The A to Z of Baking: T is for Toffee Marble Shortbread

20160321_082338I decided to try something a little different for the T of my baking challenge – different in the sense that it was not a cake or cupcake. Not quite sure I wanted to tackle a pie just yet – pastry nerves, eek! – I decided to opt for a simple, yet tasty traybake. I dug out an old baking book I haven’t used for a while (Everyday Easy Cakes and Cupcakes) and got going.

When I announced to Steve on Sunday afternoon that I was just going to have a little bake, he was quick to remind me: “You said you were going to have a break from baking for two weeks!” This is true. Last weekend, I returned home knackered after a fab family weekend in Whitby and spent hours creating an Easter-themed cake for a staff-student charity bake off at work the following day. It was a good excuse to try out new techniques (more info on this in a forthcoming post), but it was bloody exhausting and to top it off, the prizes for the Bake Off ended up being raffled off the next day because there were not enough people taking part! Not that I’m competitive or anything, but it’s pretty soul destroying to toil over a creation for hours when afterwards, you feel as though you needn’t have made quite as much effort! At least it was all for a good cause, though.

Anyway, after what felt like a marathon baking session last week, I did indeed announce that I was fed up and taking a bit of a break, but after a week off I was itching to get going again. Plus, I was due to be meeting my friend Catherine ahead of her birthday, so I thought a sweet treat in addition to the gift I’d got her might be a good idea and give me a baking purpose.  Catherine also kindly left me some surprise Easter-themed rocky road cakes at my house last week when I was out at work, which was a lovely surprise to return home to! I don’t often get baked for so I loved this and wanted to try and return the gesture in some way.

Enjoying a piece of the shortbread with our fancy coffees whilst out celebrating Catherine's birthday.

Enjoying a piece of the shortbread with our fancy coffees whilst out celebrating Catherine’s birthday.

High points

Super easy to make! As Catherine told me in her informal review, it was “Tasty with a visual punch”. Thanks for the props there, pal 🙂 Did I just say ‘props’? Ugh.

Low points

Steve said it tasted a bit dry immediately after coming out of the fridge and that it is better when it has warmed up a little, but it’s not stopped either of us troughing away on the shortbread every time we go into the fridge.

Ingredients

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 175g golden granulated sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 125g semolina
  • 4-5 tablespoons ready made toffee sauce
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 150g white chocolate

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas 2. Lightly grease a square cake tin and line with baking paper.  Whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy, then add the flour and semolina, and mix until well combined. Press the mixture into the tin and level the surface with a knife.
  • Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, of until lightly golden, then remove and leave it to cool. Spoon the toffee sauce evenly over the shortbread, and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon until level.
  • In two separate heatproof bowls, each set over a pan of simmering water, melt the dark and white chocolate. Spoon blobs of dark and white chocolate randomly over the toffee sauce layer, and create a marbled effect by blending them slightly with the back of a teaspoon. Chill for a couple of hours for the chocolate to set. Remove from the tin, place on a chopping board and cut into small squares with a large knife. I used a cleaver!

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The Dream That Keeps On Blowing Away

Ever had that moment where you drop, say, a £5/£10/£20 note, or a bit of paper with some really important information on it, and you bend down frantically to pick it up, but the wind plays games with you and keeps on pushing it further away? You end up engaged in some farcical game of repeatedly bending down to catch what you want so badly, running forward a few steps, bending again, and sighing with frustration before you eventually grasp the thing you’re chasing, or admit defeat and let the wind carry it away.

That’s what working towards having a family feels like for me.

I’ve wanted to become a mother for many years and have a family of my own. I feel closer to this family dream than I have ever done before, but it still, still seems so frustratingly far away.

I’m no crazy baby lady (but I AM a crazy cat lady 😉 ), and I see the value of living my life now, for me, and believe me, every waking moment is not consumed by thoughts of babies. But it’s always there in the background, that lingering longing for a family of my own. It sits right alongside the fear of giving up much of the freedom, independence and, I guess, selfish lifestyle that I have right now. I visualise the idea of being a mother, of having a family with my partner, and I wonder/worry what that will mean for my identity, for the me I’ve finally become happy with, and proud of. But for all the doubts and questions I have, I still know that it’s what I want and I would never want to miss the opportunity to try for a family of my own.

But when? I still can’t see when it will happen. My partner and I have discussed this and we are both in agreement that we want the same thing. I don’t nag or cry at my partner about my longing for a family. I’ve been there and it doesn’t work.

Still, we both wait for the right time. There are still things we both want to achieve, together and individually. But then, people say there’s never a right time, don’t they? I just hope that when we both decide that it’s not the right time, but that equally it’s not the wrong time, that we can finally both bend down and grasp that dream before the wind carries it away.

Best of Worst
My Random Musings

The A to Z of Baking: S is for St Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

IMG_0947Winter should technically be over in a week or so but this dreadful up and down weather shows no signs of letting up, plus virtually everyone I know has got either a bad cold, flu or a sickness bug and I’m feeling a little run down too. So all in all, things are feeling a little grey at the moment but baking these stout chocolate cupcakes in aid of St Patrick’s Day next week have cheered me up no end!

I adapted one of my favourite Hummingbird Bakery recipes and then added a little Irish twist with some green icing shamrocks. It’s definitely worth a go if you’re looking to mark March 17th with a sweet treat!

High points

These cakes are super delicious and the Guinness cake recipe never fails to impress people.

Low points

It’s not really a low point but I found this recipe made LOADS of cupcakes (20 to be precise), and I wasn’t really prepared for that so I had to get my cupcake maker out as it makes cupcakes super fast in about 12 minutes. It does tend to dry them out a little though which is why it’s not my fave appliance, but this mixture makes such a moist cake that it didn’t dry them out that much.

Ingredients

  • 250ml Guinness (although I used Murphy’s stout)
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 140ml buttermilk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the frosting

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g full-fat cream cheese
  • Cocoa powder for dusting
  • Green ready to roll icing

Other things you will need

  • A shamrock shaped cutter

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F / Gas mark 3, then line the base of a 9in (23cm) cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Pour the stout into a saucepan, add the butter and gently heat until it has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the cocoa powder and sugar into the warm liquid. Mix together the eggs, vanilla essence and buttermilk by hand in a hug or bowl, and then add this to the mixture in the pan.
  • Sift together the remaining sponge ingredients into a large bowl and with an electric whisk, set on a low speed, pour in the contents of the pan. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  • Pour the batter into prepared muffin cases in a muffin tin – beware! I found this recipe made more than 12 cupcakes so I’d advise you have about 20 muffin cases at the ready – and bake for 45 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when pressed and a skewer comes out of the middle of them clean. Set aside to cool, and then remove the cupcakes from the tin on to a wire rack, making sure the cakes are cold to the touch before you frost them.
  • Using the electric whisk, mix the butter and icing sugar together until there are no large lumps of butter and it is fully combined with the sugar in a sandy mixture. Add the cream cheese and mix on a low speed, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
  • Frost the cakes using a palette knife to create a swirled effect on top of each cupcake.
  • Dust each cupcake with a little cocoa powder.
  • Roll out a small amount of green ready to roll icing until the sheet of icing is around 1mm thick. Then, use your shamrock cutter to cut out the shapes. I used the blunt end of a wooden skewer to gently push the icing shape away from the cutter without damaging its shape.

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  • Place each shamrock on top of the cupcakes -et voila!

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My Random Musings

For My Mum on Mother’s Day

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Not the best quality photo but our most recent snap together, taken at Christmas.

Mother’s Day is a bit like a bit like Valentine’s Day in the sense that it’s become a marketer’s dream and you could use the argument that you shouldn’t only choose one day of the year to celebrate the ones you love. That said, just like birthdays, it’s always wonderful to especially spoil loved ones on their special day(s) of the year, so it’s great to use any excuse you can to treat them and make an effort to tell them just how much they mean to you.

I’ve always tried to make Mother’s Day special for my Mum in my own way. As a young kid I remember taking it upon myself to bake something for my Mum on her special day (always loved baking, see), although I can’t remember if it was a cheesecake, apple crumble or jam tarts. However, I ended up getting shouted at by her for making a mess of the kitchen. Well, the thought was there!

This year, Mother’s Day weekend has so far consisted of afternoon tea on Saturday and then a meal with the family in our new home today, on Mothering Sunday.

Mum pictured with me as a little rascal.

Mum, pictured with me as a little rascal.

So, to my Mum, I just want to tell you how much you mean to me. Even though we can occasionally drive each other mad and even though I can still behave like a petulant child in your company at times, you are also a wonderful friend and we have so much fun together. Even my friends often remind me of how much fun you are, which always makes me smile!

You’ve supported me through thick and thin. I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d do without you and I try not to think too hard about the latter.

I’m looking forward to our family weekend away together next weekend, and to many happy times to come. Love you millions, always.

xxx

Mum pictured long me. Here, Mum is the same age as I am now - looking efortlessly glam on the beach!

Mum pictured long before me. Here, she is the same age as I am now – looking effortlessly glam on the beach!

 

The A to Z of Baking: R is for Raspberry Rainbow Cupcakes

My first attempt at the R of the baking challenge was a Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie that I intended to cut up into cute little pieces and serve at our very belated housewarming party a few weeks ago. I baked the cheesecake and brownie layer and all was going swimmingly until I tried to make the raspberry topping. It called for whipping cream and I didn’t know you could buy pots of whipping cream, so I just bought a tin of squirty cream and squirted it all out into the bowl. I think it was too wet so the topping didn’t set and the end result looked even more sloppy and shambolic than my Fondant Fancy Fail. I decided I definitely wouldn’t be displaying that monstrosity on the blog but ever the one to try not to waste food, I did still serve the little pieces of disaster at the party, apologising profusely to anyone who looked in the direction of the cakes. Needless to say, most of the pieces didn’t get eaten and the ones that did go were used as ammunition in a food fight that broke out amongst a couple of friends. Probably the best use for the little buggers.

So, I decided to attempt R again last weekend but instead of going for rainbow cake like I had half decided I would mix things up a little and go for rainbow cupcakes, after being inspired by some neon rainbow frosting in a YouTube video.

To make these cakes, I used a combination of two trusty Hummingbird Bakery recipes for the sponge and the frosting, and added in raspberry flavouring and a combination of food colouring pastes.

High points

The cupcakes look fun and it wasn’t as tricky to line a piping bag with three stripes of colour as I thought it would be.

Low points

The colours in the rainbow frosting just weren’t as vibrant as I hoped they would be! Maybe I need some different tones next time as mine appeared more pastel-like. Anyone have any recommendations for vibrant coloured pastes or gels?

For the cupcakes:

  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 large eggs
  • A dash of raspberry flavouring (I bought mine from Asda)
  • A small amount of bright pink food colouring gel or paste (I used Dr Oetker Fuschia gel)

For the vanilla frosting:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 25ml whole milk
  • A couple of drops of vanilla extract
  • A small amount of bright pink, bright yellow and bright blue food colouring paste (I used Dr Oetker Fuschia gel, Sugarflair Sky Blue paste and Sugarflair Daffodil Yellow paste)

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 190C (375F), gas mark 5 and line a muffin tray with muffin cases.
  • Beat together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt on a slow speed until the ingredients are well mixed and resemble fine breadcrumbs.
  • In a jug whisk together the milk, vanilla essence and eggs by hand, then pour three-quarters of this into the dry ingredients, while mixing on a slow speed, and beat together, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated. Add the remaining milk mixture and a little bit of pink food colouring paste (using the end of a cocktail stick to transfer the paste into the mixture) and beat again, on a medium speed, until the batter is smooth.
  • Divide the batter between the muffin cases, filling each one two-thirds full. Bake the cupcakes for 18-20 minutes or until the sponges bounce back when lightly pressed. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack to cool down fully.
  • To make the frosting, beat the icing sugar and butter together until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Turn the mixer down to slow speed. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture a couple of spoonfuls at a time. Once all the milk has been incorporated, turn the mixer up to high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes.
  • Divide your frosting evenly between three bowls and then use a small amount of food colouring paste or gel on the end of a cocktail stick to place into your bowls, mixing until your colours look evenly mixed.

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  • Get a disposable piping bag with a standard star nozzle and carefully place the contents of one of your bowls down one side of the bag, making sure to try and get the frosting as close to the nozzle as you can. Repeat this on the other side of your piping bag with one of your other colours from another bowl and then place the final colour down the third section of the bag. It doesn’t matter if the colours begin to merge a little bit.

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  • Try a test pipe of your frosting on a plate until the frosting comes out with the full three colours displaying – now you’re good to go and frost your cakes, starting in the middle of each cupcake with your frosting and swirling it around to cover the top of the cupcake.

Have you tried making this creation? If so, let me know how you got on with it!

To Self-Host… Or Not?

2016-02-29 18.41.41My blog has been on my mind a lot lately. I posted recently about how the niggling blogger doubts had gotten a hold of me and how I’d considered jacking it all in after five years, but how I knew deep down I wanted to continue on blogging. In between the sugary sweet cake posts that make up my A to Z of Baking Challenge, there are ideas for posts, ideas that I just can’t let go. And so, on I blog.

But aside from the post ideas I’ve been having, I’ve also been thinking about the presentation of my little blog, and I’ve finally, after all this time, begun exploring the option of self-hosting. I feel a little late to the self-hosting party but oh my word, it feels like a minefield!! Maybe it’s not really. After all, lots of bloggers out there are self hosting and surely not everyone is a certified web designer.

However, I’m finding trawling through the information out there and making an informed decision just overwhelming. Who do I go with to host my site? How much should I set aside for this? Am I sure I really want to self-host after all? Is it worth it for me?

I’ve asked one or two lovely blogger friends for their advice and I’m really grateful for the clear information and tips they’ve given me. But I’m still feeling hesitant to make a decision. The impulsive part of me, the part who gets me into all kinds of debacles, thinks I should dive right in, after all I’ve been thinking about this for a while so why not just go for it? The other part of me thinks I should spend ages researching the self-hosting route to make sure I’m making the right decision.

It looks as though there can be some pretty costly hosting packages out there and I’m really not sure how much I should be spending. I’m willing to invest something in this but as much as I want to give this my all, I’m also watching the pennies. We’re nearly six months into being homeowners and about to begin our second round of home improvements (this time to the garden), so can I really afford to spend much?

Whilst discussing the merits of self-hosting my blog, a friend suggested I ask myself what I would really get out of self-hosting. My answer is that I would like to make more of this little old blog, I’d like it to look more professional and I’d like the freedom to display it just as I want it, with no WordPress-imposed ads about how to get a flat stomach, or such like. And yes, the future option to monetise it is not something I would be opposed to.

I guess that means I should take the plunge and go self-hosted then, doesn’t it?!

I would love to hear from fellow bloggers on this one – are you self-hosted? Why/why not? Any tips you have at all about this would be very much appreciated!

My Random Musings

The A to Z of Baking: Q is for Queen of Hearts Cake

IMG_0938When I’m not raving about one of the Hummingbird Bakery’s books, I’m raving about the Hidden Surprise Cakes book by Angela Drake (which I love all the more due to the fact it cost me a bargain £3 from the book club at work). So, after weeks of feeling ill-prepared for the letter Q of my baking challenge, I turned back to the Hidden Surprise Cakes book for rescue and decided to give another one of Ange’s recipes a go for the first time, although I sneakily changed the name of the recipe to suit my evil needs… Mwahahahahaha. (See ‘Hidden Hearts Sponge Cake’ in the book).

Now, if I’d have gotten my act together, I could have been clever and baked the cake/published this post in time for Valentine’s Day, but well, I’m nothing if not disorganised. So, here it is coming to you two weeks late… maybe you could bake it in time for Steak and Blow Job day on 14th March? Awkward.

High points

I’m not a huge marzipan fan to be fair (although as a kid, I was a massive fan of a book called The Marzipan Pig – he fell behind a fridge, went stale and no one loved him, it was heartbreaking, people…). Anyway, this cake features marzipan hearts – both those on show and some sneaky hidden ones, as well as a distinctive almond taste to the sponge. I can handle the stuff in small doses though, and thought it worked really well in this cake.

Low points

It’s actually quite fiddly shaping the hidden marzipan hearts and although they won’t be winning any awards for their stunning shape, I was pleasantly surprised that mine came out more heart-shaped than I expected!

For the sponges:

  • 225 butter
  • 225 caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tbsp milk

For the buttercream:

  • 175g butter
  • 350g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp hot water

To decorate:

  • 225g natural marzipan
  • red food colouring paste (I used Sugarflair paste in ‘Scarlet Red’)

Other things you will need:

  • 2 x 20cm/8-inch round sandwich tins
  • Small heart-shaped cutter

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease 2 sandwich tins (20cm/8inch).
  • Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat together until pale and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a spoonful of the flour if the mixture starts to curdle. Sift in the flour and gently fold in using a metal spoon. Fold in the almond extract and milk.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared tins and level the surfaces. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until risen, golden and just firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  • To decorate, lightly dust a surface with icing sugar, then knead the marzipan until smooth. Knead in enough food colouring paste to colour the marzipan a bright red. I probably used about a quarter of a teaspoon.
Marzipan before and after food colouring paste.

Marzipan before and after food colouring paste.

  • Take a 70g piece of marzipan and thinly roll out to a 35cm roll. Then take a 50g piece of marzipan and roll to a 20cm roll.

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  • Form the rolls into heart shapes by scoring along the length of each roll with a knife. Run a thin skewer (I used wooden as I didn’t have a metal one – it worked just fine) along the scored lines to shape the top of the heart. Turn the rolls over and pinch along the length of each roll to shape the pointed base of the heart.
Evidence that I managed an actual heart shape!

Evidence that I managed an actual heart shape!

  • To make the buttercream, place the butter in a bowl and beat for 2-3 minutes until very soft and pale. Sift in half the icing sugar and mix with a wooden spoon until blended with the butter. Sift in the remaining icing sugar and mix again. Add the vanilla extract and beat for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is very smooth, pale and creamy. Add the hot water and beat for a further 30 seconds to give the buttercream a silky smooth texture.
  • Spread one third of the buttercream on one of the sponges. Arrange the heart-shaped rolls, point side down, in two concentric circles on the buttercream, pressing them down gently. Spread another third of the buttercream over the marzipan rolls in an even layer. Place the second sponge on top.

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  • Spread the remaining buttercream over the top sponge, swirling it into circles with the tip of a palette knife if you like, I didn’t do this. Thinly roll out the remaining marzipan on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar. Use a small heart-shaped cutter to stamp out enough marzipan hearts to fill the outer edges of the cake and then arrange them on the top of the cake.
Et voila!

Et voila!

My Random Musings

The Facebook Motherhood Challenge Debate

Most of us will have seen the latest ‘challenge’ doing the rounds on Facebook this week, it’s the Motherhood Challenge. It involves mums, who are nominated by their Facebook friends, posting five photos that make them proud to be a mother, before they then go on to nominate other fellow mums and challenge them to do the same.

There’s often a challenge of some sort going around on Facebook – the ice bucket challenge and the no make-up selfie challenge are two of the more popular ones from the last couple of years – but neither of those seem to have attracted the debate (I’m not sure if ‘backlash’ would be too strong a word for this, but maybe not, depending on how strong some people’s views are on the matter) that the motherhood challenge has drummed up.

So, why do people have so much to say about this photo challenge that is surely just a bit of fun? Well, it basically boils down to the fact that this challenge alienates some women, the women who are not mothers. We can all take our make up off and take a selfie, but we can’t all show off pictures of our kids, can we?

Motherhood isn’t something you should feel you have to hide

Motherhood can be a pretty touchy subject – either for women who do not have, and simply do not want, children, or for the women who desperately want, but cannot have, children. Some of the first camp – the ‘I do not want children, thanks’ crowd – can be pretty vocal about how motherhood is not for them and if they have to see one more pic of a giggling baby on Facebook, they will just vomit. I’m not sure I agree with this point of view. I have lots of friends who have children and who regularly post pics on Facebook of said children in cute/hilarious/messy situations. I don’t mind – and often like – seeing these photos as it is a massive part of their life they are sharing. Motherhood isn’t something you should hide, after all. And if I’m not in the mood for more baby pics on any particular day when I’m flicking through my news feed, I just  scroll on by. (Plus, it all evens out in the end – I’m not sure my mummy friends want to see all the pics I post of my cat Theo, but I’m a kitten momma and proud 😉 ).

Others who could perhaps be negatively affected by the motherhood challenge are the women who are not mothers but who desperately want to be. And the thought of these women feeling alienated over the latest challenge is the thing that truly upsets me. I have never tried for children but I definitely want children, and although I don’t know what it must feel like to want children but know that you cannot have them, I do know what it feels like to desperately want children but thanks to your lifestyle, you feel like you are up against a complete brick wall and cannot see children as a part of your future (and I am not saying these two things are anywhere near the same, I’m just drawing on past experience). If this challenge was doing the rounds when I was in the midst of my previous situation then I would have felt truly heartbroken. But by the same token, people can’t be expected to conceal parts of their lives at all times for fear of hurting others. I don’t think it’s fair for the extremists cited in recent media articles to label the mothers taking part in this challenge as smug for doing so, they should take part if they want to and they should not have to conceal any part of their lives if they don’t wish to.

Of course, it sounds like there are one or two mums out there who are taking it too far and turning this fun challenge into a competition, and that I don’t agree with. In an article on the BBC website, it quotes a Mumsnet user, who is opposed to the challenge and who states:  “I would post: I’m far too busy bonding with my DC [dear children] over homemade crafts, trips to the beach and cuddles to do this. If you have time, you are clearly neglecting yours”.

My thoughts on that comment? Get off your high horse, please. From my point of view, motherhood is not a competition, no one is any better than anyone else, and those few women who treat it as a competitive sport actually make me feel ever so slightly jaded about the possibility of one day becoming a mother.

So, would I take part in the Facebook motherhood challenge if I was a mother? Well, yes, I think I probably would, knowing my track record of taking part in daft Facebook challenges. But I wouldn’t do it to rub it in or be smug, because anyone who truly knows me, knows I’m not that kind of person. I’d feel proud to have become a mother, something I’ve wanted to become for a long time, and as long as you’re not out there to brag, boast and say “I’m better than you”, then there is nothing wrong at all in celebrating any aspect of your life that you are proud of.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Hitting Another Blogging Wall

I’ve mentioned in a previous post about that niggling little voice that occasionally pops up and makes me question my writing/blogging abilities (just one of the many things that little voice invites me to question when it decides to pipe up from time to time).

Well, today is one of those days when that doubtful little doubter is shouting at me, loud and clear. And sadly, I’m listening.

I often think about topics for blog posts that I would love to write, keen to satisfy my own love for writing and desire to discuss a certain topic, and keen to hopefully inspire others in the process, too. But then what happens to all those ideas I have? Very rarely do they come to fruition. I have a list in my phone that’s ever growing with blogging ideas but do I sit down and get some of those thoughts and ideas down on virtual paper? Do I hell. I let life get in the way for long enough, I ignore the fact that I’m letting life get in the way until eventually, that niggling doubtful voice pops up and tells me that this little old blog is a joke so I may as well just quit now. Draw a line under this whole thing.

I was chatting with a friend at the weekend about our blogging experiences and when we were talking, I was reminded why I set this humble little blog up nearly five years ago (wow – I didn’t actually realise it was that long ago until I checked!), and I was inspired to continue with it. But today, I haven’t been feeling quite so positive about it. I’m thinking about all the things I could have done with this blog in the past five years and all the things I haven’t actually done.

But I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to hone in on the negative. I want to see the positive in life and over the past few months I can tell I’m getting better at doing that in general, so I must continue with that practice. This little blog may not have set the world on fire – and nor should it need to in order for it to be worthwhile – but I want to continue with it. I want a little blog to be proud of, filled with authenticity, honesty and, well, me. After all, it is my blog.

I’ve read so many amazingly real and honest blog posts from talented bloggers lately that I’ve felt inspired to carry on and try to share my story more – not just the cake recipes, although I do find those fun to create when I’m not having a baking disaster and getting stressed about it.

What I think I’ve been doing is thinking of all the blog posts I’d like to create but then feeling scared about actually writing them in case they’re not just right, in case I’m judged. But like I said earlier, I want a blog that’s real and honest, and real and honest is right enough for me, I realise that now. And I also realise I need to stop being such of a bloody people pleaser. People will judge.

So, I’m putting this out there before I change my mind. I want to continue blogging, I’d like to hopefully meet new bloggers and become inspired by the many amazing stories out there. I want to live but not use the excuse that life is just getting in the way of me creating anything. I don’t want that little voice at the back of my head to have any more negativity to share on the matter. And so that’s what I’m going to aim for.

My Random Musings

The A to Z of Baking: P is for Peanut Butter Layer Cake

20160116_150609First of all, as this is my first post of 2016, I’d like to wish everyone reading this post a very HAPPY NEW YEAR! Secondly, I’d like to apologise that it’s taken 25 days for me to send you this greeting… January has been cray cray busy so far.

Anyway, I am SO excited to share this latest recipe with you. I spotted this recipe nearly a year ago when the A to Z of Baking challenge was a mere twinkle in my greedy little eye. It is from the Good to Know website and dropped into my inbox in a newsletter that I still have no idea how I ended up on but hey, it’s worked out well.

I wanted to make this cake from the moment I spotted it but a peanut butter cake is a bit of a funny one, so I felt like I needed the right occasion to make it for. It’s kind of like what I imagine a Marmite cake would be like (wow, imagine that… it probably does exist *Googles Marmite cake*…) in that a peanut butter cake is not the kind of cake you could just rustle up and take willy nilly to a party or to the office bake sale. In a slightly less offensive way than Marmite, peanut butter is quite a ‘love it or hate it’ thing. So, if you flounced along to your local bake sale smugly displaying this little number, you could guarantee you’d get some looks of disgust from those who simply can’t fathom how peanut butter and cake could possibly go together (‘garlic bread? Garlic? and bread?’). And then when people were done shooting you daggers for daring to bring along a peanut butter cake to a public event, someone with a nut allergy would inevitably keel over next to the laboriously layered paper plates and napkins if you neglected to correctly display a sign saying ‘MAY CONTAIN NUTS’.

So, you see my dilemma – when exactly would be the right time to execute the P of my baking challenge? Well, thanks to the increasingly lengthy amount of time that is taking me to bat through this A to Z, it just so happened that the letter P fell around the time of my sister’s 50th birthday and she loves peanut butter! So that was it, I decided to make this cake for her party, since my new adventures into baking had already meant the responsibility of providing the cake had fallen to me. Also, I still haven’t mastered the art of sugarcraft – or even attempted it, let’s be fair – so I wasn’t about to start knocking together figurines out of royal icing that looked like they had been in a horrific car smash for the top of her cake, it would just be too embarrassing for everyone concerned.

Of course, I did worry that, for all apart from my sister, the arrival of a peanut butter layer cake at the birthday party would go down like a lead balloon, but I thought, well, birthday girl likes peanut butter so that’s the most important thing, it looks amazing and I can’t think of a third reason other than I reaaaaallly want to try this one out, so I made it. And on the evening of the party, I drank enough wine that I couldn’t feel any frosty glares from the peanut butter haters (I jest) and as the cake was cut and passed around, I drunkenly shouted out ‘It might contain nuts!’ to avoid any anaphylaxis incidents, so, you know, all bases covered really.

Anyway, I’ve jabbered on long enough about the dilemma of the peanut butter layer cake. Basically, it’s a brilliant recipe, go make it!

High points

Looks so impressive, and is something a little different so if you’ve got a peanut butter lover in your life, then you have to make them this cake at least once.

Low points

The frosty glares from the peanut butter haters. I jest again. This cake did take me a long time to make on the day of my sister’s party but then again, I don’t think the surprise gas leak we discovered we had in our house that morning helped matters as I ended up having to play on the ice in the garden with the cat for an hour whilst we were evacuated when I should have been whisking butter, but it is a time-consuming cake to make, gas leak or no gas leak. The only other downside was trying to get the peanut buttercream around the outside of the cake to look as flawless as it did on the original recipe ended up to be an absolute NIGHTMARE. In the end, I gave up and covered the cake with the chocolate ganache as instructed and no one was any the wiser.

*Sadly I didn’t get a photo of the inside of the cake because, obviously, it had to go off to the party in one piece looking presentable.

For the sponge:

  • 400g plain flour
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1½tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g good quality cocoa powder
  • ½tsp salt
  • 300g melted butter
  • 1tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 280ml water
  • 150g sour cream
  • 3 eggs

For the buttercream:

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 250g smooth peanut butter
  • 2tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 400g icing sugar

For the ganache:

  • 200ml double cream
  • 130g dark chocolate
  • 2 packets of Reese’s Peanut butter cups
  • 1 standard box of Reese’s Pieces

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line your cake tins with greaseproof paper. For the cake mix, whisk the eggs, vanilla and sour cream together. Sieve all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and beat in the melted butter and water. Add the egg mix bit by bit beating until you have a nice smooth mixture. Don’t overbeat or the cake will be greasy. Divide the mixture between 3 8-inch cake tins (about 540g in each pan) and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, depending on your own oven. The cake will look ready when it has shrunk from the outside of the tins. Cool the cake in the tins for 10 minutes before cooling completely on wire racks.
  • For the buttercream, beat the butter and peanut butter together until light in colour and fluffy. Sieve the icing sugar into the butter mix and push in with a spatula before beating. This will stop you getting an icing cloud and be a bit less messy. Beat for about 8 minutes until the buttercream is smooth and shiny.

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  • If you have one, use a turntable to ice the cake. Start with a non-slip mat, a large cake drum (just so you can pick it up and move it around), another piece of non-slip mat and then a cake card (I placed my cake on a 12-inch cake card). Add a layer of icing to the cake card. If you do not have these, you can ice the cake on a plate or board.
  • Layer the cakes with a generous layer of the peanut buttercream. Give the outside of the cake one layer of buttercream and then pop in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up.

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  • Remove the cake form the fridge and cover the top of the cake with the buttercream.
  • While the cake is chilling, cut a few of the peanut buttercups in half.
  • Remove the cake from the fridge and smooth any lumps or bumps with a hot palette knife, if you want a perfect finish. Dip it in boiling water and then wipe on kitchen towel before smoothing over the icing.
  • For the ganache, chop the chocolate quite finely and heat the cream on a low heat until it’s close to boiling point. Pour the cream over the chocolate and gently fold until it’s smooth and shiny. Don’t whisk the chocolate or you will get air bubbles.
  • Pour the cooled ganache over the cake gently teasing some drip around the edge of the cake. Add the Reese’s Pieces and Reese’s Cups to the top of the cake before the ganache sets.

 

My Random Musings
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