A birthday bake for Mr B – Homemade Jaffa Cakes

It was Mr B’s birthday this week and as he hadn’t really asked for anything in particular I decided that a birthday bake would be a lovely surprise for when he got home from work. We are both massive foodies and complement each other really well in the kitchen – his cooking skills are far superior to mine and he regularly produces the most delicious dinners for us. Baking is, of course, more my forte and my skills in this area are, I think, one of the main reasons he married me!

Instead of baking a traditional birthday cake this year, I decided to reproduce one of his favourite sweet snacks – Jaffa Cakes, something which he can quite easily demolish a box of if given the chance. I love the idea of trying to recreate a homemade version of a shop-bought snack as I know that the end result is ultimately going to be better as there won’t be any artificial flavourings or preservatives in it so it will be so much more tasty.

By pure chance I didn’t even have to search for a recipe, as one of my favourite foodie bloggers Jo from Every Nook and Cranny just happened to share her recipe for Jaffa Cakes on her Facebook page in the week running up to hubby’s birthday. With my baking I always try to use the best ingredients and it was definitely worth the extra money I spent on buying the best oranges I could find (in this case from Waitrose) as the jelly was made from the pure juice, freshly squeezed from these delicious fruits. We are lucky at home that we have a masticating juicer and so I was able to extract a lot of juice from each orange and only needed to use 2 as they were very juicy but even if you don’t have a juicer, a traditional hand press squeezer (the metal kind most of us have in the kitchen) is perfectly fine but might mean you end up using a few more oranges than I did. I certainly wouldn’t suggest cheating and using pre-squeezed juice as the fresh produces a really rich flavour which is definitely worth the effort.

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Ready to make orange jelly 

Definitely worth the effort – look at that delicious juice 

I had thought that it might be a little bit fiddly to create these delicious snacks but actually it was surprisingly easy albeit a little time consuming as the three distinct steps – making the jelly, baking the sponge bases and covering these in melted chocolate each took a little bit of time and required some patience as the sponges needed to be cool and the chocolate not too hot before it could over the jelly.  As recommended by Jo I chose to use a ‘whoopie pie’ pan to make the sponges as it created a flatter bake. I found a mould fairly cheaply on Amazon as I didn’t already have one and would say it is really worth investing in if you plan to make these again (which I certainly will) as you wouldn’t get the correct shaped bases otherwise.  I will, however, share my handy tip for finding a cutter that is small enough for the jelly discs that sit on top, if like me you don’t have one – use a lid from an empty spice jar, it was the perfect size.

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Perfect golden discs – and only 8 minutes to cook them!

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Perfect jelly discs made with my make-shift spice lid cutter

Once all the steps are prepared – jelly set, sponges cooled and chocolate melted, the fun really begins as the Jaffa Cakes finally come to life as these separate parts are combined. I approached this final step with trepidation as I wanted them to turn out perfect however it was much easier than I expected thankfully. I finished them about an hour before Mr B came home from work which was just enough time for the chocolate to set. I am so pleased with the results and can happily report that Mr B loved them too and they are almost all gone only a day later!

 

Just like the real thing – only better as they are homemade

If you haven’t already checked out Jo’s blog I thoroughly recommend it – I regularly head there for baking inspiration for and am never disappointed. As well as sharing recipes for sweet treats she also has some delicious savoury recipes if that is more your thing so grab a cup of something warm and get yourself over there to see what you can find.

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Slow down and enjoy the dough…

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As I am sure most bloggers do, every week I spend a large proportion of my spare time browsing social media and visiting others people’s blogs. I have learnt over the last six months that the blogging community is a friendly and welcoming place and have found that this browsing habit brings with it both inspiration and affirmation in equal measure.

One such affirmation this week has been the overwhelming need to slow down and enjoy life. In a recent post the lovely Lucy Heath at Capture by Lucy reflected on the idea of ‘slow living’ and a new pace of life which has offered moments of calmness in a busy schedule and lots of extra happiness. Alongside this some random Facebook browsing unearthed a HuffPost article by Rachel Macy Stafford entitled ‘The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up’. This retold the moment the author was inspired by her thoughtful, observant child to slow down so that she could enjoy life more.   These pieces mirrored a feeling that has also developed in me over the last few years, where life events have taught me that I need to slow down, live life more positively and appreciate the everyday moments which bring me happiness.

After a busy couple of weeks and the feeling I might be coming down with a cold, a few days living life in the slow lane were exactly what was needed this weekend and so some sourdough bread making was on the cards.  Baking sourdough is most definitely a bread experience which requires patience but is certainly worth the wait, as the loaf produced has a flavour of its very own which, with every bite, makes you feel like you are eating the ‘real’ thing and makes you realise the lack of any flavour found in commercially produced loaves.

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How inviting does this loaf look?

My love affair with this distinctively flavoured delight came about as a result of Mr B’s weekend routine of rushing to our local supermarket to get one of their few loaves and often returning disappointed.  I therefore decided that for his last birthday I would give him a sourdough starter (purchased from Hobbs House Bakery online). This to most would probably seem like a fairly odd gift to give to their husbands but not for Mr B, he was delighted to receive it and couldn’t wait for the first loaf to be produced. It has been almost a year since then and during this time I have made a loaf most months and through this routine have learnt a lot about this artisan form of bread making.

Sourdough ingredients

 

The magic of a sourdough loaf is that it is produced with only four simple ingredients – a starter, flour, water and salt.  It is the starter which is the star ingredient, the simple addition of warmth to a flour and water mixture encourages the production of natural yeasts (which give the loaf its rise) and bacteria (which give the loaf its distinctive flavour).  The dough rises slowly when using a starter as opposed to the ‘fast acting’ dried yeast used in most loaves, however it is worth the wait.  In total the production of a loaf, from feeding the starter to taking the first bite of a freshly baked loaf, is around 24 hours.  This may sound like an arduous amount of time, however the involvement of the baker in this time period is less than an hour as their only task is to produce the dough. Prior to this the starter has been fed with some additional flour and water to reinvigorate it after its incubation in the fridge (where it lives between loaves) and then it rises slowly for up to twelve hours before being baked.

Tweaking the recipe

 

 

It has been my mission over the last year to produce a perfect loaf and finally this weekend I think I may have finally achieved this (or certainly got the closest I ever have). Over the months I have been making sourdough bread I have tweaked the original recipe and adapted the technique through trial and error (as well as some well-founded research).  This seems to have all paid off as the loaf which emerged from the oven on Saturday evening could only be described as ‘stupendous’, a golden delight whose crust was a crispy coat surrounding the precious flavoursome loaf inside. Spread with butter whilst still slightly warm it was heaven on a plate and soon between Mr B and I almost half the loaf had disappeared.

Steps to success with sourdough

I’d recommend to anyone who has not tasted sourdough to give it a try, at first it’s tangy flavour is a little overwhelming but once the taste buds have adjusted it is such a delightful loaf which leaves others in its wake.  If you’re interested in attempting to bake your own, I’d definitely encourage you and to give you a helping hand I would love to share with you what I have learnt in my journey to a perfect loaf.

Sarah’s sourdough tips

  • Starter – although it is fairly simple and very economical to produce your own sourdough starter (see instructions here), I chose to buy an established starter from a baker. My reasons for this were that it would be more active and resilient, guaranteeing a reliable and flavoursome loaf from the outset.
  • Balancing the flour and starter ratios – I have tweaked the ratio between these two ingredients in order to create a loaf with the amount of tanginess which both Mr B and I enjoy. For the scientists in you this can also be influenced by the temperature at which the starter is fed as well as the liquid/flour balance of the original starter so I’d encourage you to give these a little tweak too and see what happens.
  • Time the loaf is left to rise – my recipe states that the dough should be left to rise for twelve hours, however after several loaves and a little research I soon realised this was too long as it was over-proving and each time the loaf came out of the oven a large gap would be present between the crust and the inner crumb at the top. I have since left the loaves for around eight hours or until they have approximately doubled in size. The length of this time can vary depending on the temperature in the room but please don’t be tempted to put it in the airing cupboard as the slow rise is also key in developing the distinctive flavour.
  • Using a proving basket and baking stone – the benefits of using these two items is that the loaves have a wonderful shape which they take on in the proving stage whilst sitting in the basket and a wonderful crisp golden crust which comes from the brick oven type effect the heated stone gives.
  • Temperature change in the oven – a recent discovery has been the need to reduce the temperature by 20-30C after the first ten minutes of baking. This emulates the effect of a brick oven which naturally drops in temperature during the baking time and produces the distinctive crisp crust without ending up with a over-baked loaf (as the initial temperature is usually the highest your oven will go).
  • Steam in the oven – another secret to producing a great crust is the addition of steam at the beginning of the baking time – I achieve this by adding some boiling water to a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven just before I put the unbaked loaf on the baking stone.

Good luck with your sourdough adventures, I’d love to hear about your successes and any tips you have for creating your perfect loaf as I am sure there is still more for me to learn.

Happy baking!!

Granny’s delights…

There’s not been much delight to be had this week with the dreary wet and misty days we have been having and so when we were given a dozen or more apples from a work colleague of Mr B’s I decided to capture some of their sun ripened sweetness and create some delicious homemade treats.

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A bowl full of garden goodness x

As apples are hubby’s absolute favourite choice of pudding ingredient the first recipe on the agenda was a homemade apple pie as requested by Mr B himself.  For some reason I have been avoiding making pastry for as long as I can remember, as I have been under the illusion that it was uber-complicated and could easily go wrong. This fact probably wasn’t helped by my only previous foray into pastry making was puff pastry for apple turnovers which is a lot harder than the shortcrust needed for a traditional apple pie.

As an avid baker, with most gadgets to hand when creating kitchen yumminess, I realised that my inexplicable aversion to pastry had gone so far as not even having pie tins and so a quick visit to TK-Maxx resulted in their purchase and sealed the deal for me in creating hubby’s request. My lovely friend Lucy recommended a fail-safe shortcrust pastry recipe from be-ro (to be found here) and good old Mary Berry provided the inspiration for the apple filling (from her glorious Baking Bible) and so with a spring in my step I felt I was set for success.

Apple pie

Mr B’s favourite pud at last…

Thankfully success was achieved and the result was this delicious apple pie which we ate accompanied by some yummy homemade custard. Thankfully it also met all Mr B’s expectations, so much so that he has already suggested getting some more apples so that we there can be a repeat of this bake as soon as possible. I loved it too, it was a delight to use these delicious apple’s ripened by the sunshine of summer to create a pudding which is so satisfyingly comforting, perfect for a dreary autumnal evening.

Next on the agenda for the apples which were left was preservation, in the form of some spiced apple chutney.  As a self-confessed homebody I have ventured into the realms of preserves before and so for this make I returned to a tried and tested recipe from bbc food (find it here).

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Chutney ingredients ready to go…

What I love about preserving is that it captures flavours from seasons already passed in a jar of intense yumminess. I also love that in creating a delicious jam or chutney that time needs to be set aside and patience is needed for a perfect outcome. A morning or afternoon in the kitchen can provide jars of goodness to last until the summer suns returns.

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Patience pays off – a jar of yumminess results x

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With at least half a dozen apples left and the offer of more if needed, I am sure there will be more sweet delights being created this weekend, perhaps this time it’ll be my favourite pud – apple crumble.

Battling the Bake Off Blues…

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With the Bake Off blues well and truly setting in amongst baking enthusiasts across the UK this week, I thought I’d bring a little tonic to those who are suffering in the form of my very own version of the Bake Off finals as contested by an extremely capable group of young bakers in the form of the girls in my Brownie pack.

For those of you who don’t know me in person, I am and have been for the last 15 years or so a leader in a thriving Brownie pack and on a weekly basis get to indulge in fun activities with a group of enthusiastic 7 to 11 years olds.  This year, for the first time, I decided to take inspiration from everyone’s favourite baking programme and plan a Bake Off Challenge for the girls to participate in.

It was with much excitement that this began last Tuesday with the girls being asked to bring in their very own ‘Signature Bakes’ – some of which were very impressive.  Just like the original all of their bakes were to be judged, with a winning six being crowned after all the challenges were completed.  With the Signature Bakes the girls themselves were given the opportunity to be tasters and to mark another sixes bakes in secret.  They took this very seriously and there were some very in depth discussions about what score each bake would get for its taste, texture and appearance.

Signature bakes collage

Next up was the ‘Technical Challenge’ where the Brownies were given the equipment, ingredients and recipe to make an Eton Mess. This time they were to be scored on not only their end product but also their ability to work as a team and following the instructions accurately.   With no assistance from the leaders they set about creating this yummy dessert and it was evident quite quickly which groups were actually reading each step and following it to the letter and which were not!! After 20 minutes all the sixes had created a dessert but not all looked quite like an Eton Mess should – it was with quite a lot of hilarity that I read out the key step a number of them had missed which would have ensured the classic look of a layered desert rather than the mouse like mix of ingredients some of them had created.

technical challenge collage

After a week’s break we were onto the final challenge – ‘The Showstopper’ after which we would crown one six the champions.  For this the girls were given a selection of baked and sweet delights and a choice of themes (animal, insects, vehicles and structures) and instructed to let their creative juices flow.

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After some planning time the fun began and a superb selection of showstoppers were being created by the busy sixes.  When their allocated time was up each was displayed and the final judging took place with all scores this time being based on the appearance of their final make.

technical challenge finalists collage

As in the Bake Off tent it was with much anticipation and excitement that the winner was finally announced, a team of girls whose creativity had shone throughout and whose final bake showed fantastic flair and imagination. They made a wonderful guinea pig themed showstopper which included the guinea pig itself, it’s run, water bottle and some food, a superb creation indeed.

Bake off winners collage

I for one can’t wait for the Bake Off to return, not only to our screens next year but also to my Brownie pack as this is definitely a challenge I’d love to repeat and think that the girls would with me too agree too!!!

I’d love to hear about any Bake Off challenges you have been involved in this year and what you have created, lets spread the bake off love for a few more weeks x

bake off score cards and instructions collage

An autumnal weekend bake – Apple & Cinnamon Crumble Cake

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble Cake

As I sit writing this you could be mistaken for thinking that summer is here to stay as the sunshine is streaming through the window and there are glimpses of blue sky peeking through the clouds. However this week has certainly had more of an autumnal feel – jumpers have been on, pregrudgingly the heating was put on a couple of evenings ago and the duvet is back on the bed (this I love though as it is so cosy).

Bedford CollageThe last of the Summer? Enjoying blue sky’s over Bedford this weekend

I love autumn – the changing colours, the crispness in the air and an excuse to put on cosy clothes are perfect reasons to love the season.  I find the autumn to be a more predictable season, British summers are more often than not slightly disappointing but at least once it reaches September and autumn approaches we know what to expect and are rarely disappointed, occasionally we are even surprised by a late ‘Indian summer’.

With an autumnal feel in the air this week and a few days at home with the hubby I decided a bit of baking was in order this weekend.  Mr B was treating me to a delicious dinner and I though the least I could do was treat him to his choice of pudding in return.  His favourite type of pud usually involves something that includes apples and as I did not have the inclination to make pastry I decided to go for an Autumnal Apple & Cinnamon Crumble Cake.

After a bit of searching online, I found a recipe on the BBC Good Food website for an Apple Crumble Loaf. However, being a bit of a baking maverick, I did not stick religiously to the recipe and made some adaptations of my own. With online recipes I always think it is sensible to take note of what other people think of the recipe and any advice they can offer. As Frances over at Frances Bakes discussed on her blog last week some recipes online are not reliable and, unless you have experience on your side as a baker, you can be left disheartened and disappointed when poor instructions lead to a poor outcome.   I therefore always check the ratings a recipe has been given and take a glance at the comments from other people who have used the recipe.

The main advice from multiple comments was to cook it for longer and to increase the spice level.  I do consider myself to be a fairly experienced home baker and will generally make a few little tweaks to a recipe if I feel it is necessary, so when I had glanced at the ingredients list I had already decided that 2 teaspoons of spice in a 2lb cake would definitely not be enough. Also the cake only asked for mixed spice but, as many of the other bakers had also noted, cinnamon is a much better partner for apple so with this in mind I doubled the amount of mixed spice and added the same amount of cinnamon to the recipe. I am also not really a fan of adding milk to a recipe unless absolutely needed and so decided to add an extra apple and a banana (for sweetness) to the mix. Finally, for the crumble topping I substituted the suggested chopped hazelnuts for some rolled oats to make a crumble that resembled my Mum’s homemade classic.

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The classic crumble topping mix 

The recipe came together fairly easily in two easy steps,  combining dry ingredients and then adding the wet. With the addition of the extra apple and mashed banana the consistency of the cake was perfect but I could definitely see why it would need the extra 20 mins cooking time as it is a fairly dense but moist mixture.   When making the crumble mixture I made the decision to double to amounts as it did not seem enough to cover the cake, however when it came to it an increase by only a half again would have been fine and this is what I will do next time for sure.

Apple & Cinnamon Crumble collage

Somehow with every recipe designed for a 2lb loaf tin I always seem to be left with a bit over (I think my tins are not quite 2lb perhaps) which suits Mr B perfectly as he always likes to have a taster as soon as possible.  This recipe left me with enough to make an additional three muffin sized cakes, however finding I did not have any muffin cases (they seemed to have been eaten by my kitchen cupboard!), I quickly made some make shift cases out of greaseproof. I was unsure of how the cakes would fair in these cases but they actually came out pretty well and unless it’s for a special occasion I might not bother with cases all the time from now on.

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The fact that our tasters only took half the time to cook, due to their smaller size, suited Mr B perfectly and we soon enjoyed tucking into them with a cup of freshly brewed tea.  The finished cake was really delicious, it had a good rise and the fruit was well distributed (Paul and Mary would be pleased!). The apple and cinnamon combination made it a perfect autumnal bake and the more traditional crumble topping gave it a satisfying feeling of part cake/part pudding which means I think it would be perfect served with custard or ice cream if having it as a pud but just as good with a cup of tea like we did.  It’s lightness from the rise and the moistness from the fruit made it really moreish and the only reason there was some left on the day of baking was because Mr B’s delicious dinner filled us up.

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A tasty morsel of this yummy autumnal cake – it didn’t last long!

Apple and Cinnamon Crumble Cake

(makes 2lb loaf tin sized cake)

Ingredients

For the cake: 

140g butter, cut into small pieces

250g self-raising flour

1 rounded tbsp mixed spice

1 rounded tbsp ground cinnamon

140g light muscovado sugar

100g raisins

3 large eggs, beaten

3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped (1cm cubes)

1 banana

For the crumble topping:

1.5 rounded tbsp plain flour

40g butter

40 light muscovado sugar

1.5 rounded tbsp rolled oats

Method

For the cake: 

Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3.

Butter and line the bast of a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Put the flour and spices into a food processor and add the butter – whizz to fine breadcrumbs and then add the sugar (if you do not have a food processor use your fingers to make a fine crumble).

Add the raisins, beaten eggs, apple and banana to the dry ingredients and mix well until everything is evenly combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top.

For the crumble:

Rub the flour, butter and sugar through your fingers to make a rough crumble, then stir in the rolled oats.

Sprinkle evenly over the cake mixture.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 mins, until firm to the touch and a fine skewer in the centre comes out clean.

Cool in the tin for 15 mins, then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

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This will definitely be a recipe I return to and it met Mr B’s approval for an apple based bake so that’s a winner for me! I am looking forward to more adventures in the kitchen during the Autumn months, I think blackberries might be next on the agenda.

Have you been inspired by the changing seasons and made an Autumnal bake this weekend or do you fancy having a try at this recipe next weekend? Whatever you are baking I’d love to hear about it x