Lemon madeleines

Lemon madeleines So, I finally baked something a couple of weeks ago! I wanted to make something quick, easy and small (and therefore *relatively* healthy…), so I chose a recipe for lemon madeleines from my Luis Troyano book, Bake It Great.

The recipe was actually for lemon and poppy seed madeleines, but I didn’t have any poppy seeds and my nearest supermarket didn’t have them either, so I just made plain lemon madeleines.

Lemon madeleines
This was probably one of the simplest madeleine recipes I’ve seen – others call for refrigerating and so on to get the cakes just right, but I wanted to ease myself back into baking with something I could just mix and throw in the oven!

Lemon madeleines
They were indeed easy to make, but I couldn’t quite judge whether the madeleines were done or not at the end of the stated baking time, so I left them in for a couple of minutes more.

I think this gave them a slightly denser texture than intended, but they did still taste lovely – very light and lemony!

Lemon madeleines
I found it slightly tricky getting the madeleines out of the tin (which I got from a nearby pound shop!). I think next time I make these, I’ll do what I do when I make mince pies and put a strip of baking parchment in each cup so I can just pull the cakes out after baking.

Unfortunately, Luis’s recipe isn’t available online, but I do recommend buying his book for this and other recipes!

Lemon madeleines

Save

What I’ve been doing when I haven’t been baking

Okay, so this post is a bit of a departure from the norm, but I’ve been thinking about writing something like this for some time while I’ve been doing very little baking to blog about. Truth be told, I don’t lead a particularly exciting life away from my oven, but I’ve been enjoying a few things recently to make up for my baking slump.

[EDIT: So, since I wrote the first draft of this, I have actually baked, which you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram. But I’m publishing this anyway because it’s done now! See next week’s post for baking details.]

What I’ve been cooking

spanishquesadillas
I’ve been trying quite a few new recipes recently to make up for the lack of cake in the house. These Spanish quesadillas with chickpeas and manchego were brilliant – so easy and tasty, and even better with a spicy chunky salsa. The recipe is on Foodandwine.com here.

cannellinibeandip
I love dips of all kinds, but I’d never tried cannellini bean dip before making this recipe. It’s really nice, especially with halloumi and pittas. I found the recipe on Diversivore here.

Where I’ve been

Lyme Park
My husband only has Mondays off work at the moment, so I booked a day off work a few weeks ago and we went to Lyme Park, which isn’t very far from us.

Lyme Park
We only walked around the grounds and didn’t get to look inside the house, but it was a lovely day and there were lots of gorgeous views to be had. We stopped off at The Hope Inn for some very good ales on the way home, which is always a great way to end an outing!

What I’ve been reading

Books I've been reading
I’m a huge bookworm and always have a book on the go. I have quite an eclectic taste in books – I love Victorian novels, fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction, children’s books… as long as it’s well written and has great plot and characters, I’m not picky!

I finished Hester by Margaret Oliphant the other week. Oliphant is a relatively unknown novelist from the Victorian era who wrote an astonishing number of books, and was notable for being the sole breadwinner for her family and an array of relatives – not really the norm for women in the 19th century!

Hester focuses on two similarly strong female characters and is particularly interesting for being more focused on character development and the inner thoughts of the main characters than on plot (although there is a plot – it just moves a little slowly!). I really enjoyed this, although it felt like it took me quite a while to get through.

I bought The Diet Myth a while ago when I was thoroughly bewildered and depressed by my body’s inability to shed some ruddy pounds despite doing ALL the running. I started reading it last week, and it puts forward a really interesting argument for eating based on what your good gut microbes want, rather than following a fad diet (don’t get me started on bloody gluten-free, fun-free clean eating) or starving and exercising yourself close to death.

The best thing is that the author basically orders you to drink red wine and coffee and eat cheese, dark chocolate and full-fat yogurt! I wrote a review on LibraryThing, which you can find here if you’re interested.

I started reading A Little Life yesterday and I love it so far. I hear it gets quite distressing further into the book, but I haven’t got that far yet! At the moment, I’m just enjoying the writing style and being transported into the main characters’ thoughts and lives in New York.

You can peruse my book collection and make friends with me if you like on LibraryThing. I read 50 books last year and I’m aiming to beat that this year, but we’ll see how long it takes me to get through A Little Life…!

What I’ve been buying

tablecloth
I do love to shop, especially when it comes to elephant-related items. This gorgeous tablecloth was made by one of my very talented in-laws (it’s still weird that I have in-laws), Amanda, who runs an Etsy shop called Bunting Etc.

I’d really recommend checking out her shop if you like quirky home accessories (you can put in requests for specific prints/items too). I cannot WAIT to use our new tablecloth when we next have a dinner party!

darkchocolate1
I had a real chocolate craving on Friday. I’m trying to cut down my sugar intake at the moment, so I took myself off to Hotel Chocolat and treated myself to some bars of posh dark chocolate to see if this could calm my brain down without the fat and high sugar of milk chocolate. And it did! I’ve had most of the Vietnam bar so far and it’s lovely. Can’t wait to try the others! You can find this range online here.

NYX Studio Liquid Liner
I’m a proper make-up junkie – I wear it most days and love investigating new colours. I have a ridiculous number of eyeliners, but couldn’t resist this bright purple number from NYX (Studio Liquid Liner) a couple of weeks ago. I’ve also recently bought a couple of NYX lipsticks (their Soft Matte Lip Creams are BRILLIANT) and a startling blue eyeliner from Laura Mercier. Understated, neutral make-up isn’t really my thing!

What I’ve been watching

Stranger Things
If you have Netflix but you haven’t watched Stranger Things yet, what are you waiting for?! This show has had a lot of hype recently, but I’m happy to report that it’s all very much justified (unlike the hype for Breaking Bad, which bored me to tears 3 episodes in, and Jessica Jones, which I abandoned 4 episodes in). It reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s supernatural stories, which is no bad thing. The soundtrack is awesome, too.

Probably the main thing I’ve watched recently has been the Olympics. I’ve so enjoyed seeing Team GB grab a huge haul of medals, and I’m counting down the days until the Paralympics!

I’ve also recently started watching The Gilmore Girls on Netflix, which I never saw the first time round. It’s very funny and a pleasure to watch – definitely one for women who are sick of romcoms and like their comedy a bit smarter.

I did of course, see the first episode of Great British Bake Off, which I enjoyed despite the tears and what seemed like very harsh judging for the first round. I think I enjoyed The Chronicles of Nadiya more, though – Nadiya is such a star on screen, and her experience of growing up in Britain but having another ‘home’ country to visit really resonates with me.

What I’ve been listening to


Me and my husband have been going to the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia for a few years now. It’s brilliant if your music tastes lean that way, and also if you hate camping! The festival’s organisers create a Spotify playlist each year to introduce you to some of the bands that will be playing that year, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few songs on this year’s playlist.

The festival has been getting more and more popular every year, to the point where this year’s headliners are Super Furry Animals, which is very exciting! I think they were the first headline act I ever saw at a festival way back when I used to go to V, so it’ll be particularly nice to see them in Liverpool next month.

Save

Strawberry and white chocolate muffins

Strawberry and white chocolate muffins 1 My love affair with strawberries is still very much in swing, as evidenced by these strawberry and white chocolate muffins that I made a few weeks ago. I reckon I’ve probably eaten about 2kg of lovely British strawberries so far this summer… it’s a good job they’re healthy, isn’t it?!

Strawberry and white chocolate muffins 3
I was lazy and found a recipe online to use, rather than adapting one of my existing ones. I used vanilla extract rather than a vanilla pod and chopped up a white chocolate bar instead of using buttons (I actually think the recipe can stand a bit more chocolate, to be honest).

I don’t think these are quite as rich as they could be (I found the mix to be fairly runny rather than nice and thick), but they’re still delicious thanks to the use of fresh, in-season strawberries.

Strawberry and white chocolate muffins 2
I did find that I had to bake these for a lot longer than the recipe said, which made me worry that they would turn out all tough and horrible, but I kept a beady eye on them and took them out of the oven as soon as they looked lightly browned on top.

Strawberry and white chocolate muffins 4
The muffins were wonderfully soft and fruity, and went down a treat in my perpetually sugar-starved office, which is always nice!

Now, confession time: I’ve been in a bit of baking slump recently. I think I overstretched myself a while back when I did three lots of baking in a week… oops.

I’m also trying to get a handle on my eating habits while I recover from a hip/lower back injury I sustained in the Manchester 10k back in May. I haven’t been for a run since June and my waistline definitely knows it.

I’m going through physio at the moment, which seems to be going well, so hopefully I’ll be back on the baking wagon before long. No doubt the Cake Olympics (AKA Great British Bake Off) will whet my appetite for cakes again and I’ll be desperate to get the oven on come the 24th!

So if it’s a bit quiet around here, you’ll know why, but I might pop up with a curry recipe or something at some point!

Coconut cake with lemon cream cheese filling

Coconut cake with lemon cream cheese filling Here’s a cake I made a few weeks ago in honour of my sister-in-law, who told me a while back that she really likes lemony, coconutty cakes: a coconut cake with a lemon cream cheese filling.

I’ve made a three-layer version of this before, but I wanted something less faffy (and less likely to topple over), so I combined the filling from that recipe with my usual coconut cake sponge recipe to bring it down to two layers.

Coconut cake with lemon cream cheese filling
The filling is really quite something – I bought the lemon curd, but if you’re happy to make it from scratch, then I suspect it’d be even better! The sharpness of the lemon against the unnnngggh-ness (yes, that’s a word) of the full-fat soft cheese is truly delicious!

I only used the zest of one lemon in the sponges and couldn’t really taste it, so I’ve recommended two lemons in my recipe below.

I assembled this on a really hot day and it started to droop a bit after a few hours, so make sure you eat it up very quickly if you also make it for a special summer occasion… which I’m pretty sure won’t be a problem!

Coconut cake with lemon cream cheese filling

Coconut cake with lemon cream cheese filling recipe

Serves 10

For the sponge layers:

  • 175g softened butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 75g dessicated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut cream (I used Patak’s coconut cream, which comes in sachets)
  • finely grated zest of two lemons

For the filling:

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 200g soft cheese
  • one-quarter tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 100g good quality lemon curd

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Butter and line the base of two 20 cm/8 inch sandwich tins with greaseproof paper.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and eggs for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Gently stir in the dessicated coconut, coconut cream and lemon zest.
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 20-25 minutes until evenly golden and firm.
  4. Loosen the edges and leave the tins to cool for 5 minutes and then transfer on to a wire rack to cool. Peel off the lining paper.
  5. For the filling, beat together the butter and icing sugar, then beat in the soft cheese, vanilla and lemon juice.
  6. Sandwich the cakes with the lemon curd and cream cheese filling. Sift a little icing sugar on top and serve.

 

Save

Prawn and pepper curry

Prawn and pepper curry I’m back after a bit of a break to blog about this prawn and pepper curry – I haven’t baked much worth blogging about recently, but after making this curry for the 500th time or so, I thought it was probably about time that I posted the recipe.

It’s a simple recipe that makes good use of aromatic spices – as well as plenty of chilli! It’s a variation of something my mum makes. She uses fresh prawns with the shells still on (thanks to living very close to an excellent fish market) and doesn’t add peppers, which changes the flavour somewhat, but I think my take is fairly close.

This is best served with fresh chapatis, but if you’re feeling lazy (like I obviously was judging by the photo above!), rice or ready-made naan is perfectly fine. I find one portion of this is enough for a light meal, but you might want to supplement the prawns with Bombay potatoes or another side dish to make it more substantial. And yes, I’ll post my Bombay potatoes recipe next time I get a chance to take some photos!

Prawn and pepper curry recipe

Serves 2 as a light main

  • 1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds (available from Asian grocers)
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • 5-6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 dried red chilli (optional, but great for extra spice)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 0.5 medium pepper, chopped (red, orange or yellow is best)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 thin green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 0.5 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp ground turmeric
  • 200g tinned chopped or plum tomatoes (if using plum tomatoes, break them up with your fingers before using)
  • 200g raw peeled king prawns (if using frozen prawns, defrost them first)
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • salt, to taste

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a low to medium heat.
  2. Add the fenugreek seeds, cloves, peppercorns and dried red chilli (if using) to the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the onion and pepper and cook until soft.
  4. Add the garlic, green chilli, ginger, red chilli powder and turmeric. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for around 5 minutes.
  6. Add the prawns, stir and put the lid on the pan. Cook over a low heat until the prawns are pink and cooked through – the timing will depend on how big the prawns are, but around 8 minutes.
  7. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice, coriander, garam masala and salt. Serve with chapatis, naan or rice, with a side dish if you like. And beware of whole spices as you eat! You can attempt to remove the cloves and peppercorns before you serve up, if you like.

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies This is definitely not a bake for anyone trying to be even vaguely healthy at the moment. I made 20 of these ginger, pecan and rum brownies and only let myself have one – they’re so rich, but oh so good!

I suppose the flavours are a bit wintery, but we haven’t exactly had a lovely sunny summer recently, so I felt perfectly justified in making these brownies. I also hadn’t made brownies in aaaages before these.

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies
I found the recipe on BBC Food, and was instantly drawn to the combination of stem ginger, rum and dark chocolate. It’s a typical brownie recipe – melt the chocolate and a huge amount of butter together, stir into a whisked mixture of eggs and sugar, then fold in a miniscule amount of flour and the other ingredients.

I used a smaller tin than called for in the recipe, so I was prepared for these to take longer to bake than stated. I was a bit worried about overcooking them, but they turned out pretty perfectly texture-wise – phew!

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies
Like I said, I only had one brownie (the rest went to work and my husband), but I’m not going to forget it in a hurry! The ginger and rum together are SO nice (and yes, I added a splash more rum than called for. What?) and the pecans add a welcome crunch. I used some dark chocolate with about 85% cocoa content, so the brownies were very chocolatey too. Yum!

Ginger, pecan and rum brownies

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks We’re well and truly into summer fruits season, which suits me down to the ground because it means I get to gorge on beautiful British strawberries for the next few months! I’m normally perfectly happy to just eat them on their own, but I decided to put them in a bake last week and came up with these strawberry and coconut flapjacks.

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks
I used a recipe I’ve previously used to make blueberry flapjacks, swapping the berries and adding some dessicated coconut. The recipe makes for a fairly chewy flapjacks, as opposed to a sturdier one, but you could leave them in the oven for a bit longer if you prefer them to have a harder texture.

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks
Baking with strawberries is always a bit weird – because they’re quite wet, they have a tendency to go mushy very quickly. Thankfully, they seemed to stay fairly intact in these flapjacks, but you do still need to eat them up within a couple of days before they turn your flapjacks into a sort of cold porridge!

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks
The flapjacks were delicious – the strawberry flavour really came through and made what are otherwise fairly autumnal flapjacks nice and summery!

I think I could have added some more coconut, as the flavour was very subtle, so my recipe below accounts for this and ups the quantity of dessicated coconut from what I used. You may need to add a little more butter/syrup to make sure it holds together sufficiently – see how well the mix holds together in the pan before you transfer it to the tin.

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks

Strawberry and coconut flapjacks recipe

Adapted from this Vegetarian Living recipe

Makes 12 large or 16 small flapjacks

  • 150g butter
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g light brown soft sugar
  • grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 275g rolled oats
  • 75g dessicated coconut
  • 125g fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease and line a shallow 20cm square tin with greaseproof paper.
  2. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan over a low heat, stirring regularly. Add the lemon zest and stir.
  3. Stir in the oats and dessicated coconut.
  4. Gently fold in the strawberries.If the mix looks like it won’t hold together, add a little more melted butter and golden syrup.
  5. Turn the mix into the tin, level the top, and press the mixture evenly and firmly into the corners of the tin with the back of a spoon.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden.
  7. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then cut into 12 or 16 pieces while the flapjacks are still warm.
  8. Cool completely before turning the flapjacks out and cutting again with a sharp knife.

Watalappan (Sri Lankan coconut milk custard)

Sri Lankan watalappan with mango and banana Another week, another Sri Lankan feast! This time, my husband cooked lots of rice and curry for our friends, and I made a dessert that we had a fair bit of when we were on honeymoon – watalappan, a set custard made with jaggery, coconut milk and lots of spices.

This is a great dinner party recipe, as it can be made in advance and left in the fridge until required. I used this recipe by Peter Kuruvita, who has also written a brilliant Sri Lankan cookbook that we use and that apparently is considered something of a bible by chefs in Sri Lanka!

I followed the recipe exactly, but I served it with toasted fresh coconut, in-season Indian mango and sliced Keralan bananas, which were the closest thing we could find to the bananas we ate a lot of in Sri Lanka. I also drizzled the plate with golden syrup as recommended by Kuruvita as a substitute for palm syrup.

The only tricky thing was baking the custards – they seemed to take longer than stated, but I reckon that’s just my oven rather than the recipe being at fault. They did eventually cook after I turned the heat up slightly.

The resulting dessert was rather wonderful – the sweet, spiced coconut custard combined with juicy mango and flavoursome bananas offered a perfect balance of flavours. It’s a great recipe to use if you’re planning a Sri Lankan or Indian feast and want an easy dessert that will impress!

Save

Banana and cumin cake

Banana and cumin cake As promised, I’ve had a go at making one of the desserts we had in Sri Lanka. My husband cooked a wonderful Sri Lankan rice and curry feast for his family the other week, so I decided to make banana and cumin cake to serve as the dessert.

Banana and cumin cake
I couldn’t find any recipes for this online, so I adapted a banana and walnut loaf recipe from my Delia book, swapping out the walnuts for cashews and adding more in the way of spices.

The main sticking point was the question of how much cumin to use. The cake we had in Sri Lanka offered up a burst of cumin with the occasional bite, so it wasn’t packed with the stuff, but I didn’t want to under-spice it, either.

Banana and cumin cake
I decided to use a teaspoon of cumin seeds, but as it turned out, I should have followed my husband’s advice and used more! I only got a hint of cumin when I tasted the cake, which was slightly disappointing, but the cake was delicious anyway and at least I know for next time!

Banana and cumin cake

Banana and cumin cake recipe

Makes 1 loaf, serving 8-10

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 80g butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 55g dark muscovado sugar
  • 55g jaggery, crumbled (you can buy this from Asian grocers)
  • 4 very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • seeds of 3 green cardamom pods, ground
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (I used 1 tsp and got a very very subtle flavour)
  • 50g cashews, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk in the butter, egg, sugar and jaggery until you get a sandy texture, almost like large crumbs.
  4. Mash the bananas in another bowl and whisk them into the flour mixture, along with the ground cloves, ginger and cardamom.
  5. Fold in the lemon zest, cumin seeds and cashews.
  6. Transfer the mix to the loaf tin, level the top and sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top.
  7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  8. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve on its own or warm with ice cream.

Coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese filling

Coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese icing I’ve been thinking about making this coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese icing for a while. It’s basically my trusty mango and coconut cake with some cardamom added to the cake mix, but that one extra ingredient really does transform the cake into something else entirely! It’s Indian mango season at the moment, which meant that I could use the most delicious mango in this recipe.

Coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese icing
Funnily enough, just when I decided to make it, I also ended up acquiring the new recipe book from GBBO’s Chetna Makan, who, as is well documented on this blog, is one of my favourite GBBO contestants EVER. There’s a mango, coconut and cardamom cake early on in The Cardamom Trail, which must mean that we’re kindred spirits, right?! However, Chetna’s cake is much more impressive-looking than mine, although I suspect that they taste very similar!

Coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese icing
Anyway, back to my cake. It was all very straightforward to make. I did end up with runny cream cheese icing again, but that meant I had an excellent excuse to use only as much as would fill the cake without it running over the sides and, er, safely disposing of the rest. In my stomach. I think I might try making the icing with mascarpone next time to see if it comes out any thicker!

Coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese icing

Coconut and cardamom cake with mango cream cheese filling recipe

Serves 10

For the sponge layers:

  • 175g/6oz softened butter
  • 175g/6oz caster sugar
  • 175g/6oz self raising flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 75g/2oz dessicated coconut
  • 2 tbsp coconut cream (I used Patak’s coconut cream, which comes in sachets)
  • 0.5 tsp ground cardamom (equivalent to the seeds of about 6-7 green cardamom pods)

For the filling:

  • 100g soft cheese (or try mascarpone!)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 50g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 0.5 medium, ripe mango
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Butter and line the base of two 20 cm/8 inch sandwich tins with greaseproof paper.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and eggs for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Gently stir in the dessicated coconut, coconut cream and cardamom.
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins and smooth the tops. Bake for 20-25 minutes until evenly golden and firm.
  4. Loosen the edges and leave the tins to cool for 5 minutes and then transfer on to a wire rack to cool. Peel off the lining paper.
  5. Peel the mango, slice it away from the stone and chop into smaller chunks. Mash it to a pulp (you can use a food processor for a fine texture or a potato masher/fork for a chunkier one).
  6. Beat together the other filling ingredients and then stir in the mango.
  7. Spread one of the sponge layers with the filling and place the other on top. Dust with icing sugar and serve.