Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Treacle pudding cupcakes with cinder toffee

Sick of eating cheap Halloween sweeties that the children never came for? No, nor am I. But don't let that stop you trying a more traditional British treat that marks Bonfire Night.

These cupcakes combine two of my favourites: treacle pudding and cinder toffee.

For the sponges
120g unsalted butter
100g light brown sugar
240g plus 6 teaspoons golden syrup 
230g self raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten
140ml full fat milk

For the buttercream
50g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
teaspoon of lemon zest

For the cinder toffee
4 tablespoons (60ml) golden syrup
200g caster sugar
3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Makes 12

To make the sponges

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C/325°F/Gas mark 3 and line a cupcake tin with 12 paper cases.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan over a gentle heat stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

Take the buttery mix off the heat and stir in the flour. Add the milk to the beaten egg, then stir this in until the batter is smooth and well combined.

The batter will be runny – spoon this into the paper cases and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the sponge comes out clean. 

Gently stab all the cupcakes with the skewer while they’re still hot, then pour half a teaspoon of golden syrup onto each one.

Remove them from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream

Beat the icing sugar into the butter with a teaspoon or so of water until it is light and fluffy, then beat in the lemon zest

To make the cinder toffee

Grease a 20cm (8 inch) square cake tin.

In a large saucepan, heat the golden syrup and sugar together. At first it looks like an impossible lump of crystals but it will liquefy. 

Bring the mixture to the boil then simmer on a low heat for 5 minutes without stirring. It should be a golden colour – watch that it doesn’t start smoking and burn. You can tell when the mixture is ready by dropping a little bit of syrup into water - it should form a crunchy ball.

Once you’ve reached this stage, remove the pan from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda. The mixture will foam up. Don’t stand about marvelling at the effect, tempting though this may be, but quickly stir in the bicarb for a few seconds then pour it into the cake tin. Don’t smooth the mixture or it will collapse.

Leave to cool, then break the cinder toffee into small pieces. You will be left with way more cinder toffee than you need for the cupcakes. Why not melt some chocolate over it and shout thank Crunchie it’s Friday, even if it’s one of the other weekdays.

You can probably figure out how to assemble your cupcakes but just in case you’re at a loss: put a dollop of lemon buttercream on each cupcake, then stick a chunk of cinder toffee in it.  Enjoy with a sparkler or two.
Bare legs on a winter's night in Northumberland. What was our mother thinking?

A Girl's Guide to Baking - Apple & Blackberry Crumble

It’s half term holidays this week at most schools, also known as “blackberry week” from a time when children had to go out fruit picking because Playstations hadn’t been invented. Here’s one, rocking the skinny jeans look way back in 1983.
Even aged 11, skinny jeans made my bum look fat
It’s odd that a holiday at the end of October is traditionally linked with blackberry picking. As any lover of British folklore can tell you, the Devil spits on the blackberries on Old Michaelmas day (29 September), making them watery and tasteless. He’s a one, isn’t he? If you can’t find any blackberries to pick, you can get them in the supermarket, substitute a more readily available soft fruit, or simply leave them out of this recipe. I acquired my blackberries by sending my dad out blackberry picking, promising him he’d get a Playstation for Christmas (he won’t).

For the recipe you will need the following ingredients:

 For the crumble:

180g plain flour
Pinch of salt
120g butter
50g porridge oats
50g caster sugar

For the filling:

700g cooking apples (about 6 apples)
150g blackberries
120g caster sugar
half teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cornflour

For the topping:
1 tablespoon brown sugar

First, make the crumble by placing the flour and salt in a large bowl and cutting up the butter into small cubes in the flour. It helps if the butter is quite cool to the touch.

Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture forms fine breadcrumbs. If you shake the bowl from side to side, any larger lumps rise to the surface so you can spot them and crumb them. Stir in the oats and sugar then pop the mixture in the fridge

Heat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F/gas mark 5

Peel and core the apples and cut into small chunks. Place in a bowl with the blackberries

Mix the sugar, cinnamon and cornflour and toss the fruit in it until it is fully coated. The cornflour thickens the juice that comes out of the fruit when it’s cooking.

Put the fruit in a shallow ovenproof dish, leaving about 2cm space for the crumble to go on top

Cover the fruit with the crumble and sprinkle the brown sugar over the top.  Put the dish on a baking tray –if any juice spills out of the dish, it’s much easier to clean a baking tray than the bottom of your oven

Bake for about 40 minutes until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is soft.

You can serve the crumble with custard, cream or ice cream. I like the ice cream at Archers on Acorn Road in Jesmond and after extensive research can recommend their toffee apple ice cream and cinnamon ice cream to go with this crumble. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A Girl's Guide to Baking: Spiced Apple Cake

I was asked recently by my old school to contribute recipes for their newsletter. I had happy memories of our first year of cookery lessons, drawing the interior workings of an electric oven and learning how to make trifle without sherry or jelly or multi-coloured sprinkles. After a year, these fun lessons were replaced with Latin. It was that kind of school. Today, the school doesn't offer any cookery lessons at all. How are those poor girls ever going to find a husband? 

I hope these simple recipes are of help to them. I've tried to explain some of the terms that a lot of cookbooks already assume you understand and I've added some basic tips. The target audience is something like this girl here, though possibly less smug-looking.

Spiced Apple and Sultana Cake

This is a lovely cake to bake on a chilly autumn day – Bramley cooking apples are in season now and the spices give a warm flavour to the sponge.

You will need:

1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small pieces
110g unsalted butter at room temperature
175g soft brown sugar
220g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
200g sultanas
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons milk

It helps if you get out all your ingredients out before you start. This way you know you’ve got everything and don’t have to go running to the shop halfway through for eggs.
  • Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius/170 degrees Celsius for a fan oven/Gas Mark 4. Grease the whole of the tin by smearing it lightly with butter. This helps your cake slide out of the tin once it's cooked. Then line the bottom of an 8 inch (21 cm) square baking tin with baking parchment by drawing round the tin and cutting it out to fit. 

  • Peel, core and chop the apple. Remember to throw the peel over your left shoulder to reveal the initial of your future husband (it’s always an S or a C, so if you’re hoping for Harry from One Direction, I’m sorry)

  • Your butter should be nice and soft so that a knife goes through it easily. If it’s too hard, just zap it for a few seconds in the microwave. Cream the sugar and butter together – this just means mashing it together then beating it a lot until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  • Beat your eggs lightly with a fork in a mug. If a bit of eggshell falls in when you break them, fish it out with another piece of eggshell. They attract each other like magnets and it’s much easier than trying to pick it out with your fingers.

  • Add the 4 tablespoons of milk in with the egg, then add this to the creamed butter and sugar and mix well.
  • Use a sieve to sift the flour, baking powder, mixed spice and cinnamon. This makes sure your dry ingredients are well mixed and traps in air, making the cake light.
  • Using a large metal spoon, gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. You don’t want to knock out all the air you’ve just trapped inside, so stir gently.
  • Lastly, stir in the chopped apple and sultanas and spread the mix evenly into your prepared tin

  • Bake for about 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and when you touch the top, it springs back. If you put the tip of a sharp knife or a skewer into the cake and it comes out clean, it is baked. If the skewer comes out with wet mix on it, give the cake 5 more minutes and check again.

  • Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes in the tin while it settles. Once the tin has cooled enough for you to touch it with your bare hands, turn it out onto a wire rack and allow it to cool completely.
  • Once cooled, cut the cake into squares and share with friends and family. You are now everybody’s favourite person!