Zucchini cake…

It seems like every time I start a new blog post, I have to say ‘Hello! Yes, I’m back! I know I haven’t posted for ages!’ I seriously doubt whether anyone is actually reading my blog anymore, but never mind!

I hope you’ve had a lovely summer. I have – we actually had some decent weather in June and July, I went on a lovely family holiday, I managed to run a half-marathon around Wimbledon Common (yes, we did get Womble medals at the end) despite it featuring all my running pet hates – laps, hills and warm weather – and my mum and I made lots of jam. Cherry (using cherries from the farm near my parents’ house) and spiced plum (using last year’s plums from the freezer). If I can get my act together, blog posts about those will appear at some point!

Anyway, here we are in September, and although the weather is nice today, the nights are starting to draw in (my running club has switched to its winter routes as it’s too dark for us to run around the parks now) and the autumn veg are making an appearance. A friend gave me a giant courgette the other day, and there was only one thing for it – I had to make my mum’s zucchini cake. A quick search of this blog revealed that I haven’t actually ever posted the recipe, and that is a serious oversight as it’s one of my family’s classic favourites. We lived in America for four years when I was small (which is why we call it ‘zucchini cake’ rather than ‘courgette cake’) and my mum picked the recipe up from a friend, and it became a regular feature of my childhood. It’s quite a plain, unassuming cake – the sort of thing you’d make so you have something in the cake tin for the weekend, rather than for a celebration – but it’s seriously yummy. Lightly spiced with cinnamon, lovely and moist, and perfect eaten just as it is with a cup of tea or coffee, or warmed and served with vanilla ice cream for a Sunday pudding treat.

If you’re turning up your nose in horror at the idea of putting courgettes in a cake, just think of carrot cake – that’s perfectly fine and delicious, isn’t it, and trust me when I say that zucchini cake is just as good. The white part of the courgette almost melts into the cake and adds to the lovely light texture, so you’re left with tiny dark green flecks of courgette running through each slice. We don’t put icing on ours, but it would be lovely with a lemon glacĂ© icing or a vanilla buttercream. This recipe makes two cakes and works equally well with loaf tins or round 8″ tins – make sure your tin is nice and deep, though. It also freezes really well. You could even make two shallower 8″ cakes and sandwich them together with buttercream! The measurements are in cups, I’m afraid, but it’s very easy to get cup measurements from kitchenware shops these days and they are very useful for American recipes.

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Zucchini Cake

Makes two 8″ cakes or two loaf cakes

3 eggs
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated courgette (zucchini)
3 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder

Beat the eggs in a very large bowl. Add the oil, sugar, courgette and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour and other dry ingredients, mix well until fully combined.

Fill your greased and lined cake/loaf tins half full and bake at 190C/375F for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

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Banana, spelt and oat muffins…

Hello! Yes, I’m back again. I went and ran a marathon in Manchester – 4:28.27, in case you were wondering. It was a bloody hard run and I pretty much loathed miles 16-23, but I’m proud of the fact that I eventually managed to pull myself together and leg it for the last three miles! During my seven-mile pity party the 4:30 pacer overtook me, which led to another round of ‘This is all pointless, I am rubbish, I’ve buggered it all up’ wailing, but with a mile and a half to go to the finish on Sir Matt Busby Way I overtook them again and ended up with mile 26 being the fastest mile of my entire race (a habit that drives my running coach friend absolutely crazy as I do it all the time in training as well. And I do all my training runs at or faster than marathon pace…). Before the marathon, my goals were a) to run faster than I did in London last year (4:32) and b) to come in under four and a half hours. So on paper, I achieved everything I set out to achieve. I just need to come to terms with that and stop thinking that if I’d paced it a bit better and not had a complete meltdown with ten miles to go, I might have come in nearer the 4:20 pace I set out doing.

But enough of that! Muffins. This is the second time I’ve made this recipe, which I originally adapted from this BBC recipe when I was in Somerset over Easter. My mum had some seriously manky bananas in the fruit bowl, so I turned them into muffins. And then this week my housemate also had some blackening bananas, so she told me to feel free to make muffins with them as well!

I wanted my muffins to be a bit healthier than the original recipe, so I added oats, used coconut oil instead of butter, reduced the amount of sugar, and this time I used spelt flour instead of ordinary flour. It worked really well – they’re nutty, not too sweet and nicely oaty. I’m going to give you the full recipe that I used here, because it’s changed so much from the one that inspired me that it’s pretty much a new recipe in its own right!

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Banana, spelt and oat muffins

Makes 10 muffins

 

75g coconut oil

200g spelt flour

75g oats (any oats will do – this time I used M&S five grain and seed porridge which was awesome)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

50g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large, ripe bananas

2 medium eggs

125ml milk (I used Koko coconut milk)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.

2. Melt the coconut oil in a small pan and allow to cool slightly. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas well and beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, melted coconut oil and milk.

3. In a separate bowl, add the spelt flour, oats, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, salt and spices and mix together.

4. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and give it a quick mix until just combined (it’s OK if it’s still a little lumpy).

5. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with paper cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

6. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

 

Pullat, not pancakes…

ImageI know. I KNOW. It’s been nearly ten months since I last blogged. What can I say? Life sort of got in the way for a bit, with a new house, new job, holidays and all sorts of other bits and pieces. But here I am, back again, and I’m going to attempt to stick around!

It being Shrove Tuesday today, it’d be traditional to make pancakes. But a couple of friends of mine had a pancake party, so I’m a bit pancaked out (I didn’t believe that was possible, but there you go!) Then a post from Scandi Home popped up on my blog reader, and I decided to have a go at the laskiaispullat – Finnish Shrove Tuesday buns – mentioned in the post. My sister (who’s still living in Finland) was very impressed when I told her I was making them!

The recipe is really easy, using baking powder as a straightforward raising agent rather than fiddling about with yeast, and they’re packed with cardamom which is a really traditional Finnish flavour. I made mine in a silicone muffin tin and got six buns out of the batter. They puffed up like muffins, and they have a muffin-like texture too. I had mine with some caramel apple jam – although I think they’re usually served with jam or marzipan and whipped cream.

ImageThey were absolutely delicious – and yes, that is a Moomin mug with coffee in the background! You can’t get more Nordic than that.

Apple, honey and polenta cake. And a new oven…

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve just moved house. And I do mean house – for the last four and a half years I’ve been in a flat by myself, but now I’m sharing a whole house with one of my ‘honorary sisters’. It’s just up the road from my old flat and it’s totally gorgeous. There’s a garden and a bath and a kitchen big enough to swing at least three cats in (don’t try this at home) and the neighbours put their bins out on the right day and there are no mice (although there was a fox in the garden the other day, who leapt out from the bushes while my friend and I were sitting out there having a chat!)

We moved in just before the Bank Holiday weekend and then promptly buggered off to Somerset for a family christening, but the boxes are mostly unpacked now and I’ve pretty much finished sorting out my bedroom. I’ve put my pictures up on the walls and bought a new lamp and it’s all looking lovely.

On Friday night, my friend brought her three-week-old baby round for supper, and I decided to try out the oven in the new house. I made a really easy puff pastry tart thing with some of my homemade onion marmalade, Brie and purple sprouting broccoli, and then pudding was this (delicious, if I do say so myself) apple, honey and polenta cake which I’d spotted on Domestic Sluttery. I’d discovered a bag of polenta during the move that I’d completely forgotten I had, and I already had apples and honey, so it seemed perfect. The recipe says it will take 50-60 minutes to cook, but mine took more like an hour and a half because using my 8″ tin resulted in a very deep cake.

IMG_20130510_202935I really liked the fact that you line the bottom of the tin with apples and cinnamon and then pour the batter onto that, and then turn it out like an upside-down cake. I wasn’t even particularly precious about how I put the apple slices into the tin, but it came out looking really pretty! It’s a gorgeously rich and buttery cake (well, it does have an entire 250g pack of butter in it…) and it went seriously well with a blob of Greek yogurt. It also stays wonderfully moist and because it’s quite dense it tastes just as good the next day or even the day after that (if there’s any left by that point…)

Hazelnut meringue cake…

I promised I’d be back with the recipe for the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that we had over Easter, and here I am!

IMG_20130331_154133Apparently Mum used to make them all the time when I was little, but then I think they fell out of fashion and everyone thought they were a bit naff. But I think it’s definitely time for a 70s revival!

Apologies for the link to the Daily Mail – my mum didn’t get the recipe from the Mail but it’s identical to the recipe we used and I can’t find it anywhere else on the net! So here it is. We didn’t bother roasting and chopping the hazelnuts, we just bought bags of roasted and chopped nuts instead. And we added our own little tweaks – we put some Frangelico liqueur in with the whipped cream, and we drizzled some gorgeous Dulce de Leche over the top.

It was SERIOUSLY GOOD. Just look at it.

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It’s been a long time…!

Over a month since my last post. Whoops!

Good old marathon training has truly taken over my life in the last few weeks. 20-mile runs, interval sessions, 10 miles every Wednesday…it doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else! Add to that the fact that I’ve had the dreaded IT band issues (a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any runner and something that affects lots of people when they start marathon training) and I really have been eating, sleeping and breathing running. Thankfully my running club is sponsored by an excellent physio clinic, and they’ve certainly been doing well out of us recently – just about all of my training buddies have suffered some sort of injury or niggle! I’ve been having weekly physio appointments since my leg started hurting (and after a truly terrifying experience when what was meant to be a 22-mile run ended up with me stopping after 8 miles with stabbing pains in my knee…) and I’ve noticed a massive difference. My legs are stronger and I’m pretty much pain-free (apart from the obvious post-run aches!)

Before Easter training really ramped up an extra notch as I did 20 miles on the Sunday, 10 on the Wednesday and then 22.5 on Good Friday. Ouch! Last Friday saw me complete my last long run before the big day – a nice 16 miles along the river to Chiswick – and now I’m doing what’s called ‘tapering’, where you reduce your mileage in order to conserve energy for the marathon. I am having the classic ‘But surely I’m not running far enough? What if I suddenly lose all my fitness and forget how to run 20 miles?’ freakout, but I’m assured that’s perfectly normal, as is worrying about every single twinge and ache! But we’re less than two weeks away from the big day, and I’ve followed my training plan and worked my way up to some serious distances, and I’ve got three 20+ runs under my belt, so now I just have to trust that everything will be OK!

I will leave you with a photo of the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that my mum made for Easter Sunday lunch – and I’ll be back with the recipe!

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Cupcakes and a hedgehog…

I have a friend who is expecting a baby, and she had a baby shower at the weekend. Naturally I decided to bake cakes for this occasion! But these were no ordinary cakes. Said friend had been given a lovely collection of old recipes from Persephone Books for Christmas, and we both fell about laughing when we found the recipe for ‘A Hedgehog Tipsy Cake’, which had been submitted by a Mrs Gladys Langley from Acton in 1931. You probably had to be there, but it was hilarious at the time and we decided I had to have a go at baking it for the party.

Apparently the recipe itself is from the 18th century, and the description was hilarious – being a ‘tipsy’ cake, it’s soaked liberally in wine, and Gladys makes frequent mention of the need to soak the cake in wine, ‘through and through’, and of the fact that wine is really extremely good for soaking the cake with. We can assume Gladys enjoyed the odd tipple, then.

IMG_20130227_121102So first you bake a madeira cake, which I did several days in advance using the recipe from my trusty Dairy Book of Home Cookery, and then the day before the party I duly cut it into a vague hedgehog shape and took a piece out of the back before soaking the cake in wine (actually I made a sort of syrup out of white wine and elderflower cordial, as I got the feeling Gladys would have used a sweet wine, and that worked very well).

IMG_20130222_174723Then on the day of the party I brushed the cake with melted jam, covered it in cocoa powder and added toasted flaked almonds (Gladys suggests blanching, cutting and toasting your own almonds but this is the 21st century and Tesco now does that for you) to make it hedgehogy…

IMG_20130223_151418…and then finally I made what is referred to in the recipe as a ‘solid sillabub’ by whisking lemon juice, sugar and double cream together. I put blueberries from a jar of blueberry jam onto the eyes (the recipe says to use raisins, but I wasn’t going to buy a load of raisins just to use two) and piled the cream around the cake before adding a spoonful of jam just in front of the hedgehog, as instructed by the recipe, ‘to look as if he is eating it’. It looks a bit more like he has been run over, or like he’s just been horrifically ill, but here we are, the finished Hedgehog Tipsy Cake!

IMG_20130224_115524Surprisingly enough, the other party guests were slightly perplexed, but it ended up tasting OK (the cream was particularly nice) and I think everyone got the idea once we’d explained!

To make up for this bizarre baking adventure I also brought a batch of chocolate brownies, and some cupcakes. There was a bit of a story to those, as well – my friend has decided not to find out the sex of her baby, and when she had her 20-week scan we joked that the only disappointing thing about that was the fact that she wouldn’t be able to have an American-style ‘gender reveal’ party. This was something I’d never heard of until I started using Pinterest and saw people posting photos of gender reveal cakes – apparently it’s a thing to ask the ultrasound person at your scan to write down the sex of the baby and seal it in an envelope, and then you take this to a baker who makes you a cake, or cupcakes, with a secret pink or blue middle. Then you have a party and cut the cake, or hand out the cupcakes, and that’s how you find out what you’re having. Bizarre. Anyway, I decided to make cupcakes with secret blue AND pink middles, just for the heck of it.

I used my mum’s tried and tested sponge recipe – you weigh three eggs in their shells, and then whatever the weight (mine were 225g) you use the same weight of butter, sugar and flour. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time with a little bit of flour, add the rest of the flour, stir in a little bit of vanilla extract and there you go. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, or longer for a sponge (until it’s golden brown on top and risen and a skewer comes out clean). For cupcakes I like to add a splash of milk for a slightly more runny batter (it should just drop off the spoon) and it always makes lovely light cakes. I got exactly 12 from my mix.

IMG_20130223_161509I then made some buttercream and coloured a quarter of it pink and a quarter blue, and then I cut little cones out of the middle of the cupcakes, chopped most of the cut-out cake bit off to leave a lid, and filled half the cakes with pink and half the cakes with blue buttercream. Annoyingly my buttercream went a bit runny, but it was fine once it was in the cakes! I then put the lids back on the holes and decided to make the rest of the buttercream chocolate (mainly because I needed to rescue the runny situation and had run out of icing sugar, so I used cocoa powder!)

IMG_20130223_175222Yum yum. Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the cakes, but they went down very well!

Carrot cake…

My first post on the new-look blog! Hope everyone has found me without too many problems…does anyone know how to display one’s followers on WordPress? I think I’ve got a lot to learn!

Anyway, here’s a post about carrot cake. Along with the never-ending Potato Mountain, my veg box often leaves me with rather a lot of carrots. For some reason I can never think of things to do with carrots! But on Saturday I was going to a party and I fancied doing a bit of baking, so I decided to make a carrot cake. I actually used my mum’s zucchini cake recipe (courgette cake to us Brits, but we call it zucchini cake because the recipe’s American) and it worked really well. I wanted to halve it, because the original amounts make two cakes, and as the recipe calls for three eggs I decided to use a mashed ripe banana as well as an egg, and I reduced the amount of oil.

Here’s the recipe itself…

Carrot cake

1 large egg
1 medium-sized really ripe banana
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup light muscovado sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup grated carrot
Large handful chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups plain flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/8 tsp baking powder

Mash the banana in a bowl, add the egg and beat together. Add the oil, sugar, carrot and walnuts and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients, mix well, pour into a lined cake tin (I used one that I think is 8″…), sprinkle with sugar and bake at 190C for about 50 minutes.

And here’s what it looked like shortly before it was demolished by a horde of hungry runners!

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