Sunday, September 27, 2015

Courgettes in a cake for Dundee Baking Club

I have baked cakes with vegetables in them before, most notably carrot cake, and a beetroot chocolate cake, and they have been delicious.  I even bought a book a few years ago, all about cakes with vegetables and less sugar (I was going to name and give a link to that book, but for the life of me can't think what it's called.  If I remember, I'll be sure to include it here), but don't think I've even cracked the spine on that one - perhaps don't tell Mr Becca.
This recipe was for the first meeting of the newly re-branded Dundee Baking Club and the theme was Autumnal Bakes.  As you may recall, about 4 years ago I founded the Dundee branch of the Clandestine Cake Club with Jac from Tinned Tomatoes.  We were very happy with our meetings and members and rolled happily along for quite some time.  Stuart of Cakeyboi joined us and together we ran it all enjoyably.  Then we felt we wanted to bake other than just large cakes, so respectfully broke away and this cake was for our inaugural meeting.  I like to bake big cakes, as our family has little appetite for them so baking for others means I get to taste a little but have the fun of  the bake.
Above we see the grated courgette (or zucchini if you prefer), eggs, brown sugar, flour and spices.
And above here we see the disappointingly thin slivers of cake  :(  I don't know how you would feel with these layers, but I was seriously unimpressed at how little they rose in the baking process.  I had double-checked the recipe quantities and method, in case I had done something wrong, but no.  And my raising agent wasn't out of date or anything like that either...
So I made sure I had plenty of cinnamon flavoured buttercream icing and got to work.  I dusted it all lightly with cinnamon and gold edible glitter spray, plus a dose of delicious walnuts and took it to the meeting.
Where I am pleased to report that it was gobbled up and no-one noticed that the layers were a little on the thin side.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting healthy with homemade granola bars

We are still trying to get to grips with the busier, or rather shorter, weekday mornings (and by we, I don't mean me).  In an attempt to help The Team eat as well as they can in the short time available, I have been researching nutritious and delicious breakfast options, that aren't too time-consuming for me.  And when I came across the Lisa of 100 Days of Real Food, I was pleased. Although the premise is wonderful, I didn't feel like it was something I could easily slot into our lives.  But this granola recipe?  For sure.
As it happens, we pretty much always have all those ingredients in the house at any given time, so it was really easy to get started.
A large bowl full of oats, coconut, seeds, raw cashews, raw brazil nuts, pine nuts, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg - mmm...
Here we can see the seeds were a mix of pumpkin and sunflower, and somewhere in there are the pine nuts, because I didn't have enough cashews and walnuts as per the recipe.
 The melted butter and honey soaked in really quickly, so I had to get mixing fast!
There was so much mixture (the Americans seem to like making huge amounts of desserts at once) that I had to use my usual brownie tray (approx 20 x 30cm) plus an additional 20cm square tin. Although to be fair, the square tray had a thinner layer of mixture than the rectangular one.
And for future bakings, I would lower the recommended temperature and the time involved, as this seems a little dry and overdone to us.  The honey seems to have made it an extra specially golden colour.
However, despite the slight dryness to taste, it's deliciously cripsy, smells wonderfully of honey and tastes great with all the different seeds and nuts in each mouthful!  And it's lasting well in an airtight container, just perfect for afternoon tea or a quick bite in the mornings.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Double chocolate chip brownies, just because she wanted to

Now that school is in full-swing, and my hours at work have moved forward so that I start earlier, we are finding weekday mornings kinda tough.  We all still wake at the same time as before, but now there's no leeway or spare time whatsoever, and we've had to learn to love the clock, not.  If you aren't at the kitchen table and done with breakfast by 7.25am you miss out.  Seriously.  I've had to get creative with what can nourish the kids on the hop...
And the afternoons aren't much better - between homework, chill time, swimming lessons, Brownies, Girl Guides, dancing class and gymnastics, there's little leeway there either.  And we want to add ski lessons in to the mix, crazy!
So when one of the kids expressed a desire to bake brownies, well, we had to look at the schedule!  I felt bad about that, that we couldn't be a bit spontaneous, but I suppose that teaching them about commitments and responsibility will always be valuable.  So when today dawned wet, and resolutely stayed that way all day - we knew it was time to indulge.
As with any good teaching opportunity, we got out the recipe and all our ingredients.  Then started to prepare everything, so we would be ready to just toss them into the mixture at the appropriate time. White chocolate was chopped, eggs were cracked and mixed with vanilla extract, flour was sifted and so on.
As she is young and less experienced than myself, a lot of the white chocolate chunks melted when added to the brownie batter, so we quickly chopped some milk chocolate and sprinkled it over the top.  Time was of the essence, so the next photo is of the tray in the oven (hence the darkness - also it's quite rich and chocolatey).
It was quite wobbly when the timer went off, so I left it another couple of minutes before I removed it to cool.  We had started making it just before afternoon tea-time, so The Team were itching to try it! I cut it up straight away, and we all sampled it warm.  We were impressed, but also confused because it seemed more cake-like than our fudgy brownie usually is.  
But after we'd had our warm fill, it got more brownie-like as it cooled, and by the time the photos were taken, it was perfect!  Yummy, and the perfect rainy day activity treat.

Cinnamon raisin bread, part-baked heaven

Today dawned dark and wet.  Autumn only officially started recently, and our summer was kinda non-existent - though we did have lots of lovely sunny dry days, just not high temperatures - but really?  The sky was overcast and cloudy, and it was pouring with rain right from the get-go.
Lucky we had bought this part-baked, frozen loaf of cinnamon raisin bread a week or so ago!  I have yet to try making bread (no, actually I probably have made some in the past, but not regularly), but we all love the part-baked options.  Then you get the delicious smell of baking bread, the joy of warm crusty bread, and none of the waiting around.
We found this in a freezer shop called Farmfoods, and it's not widely known for its high-quality goods...  So we were excited, but reservedly.  
The loaf certainly looked good, and the instructions were simple and clear, just the way I like them. However, in future I shall turn the oven down slightly, and definitely leave the loaf in an extra 10 minutes.  That's how much longer I had to cook it for it all to cook through.  At the stated end-time, I cut a slice or two to check and the main body was still partly frozen!  So in the end, it was over-done (read burnt) but the interior was cooked.
Doesn't that look delicous??  Crusty exterior, soft warm interior, juicy raisins and slices of almond, with a hint of cinnamon throughout.  Mmm, weekend treat extraodinaire!!

P.S. This post is not sponsored or endorsed by anyone, it's simply our familys take on a purchased bakery item :)

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Medical cupcakes for a new nurse

A repeat customer, who likes to challenge me, wanted a treat for a friend who had been accepted to study nursing at University.  
I was stumped initially, and she sent over some images for inspiration.  They were great, and I agreed to the order as I had a two-week lead time.  So plenty of time to practice and re-do anything necessary, ha ha.
I made all the decorations in advance, so they would have time to harden.  It would also give me time to re-do them if they didn't work out as I had imagined, or if they cracked while drying.
Then the day before collection I baked up the Classic Vanilla cupcakes as required, so that they were as fresh as possible for the customer's friend.
Once sufficiently cooled they were iced in our signature Classic Vanilla buttercream icing, and the decorations carefully placed on top.  Et voila, gorgeous cupcakes fit for a trainee nurse! Congratulations and enjoy!!
 The last few were a simpler design, but still along the medical theme.
 And a collage view, that I posted to my Facebook page.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Peanut butter choc chip banana cookies, or how to use up bananas

As usual, I am way behind in updating you with all the baking that's been going on here at Becca Towers over the last few months.  I always meant, right from the outset, to blog at the very least weekly so that you would have an idea of how often and what types of things we were baking in the The Kitchen.  But then things happen - kids have toddler groups, and then school and after-school activities, and playdates and so on, and updating the blog with all the info and photos on the computer gets moved to the bottom of the priority list.  It's not that it's not important, just not in the same league as getting name tags sewn on to clothes, or organising gym kits, or swimming lessons and so forth.

So there's another baking blogger I like to read, Rose Bakes, and she has much the same issues in her blogging life - she bakes more often than I, and homeschools her 6 kids, so is even busier than me.  I think she just doesn't sleep, otherwise how does she manage?  :)  So anyway, she is honest and just blogs a post and says 'Oh, I made these last October...' so I think I may head along that path...  What do you think??

But just to mix things up a bit, I have a bit of time now so I'm going to quickly tell you about the cookies that Mini-2 and I made a few hours ago!!  School resumed after our lovely long and busy 6 week summer holidays this week, and Mini-2 had asked to make (or technically, eat) some chocolate chip cookies.  Then this recipe popped up on my Facebook newsfeed and I was sold.  I mean, don't you always have one or two slightly overripe bananas in the house?  No?  Oh, just me then, ha ha.

It's been many years that I've been baking regularly, and if you've been following the blog or my Facebook page, you'll recall that Mini-1 is bored of cake - won't even eat it if she's away from home - but Mini-2 still enjoys whatever I bake.  She really enjoys helping too, whether it's baking or cooking we're doing (Mini-1 not so much).  So here she is adding the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.
And this next shot is a gratuitous one really, just so we can see that she's grown, but still likes a wee helping hand to reach into the bowl more easily.
Once both the Reese's peanut butter chips (imported by a pupil from his family's holiday to Florida late last year) and chocolate chips were added the mixture had to be cooled.
And thus we have the result - the first batch quite soft and golden-coloured (I didn't like those as much, but The Team preferred them) and subsequent batches more tanned and crunchy.  A not too-strong taste of banana and I'd say we have a winner folks!!  

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Aunty Merle's shortbread

We live in Scotland, and quite like shortbread.  It's rather a staple food here - the Scots invented it actually, so there are many good brands from which to choose in almost any shop you visit.  However the last time I fancied eating some, I resisted the urge to buy some.  You see, I remembered this wonderful recipe that my dear friend H had given to me, given to her by her Aunty Merle.
We had first tried it at her homestead in rural Victoria, Australia (as you do) and all loved it!  I made it first a while back and it was nearly as good as hers, so I was determined to try again.
The recipe specified that the butter had to be cold, so I chopped it into little cubes and popped it in the food processor, as directed.
It didn't mix very well for a while, and I began to panic, as I couldn't telephone H for advice due to the time difference between Scotland and Australia.  But luckily the batter 'took' and it all became one large lump of cookie dough quite soon.  
I formed the batter into little balls, about the size of a Lindor chocolate (mmm, don't get me started on how delicious they are!  Have you tried the new coconut one? Heaven).  I had made a note on the recipe the last time that they would spread...
And they did.  Ah well, life's tough sometimes, isn't it?!  ha ha.  These are probably a bit overdone, but they tasted so good, and lasted almost a week in the cake tin that none of us minded at all.  I wonder how they'd taste if I flavoured them with something other than vanilla???  Yummy, thanks H

Friday, May 01, 2015

Lemon and poppyseed cupcakes

As you may recall, I work as a Teaching Assistant in the Home Economics department of one of our city's high schools - a job I really enjoy (I love baking, almost did my teaching diploma after my Uni degree, and quite like kids too ;) ).  So anyway, one of the classes we're teaching this year involves a food development unit.  The pupils were told to think of an item they could make for sale in a coffee shop that would fit in well with the baked goods already on offer, but be new and different so as to encourage customers to buy it.
They brainstormed for a while, and we chatted about what might work and why.  Then I was tasked with finding a lemon recipe that we could use in class - so it had to be easy enough for the pupils to do themselves, within the right timescale to fit into a period and with ingredients that we could easily purchase.
BBC Good Food to the rescue! I really like the huge range of tried and tested recipes they provide, plus the colours and photography are great.  I find that the recipes usually work for me, so felt confident in looking for one there.  I settled upon their Lemon & Poppyseed cupcakes, and that choice was approved by my teacher - so we were good to go.
It started out well, one pupil in each team making the sponge, the other the icing.  One pupil was alone, so I joined her and we worked together to get the cupcakes into the oven in time.  And the result?  Oh my, they were delicious!!  
The buttercream was lemony and rich, not too sweet or tart, and the sponge was light and fluffy and had just the right amount of lemon zest.  Mmm...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sugar cookies part 2 - birthday

Those sugar cookies I made the other day were originally meant to be for this event - a couple of work colleague birthdays.  I have a few different styles of plaque cookie cutter, and love to use them. The birthday recipients were all female, so I could have fun with the icing colours - I really like bright, happy colours and hoped they would too.  
I used a number of different embossers, to change up the fonts a little, and the ladies all loved their little birthday package.  One even took a photo, in case it got damaged in transit to her house to show her children, awww.....

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sugar cookies part 1 - birds

There were some more work birthdays coming up, and I was wondering how I could mark those occasions too.  I wanted something that would suit more than one person, and could be personalised. I follow a fair few cookie pages on Facebook and thought - aha, cookies!  
I have made roll-out sugar cookies before, and tweak the recipe slightly regarding bake times each time.  I haven't tasted anyone else's to compare, but wonder always if mine are the right crunch/soft ratio, or the right colour and so on.  Nonetheless, I went with my tried and true recipe (flavoured with a drop of caramel) and baked up a large batch of birds, circles and plaques (more about them to come).

The birds and circles were spares really, just done for fun - and then Mr Becca mentioned that he had a meeting to attend and did I have any spares for him to share with the participants?  Uh, yup.

As you can see, I had a few chocolate chunk ones, however they didn't bake up as well, because the chunks were a bit large I felt.  (the children ate those ones, and declared them perfect)  I decorated them in gorgeous shades of bright pink and green, and think they looked lovely.  He asked for them to be personalised with an initial, and the participants were all very impressed :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Super Lemon cake

One of my colleagues has a name starting with S.  She's fairly unassuming, doesn't like to blow her own trumpet, and likes lemon flavoured cake most of all.  So when I noticed it was her birthday coming up, well... I couldn't let it pass without a little bit of fanfare!

I bought some of Lakeland's fantastic PushPans a year or two ago and love using them.  They give a great shape and bake up well every time. I own some in 6" and some in super-tiny and cute 4", and it was the latter I decided to use this time - as some of the senior students had said they planned to buy her a cake for her birthday.
I used my normal sponge cake recipe and instead of adding vanilla extract for flavour, I added Star Kay White lemon plus the zest of a lemon.  I'm really impressed with their extracts, as the flavour is authentic without tasting artificial, and a few drops give lots of flavour - so the icing consistency isn't ruined.  Perfect.
I joined the two layers of cake with the buttercream and some extra delicious lemon curd, and added both the lemon extract and some yellow colouring to achieve the perfect taste and colour for my buttercream.  With the addition of a little fondant sugarpaste decoration of a Superman style capital letter S in bright pink, we were good to go.
And I'm thrilled to say that S loved her cake, and it was just the right size to last her and a friend a couple of days.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Golf and a 70th, how do you combine the two?

One of the school mums got in touch via the Facebook page to enquire about a cake for her father's 70th birthday.  He really enjoys playing golf and gardening, so whe wanted them included somehow.  And the grandchildren would be present to eat it, so the flavour was to be chocolate.  Fair enough, i said, and got my thinking cap on.  I Googled golf cakes and there were some stunning design ideas to be seen - there are some seriously talented cake makers out there in internet land!
I baked up my go to chocolate sponge recipe, and layered the two large cakes with lashings of luscious and thick green vanilla buttercream icing, to act as the background.  I knew I wanted grass on there too, as the customer had decided on an all buttercream cake.  I went to our wonderful local cake shop, The Cake Guru, and described the shade of green I had, and what else I had in mind.  I'm so pleased with Wendy's recommendation, as the grass tones in perfectly, don't you think?

As the cake flavour was chocolate, and the buttercream vanilla, I didn't feel that the usual strawberry jam filling would be suitable really.  I hadn't been warned of any allergies, so I slathered Nutella in btetween the layers - perfect choice with those flavours, don't you think?
Careful and prolonged use of the grass nozzle tip created the top layer and the decoration at the base edge, a little crushed biscuit for the sand bank and we were good to go.
I'm so pleased to say that the customer feedback was very positive - not only did they love how it looked, it was totally devoured on the day.  A very happy 70th birthday indeed.