Semlor

Lent is fast approaching, and with it Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, pancake day, whatever you call it, it is for using up your fatty and decadent food before the start of fasting.

Here in the UK, we make pancakes, which I will of course be making! Over in Sweden however, they make cream buns called semlor (singular: semla). I tried making them last year and here are the results!

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I haven’t ever had a ‘real’ semla so I’m not sure how authentic they were, but they were delicious! Cardamom-scented buns, filled with soft almond paste and loads of cream. I followed this recipe, but there are plenty in English to be found around the internet.

Festive treats

Feeling Christmassy is a little more difficult these days but I’m working my way there! I’ve almost finished my Christmas shopping (one of my favourite parts of the season), we’ve got the tree up (but no decorations yet), we have a wreath on the door, and I have stopped skipping past Christmas songs on my itunes! This week we have been to a carol concert performed by The Sixteen, and my sister will be coming home at the weekend, so I want to feel fully festive by then! One sure-fire way to get in the spirit is to inhale seasonal smells, and there is nothing more Christmassy than festive baking!

For the perfect Christmas flavour-bomb, look no further than the mince pie. They fill the house with the scent of spices, brandy, and butter, and they are perfect (not to mention essential) for when guests come round!

If you are familiar with the mince pie, feel free to skip this part, but if not let me explain. Mince pies are a traditional Christmas treat in my part of the world, and no, they do not involve meat. They do involve beef fat though (bear with me) in the form of suet, essentially little pieces of flavourless fat. You would not know there were any animals involved, trust me, and there are always vegetarian substitutes if that is a step too far!

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The traditional mince pie is a small tart, with a crisp pastry crust and lid, filled with mincemeat – a mixture of dried fruit, citrus peel, spices and alcohol, along with the suet. You can make the mincemeat at home, or there are plenty of really good ones in the shops.  There are so many ways to adapt the mincemeat to your taste, using different dried fruits, adding nuts, or using different spirits – brandy, whiskey, or port is always good.

I made my own mincemeat last year, roughly to this recipe (we had plenty of apples from the garden and Delia is always a good bet for traditional recipes). I had a sealed jar leftover in the fridge, so this time I just refreshed it with some dried cherries and a splash of brandy. I also made some pies for those who don’t like mincemeat, filled with a cranberry-orange mixture. Instead of topping them all with my usual pastry star, I decided to mix it up with biscuit and nutty crumble tops.

Inspiration

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A few weeks ago I discovered Katherine Sabbath, a high school-teacher and baker from Australia,  and it was love at first cake. I spent days poring over her instagram and came away completely inspired. I knew I had to make something. So, after a brief brainstorming session I came up with this baby. Spiced pumpkin cake (with home-grown pumpkin!), cream cheese frosting, caramel, and pistachio brittle. I’d never made something so outrageously decadent-looking, but now I’m hooked! If you aren’t familiar with Katherine Sabbath, I urge you to check out her instagram. She has opened my eyes to so many new possibilities, I can’t wait to make more crazy bakes!

Old-Fashioned Pleasures

I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite books recently – the Anne of Green Gables series. It has been so lovely to laze around in the heat with a good book, dreaming about pretty Prince Edward Island, muslin dresses and of course “kindred spirits”. Inspired by this faux nostalgia (I’m happy I live in the modern day really – as idyllic as parts of Anne’s life are, I’m rather fond of things like modern medicine and feminism) I’ve been trying to live a bit more like Anne. Appreciating the all the good in the world, using my skills, and being proactive all seem like good aims when it comes to improving my outlook on life.

So, I’ve been encouraging myself to get out and look after the garden, create beautiful crafts and most of all appreciate what I’ve got and try not to waste it.

With that in mind, I looked at the over-ripe fruit that was languishing on the island unit and tried to come up with a way of using it so it wouldn’t go to waste. I thought about Marilla’s famous plum preserves, and inspiration struck!

I stewed the fruit with a little ground ginger, mixed spice, sugar, and a splash of green ginger wine (given to me by my lovely friend Abi), then paired it with a baked rice pudding. Rice pudding is one of my favourites, and so easy to make!

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Baked Rice Pudding

100g pudding rice (any short grain rice should work if it isn’t available)

100g caster sugar

1 litre whole milk (I always use Jersey milk – this is a treat!! If you can’t find it, just dot 1-2 tbsp butter around the dish instead)

1 tsp vanilla

pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F.  Put all the ingredients into an oven-proof dish that is big enough to hold all the milk and give a gentle stir to distribute everything evenly. If the dish is very full, put it on top of a baking tray in case it bubbles over.  Bake for 2-3 hours until the rice is cooked through, the milk has been absorbed, and the top is golden and bubbly. If it browns too quickly, simply cover with some foil until the rice is cooked.

 

This is definitely something I’ll make again in the autumn, if we have any fruit left – the garden drama this week was the sudden and confusing disappearance of all of our pears! I’m quite sad about it, the pears are my favourite fruit from the garden.

 

Daisy, Daisy

I’ve been dying to make pretty layer cakes for ages, and when I finally let myself do it I ended up making two in as many weeks! Of course I made the chocolate cake featured in my previous post, but before that I also made this beauty:

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A lemon sponge, filled with lemon curd and covered with lemon buttercream. I tried to make is taste as lemony as possible, so I added in extra zest, juice, and lemon extract.

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I had been putting off making layer cakes, as there are just not enough people around and I would probably end up either eating the majority of it myself, or wasting it, neither of which I wanted to do. I found the solution when I popped into Lakeland and found they were having a 40% off bakeware sale! I treated myself to some 6-inch tins. This meant I could stack the cake high, while only using a 3-egg sponge mix.

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This was my first attempt at properly icing a cake, and I think I did pretty well! I’m proud of it anyway, it was certainly the prettiest cake I’ve ever made.

If you are thinking of trying something like this, I found these videos a great help.

A Special Message

This post is dedicated to my lovely friends. Over the past few weeks some of you have graduated from university, got into medical school, won awards, found jobs, and just generally been awesome.

This post is also for my friends who are having a bit of a rough time at the moment, whether you’ve been having a hard time at work or uni, you’ve been rejected for a job, or you’ve recently broken up with someone.

This message also goes to all my lovely readers – yes, you – and it is:

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Devil’s food cake, fluffy chocolate frosting and bronze sprinkles. Go for it. You deserve it. You’re awesome.

TREAT.

YO.

SELF.

(if you don’t know what I’m on about)

Sadly I wasn’t the first to come up with this, I got the idea here

Traveling on my stomach

You may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet on the blog lately. That is because, aside from getting a new job (yay!), I was on holiday to Canada for two weeks. I went to university in Vancouver, at UBC, so I took a trip back over to see friends and generally get away from it all. I also ate a lot. Like, seriously, a lot.

Top of the list was brunch, so on the first Saturday after I arrived we headed to Jethro’s, a favourite of ours, for an enormous and delicious meal.

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Later in the week, I also had a donut for the first time in years – it was delicious!

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Lucky’s glazed donut

we also had plenty of drinks, including bellinis, bellinis, and more bellinis!

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I’m  a firm believer that more drinks should come with gummy worms

I’m not really one to sit in a restaurant and take photos of my food though, so instead I collect business cards. Here are some I picked up in Vancouver:

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not to mention Vancouver favourites like Japadog, Granville Island public market, independent cafes, and lots of sushi! I’m a little sad I didn’t make it to Memphis Blues though!

I also took a side trip to Portland with my friend Linda for a couple of days. We couch-surfed with a lovely couple who lived in the cutest building ever:

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Once again, much food and drink was had! Here is a selection of the things we had and the places we had it:

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So, so much food. I also seem to have broken a dam, donut-wise, as I had another one and a half from Blue Star donuts in Portland.

I had such a great time, it was so good to see my friends again, and I think I put on about half a stone in those two weeks. It was worth it though!

Wilsoooooooooon!

Today I thought I’d share one of my recent bakes with you. Although I don’t have too many photos of the cake, I thought it was pretty fun and worth sharing!

A couple of weeks ago was my sister’s birthday, and she requested a cake for her Tom Hanks-themed birthday party (don’t ask). After lots of pestering on my behalf, she finally came up with an idea for it – she wanted a Wilson cake.

If you don’t know, Wilson is a “character” in the movie Castaway, a volleyball that becomes one of Tom Hanks’ companions on the desert island he is washed up on.

I have to say that I was terrified at first, and continued to be worried until I’d finally finished with it. The only way I could think to do it was to bake a cake in a bowl and then cover it with fondant icing, and I’d not had much luck with that before. My sister and quite a few of her friends work as costume designers, ie. are artistic, work with their hands and pay great attention to detail. It felt like a lot of pressure to get the cake to look right.

The cake was a chocolate-Malteaser cake with white chocolate icing. I baked the cake in advance and froze it, as we were going on holiday and getting home on the day before the party. When I was ready to decorate it, I sliced the cake into layers, filled and coated it, trying to get the buttercream into a hemisphere. I then chilled it, covered it with the fondant, and got to decorating.

Unfortunately my camera was out of action that day, so I only have phone photos.

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I then decided to add blue royal icing to make it look as if he was floating in water. I don’t have a good photo of that, unfortunately. Here’s a photo of poor Wilson during the party though.

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White Chocolate Mousse

I came up with this recipe back in October, when I made dessert for a dinner at my friend’s house. My friends have been asking for the recipe ever since, but I wanted to try it again before I shared it, to nail down the quantities. For the dinner party, I used the mousse to fill a tart with dark chocolate pastry, and when I did get around to trying it again, it was to fill my cake commission. I tested that before I made the real cake too, so I am pretty confident that this recipe works!

IMG_3752The pastry case I made using a recipe from Nigella’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. I don’t like raspberries very much, but even I have to admit this mousse goes very well with them! I topped the tart with late home-grown ones, hence the small number!

White Chocolate Mousse

makes enough to fill a 20cm tart + extra (I put the extra in ramekins and ate it chilled)

  • 200g good-quality white chocolate
  • 2 sheets gelatine*
  • 120ml whipping cream, liquid
  • 250ml whipping cream, whipped

Heat the 120ml cream in a small pan over a medium heat until almost simmering. Soak the gelatine in cold water, then turn off the heat and whisk the gelatine into the cream until dissolved.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl. Pour over the hot cream and beat until the chocolate is melted. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Whip the remaining cream, then fold into the cooled chocolate mixture. Pour the mousse into bowls or your tart case, then chill in the fridge.

 

* I suspect that different gelatine brands might be different sizes and set different amounts of liquid, so just in case, I used Dr Oetker Fine Leaf Gelatine

My first Commission!

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I completed my first cake commission today! My Mum’s friend asked me to make a cake for her birthday party, and here it is. I got the decoration idea from the Great British Bake Off book I have. Mum’s friend asked for a cake with fruit, so I thought this would be perfect, particularly as I am useless when it comes to decorating with icing. Coincidentally, it also looks like a Danish flag, and the birthday girl is Danish! It is a white chocolate cake, filled with white chocolate mousse and raspberry purée.

Keeping my fingers firmly crossed for now, as I have to take it in the car to the party venue. Praying it doesn’t get dropped or smashed!