Praline and Cream Brownies

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October is the season for pumpkins, apples and sweetcorn. It’s also the season for Hobnobs, Weetabix Minis and bagels. I love bagel season.

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My Dad walks round the supermarket as if it’s a farmer’s market, always on the look out for ‘seasonal produce’.
“Oooh look, orange juice is in season – it’s half price, brilliant”
“Ah great, 2for1 on pizzas, pizza season has arrived!”
“We can wait to get yoghurt until it’s in season, there should be an offer on soon, I’ll check next week”

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If it’s on special, it’s in season, it’s in our basket, it’s for dinner.
Dark chocolate digestive season was always my favourite. It comes around every few months and then they’re gone and replaced for a promotion on Jammy Dodgers – not such a bountiful, exciting time of year. A bit like January.

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Now, having to do our own food shopping, you can tell what’s on offer in Sainsbury’s by what my flat are living off. Some weeks we’re on unintentional liquid diets, soup’s half price and it’s soup all day every day. Now and again the same fancy cereal shows up in all of our cupboards, but pretty soon it’ll be back to the daily porridge grind.

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We wait with anticipation for ice cream season. In the same way people pickle, preserve and stockpile for the winter months, our freezer will be filled with a plentiful supply of round cardboard tubs to see us through till ‘spring’.

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This ‘winter’ has been particularly long and harsh. I finished the last tub this week. I feel like a squirrel that’s eaten all the acorns it buried. Leaping from tree to tree, double and triple checking I haven’t missed one somewhere. Yep, nope, no ice cream and none due for a while.
So until ‘spring’ comes and fancy ice cream is back: Praline and Cream Brownies. Squirrel them away.

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Praline and Cream Brownies
Adapted from David Lebovitz 
Makes 8-12

For the caramel swirl
40ml double cream
15g unsalted butter
60g caster sugar
40g golden syrup

For the cream cheese swirl
225g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
75g caster sugar
couple drops vanilla extract

75g pecans halves

For the brownies
85g unsalted butter
115g 70% dark chocolate
130g caster sugar
2 eggs
70g plain flour
10g cocoa
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4.Tip the pecans onto a baking tray and pop in the oven for 10 minutes – this will draw out they flavor and make them crunchy rather than that weird half-crunch you get from untoasted nuts.

To make the caramel sauce place the sugar and golden syrup in a small, clean, heavy based pan over a low heat and swirl to dissolve all the sugar – do not stir! Turn up to a medium heat and continue to swirl the pan every now and again until you have a deep copper coloured caramel. Whisk the butter in to the caramel in lumps, followed by the cream – it will spit a little to start with so be careful! Once smooth and glossy set to the side to cool a little.

To make the cream swirl, beat together the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Set it to the side for later. Much easier than the caramel eh?!

Line the base of a 20 x 20cm baking tin (or a slightly smaller one if you’d like deeper brownies) with baking paper and grease the sides with butter.
Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and either microwave (carefully stopping it regularly and stirring regularly to avoid burning it) or over a pan of boiling water (fancy name: ban marie) till it’s fully melted and mixed together.

Beat the sugar, followed by the eggs and vanilla into the chocolate mix. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and salt until there are no pockets of flour and it’s all a uniform glossy mixture.

Break up the nuts between your hands so you have some whole ones and some bits, and stir half of them through the brownie mixture. Pour this mix into your lined baking tin and spread flat.

Dollop the cream cheese mix and caramel sauce in about 8 ‘blobs’ on top of the brownie and swirl it into the chocolatey batter using a butter knife or skewer. Scatter across the remaining pecans and tap the brownie pan on the worktop to flatten it all out.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the middle has a little wobble but the edges feel firm (the wobble is crucial, otherwise you’ll have dry cakey brownies). Leave to cool completely before cutting into 8-12 squares.

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Masala chocolate cookies

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There’s no narrative words this week due to a lack of inspiration and a whole load of unfruitful perspiration. Yeah it’s been one of those weeks. Poor sleep, insecurities and eating feelings for dinner. But there’s cookies. There’s always cookies. And these guys are as good as it comes.

Keep pushing on,
Rx

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Masala chocolate cookies
Makes 10

200 g all-purpose flour
90g cocoa
¾ tsp bicarbonate soda
¾ tsp garam masala
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp salt
170 g softened unsalted butter
110 g light brown sugar
110 g caster sugar
1 medium egg at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100 g chocolate chips
30g whole almonds

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, bicarb, spices and salt so it’s uniform in colour and all the spices are distributed through the flour. Set this to one side.

Cream the softened butter, caster sugar a light brown sugar until pale and fluffy – the paler and fluffier, the better the cookies, so cream it like ya mean it.

Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined, followed by the flour mixture. Mix until it comes to a soft dough with no floury patches.

Set aside 12 chocolate chips and add the rest to the dough, mixing in well.

Weigh the cookie dough into 65g pieces (this way they’ll all be the same size – genius!) and roll into balls. Place the cookie dough balls in a Tupperware, stud the top of each with 2 almonds and a chocolate chip and freeze for at least an hour – until they’re frozen all the way through. This will help keep them chewy in the middle when you bake them.

Preheat your oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the frozen cookie balls about two inches apart on the baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes.
They’re done when they start to crisp round the edge but are still very much soft in the middle. Cook them to a crisp and you’ll have a crisp cookie – A real tough cookie.

Eat warm (advised) or leave to cool fully (sensible) on the baking tray.

*other thoughts on cookies

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Babs’ ‘Dunkies’

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Can I introduce you to someone? I wouldn’t say she’s a friend, more of an acquaintance really. The kind of acquaintance that boosts your self-esteem by refusing to believe you’re single and then makes it their personal duty to find you a husband. I’m sure you’ve had at least one. Babs is my one.

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She listens to the Archers religiously, grows gourds, and wears cords. I’d tell you off for stereotyping, but yes, Babs is what you’re imagining. She’s the sort of lady who has a cardigan to match her socks on any given day… and she has a lot of socks. ‘Funky’ is her favourite word.

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She sings in the local choir, only I picture her as more of a clicking side-stepper than a robed chorister. And she gives the best, warmest, squeeze-you-into-her-bosom-and-make-you-feel-whole hugs. Those that are both awkward and comforting all at once. Bosom.

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I think she’d make a mean bread and butter pudding. She thinks she makes quality biscuits: Bewitching boy biscuits.

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I mention her because, of all the dating advice that’s been thrown at me in the past  four years, hers is, by far, my favourite. I don’t know whether it’s because her suggestion was the most unlikely, unintentional innuendo I expected to come from this cardigan-clad 60 year old woman, or purely because she encouraged me to win boys with biscuits.
Either way, Babs thinks her ‘Dunkies’ are the way to my future lover’s heart – my new wing man.

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She pushed a scribbled recipe on a page from her handbag-sized notepad into my palm: ‘Babs’ Dunkies’.
“Men love munching on my Dunkies, they just can’t get enough. Perfect with a cup of tea. They’re nothing too delicate, quite robust and sturdy – not really for girls like us you know…”
…Seems feminism hasn’t quite reached Babs yet…
“…But I’ve won many men’s affections with these. Bake them and you’ll have a long line of suitors in no time at all”

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So I made them. I couldn’t resist. A little part of me wanted her to be right, for them to be the best biscuits I’ve ever made. Life-changing. Prophetic biscuits.
But well, they were funny things. Sort of a biscuit/cake/scone hybrid. The closest thing I can equate them to is a rock cake – a not-so-inspiring, raisin-studded boulder. And although my dating history might suggest I know little about the male psyche, I think they would agree. Soft, boring biscuits and no suitors for me.

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But before I gave a “thank you, but no thank you” to her advice, I found Babs wasn’t alone in believing that a biscuit could find me an admirer. An ancient tale tells of a Persian woman falling madly in love with the prince, and charming him by baking a cake full of pistachios, rose water and cardamom – Persian love cake. It worked for her. A girl can dream.

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So I’m not completely dismissing Babs’ advice, but taking it with a pinch of Persia and a different ‘dunkie’.
New wing (wo)man: Persian Love Biscotti. It’s worth a try.

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Persian Love Biscotti
Makes 10-12

Seeds of 3 cardamom pods, finely ground
Pinch of salt
120g plain flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
100g caster sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
1 medium egg
¼ tsp. rose water
100g pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp. dried rose petals
40g white chocolate

Preheat your oven to 140°C fan/160°C non-fan and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Finely grind the cardamom with the salt in a pestle and mortar and add into a large bowl with the flour, baking powder, 1 tsp. black sesame seeds, sugar and lemon zest. Mix to combine.

Make a well in the middle of the floury mixture and add the egg and a the rosewater (it’s super powerful, you’ll only want a little or it’ll taste like your gran’s soap).
Stir with a spoon, and then bring together into a firm dough with your hands. If it’s sticky add a little more flour.

Add the pistachios and ½ tbsp. rose petals into the bowl and knead into the dough till they’re evenly dispersed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a little. Roll the dough into a log, about 4cm in diameter and place on your baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes.

Leave the biscotti to cool for about 10 minutes, allowing the dough to firm up a bit.
Use a sharp knife to cut the log, on the diagonal, into 2cm thick slices.
Place these slices, cut side up, back onto your lined baking tray and place back in the oven to bake for 30 minutes (turning them over after 15 minutes) until golden and crisp.
Once baked and dry through to the middle, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Melt the white chocolate, drizzle over one end of the biscotti and sprinkle over the remaining rose petals and black sesame seeds.

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Favourite flapjack

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Ok, confession time: I know where your favourite glass is. The small one, with the ridges. Just the right size for a glass of milk, too big for your morning orange juice, too small for a glass of water at dinner. Yeah that glass. No, it’s not hiding on my bed-side table with all the other glasses. Yes I know you haven’t seen it in a couple of weeks…It might be in the bin…maybe…in the tiniest of shards…wrapped in newspaper…feeling very sorry for itself. Maybe it’s there…Sorry.

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You should’ve seen it though; when it fell to the floor. I don’t think I’ve seen a glass break into quite so many pieces. I’m talking like glass the size of glitter. Everywhere. The adult in me said to sweep it up with a dustpan and brush, followed by hoovering to get all the little bits I’d missed. That would’ve been sensible. The reality? I did the sweeping part but thought I’d deal with the glitter-glass later when I find it coating my shredded, bleeding feet. Yeah reaaal sensible.

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I’m not usually the one to drop things; Bombshells, trousers, pins, names…Ok, I lied, I totally do name drop. Drop me in it. Actually I totally dropped a puppy once too. I pretend that didn’t happen.

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In the process of moving to The Big Smoke and learning to ‘adult’ I dropped this blog as well. And there’s a load of tiny pieces that need hoovering up. It would be the sensible thing to have a plan, social media posts lined up, relaunch with something glamorous and spectacular, maybe something with tahini or matcha, get the web traffic and make an impact. ‘Have you heard? Rach is back.’ Wooo! Yeah!

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The reality? I’m making flapjack, photographing in dusky 6pm light, editing on Powerpoint and getting this show on the road. I’ll come to the glitter-glass later.

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Because let’s keep it simple: You like flapjack? I like flapjack. I can make flapjack with my eyes shut. You can make flapjack too! We’re going back to basics, decluttering, not fussing, stirring together some good ole’ butter and sugar and syrup and oats. Using up those packets of half-dead raisins and that whisky marmalade your great aunt brought back from Scotland two summers ago.

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The brilliant thing about flapjack is it’s a blank canvas for whatever you want to put in it. It’s inclusive and non-discriminatory. We like that here.
You have dried cranberries? Chuck them in. Walnuts? Them too! What about that ground cinnamon hiding at the back of your cupboard? That’d be good. Or maybe you want to go for ginger? Here’s my favourite 6 flapjack flavours, but throw in whatever you’ve got around. Keep it easy and stir it smooth.

Favourite flapjack flavours:
Rosehip and apple: Cut open 2 rosehip tea bags and add the contents to the oats, along with 100g dried apple, roughly chopped.
‘Bird food’: Mix in 30g pumpkin seeds, 30g sunflower seeds, 10g linseed, 15g sesame seeds and 5g poppy seeds into the oats. Once the flapjack’s baked and cooled, drizzle with white chocolate and scatter a few more seeds over the top.
Sour cherry and cinnamon: Mix in 60g dried sour cherries and 1 tsp cinnamon into the oats. Push a few more cherries into the top of the flapjack before baking.
‘Gingerbread’: Mix in 40g crystallised ginger, ½ tsp ground ginger and 60g dates roughly chopped. Substitute half of the golden syrup for treacle. Push a few small pieces of ginger into the top of the flapjack before baking.
Coffee, pear and cocoa nib: Add 1 tbsp. instant coffee to the melting butter, sugar and syrup. Mix in 1 grated pear and 50g cocoa nibs. Once the flapjack’s baked and cooled, drizzle with dark chocolate.
Lady Grey’s orangery: Mix 2 tbsp. marmalade into the melting butter, sugar and syrup. Cut open 2 Lady Grey tea bags and add the contents to the oats, along with 30g candied orange peel. Push a handful of  candied peel pieces into the top of the flapjack before baking.

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All you have to do is ask the questions: Does it go well with sugar? And with butter? That’s a yes. Everything goes with butter. Will it taste good with oats? Yeah! You’re good to go. Melt it, mix it, press it, bake it, cut it.

Drop-dead gorgeous.

Favourite flapjack
Makes 10-14 pieces
400g porridge oats (or substitute 200 for 200g rolled oats if ya feeling fancy)
250g unsalted butter
1/8 tsp salt
200g light brown sugar
150g golden syrup (substitute with treacle for deep+dark flapjack, or honey for fragrant+floral)

Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Line the base of a 20x20cm baking tin with baking paper and grease round the edges with a little butter.
Weigh out the oats, salt and any additions (nuts, spices, dried fruit, grated fruit etc) into a large heatproof bowl.
Place the butter, sugar and syrup into a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring every now and then until it’s all melted together. Take the pan off the heat as soon as the butter and syrup have melted and the sugar’s dissolved – just as it starts to bubble.

Pour the molten butter mixture over the oats and stir together until no dry oats are visible.
Tip the oaty mix into your lined baking tin and firmly press down (this will ensure it holds together once baked). Drag a fork across the top to give it a bit of texture, stud it with any extra additions and bake for 25(for chewy) – 40(for crunchy) minutes.

Once baked, run a knife around the edge of the tin to help loosen the flapjack for cutting later.
Leave the flapjack to cool completely in the tin before cutting into squares (if you try to cut it whilst it’s still warm it’ll be tasty but very, very crumbly. You’ve been warned. Have patience, don’t be that  child)

Jam-filled blueberry streusel muffins

September 21st. This is it. I’m drawing a line. Summer reminiscing is over; we’ve taken off our festival wrist bands, #tbt-ed till we’ve run dry of sunset photos, and given up the bikini bod regime – the tan lines have vanished along with our motivation to do crunches.

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But before we call it quits completely, before I stop wishing I was sitting on a Maine dock, watching the sun go down, tucking into fresh corn and lobster, before we get into the long slog of shorter days and wet thighs I want to share one last thing with you:2

These muffins.

These bluberry, streusel, jam-centred muffins.

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These muffins were made with wild Maine blueberries that we picked on a mountain hike. We viewed views for too long and had to find our way down in the dark. Let’s not do that again.

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The jam for these muffins made my tongue go a deep blue-purple…and my lips…and my teeth.

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Making these muffins made me feel like an American ‘Mom’ as I stood in my pink and yellow New England kitchen, listening to country music and using ‘sticks’ of butter, and cups to measure ingredients.

I quickly learnt that I strongly dislike using cups to measure and like using sticks of butter.
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I also learnt that dried kiwi is beautiful and cookie dough oreos are a seriously good idea. Well done America.

Jam-filled blueberry streusel muffins
Makes 8

For the muffins
110g unsalted butter
65g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
110g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp. grated/ground nutmeg
150g blueberries

For the jam
200g blueberries
100g caster sugar
25ml water

For the streusel
30g unsalted butter
30g self-raising flour
2 tbsp. soft brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and continue to mix for about 3 minutes. Sieve in the flour, baking powder and nutmeg and mix until combined. Cover the bowl of muffin mix in clingfilm and place in the fridge for an hour.

To make the jam place the blueberries and water in a pan, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 7 minutes, stirring regularly until the blueberries burst and become soft, releasing their bright blue-purple juices. Add the sugar, stir and boil for a further 7 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and put to the side to cool until you’re ready to assemble the muffins.

Whilst the jam cools make the streusel. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon and set to the side.

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 6/200°C and line a muffin tin with paper muffin cases. Take the bowl of muffin mix out of the fridge and stir the fresh blueberries through it. To assemble the muffins, place a teaspoon of this muffin mix in the bottom of a cake case, make a small well in the middle and fill with a teaspoon of blueberry jam. Cover the jam with more muffin mix, filling the case 2/3 full. Sprinkle a small handful of the streusel on the top and place in the oven to bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden on the top and springy to the touch.

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Pink Lemonade drizzle cake

OK, so it’s been a while. I’m sorry it’s been so long. I know, I didn’t even warn you I was going to be away. I didn’t write an ‘I’m going to get some head-space, inspiration and rethink my direction in life’ post. What was I thinking?! Call me rude. That’s fine; get it out of your system. Just make sure you come back for a make-up-hug when you’ve calmed down. I wouldn’t want us to fall out over it.

‘You’d better have a good excuse.’ Written a cookbook? No. Moved house? No. Had a social media detox? No. Finished a degree? No. Had a baby? Definitely not.

It’s more the accumulation of lots of smaller things that’s brought us to this desolate place of apologies and grovelling.

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Made a wedding cake? Yes. Revised and sat A-levels? Yes. Baked for a pop-up restaurant? Yes. Discovered the Cambridge night-scene? Yes… Joined Instagram? Oh yeah. Rowed the Cambridge Bumps? Yes. Ran an afternoon tea? Yes. New Wine-d? Yes. Got tan-lines? Hell yes.

Maybe we should take it slower this time around? I’ll ease you back in with something simple and summery: Pink Lemonade drizzle cake. It oozes garden parties, deckchairs and awkward sunburn.

Pink Lemonade drizzle cake
Makes one loaf cake
Adapted from BBC Good Food

For the cake
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour*
The zest of one big lemon/2 small lemons
3 tsp. lemon extract, this one is particularly good
175g fresh raspberries rolled in 2 tbsp. flour

*To make this Gluten free, substitute 225g self-raising flour for 250g Glutafin White mix

For the drizzle
The juice of 1½ large lemons/3 small ones
50g raspberries
150g white granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to Gas mark 4 and line an 8x21cm loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the flour, lemon zest and lemon extract. Take your raspberries and roll them in 2 tbsp. flour – this will prevent them from sinking. Fold the coated raspberries into the cake mix and spoon it into the prepared cake tin. Use a knife or the back of a spoon to level the top of the cake so that it’s flat. Bake the cake in the oven for 45-50 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

While the cake’s cooking, start making the drizzle. Using a fork, squash the raspberries to a pulp with 50g of the sugar. Pass the raspberry pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds, squishing out every bit of juice you can. Juice 1½ lemons and add the juice to the raspberry pulp.

When the cake’s cooked, take a cocktail stick/skewer and pierce the top with lots of tiny holes. Add the remaining 100g granulated sugar to the raspberry-lemon juice and pour over the top of the cake. – the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a  crisp topping. Leave the cake in the tin until it’s completely cool, then remove and serve. Will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Hot cross bun cake

There’s nothing like the smell of over-toasted hot cross buns in the morning.
It’s not spring until that verging-on-charcoal-y aroma fills the kitchen…
And then the living room…
And the bathroom…

I’ve arrived at college in my new cologne, Eau du Bun grillé, most mornings recently. The boys just can’t get enough.


Although slightly smoky and pervasive, it has a sweet, cinnamon-y warmth that makes it strangely comforting and charming.


Pinterest mums and Airwick will try to tell you that spring smells of daffodils and hyacinths, fresh cut grass and spring rain.
But we don’t need no Airwick. This house is filled with the fragrance of toasted hot cross buns.

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All the best air fresheners are edible. I challenge you to find an aroma you’d prefer to wake up to.
“Bacon”
Ok, I should’ve guessed, bacon always wins. Try to forget bacon for a minute.


I invented this cake as one tier of my Easter celebration cake for the Cambridge Bake-off final last week. I wanted not only the outside of my cake to be evocative of spring, but the inside too…
Cue, the Hot cross bun cake.

Hot cross bun cake

150ml Grand Marnier
150ml freshly squeezed orange juice
200ml water
250g mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas, raisins, mixed peel, chopped dried apricots, and dried cranberries)
115g butter, at room temperature
55g light brown muscovado sugar
60g golden syrup
2 eggs
115g self-rising flour
pinch of salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves

Orange buttercream:
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
150g icing sugar
zest of 1 large orange
splash of milk or cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Start by placing the mixed dried fruit, Grand Marnier, orange juice and water in a saucepan. Put a lid on and simmer gently on a low heat for about 20 minutes until the fruit’s plump and soft. Turn the heat off and leave the fruit in the remaining liquid overnight to soak.

The next day, drain off any liquid in to a bowl, saving it for later. Grease and line two 20cm, round cake tins with grease proof paper. Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/150°C.

Cream together the butter, sugar and golden syrup until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the flour, salt and spices. Fold in the drained fruit and 1 tablespoon of the liquid you set aside earlier.

Equally divide the cake mixture between the two tins and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes. When cooked the cake will spring back when touched lightly and an inserted skewer will come away clean. Once baked, leave the cakes in the tins for 15 minutes, before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft and pale. On a slow speed, whisk in the icing sugar, followed by the orange zest and vanilla extract. Mix in the milk/cream to loosen the buttercream if it’s too stiff.

To assemble the cake, take a 10cm wide circular cookie cutter and cut a circle out of the centre of each cake. Taking another cookie cutter, this time 8cm wide, cut a smaller circle of cake out of the ‘cake hole’ you’ve just cut (see picture above). Take your first cake ring and spread the buttercream, about 1 cm thick, around the inside of the ring. Push your first ‘cake hole’ into the gap left in the middle. Spread an even layer of buttercream over the top of this first cake, as you would for a normal sandwich cake. Place the second cake ring atop the first and repeat the process, using the second ‘cake hole’. Top the completed cake with the remaining buttercream.

24 carat cake

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Have you ever tried making paper aeroplanes with card? Actually, let me re-phrase that: have you ever tried making 20 complex paper aeroplanes with card for a paper aeroplane garland?

Pah! Complex?! More like ‘so flippin’ difficult you’ll want to cry, curl up into a ball and give up any hope you ever had of being a pilot’.

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Even their names, like ‘Edmonton Shadow’ and ‘Turbo OmniScimitar’ strike fear into the hearts of those who dare to take them on. I had paper cuts to my brain before I’d even touched a piece of card.

The process strongly resembled when the 12-year-old me was challenged to fold a piece of paper seven times, to find that it was in fact impossible**. No matter how much weight I put on it. Even if I stuck it under a table leg and got 3 other kids to sit on the table. Even if I tried to staple it down …
Impossible. 12 year old dreams. Crushed.

**Ok smart ass, you got me.

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It was difficult. Really flipping difficult. Difficult like cycling head on into the wind. Difficult like trying to place gold nuts on a cake to look ‘randomly scattered’.

When you look at this cake, what do you see? A mound of carrot-y goodness you just want to bury your face into? An elegant, minimalist cake you could imagine someone bringing to a party as ‘oh, just something I threw together’? A cake with a scattering of gilded nuts sprinkled over the top?

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In reality there was no sprinkling, no scattering. Instead, there was a pair of tweezers, a steady hand and an hour of carefully placing each and every nut that tops this cake. And this is how I learnt just how difficult making things look ‘random’ is.

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‘Random’ is in fact not random. It’s ‘oh no, I’ve already got a hazelnut and a walnut there, I can’t place another walnut on that edge’ and ‘ah, those three nuts are an equal distance apart, I’ll have to move one just off centre’. ‘Random’ is in reality incredibly purposeful.  Can anything ever actually be truly random?

Wow, that just got very philosophical. Sorry. Back to the cake.

24 carat cake
Serves 1620

For the cake
1½ large eggs
1½ egg yolks
300g sunflower oil
255g light brown muscovado sugar
150g dark brown muscovado sugar
75g walnuts, chopped
75g ground almonds
210g carrot, grated
The zest of an orange
240g plain flour*
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. grated nutmeg
3 egg whites
a pinch of salt

For the icing
1kg mascarpone
6 tbsp. double cream
7 tbsp. icing sugar (or to taste)
The zest of one orange/8 tsp. orange extract, to taste
Mixed nuts

* To make GF, substitute this flour for 255g of gluten free plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas mark 3½ and grease and line three 20cm cake tins with baking paper.

Place the sunflower oil and both types of sugar in a large bowl and whisk briefly before whisking in the egg and egg yolk until the mixture comes away from the bowl slightly. Being careful not to over mix, stir in the walnuts, ground almonds, orange zest and grated carrot. Sieve all the dry ingredients into the bowl and fold in until no flour’s visible.

In a clean bowl and using clean beaters, whisk the egg whites on high speed until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg white into the rest of the cake mixture in 2 additions, being careful not to knock out all the air. Pour the cake mixture into your prepared cake tins and bake for roughly an hour, although be sure to check them before this time. They are cooked when an inserted skewer comes out clean and they spring back when lightly pressed. Let the cakes cool completely before turning out on to a wire rack.

To make the icing, beat the mascarpone with the icing sugar and orange zest/extract until smooth and spreadable. The zest can give you little bumps in your icing so I mix zest into the icing that sandwiches the cakes together and use orange extract in the icing for the outside.

Sandwich the cakes together and cover the sides and top with the icing. To get super smooth sides, ‘crumb coat’ your cakes with a very (and I mean very) thin layer of icing, leave to set slightly and then go over with a thick coating. I found Zoe Bakes’ video very useful for this.

Blood orange, almond and brown sugar tea cakes

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My life is organised, orderly and productive. Today I stopped by the market to pick up some – note, in season – blood oranges, on my way home from college where I’d just aced all my mocks. I whipped up a batch of these tea cakes, did all the homework set, fixed a puncture on my bike and made a step by step plan for the next four years of my life.

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My hair is never frizzy, my eyeliner’s always even. I never wear the same pair of jeans five days straight, let alone the same pair of shoes for four months.  I always carry tissues, safety pins and lip balm.

I make my bed every morning. Cycling, I am always overtaking the boys on their fancy racing bikes. It must be the chia seed porridge with rosewater dates and quince rhubarb compote I eat for breakfast.

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My egg yolks separate themselves from the whites. I always sieve my flour. Occasionally I spill sugar but it always remains on the muffin tin, never on the floor.

I have my own photography studio at the end of our garden and shoot with a Canon EOS 5D MKIII Digital SLR camera.

Dream on.

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In reality, I didn’t even realise it was blood orange season; I just thought they’d taste nice and look pretty. I was right – they do, but they were definitely a supermarket purchase. These teacakes were made at 6:30 in the morning. I leave punctures to my dad. I have no set life plan and I’m scared/excited about the unknown.

I shoot tea cakes on upturned trays balanced precariously on stools by the window. I photograph cake on the floor. I edit my photos on PowerPoint. I don’t know the name of my camera.

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Perfect is boring. It’s unachievable. Can I talk about tea cakes now? These blood orange, almond and brown sugar ones are honestly the tastiest, moistest cakes I’ve baked in ages. They’re as close to perfect as you’re going to get. I might be in love. My mum, our resident  ‘gluten-free lady’ certainly is.

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Blood orange, almond and brown sugar tea cakes
Adapted from Lily Vanilli
Makes 12

2 blood oranges
150g butter
150g light brown muscovado sugar
200g ground almonds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
35g plain flour*

30g flaked almonds
1 tbsp. thin cut marmalade
1 tbsp. light brown muscovado sugar

*to make these gluten free, substitute for 50g gluten free white flour (I use Glutafin White Mix)

Preheat your oven to Gas mark 6/200°C. Grate the zest from each orange into a large bowl. Cut the top off both oranges, and peel off the skin and the majority of the pith. Using a sharp knife, slice the oranges into ½ cm thick rounds, place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes. This will dry them out a little and stop you getting soggy cake. No one likes soggy cake.

To make the frangipane, cream the butter and brown sugar with the orange zest until the mixture has become paler in colour. Beat in the ground almonds, followed by the vanilla extract, eggs and plain flour. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin and divide the frangipane mix between the holes. Place a cooled slice of blood orange, a few flaked almonds and a sprinkling of light brown sugar on top of each cake and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. When the cakes are cooked an inserted cocktail stick will come out clean.

Whilst the cakes are the oven, mix the marmalade with a few drops of water and warm through in the microwave until runny but not bubbling. Remove the cakes from the oven and, while they’re still hot, brush each one with the marmalade glaze and leave to cool for about 4 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes in the tins and turn them out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

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Speculoos and dark chocolate bread and butter pudding

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Along with the sugar, milk, spices and chocolate, this recipe contains a story. Stories are fun. I like happy ending stories. Ones that leave me satisfied and induce a warm, fluffy feeling: Serotonin boosters. I can tell you’re in need of such a story to help you escape this grey mood of January and immerse you in a literary hug of caramelised sugar and custardy soft bread.

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Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Once upon a time there lived a little girl who loved nothing more than those little burnt caramel ‘coffee biscuits’ that accompanied her parents’ drinks on holiday. She dreamt of a day when she could buy a whole box and eat them all day long. But as she grew older the dream faded and she became sad. The reality that they only came in individual packets hit her.  It hit her hard.

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Then one day, as she skipped down the aisles of Mr Sainsbury’s shop, a packet caught her eye. She had never seen something so beautiful. It almost glowed. As she stood on her tiptoes, reaching it down from the top shelf, she struggled to control her excitement. Was this what she thought it was? After all those years of sorrow, was this the multipack of her dreams? It was indeed.

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Time went on and she came to learn the biscuit’s name: Speculoos.  She found they were originally made in the Netherlands for St. Nicholas’ Feast. As she discovered more she started to dream bigger dreams. What recipe opportunities would this open up? As if her dreams had come true, her Fairy Godmother posted a recipe using such biscuits. There was just one difference: she used Speculoos spread.*

*For those not familiar with this, imagine smooth peanut butter but replace the peanuts with biscuits. Oh America, you’ve outdone yourself.

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The now not-so-little girl started investigating this phenomenon and found dear Mr Sainsbury also stocked such a spread. She purchased it with the beans her mother gave her and spent the next month crafting a recipe she could call her own.

And this, dearest friends, is where the story ends.

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This pudding is like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother to leftovers. It transforms dry, stale bread into the most beautiful winter warmer; full of oozy chocolate, custard with a hint of spiced rum, and a crunchy caramelized topping – it’s as if the Princess herself was in the pudding. But that would be carnivorous and weird. Forget I ever said that…

Speculoos and dark chocolate bread and butter pudding
Adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe

9 slices of thick, stale white bread
1
/2 jar of Speculoos caramelised biscuit spread
25g dark chocolate cut into small pieces – ideally 75-85% cocoa solids
3 eggs
20g light brown muscovado sugar
2 x 15ml tablespoons dark rum*
125ml double cream
500ml full-fat milk
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
3 tsp. Demerara sugar
5 Speculoos biscuits

*although it may not appear to be that important, this is a key ingredient that completely alters the taste. Do try not to sub it out.

Lightly grease a pie dish with butter. Take your stale bread slices,  remove the crusts, and cut each slice diagonally into 2 triangles. Spread one side of each slice with the biscuit spread and layer the triangles in the dish. Sprinkle the chocolate pieces over the bread.

Whisk together the eggs, light brown sugar, rum, double cream, milk, cinnamon and ginger. Pour this mixture over the bread pieces and leave the whole dish to soak for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to Gas mark 3/ 170°C.

After the pudding has soaked for the full time, sprinkle it with the Demerara sugar and bake in the oven for 50 minutes–1 hour.  Once cooked it will have puffed up a bit and have a very slight wobble in the middle. Crush the Speculoos biscuits in your hands and sprinkle over the top of the pudding. Let the dish stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

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