Grasmere ginger shortbread + a blogging hiatus

Grasmere ginger shortbread I’ve been on quite the ginger kick recently, haven’t I?! I decided to follow the ginger and coconut flapjacks I made last time with this Grasmere ginger shortbread, completely forgetting that I’d already made something gingery that week… oh well.

The recipe for this comes from good ol’ Delia, who says she got the recipe from a hotel in the Lake District. I’ve been intrigued by this recipe since I first saw it in the recipe book, because I’m a huge fan of the Grasmere gingerbread that’s sold in the village of the same name – it’s just the BEST gingerbread you’ll ever have.

The recipe is supposed to be a closely held secret (and quite rightly so), so I was interested to see what this version was like – and, as it turns, out, it’s really not the same thing at all!

Don’t get me wrong, Delia’s shortbread is delicious, but it’s nothing like the real thing. Grasmere gingerbread is a bit more chewy and infinitely more gingery than Delia’s take, and the oatmeal is very noticeable here – if it’s used in the original Grasmere gingerbread recipe, I’ve never been able to tell.

As you can see from the first photo above, I ended up with some rustic-looking shortbread – the ragged edges are due to the outside of the bake breaking away when I tried to release it from the tin. I think the shortbread needs to cool for a lot longer than 5 minutes before you try to turn it out!

Nevertheless, Delia’s Grasmere ginger shortbread is really nice – it’s just a touch disappointing if you’ve ever stood on top of a hill in the Lakes, drinking in the amazing views while nibbling on some proper Grasmere gingerbread.

Grasmere ginger shortbread
Finally, just a note that you won’t hear from me for a bit, because I’m getting married next weekend! We’re off to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon, and I’m running the Great Manchester 10k for the Red Cross three days after we get back (you can sponsor me here if you like!), so you probably won’t hear from me until closer to June.

I will hopefully have lots of new, exotic baking ideas from our trip, though, so it’ll be worth the wait! See you on the other side!

Ginger and coconut flapjacks

Ginger and coconut flapjacks I made these ginger and coconut flapjacks on a bit of a whim, when I knew I wanted to bake *something*, but couldn’t be bothered with anything complex. With ginger and coconut being two of my favourite flavours, I thought I couldn’t go wrong with this recipe!

Flapjacks are incredibly easy to make, and these were no exception. I used this recipe from the Domestic Gothess, and followed it pretty much exactly. I didn’t have any stem ginger, so I swapped it for roughly 35-40g of chopped crystallised ginger.

Ginger and coconut flapjacks
The only slight problem came in the baking (I really need to get a new oven!). They took AGES to bake, and I think the recipe calls for a bit too much butter, because I could actually see it bubbling away in the tray – not something I’ve experienced with other flapjack recipes!

The mixture did harden upon cooling (thankfully), but there was a lot of liquid butter still in the bottom of the tray, and it kept oozing out of the flapjacks as they cooled – it was a bit like resting meat to prevent the juices from spoiling the plate!

Nevertheless, the flapjacks were delicious. They were very gingery and the coconut was in the background a bit – I think next time I would drastically reduce the amount of butter and add a little coconut cream to let the coconut compete a bit more with the ginger.

Ginger and coconut flapjacks
They went down well at work, at least, which is always a good sign!

Cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns I don’t make anything bun-like very often. I think I’m sometimes put off by the amount of time required to make some really decent buns. However, I gave cinnamon buns a go the other week, and was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward they were (well, sort of – read on…), and how delicious they turned out to be!

I used Felicity Cloake’s recipe for the perfect cinnamon buns, as published in the Guardian. I was amazed at how much cardamom it calls for – I know cardamom is quite common in Scandinavian baking, but I’ve only ever used a tiny amount of it because it has such a big, aromatic flavour. I had to re-read the ’25 pods’ bit until I was certain that’s what she actually meant!

Cinnamon buns
I did resist the urge to use fewer pods and went the whole hog. She doesn’t specify the type of pod to use, but I assumed she meant green cardamom as opposed to the black-podded variety.

Cinnamon buns
The other slight stumbling block was the consistency of the dough. I wish I’d read the comments on the recipe before I started, because a few people said they’d found the dough very wet and difficult to work with. Et voila – I didn’t so much tip the dough on to the work surface as pour it on!

Cinnamon buns
I used the long edge of a large spatula to sort of gather it up on the work surface and gave it my best attempt at a knead where possible. It didn’t seem to come together than much, but it was a little better after the first rise (but still very wet!). Spreading the filling on the wet dough and rolling it up was, er, interesting!

The other thing to note is that the recipe doesn’t mention what to do with the beaten egg and demerara sugar – I brushed the egg onto the tops of the buns and sprinkled the sugar over them before sticking them in the oven.

Cinnamon buns
The final product was rather delicious, and very, very large (yay!). The wet dough made for a really fluffy texture, and the cardamom flavour was very, very strong – to the point where it overpowered the cinnamon, but in a nice way, because I love cardamom! The filling was a bit on the salty side for my taste, so I would omit/reduce the salt called for in the filling next time.

Cinnamon buns
I would recommend this recipe for anyone wanting to give cinnamon buns a go, but definitely bear in mind my comments above before you do…!

Review: afternoon tea at the Sculpture Hall Café, Manchester

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review! Happily, I’m back on it with two thumbs up for the wonderful Sculpture Hall Café in Manchester, where I went for afternoon tea as part of a day-long hen do in the city last weekend.

I knew I definitely wanted to do afternoon tea for my hen party, but I wasn’t sure where would be best to go. After a bit of Googling, I discovered the existence of a café within Manchester Town Hall, and knew it was the place to go after perusing its rather tempting Manchester-themed afternoon tea menu.

I do like a good ol’ traditional afternoon tea, but I’m just as keen on trying new twists on the sandwiches-scones-Victoria sponge composition of a standard afternoon tea. The Manchester theme was right up my street as it featured one of my favourite local creations – the Manchester tart, albeit in the form of a cake! I was in coconut heaven just thinking about it.

Firstly, the café itself. The Sculpture Hall Café occupies a neat little space on the ground floor of the town hall, just off a rather impressive corridor with some amazing architectural details. The café’s name comes from the number of busts and statues of famous local people placed around the space. The decor is lovely – all dark brown leather sofas and tastefully decorated walls, topped off with great views of Albert Square from the large windows.

We could choose from a standard afternoon tea or a champagne afternoon tea. This being my hen do, most of us went for the latter option! I was pleasantly surprised when we were served with small bottles of champagne rather than having a tiny amount of fizz poured out for us – I think someone worked out that each bottle was equivalent to a glass and a half of champagne.

Sculpture Hall Cafe afternoon tea
The food was beautifully presented on tiered stands. The order of the food on the tiers was a little different to what I’m used to – the savouries were on top, with the cakes in the middle and the scones on the bottom.

The savouries were excellent. I had a vegetarian version of the afternoon tea, so my options were cream cheese and cucumber on rye (not pictured because I only remembered to take photos after I’d scoffed it!), a mini carrot and cheese sandwich and a mini Lancashire cheese and leek tart topped with a little chutney. All of it was delicious, but the tart was probably my favourite (especially as there was a lovely cheese crisp embedded in it).

Sculpture Hall Cafe afternoon tea

Carrot and cheese sandwich + Lancashire cheese and leek tart

There was also some sort of choux filled with mushrooms, but as I’m not a fan of mushrooms, I left that to one side. The savouries were served alongside hummous, piccalilli and ham hock for the meat eaters, which could be spread on slivers of bread.

Then it was on to the scones, which were filled with a variety of dried fruit (I think cranberry featured quite heavily) and not as mini as the menu makes them sound! They were scrumptious, as were the mini Eccles cakes, which contained a heavily spiced filling dominated by ginger. Just beautiful!

Next, it was time for the middle tier, which featured the aforementioned Manchester sponge cake . The coconut sponge was one of the best I’ve ever had – buttery yet light at the same time, and complemented nicely by the rich buttercream and dab of jam in the middle.

Sculpture Hall Cafe afternoon tea

Top: Vimto delice and Manchester cake. Bottom: fruit scones and Eccles cakes.

However, it’s not often that something beats coconut in my culinary affections, but the Vimto delice ended up being my favourite. Imagine a thin layer of sponge covered with a dome of Vimto-flavoured mousse and covered with a quite frankly amazing, tart, jelly-like Vimto glaze… oof! It really was something special and the perfect end to the meal along with a nice cup of tea (and the last of the champagne).

Before I wrap up, I just want to stress how good value our afternoon tea was – it’s an incredible £12.50 per person for the standard afternoon tea and £19.95 with champagne. I’m used to seeing prices in the region of £15-20 without champagne and £25+ with champagne, so it was truly refreshing to see such low prices for brilliant quality food.

All in all, the Sculpture Hall Café was a wonderful discovery for us and provided one of the best afternoon tea experiences I’ve ever had (it’s probably only rivalled by Northcote). Excellent food, amazingly low prices, lovely staff and magnificent surroundings – perfect! I’ll definitely visit again.

Lemon yogurt muffins with strawberry jam filling

Lemon yogurt muffins with strawberry jam filling I seem to be gravitating towards lemon-based recipes a lot at the moment – it must be the onset of spring that’s making me crave some lovely lemony flavours. I made these lemon yogurt muffins with a strawberry jam filling on the spur of the moment, when I was feeling a bit stressed/sad and just needed the joy of baking to pull me out of it.

Lemon yogurt muffins with strawberry jam filling
They were really easy to make – I found a basic for the muffins online and just added the jam. I’ve made some adjustments to my recipe (at the end of this post), as I think the original recipe didn’t call for quite enough sugar, and the baking time could have been reduced – you can see from these pictures that my muffins are a bit browner than usual!

Lemon yogurt muffins with strawberry jam filling
Aside from that, these muffins really are deliciously tangy and nicely soft thanks to the yogurt. Definitely go for the full-fat stuff here – low-fat yoghurt just won’t cut it, I’m afraid! The jam adds some much-needed sweetness considering the low sugar content of the original recipe – the muffins could still do with a bit more sugar though! (Apologies to your dentist).

Lemon yogurt muffins with strawberry jam filling
Lemon yogurt muffins with strawberry jam filling recipe

Adapted from this recipe

Makes 12 muffins

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 240g full-fat yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
  • 100ml vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 300g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • grated zest of 2-3 lemons
  • 60g strawberry jam (or another jam of your choice)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
  2. Beat together the eggs, sugar, yogurt and oil in a large bowl.
  3. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, then add the lemon and stir until just combined (do not overmix).
  4. Spoon half of the mixture into the muffin cases.
  5. Place a teaspoon of jam in the middle of each dollop of muffin mix in the cases.
  6. Spoon the rest of the mixture over the jam, making sure it’s well covered to prevent leaks.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden.
  8. Remove from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Frosted walnut layer cake + peanut butter cookies + Oreo brownies

Frosted walnut layer cake No, I didn’t go on the baking bender to end all benders in one night. I made these three recipes – frosted walnut layer cake, peanut butter cookies and Oreo brownies – over the course of the last few weeks, but haven’t had a lot of time to blog about them what with planning a wedding, organising my hen do, training for a 10K and, of course, just normal everyday life!

I thought it would help to blog about all three recipes at the same time, rather than labouring over three separate posts. And, hey, you get to drool over even more baked goods than usual!

Mary Berry’s frosted layer cake

I made this cake (pictured above) for my fiancé, who has been begging me to bake it ever since it turned up in a technical challenge on last year’s Great British Bake Off. It was fairly challenging, so I can only imagine how difficult it is without a full recipe to follow!
Frosted walnut layer cake 2
This is basically three layers of walnut sponge sandwiched with a big pile of buttercream and smothered with an even bigger pile of icing. There’s so much sugar in this recipe – be warned if your teeth tingle at the merest hint of sweetness!

The icing was quite tricky, and didn’t seem to completely set (I can’t remember from the show whether it’s supposed to, though), but I was pleased with my caramelised walnuts. I think my favourite bit of the cake was the buttercream, to be honest!

You can find the recipe on BBC Food here.

Peanut butter cookies

Peanut butter cookies
I made these when I found myself without any baked goods in the house, which really isn’t a great situation to be in. The recipe is from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. I followed it to the letter, using spelt flour rather than the other option of wholemeal, but added a chopped up Twirl (milk chocolate fingers for the international readers out there!) at the last minute, just for the hell of it.

The cookies were gorgeously peanutty, but also ridiculously sweet! I don’t know if that’s down to the brand of peanut butter I used (think it was the ultra cheap stuff from Asda), the addition of the chocolate, or because Dan really does call for too much sugar, but just be warned! I’d tone it down next time by reducing the overall amount of sugar from 325g to about 200g.

Peanut butter cookies
The texture was rather interesting – they weren’t soft like a traditional cookie, but had more of a biscuit-like crunch, and also had distinct layers, which I assume is down to the bicarb. You can find the recipe on the Guardian website here.

Oreo brownies

Oreo brownies
Finally, I made these Oreo brownies after almost a year of a colleague asking (begging!) me to make them. I made them a few days ago for his birthday, and I think I met expectations!

The recipe is just my usual brownie recipe, with a packet of roughly chopped Oreos thrown in:

Makes 16 brownies

  • 320g dark chocolate
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 125g dark brown sugar
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 85g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 154g packet of Oreos, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/160C/140C fan. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan or in a bowl set above a pan of simmering water. Set aside and leave to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk the eggs until pale then add the sugars and whisk again thoroughly.
  4. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
  5. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir the Oreos in to coat.
  6. Add the flour and Oreo mixture to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
  7. Pour the mix into the tin and bake for about 1 hour, checking the brownies after 40 mins in case your oven is better than mine!
  8. Once the brownies look set on top, remove them from the oven and leave them in the tin to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing them up.

Coconut, cardamom and lime drizzle cake

Coconut, cardamom and lime drizzle cake I’m going to go so far as to say that I think this coconut, cardamom and lime drizzle cake is one of my best ever baking inventions.

I’ve been on a bit of a ‘winging it’ kick recently, what with the muffins that nearly didn’t have any sugar in them and last week’s lovely lemony scones. But this recipe beats those two into a cocked hat!

I sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but I’m not: the idea for the flavour combination is mine, but the base cake recipe is an adaptation of a Chetna Makan recipe that I made a while ago. So well done to both of us!

Coconut, cardamom and lime drizzle cake
The lime is present in the cake mix (the zest) and the drizzle (the juice), while there’s both dessicated coconut and coconut cream in the cake itself. The cardamom could have been overwhelming, but it’s not! The flavour of this cake is very much reminiscent of the barfi I made for Diwali last year, except with the tang of lime cutting through the sweetness.

The texture of the cake is excellent – incredibly light, airy and moist. I’m eating a piece of this cake as I type, and it’s still really fresh-tasting even 3 days after baking it! I took this cake into the office, where it got a great reception. I’m very thankful that I thought to save myself some pieces at home.

I don’t think think there’s much else that I can say except… make it now!

Coconut, cardamom and lime drizzle cake

Coconut, cardamom and lime drizzle cake recipe

Adapted from this recipe.

Cuts into 15 pieces, or 12 big ones

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • Zest and juice of 2 limes
  • 50g desiccated coconut, plus extra for decorating
  • 50g sachet of coconut cream (I used Patak’s)
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 50g caster sugar (for the drizzle)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C. Grease a rectangular baking dish (mine was 11″ x 7″ x 1.5″) and line it with baking parchment.
  2. Put the sachet of coconut cream in a small bowl and pour hot water over it. This will soften the cream and make it easier to mix into the cake batter.
  3. Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and lime zest, using an electric whisk or stand mixer, until light.
  4. Release the seeds from the cardamom pods and grind in a mortar and pestle or by crushing the seeds with the back of a wooden spoon on a chopping board (I tend to find that spice grinders don’t work well with tiny quantities of cardamom seeds).
  5. Fold the cardamom, desiccated coconut and coconut cream into the flour mix.
  6. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden on top. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
  7. Make the drizzle by mixing the lime juice with the 50g of caster sugar.
  8. Poke holes into the cake using a skewer (don’t go all the way to the bottom, though!) and pour the drizzle all over the top, while the cake is still warm. The drizzle will sink into the holes and create a crunchy top when set.
  9. Sprinkle over some more dessicated coconut to decorate, if you like.
  10. Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then release it and cut into squares or rectangles.

Lemon and white chocolate scones

Lemon and white chocolate scones I’m usually a stickler for scones as they should be – either fruit or plain, buttered, spread with jam and with a dollop of cream on top (especially when it comes to afternoon tea!). But I do enjoy a flavoured scone, too – and this is what I was hankering after when I decided to make these lemon and white chocolate scones.

Scones are really easy to make, but you need to follow a couple of rules to make sure they come out just right. One rule is to avoid over-mixing the initial scone mix if you can, and another is to avoid over-kneading the mix when turning it into a manageable dough. Another is to not add *too* much flour when rolling out and cutting the scones, if you can, so your dough stays nicely moist. Follow all of these, and you should end up with some delightfully light and well-risen scones!

Lemon and white chocolate scones
I added the lemon flavour through finely grated lemon zest. I only used one lemon, but I think two would add a bit more of a tang – the lemon in my scones was quite subtle! I just used bog standard supermarket white chocolate, making to sure to sample some to check it was *just* right (ahem).

I brushed the tops of my scones with milk before baking, but you can also do it with beaten egg for some nicely shiny tops.

I ate my first scone while it was warm from the oven (which meant the chocolate was a bit gooey!) and without any accompaniments, but subsequent scones were enjoyed with butter and strawberry jam. I didn’t have any cream to hand, but that’s very much optional with these, anyway!

These lemon and white chocolate scones would be lovely as part of a cream tea or afternoon tea with a difference, perhaps in the spring or summer, considering the flavours. Do try them!

Lemon and white chocolate scones

Lemon and white chocolate scones recipe

Makes around 14 scones

  • 280g self-raising flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
  • 70g cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 55g white chocolate, chopped (or use chocolate chips)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 150ml milk
  • Milk or 1 beaten egg, to glaze

To serve:

  • Softened butter
  • Raspberry or strawberry jam
  • Clotted cream

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 7/220C/425F. Line a baking tray with baking parchment, or grease the tray with butter.
  2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Stir in the sugar and white chocolate.
  4. Stir the zest into the milk, then slowly add the milk to the flour mixture and stir until you get a soft but manageable dough (you may not need all of the milk). Do not overmix.
  5. Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough out of the bowl on to it. Sprinkle a little more flour on top and roll the dough out until it’s around 2.5cm thick.
  6. Dip a fluted cutter into some flour (I used a 58mm cutter) and cut the scones out of the dough, transferring them to the baking tray (make sure they’re well spaced out – you may need two trays, or bake in batches).
  7. Roll out the remaining dough and repeat until all of the dough has been used up.
  8. Brush the tops with either milk or beaten egg, and bake the scones in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until risen and golden.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve sliced with butter, jam and cream, if you like.

Orange and date muffins

Orange and date muffins I had a sudden urge one night to bake something reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding. After looking through some of my saved recipes, I decided to adapt a recipe for prune muffins by making a few tweaks to create these orange and date muffins.

I’m going to be upfront here: they went a bit wrong. I managed to completely forget about the sugar until the muffins were in the oven! Luckily, I realised only a few seconds after I put them in, so I quickly whisked them out again and attempted to mix the sugar into each muffin case.

I wasn’t completely successful – it was difficult to make sure the sugar was completely mixed in, so when they came out, they had slightly caramelised tops from the sugar that didn’t dissolve into the mix. It sounds a bit weird, but (much to my relief) the caramelised tops actually meant the muffins were rather nice!

Orange and date muffins
There were still little pockets in each muffin that were a bit more… savoury than the rest, but the dates really helped to add some sweetness, and the orange zest and cinnamon was a nice distraction.

I took the muffins into work, and no one would have known I’d had a disaster in the kitchen if I hadn’t told them, so I think I got away with it!

I would recommend that you do actually beat the sugar into the muffin mix *before* spooning it into the cases, but if you also want some nice caramelised tops, all you have to do is sprinkle a bit more sugar on top – I think demerara would be perfect for this! See my recipe below for full details…

Orange and date muffins

Orange and date muffins recipe

Adapted from this recipe.

Makes 12 muffins

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 250ml milk
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 80g soft dark brown or dark muscovado sugar
  • 285g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Zest of one orange
  • 115g pitted dates, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6/200C. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases, or grease thoroughly.
  2. Mix together the egg, milk and oil in a measuring jug, then mix in the sugar. Set aside.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir in the orange zest.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour the liquid mix into it. Stir until just combined (do not overmix, otherwise you’ll end up with horrible, rubbery muffins).
  5. Fold in the dates.
  6. Spoon the mix into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top of the mix in each case, if using.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes until risen and browned on top. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Caraway seed cake

Caraway seed cake I’ve been meaning to make this Victorian caraway seed cake ever since I got my hands on Paul Hollywood’s British Baking recipe book. There’s nothing much to shout about in terms of huge flavours and spectacular presentation; it’s just a simple, old-fashioned cake to have with an afternoon brew – but that’s exactly what appeals to me about it!

The cake is very similar to a Madeira cake in terms of the texture and flavour of the base sponge. The crumb looks very dense, but it’s actually very light and not at all onerous to eat. The addition of caraway seeds (which have a citrusy, aniseed flavour), lemon zest, brandy and nutmeg, however, make this a different beast to your standard Madeira cake.

Caraway seed cake
The cake should have a flat top after it’s baked, but mine ended up with a rather spectacular peak in the middle, which I’m just going to put down to my uneven oven:

Caraway seed cake
Isn’t that rather impressive?!

Anyway, overall I would say that this cake gets a definite thumbs up from me. It does sound a bit dull, but it’s anything but. The aniseed flavour is really unusual, and the lemon and nutmeg really do prevent the cake from being a one-flavour wonder. If you like old-fashioned cakes, you can’t go far wrong with a caraway seed cake!

Caraway seed cake
I can’t find the recipe I used online, as I got it from the book, but I think you could take your pick of any of the other seed cake recipes out there and simply add lemon zest and nutmeg if they’re not already in there. This recipe looks like a good starting point!