Cupcakes are the “My Little Pony” of Baking…

First Cupcake

My First Cupcake

…Or so says my husband.  He thinks cupcakes are an utterly twee and girly obsession, much like the My Little Pony phenomena, and while I don’t bake, I had bought a tray of some very nice cupcakes a couple of weeks ago which the man and boy were sort of fighting over after dinner.  Tweeness not necessarily an obstruction to scoffing then…

So, baking in all probability would be rather well received round our house, and above is my very first home-baked cupcake.  But, more of the provenance of my lovely cake (and BTW my very first attempt at piping frosting) later since in all probability this is likely to be the pinnacle of my achievements in this competitive field.  There are much better blog sources to go to for cupcake inspiration/porn/sheer wonder.  And there sure are some weird and wacky innovations in the cupcake world; what women can achieve in their own domestic environments amazes me…and slightly horrifies at the same time.  All that creative energy poured into paper cake cases and sprinkled on butter cream icing.

Or, indeed, delicately spooned into actual egg shells.  Easter cupcakes baked inside a hollowed out egg shell?  Check out this amazing feat in not just one blog but two: Cupcake Project and Delicious Days.

Cupcake flowers are very popular. Heaven is a Cupcake have some stunning examples of bouquet baskets, and claim to have originated the concept.  Cupcake wedding cake tiers to me are a bit “yesterday” but an actual cupcake wedding bouquet?  See this super example over at Souperior.

Cupcakes can celebrate every life stage, from baby showers to birthdays, marriages, divorces and remarkably, cupcakes can even mark the final event.  Sympathy cupcake bouquets (wreaths?) are being made and blogged about, e.g.over at Cakecentral.com.  The baker used “devil’s food cake mix” for the sponge and I am not entirely sure the irony was intended.  If it was, then that is bloody hilarious. I am thinking about putting in an advance order for a couple of folks I know who are unfortunately still with us.

Celebrations aside, cupcakes can also accompany you through life’s traumas.  We could all do worse than check into Cupcakes on Bedrest with a few words of encouragement for the blogger recovering from serious illness and distracting herself with cupcake making.  Don’t mention though the site http://www.cupcaketherapy.com.au, a commercial venture with the incredible tagline: “They taste so good you won’t want to be cured“.  Only in Oz.  And for experiments in pink champagne cupcakes (now that’s my kind of therapy) checkout a WordPress blog also called Cupcake Therapy.  Yet another therapy site–www.cupcaketherapy.biz of Baltimore–could send you a carton of their rather frankly named “piglets” or perhaps half a dozen “southern comforts”.  Eat, drink and be merry…all in a cupcake.

An amazing resource and a great place for generally surfing the world of cupcakes is the self-proclaimed #1 Blog about cupcakes, “Cupcakes Take the Cake“.  Their blogroll is truly awesome, hundreds of sites listed either dedicated to or that include the art of making pretty wee sponges.  Random browsing through their roll, I love/hate the vegan blog “Post Punk Kitchen” and can’t decide whether it is too sickly to be postmodern, or the epitome of post-postmodernism.  All I can say is that I won’t be making a punk rock cookie jar.  Or buying one of their naff aprons.  But, enough folks must like such kit(sch) or they wouldn’t have an online shop. (I should say in fairness that if they did oven gloves I might be tempted into a purchase myself.)

And so to the provenance of my own (and in light of all of the above, rather pathetically feeble) efforts.  My blog is about making family cooking easier, not harder.  Et Voila 😉

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Normal service will be resumed

Doing a site upgrade here at Hampshirecook. Would like to say it is all going well, but it’s not really. Watch this space…and all the other spaces where my pix used to be! Oh well…these things are sent to try us.  Maybe it will look better in the end but I am yet to be convinced!

A Brief BBC “MasterChef” Rant…

I do have some very interesting recipes queued up, but have not published latterly because photography is lacking, will remedy this soon.  Meantime, I would like to make a comment about bloody MasterChef, the BBC TV competition for amateur cooks.  The new series is underway in the UK with a huge set, multi-kitchen stations, limited larders and bright, harsh spotlighting and so on.  Last night on the show these two geezers, pretty much unheard of by the general public outside of presenting this programme, were whittling the number of contestants down from 20 to 12.  The new format and set create a hugely competitive atmosphere, with these poor souls/contestants lined up in rows at tiny worktops, given limited ingredients and told to get competing.  Even if contestants spoiled their dishes, which in the horribly stressful atmosphere created an exact half a dozen of them did big time, they still had to walk what must have seemed like a mile of shame through this airport hanger to deliver up their messed-up meal for critique.  Appalling.  This is not in any way shape or form what good cooking is about.  And it is not any place from where good cooking comes, which I think was fairly obvious from what was served up. 

Cooking is about putting nice food on the table that you have taken pleasure in creating and making.  Cooking is not a competitive activity, it is not about foodie this and fashion fads that and what the magazines say–who cares if you know off the top of your head how to cook samphire/salsify/satay/old socks…if I ever need to know how to cook bloody anything I fancy I have a bookcase of books and an internet connection.  So fecking what is this competition all about, is it now down to which amateur cook can physically take the unbelievable, artificial stress better than the rest?  Did you count the number of blue elastoplasts by the end of that programme?  It was not this way in the past, it was full of lovely, slightly quirky/nerdy people cooking up a storm after their own fashion and it was nice telly.

So, frankly, I get enough of all that stressy stupid bollocks at work, I am not incorporating that kind of false thinking into my home cooking via some BBC meme shoved out there on a public broadcast remit.  I hope applications for places drop off a cliff for them, but with all the drama and close-ups and tension and opportunities for contestants with impossibly white teeth and shiny hair, I reckon MasterChef will now attract thousands of emotionally warped wannabee “celebrity amateurs”.  I scent tabloid news and private life horror scandal already, dear goodness.  And all of that can only impoverish our world.  To finish, last night was simply indigestible, where on earth is the Zantac?

[If you don’t know what I am talking about here is the link on the BBC website:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t1k5]

“Can Jaffa Cakes Make Me High”…Er, Wot?

Before I started all this blogging lark, I had no idea that when you land on a blog/website, the search term typed to get you there is visible to the authors/designers of the site.  Most searches are just sensible and to the point, phrases like “giblet gravy” or “roasting a chicken temperature“.  A few do stand out though, sometimes because they are sad/cute/revealing or all three: “Why can’t I make soup?”  Oh, bless.

For a while, I had a rather grand and regular searcher who seems to have given up on my site now, Hampshirecook was not quite posh enough for his or her tastes.  How do I know this?  Well, the personal pronoun “one” was used in every search, so almost daily the list had phrases such as “can one really mix ginger and garlic in one’s soup?”; “if one’s gravy is lumpy, what can one do?” and the like.  I imagined some down at heel Duchess whose servants had all run off with the silver, trying to manage a kitchen for the first time. 

This one today though actually made me spit out my coffee:

“Can Jaffa Cakes Make Me High? ”

Er, not to our knowledge…But, I am so loving trying to work out what is going on in this searcher’s head, assuming they are not actually attending junior school.  And, of course, trying to work out what is in Google’s head/algorithim too that bounced that search to me!  Or, do I just need to get out more?

The BESTEST Christmas!

We are avoiding Crimbo completely this year and going to Egypt instead….so on the 25th we will be floating down the Nile on a boat, hopefully champagne in hand.  I wish all my readers a huge, warm and toasty Season’s Greetings and decided for my Christmas post to signpost a few ideas for ye olde festive fayre:

  • Roasting Potatoes in Goose Fat?  I strongly advise not to do this, as you can ruin your oven. Here is why.  You could use a couple of spoons of goose fat for flavour right at the end of roasting, but IMHO, the best thing to do with goose fat is gently fry your eggs in it on Boxing Day, in a frying pan, with the extractor fan on.
  • Making Gravy with the Turkey Giblets?  Same as making it with Chicken Giblets:  See here for the recipe on how to do this.  You could also use the giblets for stock for turkey soup for Boxing Day–hey, it uses up some leftovers…
  • Want to do something special with Carrots?  Glazed carrot recipe here.
  • Best recipe for Brussels Sprouts?  Stir-fry them Chinese style, click the link for the recipe.  We did this for a couple of huge family Christmases and it was fab, the Chinese flavouring goes surprisingly well with the turkey and all the trimmings.  For other sprout ideas, see this great post on CRUMBS family food blog.
  • Turkey Stuffing Recipes?  The best, best, best, most delicious stuffing that anyone can ever make is Chestnut and Cranberry Stuffing.  This is a great recipe for this, from the BBC Good Food site, good old BBC…or do Delia’s traditional Pork, Sage and Onion.  Delish.

I am not a baker so cannot do the whole mince pies/cake/chocolate log thingy…but if you are looking for an unusual, delicious cake, my sister’s clementine and almond cake, recipe here, might just be the ticket.  Canapes…well, this could possibly be a New Year post…

Have a lovely, lovely Christmas!  Keep warm people.

Saffron in my Soup

 

Saffron Vegetable Soup

Saffron Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Recipe

I had a cheap “stew pack” of vegetables from the supermarket (total cost, an almost unbelievable £1, included a small swede, 3 decent-sized carrots, a leek, a parsnip and an onion) , and a few fine green beans hanging about in the fridge with nothing to do.  So, veg soup it was — I am fed up with stews and casseroles.  But, just to add an extra little perk, I added in a pinch of my precious Omani saffron, bought down the souk in Muscat a couple of years ago.

With saffron, like all herbs and spices, it’s a case of use it or lose it, they do lose their spice essence after a while.  Saffron adds fantastic yellow-orange colour to dishes, and a taste that is like a sharp honey (well, to me anyway). 

Method (makes enough for 3-4 adults as a starter, two as a main):

  • Put the parsnip back in the fridge, it makes the soup too sweet. Dice the onion, carrot, swede and green beans.  Slice the leek finely.
  • Sweat all the the veg apart from the swede for a few minutes in a little oil + butter, until the onion has softened.
  • Add in a couple of pints of chicken stock, a SMALLISH pinch of saffron and a couple of grinds of black pepper.  Perfectly do-able with vegetable stock too of course, I just wanted the “body” that chicken stock can give soup.
  • Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, then add in the diced swede.
  • Simmer again for another 10 minutes or so until softened.
  • Serve.

You could puree this soup by blending it, you could add embellishments like parsley and what not, but actually it doesn’t need a thing other than some nice, crusty bread and butter.

My Sister’s Great Big Jaffa Cake Cake

The Big Jaffa Cake

The Big Jaffa Cake

Recipe: Clementine Syrup and Almond Cake

My sis should have her own baking blog.  What she doesn’t know about making cakes…and yet I cannot bake to save my life.  I think those genes were scattered to the four winds in our family.  So, I am passing on a (prize-winning in a bake-off excuse me for boasting of the provenance) cake recipe.  This clementine syrup and almond cake is a wonder to the taste buds.  In essence, it is an enormous oversized great big Jaffa cake.  But better.

For my non-UK visitors, a Jaffa cake is a little chocolate covered individual cookie with a very lovely light spongey base, a fabulous orange sticky preserve in the middle and covered in dark chocolate.  They sell in the UK by the truckload–they have a silly kids website here.

My sis’s recipe is not 100% original, but it is tried, tested, tweaked and twiddled.  The base is very moist and light, almondy and gorgeous and soaked in a sweet citrus syrup, then coated with a deeply rich chocolate frosting.  The link to the original recipe is here.   People at her last office used to sidle up to her desk and try to  sweet-talk her into making this for high day and holiday celebrations, and then they just started outright emailing their requests.  It’s really that good. 

Ingredients:

  • 200g unsalted Butter
  • 380g Caster Sugar
  • 4 sweet Clementine oranges, zest grated, and juiced
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 medium-sized Lemon
  • 280g ground Almonds
  • 5 medium-sized Eggs, beaten
  • 100g plain Flour, sifted
  • Scant, meagre, tiny pinch of Salt
  • Candied Orange Slices to decorate, or feel free to be creative!

For the chocolate topping/frosting:

  • 90g unsalted Butter, cut into smallish dice
  • 150g 70% dark Chocolate, broken up
  • ½ tbsp honey
  • ½ tbsp cognac

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius/325 degrees Farenheit. Lightly grease a 24cm baking tin, I think this is equates to a 10 inch round baking pan.  Line both the sides and base with baking parchment.

Keep back 80g of sugar for the syrup.  Combine the butter, the remaining sugar and the clementine and lemon zest in a bowl. Do not work the mix too vigorously or incorporate too much air, i.e. this means thoroughly stirring rather than whipping the mix. Add half the ground almonds and continue mixing well to fold through all the ingredients. Next, add the eggs slowly, making sure they are well worked into the mixture. Add the remaining almonds, the flour and salt and work until the mix is evenly combined.

Scoop the cake mix inside the tin and level out. Bake for 50-60 minutes and make sure to turn the cake a couple of times in the oven to ensure even baking, it seems to maybe want to brown unevenly, we think this is the ratio of almonds to flour that could be behind this, but are open to other explanations.  A skewer inserted should come out moist when the cake is done but not clinging with raw cake batter obviously.

Five minutes from the end of the cake cooking time, boil the remaining sugar and the citrus juices (approx 100-120 ml in volume but not more) in a little saucepan until they form a thin syrup.  Do not use too much citrus juice or the syrup will be too runny.  Remove from the heat. Take the cake out of the oven, and immediately spoon all over and brush in the hot syrup mixture, making sure it all soaks through.  Attempt to do this as evenly as you can as it is well worth the effort to spread out that citrussy lovely taste.  Allow the cake to cool.

To make the chocolate topping/frosting, put the butter, chocolate and honey in a heat-proof bowl and place over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until all is melted, remove from the heat and stir in the cognac.  Pour the chocolate topping over the cooled cake, distributing the topping how you like it: either let it dribble down in an artistic and rustic way, or smooth it round the sides for a more polished look.  When the topping has set (it is a soft mix though remember) decorate to your taste.  Long curly strips of orange zest could be nice, slices of candied orange segments or strips of candied orange would be fab, edible gold stars like my sis recently tried, or just let your imagination fly.

And all I have to do now is to persuade her to share the even more famous Coffee and Walnut Cake recipe.  She brought that cake round our house in the summer as a gift, and my hub and myself ate it, ALL by ourselves.  Two people, one cake.  Jeez it was embarrassing.

Halloween Dead Man’s Fingers…We Might Have Overdone the Spooky Food

‘Twas Halloween.  I had a good idea…maybe.  Hub was sorting out a pile of old shirts for charity/the bins, so I cut off a sleeve from one, tucked it under a plate and made “Dead Man’s Fingers” with home-made Chicken goujons.

Chicken Goujons Halloween Style

Chicken Goujons Halloween Style

Home-Made Chicken Goujouns Recipe & Method:

These were simply boneless chicken fillets, bashed out under clingfilm with a rolling pin and cut in long strips, then coated with egg/flour/seasoned breadcrumbs and fried. They did look remarkably good, poking out of the cuff and for added drama, a blob of tommy sauce at the end…I sliced carrots into flower shapes for “Dead Man’s Money”.  We served a big bowl of home-made chips on the side.

The Dead Man’s hand was almost too scary though, what with all the lights down low, the zombie tea-lights I found in Sainsbury flickering away and the evil pumpkin grinning fiendishly at the end of the table. We should have twigged that our recent teenager had been freaking himself out anyway when he wanted to keep his costume party mask in the kitchen overnight and not in his bedroom…it had been “staring at him” you see.  Dad ended up eating half of the plate, told son he would give him a “hand” with it.  What a twit wit.