Always on my mind… stuff I might blog about

Well, not always*, but these are some of the things that have been on my mind this week and which might well get blogged about soon.

1. Children and Blogging

As in, why do people feel the need to align themselves into mommy or child-free camps. Why is there such a dividing line? Why does it matter?

2. Feline Asthma

One of my cats has it. Inexplicably (it isn’t my fault) I feel guilty.

3. Baking

I’m thinking cookies at the moment, and thus stole / borrowed a star-shaped cookie cutter from my mother. In fairness she’s had it two years and never used it. My sister makes very nice gingerbread, so I figure I should opt for a different flavour to widen the family skillset. On the other hand, I’m still thinking about artful cupcake icing so it might not be cookies at all.

4. Disneyland Paris

Having been back to the absolute pinnacle of the Disney experience, I’m now craving more Mouse. Perhaps a trip to Paris would assuage it? Husband thinks otherwise, and on previous visits it really hasn’t felt the same.

5. The Monster Book

Sickness threw me off balance, but I want Ashley to read it and give me some feedback. I know the tone has changed and need to keep writing before I’m tempted to wade in and start re-writing. Must. Get. Motivation.

*Also, isn’t that song horrible? Maybe I treated you appallingly but, it’s okay, I was thinking of you the whole time. Yeesh.

Weekend Baking: Lemon & Poppy Seed Spotted Cupcakes

Stamping out the rounds

Stamping out the rounds

With Ashley painting the living room and me feeling anti-social, it was time to hit the kitchen. Fear not – I haven’t lost my social media mind entirely. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed you’ll know I recently went to a third sector forum on digital innovation (search for anything hashtagged ‘aquent’), and at some point when I have some better thought out and intelligent thoughts to report on that, I shall blog about them. In the meantime, we’ve just begun work with the CMS for our brand new website, and that’s taking up the majority of my headspace at work.

So… at home. Cupcakes.

The recipe was adapted from some orange and poppy seed cupcakes in Cupcake Heaven. Instead of an orange zest, I slapped in a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. I’d use more next time – I’m not one for subtlety with lemon and it’s barely-there. Otherwise it’s:

Swapping the circlets

Swapping the circlets

– 115g each of sugar, flour and butter plus two eggs and a tablespoon of poppy seeds.

– As usual beat the butter and sugar first, add egg gradually and then fold in flour and flavourings. I used plain flour because I was being absent minded, so I added about 3/4 of a heaped teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt as well to make sure they rose okay.

– 180 degrees C, 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean.

I borrowed the icing design from a different cupcake recipe in the book, eschewing the creamy topping and orange segments favoured by Susannah Blake for the cupcakes I made (I dare say she wouldn’t mind the liberty if she knew about it).  You use around 2/3 of a 500g block of ready-to-roll fondant icing.

– Divide in two, and dye each half a different colour – two that will go well together. I revisited my pistachio and buttercup colour scheme from the vanilla buttercream mini cupcakes you’ll find buried in the Baking category, and decided I’m switching to paste food colouring cos the liquid’s driving me crazy.

Cupcakes belong in a stack

Cupcakes belong in a stack

– Roll them out either between clingfilm or on an icing sugared surface until they’re pretty thin – say 3-4mm. Try and make them as close to the same thickness as possible.

– Then get a small cookie-cutter (any shape, but I’d stick to simple rounds etc the first time) and stamp out a spotty pattern, gently lifting the cutouts and laying them carefully aside. Do the same to the other piece and swap the cutouts, putting them in the holes you let behind.

– Gently roll over again, so that they stick together as much as possible. Now get another cookie-cutter, either the same diameter as your cakes or smaller, and stamp out a spotty-patterned circlet of icing ready to put on your cake. Smear the cakes with a little warmed jam and carefully put the icing on top.

As I didn’t have a palette knife and this is the first time I’ve ever worked with fondant icing, mine occasionally fell apart but I patched them back up again with little fuss or evidence. I stuck to round on this occasion, but intend to use my feet shaped ones to make pink and blue foot-shaped prints the next time anyone I know has a baby! And I reckon some lovely flowery ones will be just right for summer, perhaps in slightly bolder colours.

Om. And very possibly Nom Nom.

Anyway, the pictures tell the story if my ramblings don’t. Most importantly, they taste bloody good. I also made cheese biscuits from Nigella Lawson’s Feast with the foot-shaped cutters and they disappeared down gullets before the camera could come out, so I dare say they were yummy too.

Om. And very possibly Nom, Nom…

Nom.

First rule of baking: remember the camera!

And I forgot it! So I’ll have to ask you to please just picture to goodies I shall describe, and I will do my best to paint pretty little word pictures.

Today was Mother’s Day in the UK, and accordingly I had my mother and mother-in-law round to tea. Well, the fathers came along as well, of course. Apparently my father-in-law was talking about the cats all the way home; he adores them, but my mother-in-law is a little nervous after an unfortunate run in with some sharp claws as a child which has left lasting memories. To her credit, she did let Casper snooze alongside her, provided we promised not to let him climb on her lap.

Anyway, tea time. Ashley got his best old English butler impression out, and made delicate crustless sandwiches with home made tuna and egg mayo mixes and smoked salmon and cream cheese (well, he IS Jewish). I rolled up my sleeves, tried to ignore my burgeoning grim cold and stuck on my “Mrs Goldstein” apron (a hen do gift); this is what I made, all courtesy of recipes from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess:

1. Scones

A sugar-free recipe was a must given that Dad and M-i-L are both diabetic. These are lovely, light, fluffy concoctions, made with cream of tartar. The dough was as perfect as I’ve ever managed it, which made it all the more irritating when I left them in two minutes too long. They were still very nice, but somewhat more golden than I’d planned. No added sugar jam – raspberry and mirabelle plum Dalfour – and clotted cream (not so diabetic friendly, but it is a treat day) were on hand too.

2. Cupcakes

Plain vanilla fairy cakes, these, with icing-sugar-and-water icing dyed yellow, green and blue or just left plain white. I had some sugared flowers left, plus I’d bought some hundreds and thousands, silver balls and chocolate stars so I got busily creative. They came out a little more lurid than I’d intended, but they tasted good. I had swapped butter for Trex as even though we weren’t having meat I’m experimenting with parev cake mix. They were springy, light, nicely golden and satisfying, with just a light slick of super sweet icing.

3. Rosewater Madeleines

These delicate, springy, pale cake-biscuits with their distinctive fan shape were surprisingly easy to make, though there was no chance of butter substitution here. My mother, who grew up in Egypt on Greek food and understands unusual flavours like rose, loved them. As did I. They were not so popular with the rest of the family because of the ‘weird’ floral fragrance and flavour, so I’ll try a substitute flavour like orange blossom water next time, I think. The texture was liked all round. Dusted with a little icing sugar they looked really beautiful, and with very little effort on my part.

I packed up the leftovers and sent them home with mum so that a family friend who’s staying with them can help himself. Just as well – my birthday Wii Fit was definitely none too encouraging about my fitness! Time to get back into the gym habit; I figure I can keep baking as long as I keep giving the results away.

Birthday: Mini vanilla cupcakes with white chocolate topping

Mum's Birthday Cupcakes

My mother is notoriously bad about accepting or asking for birthday presents, so I thought I’d make her a batch of mini birthday cakes instead. We both actually celebrate tomorrow – I love sharing a birthday with my mother but she probably didn’t feel so happy struggling through labour on her birthday! – but were spending time together this weekend. The mini cakes, a format I seem obsessed with at the moment – are just plain vanilla. I made them with shortening instead of butter as I’m experimenting with parev cake offerings for Jewish family; it seemed to work just as well. Perhaps it was a tad less rich, but given the form of ‘icing’ I used, that was all for the best.

Cupcakes - The Aftermath

The topping was a dollop of melted white chocolate, divided into three bowls with one left plain and the other two dyed pink and green respectively with food colouring. Next time

I’d decorate with something more but I didn’t have anything left in my baking drawer. I’ve now stocked up on silver balls, green angelica, chocolate stars and some brilliant sugar numbers. Dr. Oetker is my best friend.

Next up is possibly dark chocolate vegan cupcakes, or maybe I’ll go into savoury mode and whip up a batch of bagels. I say ‘whip up’; I’ve never tried it before and it might be disastrous, but a little doughy experimentation never hurt anyone. If the bagels go well, I have a recipe for pretzels I’d like to try.

goldfish-artCasper (the shadowy black kitten at the back of my current header) is curled up asleep on the sofa beside me like a teeny witch’s cat. I must go and gently scratch his nose the way he likes it best. We’re both sitting under a beautiful canvas of goldfish which I’ve been lusting after in the window of a local art shop for months. It was my birthday present from my lovely husband. I’m one spoiled lady.

Mini plain cupcakes with almond buttercream icing

Easter Mini CupcakesMy unofficial motto is “when in doubt, bake”. If any other form of creativity is stifled, if there’s nothing on telly, if there’s any sort of mental unrest, baking is the answer. It’s a science, and the results taste good and give you a sugar rush; what could be wrong about that?

A combination of stress over a family illness, creative frustration and the excuse of friends round for dinner sent me packing to the kitchen. Plain mini cupcakes from a recipe in Cupcake Heaven (with the slight alteration of a sprinkling of orange zest) and buttercream icing with almond substituted for vanilla, dyed pistachio green and sunshine yellow with food colouring. Ready made sugar flowers completed the look, which I subsequently realised looked quite Easter-themed.

Next plan is a more striking flavour of cake or plain cakes again with white chocolate bejewelled icing, I reckon.