I make no secret of my enthusiasm for the Hummingbird Bakery’s cookbooks, and I am naturally no less enthusiastic about the bakeries themselves! I spotted a new branch open in Islington in London on a recent trip to the big smoke so I thought I’d pop in and check the cakes were up to scratch. Of course, they were, and my pink vanilla cupcake was snarfled in next to no time at all…
Chocolate chip cookies are one of my favourites- they taste of my childhood. One needs the proper chips for them, however, and these are difficult to obtain in the UK. Only Nestle Toll House chips will do. I pleaded with my mother to bring me some this past Christmas and she obliged, so last week I made a batch.
They came out perfectly and were well-received by all who tasted them. The recipe is here, and for UK bakers, it is imperative to replace the ‘All-purpose flour’ with strong white bread flour.
I am still catching up on blogs I meant to do in 2012!
This year we had some brilliant blackberry-picking adventures. Living out in the countryside, blackberries in hedges are as common as, well, blackberry hedges, so it was not difficult to find a field in which there were more blackberries than we could carry home with us. We also have a bramley apple tree in the garden. So there was much jam-making, all of it done by Mark, and a little bit of pie-making (by me).
The pie below is a simple blackberry and apple pie, with an all-butter crust (half the weight of butter to flour, rub in, add ice water to bind etc) and about equal volumes of chopped up bramleys and blackberries, with a generous sprinkling of sugar. Doused in cream, it was very good indeed.
I should confess now that whilst I did an extraordinary amount of Christmas baking this year, I took no photos of any of it. Oops. I was extremely proud of my mince pies, though, particularly as the pastry finally actually worked out. I put this down to a combination of tips from Nigel and Nigella (Slater and Lawson), who suggest, respectively, chilling the liquid used to bind the pastry with ice, and placing the bowl full of flour and small cubes of butter into the freezer for 10 minutes to chill once you’ve measured it all out and before you rub the butter into the flour. I did both, and the pastry was consequently very easy to work with. I also followed Nigella’s tip to use 00 flour (that’s 2-1 Nigella to Nigel, if you’re counting.) I may need to make another pie shortly to be sure I’ve cemented my skills from this festive season.
Looking back through my photos, I’ve found a few from this summer which I never shared at the time. The photos seem to indicate more sun than I remember having, but probably because I prefer to get the camera out in the sunshine for obvious reasons!
We were so excited to finally have a garden when we moved to our house in the countryside, and we have really enjoyed having a bit of outside space this summer. I can’t say that we’ve made huge inroads into the world of ‘proper’ gardening but I bought a few seed packets and herbs and things and put them in pots.
Here they are newly planted in July: parsley, mint, lavender, chives and tarragon. The slugs seemed to love the parsley and the chives, and the latter is now unfortunately defunct. The tarragon also probably got more rain and less sun than was good for it. Still, it was nice having green things growing and I’ve moved the pots into the porch now for the winter so I can still pick mint and parsley, and look at the lavender.
A blueberry cake from the ever-present Hummingbird Bakery cookbook- very moist and yummy, especially with the fruit. It was an enormous volume of cake though- I think it actually took more than a week to eat up, even with visitors helping. Unprecedented!
Mark found a milk churn behind the shed one day, and we put it by the back door as a little resting-spot for things like bags and travel mugs of tea for when one needs to fish around for keys to get in or out of the house. The churn was apparently from the days when the house was a farmhouse for a dairy farm, so is properly authentic!
We also walked up to the top of the hills behind our house one late evening, to watch the sun set over the valley. It’s the kind of thing we continually said we should do, but it took us a little while to get around to doing it. It was lovely though- a very peaceful way to end the day. The light on the grasses were gorgeous as the sun slanted across the hills.
It all seems a long time ago now, as we face floodwaters on the roads and read news reports of accidents caused by the heavy rain and gale-force winds. Perhaps it is nearly time for a bit of christmas cheer to lift the gloom…
It was my sister’s birthday this week, and since she is now all the way in Australia (sniff) I cannot make her a birthday cake. When I go to visit her I will make one to compensate, no matter how belated it is! Which brings me to very, very belated photos of my own birthday cake(s). My birthday is in July, so these are fairly out of date, to say the least, but I’ve just realised I never posted them.
I am firmly of the opinion that one can never have too much cake. I also have a baking reputation to uphold at work. I therefore turned to the trusty Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ cookbook for some cupcake recipes- I made hot chocolate cupcakes to take into work during the week (and even had the forethought to acquire some very miniature marshmallows with which to decorate them), and vanilla cupcakes the following weekend with my sister.
Needless to say, both were excellent, as I find is always the way with Hummingbird recipes.
Well, that last post was a bit of an experiment with the WordPress app on my phone. I am sure everyone else knew about that, but I didn’t, so am now feeling simultaneously very technologically advanced, and still behind the curve.
We had a joint birthday the other week for my stepdad Pete and my uncle Tim, and I was asked to produce a ‘gooey’ chocolate cake. Fancying a challenge, I set about making the sweet and salty chocolate cake from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Cake Days book. It involves making two lots of caramel, mixing one with chocolate, and making some kind of fancy icing out of it which I’d never tried before, having first layered the other caramel onto the cake. It mostly turned out absolutely fine, and received rave reviews from taste testers, but I would like to make it again and do it better next time.
Hmm… my last post was in March, and it is now May. A bit of a whoopsie. I think this is what happens when things get busy at work- my brain is done for the day by the time I get home, and I lounge on the sofa reading murder mysteries instead of doing the fun things that I like doing, (i.e. taking photos, sewing things, blogging) because those things require creative brain juices and my brain juices are fully squeezed by the time I get home. Thanks, work! Anyway, let’s not dwell on it. My work is interesting and pays me well, so there is that.
Moving on to the photo illustration of today’s blog: I am not sure how I feel about iPhone apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram (the latter of which I haven’t tried). They make things look all cool and moody and old-fashioned to the casual observer, and thus feel to me a bit like the photographic equivalent of a mock-tudor house in the suburbs. Which isn’t to say that I won’t use them, but I suppose when I do I want to say ‘I am doing this in a knowing way! I am aware this isn’t really the real thing!’ as if everyone else who uses them thinks they are. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Which is a long-winded introduction to a photo of my lunch- almost certainly another modern-day cliche, the blogged lunch photo. What can I say, dipping my toe back into blogging, my lunch was pretty today! Banana, raspberries, blueberries and yoghurt. I am getting excited about all the lovely berries which will soon be in season…. clotted cream at the ready!