Tag Archives: Lemon

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins

The lab was a glum place to be on Thursday after that last gutting America’s Cup race.  Actually, NZ was a glum place to be.  Except, presumably, the place in Warkworth where most of the Oracle USA boat was built.  So Team NZ was beaten by a boat largely built and designed in NZ…  Totally not awkward at all, nope.  Anyway.  It’s depressing, so let’s not dwell on it too much.  My actual point is, we were all feeling a bit sulky.  And the solution to that is… cake.  Obviously.  Come on, this is a food blog.  Food is always the answer.

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins 1

Random RecipesI wasn’t sure what I wanted to bake.  Luckily though, Dom has set the theme of puddings, cakes and bakes for this month’s Random Recipes, so that conveniently bypassed the whole issue of indecision.  I randomly picked out A Treasury of NZ Baking, and randomly opened it at page 78: crunchy lemon muffins.  Oh hello…  After coming down with a cold over the weekend and being given lemons by several lovely people, I have plenty to use up.  Inspired by all the hot toddies that I’ve been making with said lemons, I added some ginger to the muffins.  I considered adding whisky, too, but decided to save that experiment for another time (I totally didn’t get distracted and forget).

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins 2

They didn’t come out very crunchy.  As in, they didn’t come out crunchy at all.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I’m guessing it’s something to do with the glaze, which certainly made them sticky – perhaps too much of the sugar dissolved in the lemon juice or our house is too humid and the crunch was lost.  Despite that, they were utterly delicious and lemony, which I love, with a hint of ginger poking through.  So I’ll definitely be making them again.  Especially since they’re also super quick to prepare – start to finish only took about 40 minutes.  Amazing or what?

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins 3

Sticky lemon & ginger muffins

Makes 15 muffins
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

Avoid using muffin liners as I think they’ll just go soggy from the glaze – silicone moulds or directly baking in the muffin holes are the way forward.  These are best eaten within two days, either warm or room temperature.

Ingredients

For the muffins:
75g unsalted butter
250g all-purpose flour
175g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
250ml milk
1 egg
Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

For the glaze:
60ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
60g caster sugar

Directions

To make the muffins:
1.  Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan oven 200°C.  Set out 15 silicon moulds or butter 15 holes in muffin tins.

2.  Melt the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Meanwhile, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger and salt together into a large bowl and whisk together with a fork.

4.  Add the milk, egg and lemon zest to the bowl of butter and whisk together with a fork.  Add to the bowl of dry ingredients and fold through with a metal spoon until just combined (you don’t want the mixture to be super smooth and traces of flour is good).  Add a heaped spoonful of batter to each muffin mould or hole.  Bake for about 12 mins until lightly browned and the tops spring back when lightly pressed.

To make the glaze:
5.  Whilst they are baking, add the lemon juice and caster sugar to a small bowl.  Don’t mix.

6.  Once the muffins are out of the oven, brush the tops with the glaze using a pastry brush.  Try not to stir the glaze to minimise the sugar dissolving.  Repeat until all the glaze is used up.  Allow the muffins to sit in their moulds/tin for 5 mins before lifting them out onto a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm or cooled to room temperature.

Enjoy!

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Grapefruit curd

You guys, it’s spring!  Spring officially started on the first of September here in NZ, and you know what that means?  It’s baby animal season!  There are loads of lambs gambolling around in the fields.  There are fuzzy calves aplenty, too.  I don’t know if fuzzy calves are a NZ thing (I’ve no idea what breeds are farmed around here) or if I just haven’t paid much attention to the calves in other countries.  Either way, they’re adorable.  All of the baby animals in the fields are adorable.

Tawharanui lamb pile

So cute!  We came across those little specimens of fluff during a mini-hike through Tawharanui last week.  In other news (super smooth segue alert), we finally got through our mountain of grapefruit.  Huzzah!  Today’s grapefruit-themed recipe is for grapefruit curd.  Curd is a great way of using up any citrus surplus, and super easy to boot.  It just needs a bit of babysitting and continuous stirring until it’s done.  So drinking a shedload of tea beforehand isn’t recommended, because you can’t really abandon the hob mid-curd-production.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Grapefruit curd 1

Once it’s done, cooled and set, you can do a tonne of stuff with curd, including eating it straight from the jar with a spoon.  If you have any left after “quality control,” it’s an excellent addition to baked goods (think sandwich biscuits, macarons, etc.) or spread on crumpets or toast.  It also makes a wonderful filling for some blind-baked pastry cases, especially topped with a dollop of whipped cream and eaten for breakfast whilst watching Team NZ smash the US during one of the America’s Cup races (because they’re on at breakfast time for us – thank you time zones).

Grapefruit curd 2

Grapefruit curd

Makes enough to fill about two 350ml jars
Adapted from my lemon curd recipe

I used yellow grapefruit, but this would work equally well with pink grapefruit.  To sterilise the jars, wash in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly and dry in an oven pre-heated to just over 100°C.  The curd will keep for about a week in the fridge (possibly longer, but I’ve never had a batch remain uneaten for more than a couple of days). 

Ingredients

2 large or 3 medium grapefruit (yellow or pink)
1 small lemon
4 eggs + 2 egg yolks
110g butter
220g caster sugar

Directions

1.  Juice the grapefruit and lemon into a small bowl or jug.  In another small bowl, beat the two eggs and the egg yolk together well.

2.  Melt the cubed butter in a large heat-proof bowl over a simmering pan of water (make sure that the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl).

3.  Add the sugar and the zest and juice from the grapefruit and lemon, followed by the eggs.  Stir the mixture carefully and constantly with a spatula, making sure the mixture doesn’t boil.  Once the mixture coats the back of the spatula (turn the spatula flat and run your finger through the mixture coating it – if you can draw a line through the mixture and it doesn’t re-fill, then it’s done), remove from the heat.

4.  If using the curd straightaway, pour into a bowl, otherwise, pour into sterilised glass jars.  Allow to cool (it will thicken further) before sealing and storing in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Grapefruit curd breakfast tartlets

A winning breakfast, right there.

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Making marmalade the Mel way

I hurt.  All over.  And it’s my own silly fault.  You see, due to a general lack of exercise for the past few months, I’m shockingly unfit.  So it was obviously an excellent idea to go from practically no exercise to cycling on Saturday, playing two hours of ultimate frisbee on Sunday (I don’t even know how I got talked into that.  It involved an awful lot of stop-start running.  I hate running.) and cycling again yesterday.  Pacing myself sensibly is not one of my strong points.  And holy guacamole am I paying for it.

Tamarillo marmalade 1

That same all-or-nothing approach isn’t just restricted to poor exercise-related decision-making.  There were some beautiful tamarillos at the farmers’ market a few weekends ago.  So instead of buying a few, I came away with 2kg.  I knew I had some recipes for various tamarillo-based preserves and chutneys squirrelled away, so I dug them out and decided to transform the evidence of my, ahem, slight overenthusiasm into tamarillo marmalade.  Despite loving marmalade, I’d never actually tried making my own before, so this seemed as good a time as ever.

Tamarillo marmalade 2

To be perfectly honest, halfway through slicing 1.5kg of tamarillos, I got a bit bored and started to question whether all this effort was going to be worth it.  I had a similar crisis of enthusiasm the following evening whilst making the marmalade and wondering why it was taking forever to gel.  When I checked the recipe again, I discovered that I’d mixed up the quantities with another recipe that I’d considered and used 1.5kg of tamarillos instead of 1kg.  And then I’d forgotten that I’d used 1.5kg of tamarillos and calculated the sugar based on 1kg of tamarillos.  No wonder.

Tamarillo marmalade 3

Thankfully, the marmalade did eventually gel.  And also happens to taste delicious.  Tamarillos are a little bitter, but not hugely so, which means the decreased sugar isn’t problematic, the marmalade is just the right amount of bitter.  So it worked out wonderfully.  That, I’m afraid, is the Mel show – more than a little disorganised, but I somehow usually manage to fudge it and make it look/taste like I totally knew what I was doing.  More by accident than any sort of actual skill.  Which I’m sure gives you great confidence in my recipes…*

Tamarillo marmalade 4

Tamarillo marmalade

Makes just over 4 x 350ml jars
Adapted from A fruit cookbook

To sterilise the jam jars, wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water before placing on a baking tray and placing in an oven on low heat until fully dried, about 10 mins or so.  It might be an idea to use jam sugar, since the added pectin would probably help the marmalade gel a bit quicker.  I should warn you that the marmalade does take a while to make, and you do have to keep an eye on it.  But don’t be put off by that, just make sure you don’t have any pressing engagements.  The marmalade is delicious on toast and scones or in porridge and would probably make a delicious meat glaze, too.

Ingredients

1.5kg tamarillos
750g caster or granulated sugar (or jam sugar)
2 unwaxed oranges
1 unwaxed lemon

Directions

1.  Place the tamarillos in a heat-proof bowl (you may need to do this in batches) and pour boiling water over them.  Allow to sit for 1-2 mins, then skin them, starting by lopping off the stalk with a sharp knife and peeling off the rest of the skin (the skin peels away very easily once started).  Finely slice the peeled tamarillos, place them in a large bowl with 250g of the sugar and stir together.  Cover with a lid or cling-film and leave to stand overnight.

2.  Finely slice the oranges and lemon, removing any pips.  Add to a large mixing bowl with 750ml water, cover with a lid or cling-film and also leave to stand overnight.

3.  The next day, place several saucers or small plates in the freezer.  Add the orange and lemon peel and water to a large heavy-bottomed pan and simmer over a medium-low heat until the skins turn transparent.  Then add the tamarillos and simmer until tender.  Finally, add the sugar and ensure that it dissolves before turning the heat up a little and bringing the marmalade to a rolling boil.  After about 15-20 mins, remove one of the saucers from the freezer, place 1 tsp of the marmalade and place in the fridge for 1 min.  Push your finger through the marmalade on the saucer.  If it wrinkles, the marmalade is ready.  If not, allow the marmalade to continue on a fast boil for another 4-5 mins and test again.  Continue until the marmalade wrinkles.  As soon as the marmalade is ready, remove from the heat.

4.  Allow to cool for 20 mins.  Skim any scum off the top and ladle the marmalade into sterilised jars and seal (a jam funnel helps considerably).

Enjoy!

PS – I’m submitting this to this week’s Made with Love Mondays hosted by the lovely Javelin Warrior.

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

* I feel that I just should point out that I only ever post recipes that actually worked for me.  And if I’m not sure, I’ll double test them.

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When life gives you lemons… Just add alcohol

Saturday was the official start of winter in New Zealand.  Much like the UK, the weather here doesn’t pay any attention to official seasons.  Winter actually arrived last Tuesday, in all its tempestuous powercut-inducing glory (and really we were fairly lucky – a fair proportion of the rest of the country found themselves covered in snow).  On our first official day of winter, however, I spent the whole morning sitting out on the deck in the glorious sunshine, topping up my vitamin D reserves.

First official day of winter. Blue skies, blue sea, palm trees. Life is good.

Ya, that’s what the official start to winter looked like in Leigh, and we were lucky to be treated to similar weather the entire long weekend.  I sometimes still can’t quite believe that I live here.  Anyway, before you all turn away from your computer screens in disgust or hatred, I’ll reassure you that today we’ve been treated to a good dose of horizontal rain, a severe weather advisory and multiple powercuts.  So I think that this is a suitably winter-like day to share that homemade limoncello recipe that I mentioned in my limoncello cupcakes post.  Lemons brighten everything up, and I like to think of limoncello as liquid sunshine.  Alcoholic liquid sunshine.  Very drinkable alcoholic sunshine that doesn’t taste alcoholic.  Oh dear.

Ooooo hello…

I started making my own limoncello about two and a half years ago.  I wanted to try limoncello, but couldn’t find any to buy, so I looked up some recipes.  I picked the one that only required an overnight maceration instead of two weeks (because I’m impatient like that) and it turned out so scrumptious that I’ve yet to get around to trying out one of the recipes that take a little longer.  I’ll report back on the comparison when I eventually do, but in the meantime, this is a pretty handy sort-of last-minute drinks recipe to have up your sleeve.  I’ve actually never tried “real” limoncello, so I can’t tell you how this measures up to the stuff you’d drink in Italy.  I can, however, tell you that it’s bloody delicious, and super lemony.  Any time I’ve pulled out a bottle for friends, it has disappeared fairly promptly, which can only be a good sign…

When real sunshine is lacking… alcoholic sunshine will do.

Limoncello

Makes about 400ml
Slightly adapted from Waitrose

To sterilise the glass bottle, wash in hot, soapy water and pop in an oven pre-heated to 100°C for about ten mins or so, until dry.  Allow to cool before pouring the limoncello in.  Don’t use your super expensive special edition boutique vodka, but don’t use supermarket own-label vodka either – paint-stripper will always just taste of paint-stripper, no matter how many lemons you add.  I just used standard Smirnoff.  I love limoncello served straight over ice, but you can also serve it as a long drink, topped up with soda water.  Sometimes I’ll store the limoncello in the freezer for a day or so so that it goes a bit slushy.  I recommend trying that, too!  This should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge, although it’s unlikely to last even close to that long.

Ingredients

7-8 unwaxed lemons
125g caster sugar (granulated works fine, too)
150ml vodka

Directions

1.  Wash the lemons.  Zest and juice them into a large bowl (ideally not plastic – glass, pyrex or ceramic are all good choices if you have them).  Add the sugar, stir, and cover with clingfilm.  Leave to stand for about 12h or overnight, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has all dissolved.

2.  Strain the lemon mixture through either a very fine sieve, a muslin cloth or a normal sieve lined with kitchen roll.  Squeeze as much juice through as possible.  Stir in the vodka and decant into a sterilised glass bottle, ready to serve.

Enjoy!  (Whilst drinking responsibly and all that jazz…)

Since it’s homemade and all, I’m submitting this limoncello recipe to Made with Love Mondays hosted by Javelin Warrior (I’m guessing it’s ok that I haven’t made my own vodka…).

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

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Alcoholic sunshine in a cupcake

Baking with SpiritFalling off the blogging radar (i.e. – not really having time to blog) means that over the last few months, I haven’t been participating in the various blogging challenges that I usually join in with.  One of my favourites is Baking with Spirit, hosted by Jan over at Cake of the Week.  (Would saying that it’s my favourite make me sound like an alcoholic?)  After missing several challenges, I was all set to participate last month – I’d set aside time and had recipe ideas and everything – but had forgotten to consider that crème de framboise might be a little difficult (read: nigh on impossible) to come by in rural NZ.  After that total fail in planning on my part, I was terribly excited when this month’s alcohol of choice turned out to be “Limoncello.”  I love the stuff.

Woohoo, I'm back to Baking With Spirit!

I actually don’t know if limoncello is any easier to find in rural NZ than crème de framboise, but I circumvented the issue by making my own over the weekend (and I’ll post the recipe soon).  Yesterday was the birthday of one of my labmates so I had her round for dinner and decided that limoncello cupcakes would make an excellent celebratory end to the meal.  Lemon cupcakes with limoncello drizzled over them after baking (you wouldn’t want any of it to bake out…) and topped off with a cream cheese and white chocolate icing (with limoncello added, of course) and all washed down with a small, digestive glass of limoncello – now that’s a great way to bring some sunshine into what was a cold and tempestuously grim weather day.

Alcoholic sunshine in a cupcake

This post actually should have gone up yesterday evening, but the aforementioned foul weather won out and we were treated to a powercut for most of the evening (though thankfully not until after dinner had been cooked), so my plan to blog (or do anything else requiring electricity, like… writing a thesis) had to be abandoned.  Instead, we huddled under blankets, polished off a few more of these cupcakes and drank limoncello and G&Ts by candlelight.  Hopefully my late entry will be forgiven – sorry Jan!

This is what we were missing during the powercut: daylight.

Limoncello cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes
Cupcake recipe adapted from The Great British Bake Off
Icing recipe slightly adapted from Domestic Sluttery

I used home-made limoncello, which isn’t too sweet, so these have a very lemony flavour, but this may vary depending on the limoncello that you use.  I just went for simple two-tone icing to fancy the cupcakes up a bit, but they can also be decorated with lemon zest or white chocolate shavings (or both).  They are best eaten the same day or the next day, but will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.  Whilst not super alcoholic (by my standards), do remember that none of the alcohol gets baked out in this recipe, so perhaps not ideal for children.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
1 lemon
100ml whole milk
125g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
200g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
About 90ml limoncello

For the icing:
Yellow gel food colouring (optional)
150g cream cheese, softened
35 ml limoncello
150g white chocolate

Directions

To prepare the cupcakes:
1.  Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C.  Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases or set out silicon muffin moulds.

2.  Zest and juice the lemon and set aside, separately.  Stir ½ tsp of lemon juice into the milk and set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk the butter with an electric whisk until creamy.  Add the sugar and lemon zest and whisk together until light and fluffy.

4.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together with a fork.  Add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tbsp at a time, whisking well after each addition.

5.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl and stir together.  Fold ⅓ of the flour mixture into the butter with a large metal spoon or a spatula, followed by ⅓ of the milk mixture.  Alternate adding the remaining thirds of flour and milk mixtures, and on the last addition fold together until nearly incorporated.  Add 3 tsp of lemon juice and stir well.

6.  Spoon the batter into the prepared paper cases or silicone moulds.  Bake for 25-28 mins until golden and the tops are just firm to the touch.  Allow to cool for 2 mins in the tin or moulds before turning out onto a wire rack.

7.  Whilst still hot, poke holes in the top of the cupcakes (I like using pointy chopsticks for this) and spoon about 1½ tsp of limoncello over the top of each cupcake – do this slowly so that a maximum amount of limoncello soaks into the cupcake rather than running over the top and down the sides.  Allow to cool fully.

To prepare the icing:
8.  Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, prepare the icing.  If you want to pipe the icing onto the cupcakes (as opposed to spreading it over), prepare a piping bag with your chose piping tip (I used a Wilton 1M tip).  If you want two-tone icing, paint three stripes of yellow gel food colouring up the inside of the piping bag.  Set the piping bag in a tall glass (this will make it easier to fill) and set aside.

9.  In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and limoncello until smooth.

10.  Melt the white chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl), stirring regularly until the chocolate is smooth.  Add to the cream cheese and whisk together until the icing is smooth.  Either spread the icing over the cupcakes with a knife or transfer to the prepared piping bag and pipe onto the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

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Earl Grey & lemon melting moments

It would appear that posts on Sharky Oven Gloves are like buses: so sign of one for ages and then two come along nearly at once.  In order to counteract yesterday’s slightly mammoth post, I’m going to keep this one on the shorter side.  Nothing to do with the fact that I’m watching the Scotland vs Ireland Six Nations rugby game whilst I write, obviously, and that it’s 3:30am here – I apologise if this post doesn’t score very highly in the coherence stakes.  It turns out that waking up at 3am was worth it in the end though, both for Scotland’s totally unexpected (albeit perhaps not terribly deserved, but I’m not complaining) win and for this morning’s beautiful sunrise, which has nothing to do with today’s post, but was too pretty not to share:

Adding a pretty sunrise photo is totally not a ploy to distract you from the general shoddiness of this post.  It's totally working, right?

AlphaBakesI might not have been very good at actually writing up posts and publishing them, but I have still been baking away and keeping an eye on the various challenges that I usually take part in.  This month’s AlphaBakes is being hosted by Ros over at The More Than Occasional Baker, and the randomly chosen letter is “E.”  Nothing immediately sprang to mind on reading the challenge (as a basic ingredient, eggs don’t count), so I made myself a cup of tea to think about it and it hit me (not literally): Earl Grey.  I do love baking with tea – it’s such an easy way to add delicious flavours and there are so many different types to choose from that the possibilities are endless.

E is for… Earl Grey!

I find that Earl Grey is flavourful enough to work in dense cakes yet delicate enough for lighter cakes or biscuits.  It’s been so warm and summery (I know, I know you all hate me, and it won’t help my case to mention that this recipe was baked in a bikini after a good long swim in the sea – have I mentioned that my life is a little ridiculous at the moment?) that I decided to go for the lighter biscuits option and settled on making Earl Grey and lemon melting moments which are basically Earl Grey and lemon shortbread  biscuits sandwiched with lemon buttercream.  The zingy lemon flavour is perfectly refreshing for summer, and the biscuits themselves really were just melt-in-the-mouth.  Pure yumminess!

I totally didn't forget to take photos whilst making the melting moments…

Earl Grey & lemon melting moments

Makes about 20 melting moments or 40 biscuits
Adapted from lemonpi

I used Twinings Earl Grey teabags, but you can obviously use whatever Earl Grey you have at home, though do be aware that they are all a little different, so you may need to adjust the amount of lemon slightly.  If you’re a little pushed for time, the shortbread biscuits are also equally delicious on their own without being sandwiched with lemon buttercream.  I piped the buttercream into my biscuits but I don’t think that really adds anything and just creates extra washing-up.  The biscuits will keep for a few of days in an airtight container.

Ingredients

For the biscuits:
180g unsalted butter, softened
60g icing sugar
180g all-purpose flour
10 Earl Grey teabags (I used Twinings)
60g cornflour
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt

For the buttercream:
60g icing sugar
30g unsalted butter, softened
1½ tsp lemon juice

Directions

To make the biscuits:
1.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and icing sugar with an electric whisk.  Sift the flour, cornflour, contents of the Earl Grey teabags (just tip any bits that don’t go through the sieve into the bowl) and salt into the bowl along with the lemon zest, and mix together with your hands until it comes together (this may take a wee while, but perseverance is key).  The dough may be a little crumbly but don’t worry.  Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for a good 20 mins or so.

2.  Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C.

3.  When the dough has chilled, pinch off just less than a teaspoon of dough and roll into a ball.  Space them out on the baking trays, leaving about 4cm space between them.  Flatten each ball slightly with a fork.  Bake for about 15-18 mins until firm but still pale.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream:
4.  Once the biscuits have cooled completely, make the buttercream.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl and add the cubed butter and lemon juice.  Using an electric whisk, mix until smooth and of a stiff consistency.

5.  Pair up the biscuits and add a little dollop of buttercream to one of each pair before gently sandwiching them together.  They may need to sit a little while for the buttercream to set slightly.

Enjoy!

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When vitamin D doesn’t count as a challenge entry

AlphaBakesThe letter for this month’s AlphaBakes , which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “D.”  The deadline was yesterday.  This post should have gone up yesterday, so I’m going to (attempt to) keep it short, and hope that I’ll be able to sneak it in under the radar.  Things like actual uni work and snorkelling and sitting out on the deck in the sun keep getting in the way of blogging (read: I’m doing phenomenally well in the organisational department at the moment).  It’s a hard life up in Leigh, obviously.  However, I didn’t think that surpassing my daily requirement of vitamin D would quite count as a valid entry for the challenge.  Sorry if you all hate me right now, particularly those of you shivering up in the northern hemisphere – I’d send you some sunshine if I could!

Bit choppy out there on the water – won't be going for a swim today…

That’s the view I’m looking at from our deck as I write – I told you it was tough up here.  But anyway, before you all leave in a huff, back to the challenge: something food-related starting with D…  I decided to go for dates, more specifically a date, coffee and walnut cake that I could share with my new housemates.  I probably should have checked whether anybody disliked any of the ingredients before I made the cake, because it turned out that one my housemates isn’t the hugest fan of dates, coffee or walnuts…  Thankfully she loved the cake though (as did everybody else) and even asked for the recipe.  Phew.

This is what happens when you don't check what your new housemates don't like…

The cake itself is wonderfully moist, with a tiny bit of caramelised stickiness that comes courtesy of the dates.  The coffee comes through as a subtle flavour (which is great since none of my housemates are really coffee-drinkers), with the walnuts adding a bit of crunch.  Topping the whole cake off with cream cheese icing just makes it even more scrumptious.  Though, let’s be honest, when is cream cheese icing ever not a good idea?  Apologies for the photo quality by the way – the photos were snapped pretty quickly since we were all more interested in actually eating the cake.

Cream cheese is always a good thing.  Fact.

Date, coffee & walnut cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The walnuts don’t have to be toasted, but it’s highly recommended as it does heighten their flavour.  The cake does come out very moist and a little sticky, and I found that it stuck to the serving plate a little which wasn’t ideal, but that may also have been because I didn’t let it cool fully before turning the cake out.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, covered in the fridge, and in fact may even be better the next day, although do let it come to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g pitted dates
250ml strong coffee (proper French press or filter coffee is best)
70g walnuts
150g light brown sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
275g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
60g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and add to a heatproof bowl.  Brew the coffee and pour over the dates, to cover them.  Set aside to cool.  Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them until fragrant.  Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them.

2.  Once the coffee and dates have cooled, line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk into the butter and sugar a little at a time, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour.

4.  Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and whisk together.  With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dates, coffee and vanilla extract.  Once incorporated, fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by 50g of the walnuts.

5.  In a small ramekin, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 2 tbsp of hot water, then stir into the cake mixture before spooning into the prepared cake tin.

6.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely into the tin before turning out onto a serving plate to ice.

For the icing:
7.  Once the cake is fully cooled, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.  Add the butter, cream cheese, lemon zest and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

Enjoy!

Oh hey there Instagram…

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Lemon macarons of the award-winning variety…

I mentioned the School of Biology baking competition in my last Sunday Smiles.  We later found out that it was actually a pretence to lure us all into the tea room so that we could get ambushed by a Health & Safety lecture.  The theme of the baking competition was ‘Health & Safety,’ so perhaps we should have actually seen that coming…  Anyway, when the theme was announced, for some reason the first science-related H&S thing I thought of were hazard symbols.  Possibly because we have a variety of them all over the various cabinets in the lab.  Plus a lovely biohazard sign on each door to the lab.

Now I could have done hazard symbol-themed cupcakes or something, but I figured that a rather flash entry was in order – it was a baking competition after all…  I decided on macarons with little hazard symbols drawn on top, because macarons tend to look rather fancy-pants and thus seem impressive.  Most of the hazard symbols are black on a yellow background, so I needed yellow shells, and since I like to match a macaron’s colour to its taste, I had to think of a yellow flavour.  Lemon seemed a little obvious, but I was rather stumped for alternatives.

I needn’t have worried though, because I ended up winning “Best Tasting.”  Yay!  To draw the hazard signs I used a handy edible food colouring pen.  I initially thought of doing the biohazard symbol, but my drawing skills aren’t quite up to that, so I limited myself to the radioactivity sign.  Halfway through drawing the radioactivity symbols on the shells, I realised the irony of a French person presenting radioactivity-themed French baked goods at a baking competition in New Zealand…  Awkward.

Several of my labmates missed the competition and were upset that they didn’t get to try the “award-winning” macarons, so I made them a second batch (but with swirly shells this time) since I had plenty of the lemon curd filling left over.  I’m nice like that.  Plus these are just so good that everybody deserves to try one – not only are they fantastically lemony, but the zingy filling perfectly cuts through and balances the sweetness of the shells.  Of the people that I’ve spoken to who aren’t really fans of macarons, most say that they find them too overwhelmingly sweet, which I can totally understand.  If you’re one of those people, these might be the macarons for you.

Lemon macarons

Makes about 60 small macarons (so about 120 shells of 1.5/2 cm diameter)
Macaron shell recipe based on Mad About Macarons!

The lemon curd recipe makes more curd than you’ll need, but there are plenty of other uses for it (including just eating it out of the jar…), so don’t worry about that.  Make sure you leave the macarons at least 24h before eating them, in order to allow the curd to soak into the shells a bit.  They’re best stored in an airtight box in the fridge – just remember to bring them out at least 30mins before eating them, so that you can appreciate the flavour fully!

Ingredients

For the macaron shells:
Yellow food colouring paste or gel (optional)
100g room temperature egg whites (take them out of the fridge 2h beforehand)
66g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
180g icing sugar
Raw sugar or golden granulated sugar, to decorate (optional)
Black edible food colouring pen (optional)

For the filling:
About 150g lemon curd (you won’t need the whole recipe)

Directions

To make the macaron shells:
1.  Line three or four flat baking sheets with baking paper and set aside.  Prepare a piping bag with a plain round piping tip.  If you’re planning on making swirly shells, brush three lines of food colouring up the inside of the prepared piping bag (this might be a bit messy).

2.  Blend the icing sugar and ground almonds together (don’t skip this step!).  Sift them through a medium sieve into a large bowl.  Sift them again if necessary.

3.  Make the French meringue by whisking the egg whites into glossy firm peaks, gradually adding the caster sugar.  Add three or four of drops of yellow food colouring gel or paste to get a pale yellow colour just before the end and mix well.  If making ‘radioactive’ macarons, add a few more drops to get a stronger yellow colour.

4.  Incorporate the French meringue into the dry ingredients using a large spatula and mix well.  Now work on the mixture by pressing down well with the spatula, going backwards and forwards, to press out the oxygen from the egg whites (this is the macaronnage stage), until you have a smooth mixture.  Don’t do this for longer than 5 minutes.  The result should be a soft and brilliant mixture that forms a “ribbon” on the spatula.

5.  Transfer the mixture to the previously prepared piping bag and pipe out the desired size of rounds (mine were about 1.5-2cm in diameter).  Press the nozzle right down on the paper and finish off with a flourish to obtain a nice round.  Leave a good space between them so they can spread out.

6.  Sprinkle the shells with the raw sugar (only if you’re not planning on drawing on them later) and leave the shells to set for about 30 mins (this helps to produce the feet).  Preheat the oven to fan-oven 160°C.  When you can feel that a skin has formed over the top, they are ready to go into the oven.

7.  Bake one tray at a time in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 mins (to see if they are done, touch the top – if there is a “wobble,” leave them in 2-3 mins longer).  Leave them to cool on the baking trays, and when they are completely cool, carefully remove them and pair them up by size.  If making ‘radioactive’ macarons, draw the symbols on the shells using the edible food colouring pen (if any of the shells are looking a little less-than-perfect, they make good practice runs).

To assemble:
8.  Once the shells have fully cooled, use a teaspoon to deposit a good dollop of lemon curd onto one shell of each pair.  Then place the partner shell on top, and use a slight twisting motion to push the shell down onto the filling evenly.

9.  Leave in the fridge for at least 24h before serving (I know, it’s difficult!  But so worth it!!)

Enjoy!

PS – This is the marine H&S-themed cake baked by one of our technicians that won the “Best Looking” prize.  Isn’t it amazing?  She even made the little chocolate decorations.  Between the two of us, the Marine Lab cleaned the competition up.  Not that we’re competitive or anything…  Ahem.

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Lemon curd

I have a friend who once decided to make a cake.  This might not sound particularly extraordinary, but let’s just say that baking wasn’t really his thing (although he was always a willing recipient of baked goods).  He convinced himself that the cake was baking too slowly, so decided to turn the temperature right up to make it bake faster.  And to switch the oven to grill mode.  Perhaps it might have worked… if he hadn’t forgotten about it.  As I said, baking wasn’t really his thing.  And yet, despite the cake-grilling incident (I believe he declared that he’d never attempt to bake again), once he tasted my lemon curd, he somewhat sheepishly asked me for my recipe.

I adore lemon curd (indeed I can be a bit snobbish about it), and it’s one of my little life pleasures.  Spread over toast, crumpets or little pancakes I can easily eat half a whole jar in one sitting, particularly when slathered on Digestive biscuits (seriously, try it).  The great thing about lemon curd is that not only is it a great way to use up lemons and egg yolks, it’s incredibly easy.  If you can stir, you can make lemon curd.  It is literally that straightforward.  Granted it is a little time-consuming since you have to stir continuously until the curd is done and thus are rather tied to the hob, but the zingy, not-too-sweet results are completely worth it.  So how did my aforementioned friend get on with the recipe?  Well apparently he “didn’t destroy the kitchen” (his words) which means it was a roaring success.  He even said he’d try it again.  How’s that for a recommendation?

Lemon curd

Makes enough to fill about two 350ml jars
Adapted from Waitrose

You can use curd in loads of different ways: on crumpets, on toast, on Digestive biscuits (my favourite), to make dessert canapés, on sponge cake, in cupcakes, etc.  To sterilise the jars, wash in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly and dry in an oven pre-heated to just about 100°C.  The curd will keep for about a week in the fridge (possibly longer, but I’ve never had a batch remain uneaten for more than a couple of days).

Ingredients

5 unwaxed lemons
4 eggs + 2 egg yolks
110g butter
220g caster sugar

Directions

1.  Zest and juice the lemons into a small bowl or measuring jug.  In another small bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks together well.

2.  Melt the cubed butter in a large heat-proof bowl over a simmering pan of water (make sure that the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl).

3.  Add the sugar and the zest and juice from the lemons, followed by the eggs.  Stir the mixture carefully and constantly with a spatula, making sure the mixture doesn’t boil.  Once the mixture coats the back of the spatula (turn the spatula flat and run your finger through the mixture coating it – if you can draw a line through the mixture and it doesn’t re-fill, then it’s done), remove from the heat.

4.  If using the curd straightaway, pour into a bowl, otherwise, pour into a sterilised glass jar.  Allow to cool (it will thicken further) before sealing and storing in the fridge.

Enjoy!

PS – Since this recipe is made entirely from scratch, I’m submitting it to this week’s Made with Love Mondays blog event over at Javelin Warrior.

PPS – It feels a little strange not to mention the US elections since the results came through earlier and I’ve followed them for most of the day since unfortunately their outcome rather affects the rest of us, but it’s kind of difficult to tie them into a post about grilling cakes and lemon curd.

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An (utterly delicious) egg-free birthday cake!

It’s birthdays galore in the lab this week with both the technicians celebrating their birthdays – one yesterday, and one tomorrow, but she’s taking the day off so we celebrated today.  We’ve named it Technician Week.  Birthdays mean cake, and we don’t do things by halves in the lab so it’s been cake galore over the past two days.  Brownies and cake yesterday, and then two more cakes and biscuits today (plus all of yesterday’s leftovers).  We’re set for the week.  I was in charge of Monday’s birthday cake, which was for the technician who doesn’t eat egg.  The girl who was organising the present and card doesn’t like chocolate, so I needed to find a (reliable) cake recipe without egg and without chocolate.  Quite a challenge, particularly since I didn’t want to go down the vegan route – my limited experience with vegan baking so far hasn’t been particularly spectacular and a birthday is not the occasion to attempt to rectify that.

I searched for some tips on egg-free baking, and found several credible-seeming sites that suggested that you can often substitute half a mashed banana in cake recipes calling for just one or two eggs as apparently it has similar binding properties and still keeps the cake moist.  Obviously this won’t work if you need to separate the eggs or anything, but it’s a good to know.  The next step was to find a cake recipe that only called for one or two eggs (and didn’t have any chocolate), which was a little more elusive than I expected – most seem to ask for at least three.  A Treasury of New Zealand Baking came up trumps with a spiced date cake recipe requiring only one egg.  The original recipe was for a 20 cm cake, and that seemed a little small for a birthday cake so I doubled it.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% convinced that the banana trick was going to work, so I spent quite a while crossing my fingers whilst it was baking away.  The original recipe is supposed to be made in the food processor, adding ingredients as you go along.  Apparently my food processor had other plans, however, and instead of putting together a cake, it decided to make a strange noise, die and then emit a heck of a lot of smoke.  Marvellous timing.

So I reverted back to my trusty electric whisk to rescue the situation, which thankfully it did with flying colours (and no flying batter).  Luckily the taste of the cake wasn’t affected by the food processor mishap.  In fact, the cake was utterly delicious with the spices and the date flavours coming through wonderfully.  And it wasn’t at all dry, which is what I was most worried about (and had to wait until it was cut to find out whether it had really worked or not).  I covered it in cream cheese icing, piped some little fish on top and boom, a marine-themed birthday cake!  By the way, all the photos were taken on my phone and in the foyer or in our printer room (the only part of the lab we’re allowed to have food), so I apologise for the quality and slightly odd set-ups.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go claim the warranty on my food processor and then have a little lie-down after two days of cake…

Spiced date cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The un-iced cake will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight box, so it can be prepared in advance.  The iced cake will keep for about 2 days in an airtight box.  Any leftover icing will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge.  If you need the icing to be smooth for piping, I’d recommend using lemons extract instead of lemon zest.  The cake can also be decorated with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and a handful of toasted walnuts.

Ingredients

For the cake:
500g pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250 ml boiling water
220g caster sugar
220g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ mashed banana
300g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or ¼ tsp lemon extract

Directions

To make the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and place them in a heat-proof bowl along with the bicarbonate of soda.  Pour the boiling water over them, stir and leave to soak for 30 mins, stirring occasionally.  Set aside.

2.  Butter the base and sides of a deep (mine is about 5 cm) 24 cm round cake tin.  Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper (even if your tin is non-stick).  Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.  Add the mashed banana and mix well.

4.  Add the flour, baking powder, spices, dates and the soaking liquid to the butter mixture and whisk until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin and smooth the top with a spatula (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

5.  Bake for about 1h10 (start checking after 1h) until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is fully cooled, transfer it to a serving plate and prepare the icing.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl and add the cream cheese, cubed butter and the lemon zest or extract.  Whisk together with an electric whisk until white and fluffy (I kept aside about 2 tbsp for the orange piped icing), then spread over the top of the cake with a palette knife.  Decorate as you wish.

Enjoy!

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