you dare. Overnight would work, so would an hour or two (depends how spur of the moment your baking is)

Make your icing before you start if you like, so that it can firm up in the fridge if necessary (especially with lower fat cream cheese) Beat the butter and gradually add the icing sugar a tiny bit at a time, keeping it light and fluffy. When you’ve added as much as possible, then beat in the cream cheese (keep adding the icing sugar) and the spices.

Preheat your oven to 160 for a fan (180 for normal) and line your muffin trays

Cream the butter, marzipan and sugar together, then add the eggs, beating after each one. Mix the flour with the spices and alternate between this and the milk, adding it to the butter and stirring in. Move on the orange juice when the milk is gone. Fold in the boozy fruits, and a bit of the leftover brandy if you like. Spoon into the cases and bake for around 15 minutes for the little cakes, and 25 for larger (check with a skewer, the amount of liquid/fruit means they may require longer) Inhale the spiced brandy smell…and let them cool before icing and decorating!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Peanut Butter Apple Cookies

Once again, this post is not quite what is was meant to be, but as I haven't typed the recipe up for my Christmas cupcakes yet I thought I'd fill the space with these lovelies, which have been waiting a long time. I don't know if you've discovered the uber-snack that is apple slices and peanut butter (I'm sure I've gone on about it before) but these cookies were the product of that, baked for a friend's Amnestea. And very good they were too, I promise you. 

Peanut Butter and Apple Cookies
Adapted from ‘The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook’ this makes around 15 cookies

110g butter
100g caster sugar
100g soft dark brown sugar
1 egg
120g crunchy peanut butter
170g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
One medium apple, chopped finely

Preheat the oven to 160 for a fan,
Cream the butter and sugars together until light and, well, creamy looking. Then beat in the egg, followed by the peanut butter (more or less depending on taste, and also feel free to use smooth if you rather, but I like the added texture of the peanut pieces.) Mix the flour and the bicarb together as you weigh, then fold it into the cookie dough, with the chopped apple. Put the mixture into the fridge (I left mine overnight) then when you’re ready and it’s nice and chilled, bake around 5 on a tray at a time for 12-15 minutes until golden (Mine weren't quite as orange as the photo's suggest, but the camera was having a tango moment)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Baking Inspiration; Christmas at Oxford

I'm back home now for the holidays, and busy planning all the things I'm going to be making and baking for the festive season. Influenced in no small part by the incredible offerings around Oxford in the last week of term, including this INCREDIBLE cake in The Cake Shop which depicts a famous feature in fondant glory; the Radcliffe Camera (images of the real thing can be found here.) I see this gorgeous building on a daily basis, so to see it here, in cake form? Pretty much perfect... And more cake based beauties came from Happy Cakes' stall at the Christmas Lights switch on. Unfortunately I was just about to eat, otherwise one of these beautiful christmas cupcakes would have been mine. To test whether they tasted as good as they looked, of course.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Shameless Toffee Apple theft

I had meant to do a big Halloween baking extravaganza post, but naturally the week just raced ahead without me and so that fell by the wasteside somewhat. But these, made by a lovely friend for our Halloween party, were just too darn good to be left hovering on my computer like the ghosts of caramel past. But hopefully a bake-fest post WILL be on its way with some recipes, following an Amnestea tomorrow afternoon (my peanutbutter-apple cookie dough is already in the fridge, and chocolate and blueberries poised for brownie making) Watch this space!

Rumkin (Rum and Pumpkin) Pie, and some sneaky Rumkin flapjack in the corner there

Also extraordinarily excited about the launch of Olive's online store tonight, although so very sad I wasn't in Cheltenham for it. Writing this while wearing a pair of their knee-patch leggings isn't quite enough, although it shall have to do for now. Have marvellous weekends everyone!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tipping my cap to the raging sun....

  from 'All my Rage' Laura Marling
Goodness me, what a poor blogger I've been. Even the stress of essays I don't understand, and having an INCREDIBLE evening to write about doesn't seem to have spurred me to my post-world, so major apologies about that. About 2 and a half weeks ago now (crikey) I travelled back homewards with some lovely friends, to the beautifully familiar (and just plain beautiful) Gloucester Cathedral to see Laura Marling! It was just the most gorgeous evening, it's really the perfect location for a gig like that; all ancient, echoey, substantial yet somehow delicate, powerful and tranquil. Sort of like LM's music I suppose. Old songs were lent a new feeling with her more mature voice (and the addition of whistling in Night Terror is a stroke of there anything this woman can't do?!) and the whole experience pulled me firmly in love with her new album as well. There were tears shed, i won't lie. Plus I was introduced (literally) to a new-to-me band, The Leisure Society. Musical excellence all round! One of my friends wrote a far more eloquent review than I could ever struggle through here, so please do read THIS

 In other news....well, nothing I'm doing currently could live up to this, but I have our college Hallowe'en party tomorrow (later today if one was to be pedantic) and the baking extraordinaire behind this blog recently made the mammoth task of carving a pumpkin that's been sat around looking shifty for a while. I've already been introduced to the wonders of Rumkin (that's rum and raisin heard it here first, though I can claim no credit aside from providing the rum) and am mentally planning an epic day of costume hunting and Hallowe'en themed baking; pumpkin pie (also relevant for my Mrs Lovett costume!) as well as dark-like-my-soul brownies, pumpkin cupcakes,flapjacks and cookies, toffee apples. I can't wait! Shall try and share some of this with you, but for now have an excellent friday and weekend....

 Also, found this video of my absolute favourite song from the gig, thank you youtube and oWILo!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower...

 Albert Camus

I don't really have much time to write an in-depth poetic post about the lovely afternoon from whence these photos came, so I'll let them speak for themselves. Partially because I have not yet quite finished the essay i WAS going to do on sunday, partially because I am too damn excited about going to see Laura Marling at Gloucestershire Cathedral this evening! Literally so psyched I am barely able to type coherently...calm self. And speaking of calm, last friday afternoon I did a walk that I've never done before, on one of the most gorgeous Autumny sunny afternoons ever; all crisp air and golden colours. We seem blessed with them at the moment! Lovely friends, good weather, and a wide expanse of work-free-wonder to wander in. Who could ask for a better escape?

Canal walk on the way to the meadow

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sweet Dreams...

Unfortunately I do not have a recipe to share for these, I intended to post this more successful attempt at macarons from home when I actually made them towards the end of the summer. Naturally, that did not happen, and now me and the recipe are estranged. So these little beauties ( not massively professional looking but better than these ones) serve as an illustration of my progression along the road of almond based delights, and a promise for more attempts over Christmas. Plus they were gorgeous, filled with either Nutella, or a chocolate ganache and berry jam. Sweet memories...


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Shake it out October

I WILL be a better, more consistent blogger. I promise. Starting...tomorrow? Why not? With returning to university, in a shiny new year and shiny new room, I am really trying to commit to new things, and stick with old ones. So posts may be a tad less frequent (and I WILL post with the marvellous Fabelists) but until I get my interweb head on, here is my song of the moment. I never went off Florence, obviously, but for a while she's been lingering in the ether of my music consciousness. Comfortably in the back. On shuffle. I was interested, not majorly psyched about the new album. And then I saw this video and was literally just hooked; it's 80s power ballad/Total Eclipse of the Heart enough so make me very pleased indeed.It's so wonderfully, almost self indulgently Gothic, the costumes are fantastic, and I know a fair few people for whom Devil-shake-flailing is the dance of choice (I'd like to say 'myself not included' but it would be a lie.) Plus the shots of smiling Florence of the ending (4.21 ish?) are gorgeous...

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Toffee Apple Muffins

So remember how summer was 'over'? Apparently the weather's had different ideas and is treating us to one last blast of sunshine before everyone heads back to uni...and who am I to complain? Plus it means that I can pack away all my jumpers ready for the Oxford winter, and still have things to wear for the next few days. Excellent. So this week I've given up on work really, and have been preparing mentally and physically (packing, not working out, although I have become rather addicted to a Zumba game over the last few days) to go away again, and of course that means baking. These toasty-warm lovelies don't really go with the weather, but we had some good homegrown apples this week and I wanted to use them. And toffees.

Adapted from the 'Apple Spice Muffins' recipe in 'Muffins fast and fantastic' by Susan Reimer
9oz plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3oz caster sugar
1 egg
6oz chopped apple 
150ml milk
90ml sunflower oil (or 85g melted butter)
about 7 toffees, chopped

Preheat oven to 180 degrees for a fan
Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and sugar in a large bowl, and in another bowl beat the egg. Stir the chopped apple, milk, and oil/butter into the egg until its all nice and eggy. 
Pour the eggy-apple mix into the flour bowl and stir, adding the toffee pieces in the final few stirs. The batter will be quite gloopy and lumpy so don't worry! 
Fill muffin cases and sprinkle with demerara or brown sugar and bake for about 25 minutes until they're golden brown. Take the muffin cases out of the tin as soon as poss, as the toffee WILL leak everywhere and if it cools you won't get the cases out at all. 
Soak the pans so no-one else sees the mess.
Enjoy the melty, spiced apply cakes.

Note the crater where some toffee was?

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Daerie Queene

See what I did there? It's like 'The Faerie Queene'...but cheese related. Was going to go for something about Cheesus, but thought that may stray too far into tasteless territory. And considering just how tasteFUL my day was yesterday, I would not want that. Not at all. And the incredibly tasty day was had at The Great British Cheese Festival at Cardiff Castle. Now my family loves a good food fair, but never before have I been to one devoted entirely to such a foodstuff. And never before have I eaten so many very different cheeses at one would be impossible to list them all but our fridge is now very well stocked with our favourites. Including an adorable little box of mini cheesecakes in all different flavours...bakewell tart cheesecake anyone? Now into my last week at home before back to university, and so many things to do! Hope everyone's weekends were brielliant 


Chaucer cheese? definitely a good thing

Sweet and savoury smooth cheeses from Sancler...heavenly.