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.