(Chocolate) Chip Off The Old Block

My mum used to make cookies all the time when I was growing up, until she became overly concerned with ‘health foods’ and started substituting all the yummy butter and sugar for coconut oil and… well, I can’t remember what replaced sugar. I am a ‘full fat’ baker – if you’re going to have a tasty treat it’s okay for it to be calorific! Just don’t eat them all day, every day.

Anyway, I don’t possess my mum’s talent for just chucking ingredients together and turning out perfect cookies, so I have to follow a recipe. I don’t know why but I’ve always struggled with cookies – they turn out too ‘biscuit-y’ usually rather than the gooey loveliness I’m after. I wasn’t going to make any sweet treats this weekend; I planned only to make scones and quiches but you’ve gotta go where the wind cravings take you!

Watching the cookies like a hawk really is the key to getting the right level of gooey. I’m used to cake baking whereby you have a spare 40-60 minutes of oven time to get the kitchen cleaned up and the kettle boiling before turning out a fresh bake, so the 8-10 minute timeframe screwed that up somewhat. However, the proof really was in the pudding, so to speak:

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They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and I take this quite literally! Karl is forever being surprised with freshly baked cakes, puds and breakfasts. I get immense pleasure from feeding people but especially someone with as sweet a tooth as Karl. Taking homemade cakes into the office is an instant way of brightening everyone up. Yes, I’m a public health student and should know better than to contribute to the obesity crisis but I’m also a depressive in remission so I know the importance of contributing to people’s mental happiness. 😉 Karl’s worked hard on the house these past couple of weekends and so I kept him fed and hydrated in the absence of any useful DIY skills on my part. He’s super clever – he can turn his hand to anything and his perfectionist streak means it’s always done to a high spec. The amount he saves us in labour costs is worth a few cookies and pancakes, right? 🙂

P.S. The secret to Mary Berry’s figure despite all the cakes? Definitely serving size. The recipe said the mixture makes “about 20” cookies but guess how many normal-sized cookies I got out of it? Yep, nine.

P.P.S. I did also make two quiches – with mixed results!

Everyone Say ‘Cheesecake’!

After a whirlwind holiday in which we drove across France, Belgium and Luxembourg to reach Switzerland (and then back again), we’re now home and back to the plod of life.

Insert mandatory photograph of beautiful Swiss mountains in the sunlight here:

Realising early on that skiing was not my ‘thing’, and whilst nursing a persistent cold/cough, I spent many a pleasant morning sipping Swiss versions of English Breakfast Tea (they are horrified by the use of milk) or hot chocolate in tiny chalet cafes, reading a promising psychological thriller that turned out to have the worst ending, whilst Karl skied. 

Whilst I wasn’t a fan of the speeding downhill with two planks strapped to your immobile ankles (someone seriously needs to reinvent ski boots), I was a fan of the super comfy, warm and waterproof salopettes, which meant I could sit outside in minus degrees, whilst it snowed heavily, with my book and enjoy the fresh mountain air and scenery without losing essential circulation.

I also carved a role out for myself as ‘ski caddy’. I mean, golf takes place in good weather with little cars to ferry you about and bags on wheels, so if they get caddies then skiers should definatley get them! All of that ski equipment is heavy and the cable cars are crammed. I enjoyed my little role as support staff, feeling somewhat similar to the 1950’s ideal of sending the hubby off to work fed and ready for the day, and greeting him at the end of the day with a smile, a cuppa and tea on the table. After all, if you can’t live out unrealistic fantasy worlds on holiday, when can you, eh?!

Anyway, back to reality and I had to quickly clear up the sewing room on our return so my sister would have somewhere to sleep when she made a mad dash up from London to collect her ski boots for her forthcoming holiday. Whilst doing so, I realised how much craft stuff I now have and how I have quickly outgrown the little sewing room! I think I need to install a lot of shelves…!

My grey blazer is in progress still (below in ‘fitting mode’) but I wanted the satisfaction of a quick ‘make’ this weekend so I focused on the kitchen. I’ve long wanted to try making a cheesecake as, in truth, it’s my go-to dessert in a restaurant but I’ve not made one myself.

Berry’s American Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake only requires basic ingredients, all of which I had in the house, so it was the obvious choice. 

Okay… so it looks a complete mess (yet a yummy mess at least) but if there’s one thing this blog should have taught you is I don’t ‘do’ presentation very well when it comes to food – I have a tendency to serve lasagne and Shepherd’s pie upside down, for example, as I’m completely inept when it comes to sliding it out of the dish. 

Verdict though? Delicious. A little rich so it needs to be eaten in small portions but that’s only a good thing (for the waistline), surely? I would prefer a lighter filling but taste-wise it’s good. 

For dinner I wanted to make something new but I was limited by the fact we hadn’t been shopping since getting home and, as ever, the restrictions Karl and my dietary preferences place on creativity! :s So, I went with a safe old  pie – beef mince for Karl and Quorn mince for me. Again, not the best looking dishes – I need to work in brushing the egg yoke glaze more evenly! – but it was a simple little recipe on Good Food’s website and Karl ate all of his, which is a good result! 

Before holidaying I made a gift for a friend about to start a new job; boxed cupcakes! (And some of my homemade soaps as well.)

The recipe for the cupcakes was the same Berry one I’ve blogged about before, but I halved the amounts to make 6 rather than 12. 

Two cakes have lemon curd in the centre and then lemon butter icing; two had a chocolate caramel icing; and the final two had raspberry jam cores with vanilla butter icing to create a ‘Victoria Sponge’-like cupcake. 

I received a nice text from the recipient… 

😂

The chalet girl joke was something a client at work was telling me about – most people said I’d come home from skiing with a broken leg but this one 80 year old lady said I might come home single as “there are some very pretty chalet girls out there”!! It was all very tongue-in-cheek and it did make me laugh! Fortunately I have a very kind, loyal partner in Karl so there’s no worry of that. Good to know I have man-keeping cake skills as my secret superpower  though! 😉 

Lastly, I finally got around to trying out ‘felting’:


All-in-all it’s been a mixed crafting month but with a lack of sewing so I must remedy that!

Mixing It Up

With the first two essays for my Master’s degree now handed in, I am back in the kitchen! Today I’ve made a trusty brownie but I’ve also tried a new recipe of Mary B’s: the Bakewell tart traybake.

I love (LOVE!!) Bakewell tarts but the shop-bought ones can be rather dry. Although this isn’t a ‘traditional’ Bakewell because, well, it’s a traybake rather than a tart, I thought it was worth a whirl.

The base is simply plain flour and butter made into a thin dough, then you spread raspberry jam on top (quite therapeutic) and then an almond-flavoured sponge cake sits on top (not therapeutic trying to evenly spread it out over the jam…). Lastly, a sprinkle of flaked almonds (except not in one corner otherwise Karl wouldn’t forgive me for forgetting his aversion to nuts).

 

By the way, can we just take a moment to marvel at the wonder of silicone spatulas?!

Moment taken.

They are rather fabulous and I don’t quite know how I managed without one in my (kitchen) life.

Anyway, the verdict: Nice, but a little dry. I would maybe use more jam in the future. Oh, and very sticky – definitely an ‘eat-with-a-fork’ cake. Simple to make overall and fairly quick, too.

For a bit of bling, I put golden stars on top of the brownie. Who says sparkly food is only for Christmas?!

 

Right, I’m off to sew now! Oooo, what a good day it has been! 😀

Butter Me Up

Day two of my week of annual leave and I saw the bottom of the first basket of ironing! Wow, do I know how to live it up! 😉 Seriously though, this is the first period of annual leave I’ve had since starting my new job in May and it’s a great opportunity to ‘sort’ stuff I’ve been meaning to for ages. My ironing pile only ever grows and includes clothing I’d long forgotten I even had so needs must. I also have exciting door painting plans, and drawer organising. I know – steady on, eh? Save some of the fun for the Christmas holidays! 😉 

In all seriousness, it is a week of more work and less play as I’ve officially enrolled on a Master’s programme via distance learning and am trying to get to grips with the various learning platforms and assessment schedules before term properly starts next week. I alternate between excitement and interest to utter despair and head-clutching ‘why-am-I-doing-this?!’ moments. I doubt there’ll be a reprieve for the next two years… 

As I’ve rather ambitiously settled on making many Christmas presents this year (yes, you may shoot me for mentioning the C-word twice in one September post!), some of my less productive, rather distracting habits have to give. So I’ve left social media as a starting point. I love blogging though so that won’t be going anywhere! 

I’m in the process of pre-washing and drying fabric for some new makes and I’m intending to start a new blouse today. I’ve also got to collect the fabric for Karl’s polo shirt later and make a start on it. Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of another crocheted gift using more t-shirt yarn (see below). 

As I was up at 5.30am yesterday I decided to make cupcakes (why not?) – simple lemon flavoured and plain (vanilla) ones. I then iced some of the vanilla ones with chocolate caramel butter icing, and some with coffee icing. The lemon ones were cored and lemon curd inserted before being iced with lemon butter icing. Might be a lemon-y overkill but hey! I tried piping the icing on but made a mess of it so I went for the trusty ‘rustic’ look in the end! 

This weekend I’m seeing some family members so I might be able to hold Karl back from devouring all the cupcakes before then to share some with others. The sponge is deliously moist and light and I’ve tried not to go overboard on the thickness of the icing as I find many cupcakes are too sickly for this exact reason. 

And apologies to the sewing community that I won’t be able to be at SewBrum this weekend as planned, only the rabbits have a vet appointment and then I’m seeing family. I hope to hear all about it through various blogs and will try harder next year! 

Macarooned!

Everyone’s been going on about The Great British Bake Off but I admit I haven’t seen episode one. I tend to dive headfirst into it when there are fewer contestants and you get to know them more so I’ll start tuning in a few weeks from now. That being said, the Berry is very much alive in my household! I’ve recently made the capiccino cake again, this time for my colleagues, and some more delicious brownie. I also tried the flapjack but it was too greasy for my liking. I’m a seasoned baker when it comes to cheese scones but I’ve always made little individual ones so I tried Berry’s scone ‘loaf’ the other week, which was tasty.

I quite like it in this shape/serving – it feels more ‘meal’-like and substantial – though the taste is, of course, the same. (The little black dots are pepper grains – I always add some to add to the flavour).

I made my first batch of macaroons the other week, after months of saying I would. Taste-wise they were fine but in appearance (and let’s face it, that’s the bit we buy them for!) they were quite flat, not perfectly round and cracked on top. And that was just the pink ones. For some reason the green ones, which were from exactly the same mixture but with green food dye instead of pink, were a write-off. Uneven bake and flat as pancakes. 😦 I decided not to waste time making the filling as there were only a few worthy of going forward so I ate some plain ones and vowed to do better next time.

My sole perfect macaroon half out of the whole batch
Lots of cracks and crevices. The green ones were so bad I didn’t even photograph them!

 

I learnt two very important things:

1. Add the sugar to the egg whites really slowly. Nope, slower than that. Think snail pace. It takes a steady hand and patience of a saint.

2. The food colouring looks hidious when it’s in the raw mixture but it fades a lot whilst cooking so be brave! Add more than looks appealing! My macaroons turned out very pale pink and green rather than the beautiful bold colours one sees in patisseries.

Now, today, on an exceptionally hot Bank Holiday Monday (I know – who’d have guessed?!), I choose to bake in a overly warm kitchen. And not just one bake. Not even two. Yep, three different bakes! I must have a death wish.

So, I started with cupcakes. I made them before and they went down a treat with the volunteers at work but they were simple vanilla ones. Today’s bake included lemon and chocolate variations, as well as vanilla. The plan is to hollow out some of the lemon ones and inject lemon curd before icing as I’ve had a special request for such a cupcake. The chocolate ones will be coffee or caramel flavoured icing, and the vanilla will be chocolate, vanilla or coffee icing. Not particularly original flavours I know but we’ll build up to the spiced tea and blackcurrant ones!! (Only kidding!)

I haven’t iced any of them yet so I haven’t taken any pictures either. In the meantime, drool over this…

I made Berry’s chocolate fudge cake today as well because it’s one of Karl’s favourite desserts – a restaurant favourite. I was a little confused by the need for apricot jam and the lack of ‘fudge’ ingredients given the name, but I figured I’d trust in the Berry.

The overall verdict is that this is more chocolate cake than chocolate fudge cake. It tastes fine but it’s not to die for. One of my layers was uneven (common problem for me) so I’ve nicknamed it Avalanche Cake for obvious reasons!

I didn’t have chocolate with enough cocoa solids so the icing hasn’t set like it’s meant to but it’s not a problem as it’s only for the two of us to see/eat.

Last of all, I made a bacon quice for Karl but the less said about that  the better. There was a leakage situation so now I’ve added mopping the kitchen floor and scraping out the oven to my list of Day Off chores! 😑

British Summer Time-Out

Oh my goodness! Somehow over a month has passed since my last post… I knew it had been a while but didn’t think it was that long! On the whole, July has sped by and I honestly don’t know where it’s gone. I’ve not been too well over the last week  (I lost my voice completely for a few days and still sound ‘croaky’) so I haven’t been as creative as normal. I’ve also had a couple of people visiting on weekends over the past month so that has meant I’ve had less time available.

Another thing that’s prevented me from crafting as much as usual is a little something called adult life. You know, work, finances, life decisions… That stuff. :s

Baking-wise, I’ve made a few cakes but I haven’t tried any new recipes. I made a lemon drizzle, chocolate brownie and a banana loaf for a family gathering, which, I’m pleased to say, all went down very well. They were amongst the first cakes to go. 😀 Probably helped that they were still warm from the oven when we arrived at the venue!

I also made a Victoria Sponge with real strawberries for a social club for visually impaired people. A few faces around the table lit up as they tasted the light sponge, fresh cream and raspberry jam!

I made a batch of gingerbread cake the other week for me and Karl (it freezes well so I stuck half in the freezer for another time). I gave a piece to my colleague, which she said ‘transported her back to Jamaica’! 🙂

Oh yes, and I’ve made about a million-zillion batches of Scotch pancakes for weekend mornings…!

Crochet-wise, I’ve been meaning to go to Dunelm for weeks to get more yarn for my purple chunky blanket (blogged about here). Because I work in the community now I’ve regularly been past several of their shops but somehow still not actually made it in! Must rectify this soon before I forget how to crochet a tweed stitch!

I was disappointed to see Hobbycraft is no longer selling Boodles yarn as I enjoyed the pouffe I started to make with this unusual fabric yarn, which is made up of cut-offs from T-shirt manufacturing. It’s basically jersey fabric so it’s quite interesting to work with because of the stretch. I trawled online and found some great alternatives like Zpagetti from Hoooked.co.uk but the shipping charges are hefty. (And yes, it is spelt ‘Hoooked’ – that’s not a typo!)

So I hunted a bit more and found the T-Shirt Yarn Shop (does what it says on the tin), which stocks Tek-Tek, Bobbiny, Hoooked, and Jolly Good, and offers free shipping on orders over £25. Add to that the fact that they are based on Exeter Road in Exmouth, Devon (a stone’s throw from where I grew up) and I felt compelled to support them in their endeavour! I’ve put in an order for two ‘balls’ of chunky navy Tek-Tek and one patterned one which I hope to use to make a pouffe. It’s tricky to know how much I’ll need and, because of the nature of the yarn being recycled rather than produced on demand, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to get the same colours again so it may be another patterned one is required!

My original pouffe could do with being pulled back and added to because it’s a bit small so I might get a grey or cream yarn to add stripes or something. Hmmmm… decisions, decisions. (Photos below are of the early stages of the project – I actually completed the pouffe but haven’t stuffed it yet.)

 

I also love this blanket that Emily has made and fancy making one myself. 🙂

Sewing-wise, I’m on a self-imposed ban on buying any more fabric or patterns for at least two months. I certainly have a big enough stash to be getting on with so I need to get around to using up some of that!

I’ve still not finished either the maxi skirt or the pink tank dress I’ve been working on for what seems like forever! :s

What I have done is start yet another project…! I’m currently making my first pair of shorts using a pattern from Burda Style July 2016. They are Bermuda-style with big pockets and I’m making them in a navy Cloud Nine fabric I bought on eBay. I’ve made many, many silly mistakes on this project but I’m still pretty chuffed with how it’s looking so far. I hope to be able to share the result with you soon!

The first photo was taken when I was trying to make the waist the right size so it was in ‘skirt-mode’ at that time. The second photo shows the lining I’m using for the pockets and also for the inside as the navy cotton can be a little transparent in places. Pattern matching on this garment is harder than it first appears!

Right… I best get back to the machine and make the most of my day off! 🙂