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…
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.
There are a few random things which bring out the ‘American’ in me, and one of them is Valentine’s Day. I remember getting packs of 20(?) miniature Valentine’s Day cards from Giant, our local grocery store, all pink and red, with cartoon hearts on them that everyone in the class gave out to everyone else in the class, little heart-shaped boxes of chocolates we used to get from our parents, candy hearts with messages on them, and special pink and white bags of M&Ms. Second only to Halloween in its potential for candy consumption, Valentine’s Day will always have a place in my heart.
Now I’m grown, I don’t go in for presents and gushy romantic stuff; Mark is lucky if he gets a card (and I am super-lucky if I get flowers, as I did this year) and I would never dream of planning a fancy dinner. I will, however, as in days of old, use Valentine’s Day as a flimsy excuse to ingest even more sugar than I normally do. Which brings me to… whoopie pies!
I don’t think I’d ever seen a whoopie pie in person until I made them to take into work for Valentine’s Day. I understand from the photos in my Hummingbird Bakery “Cake Days” cookbook that they are meant to be more rounded and elegant (and less craggy) than these turned out, but they tasted nice, and I will just pretend I was going for the rustic look. For those who are not acquainted with the whoopie pie, it’s a sponge cake and icing sandwich. A bit like a wizard-of-oz cupcake that’s been lifted up in a tornado and plopped down again with its roof in the middle of the sponge. The batter is baked on baking sheets like cookies, but comes out very soft and cakey, and is then sandwiched together with obscene amounts of marshmallow buttercream icing (which I dyed pink, naturally). Mark, who is not generally a fan of excessive icing, tried one and suggested I put more in. Alarmed by this ‘constructive criticism’, I twisted them apart again and put in about triple the amount of icing recommended in the book.
They were a huge hit in the office, although their American-ness was commented upon more than once! At least I didn’t hand out little cartoon heart greetings cards…
Lizzie and I did a LOT of baking during the christmas period; sadly I neglected to photograph nearly all of it. I did manage to take an iPhone photo of our christmas cake though, even though I decorated it after christmas so it ended up being a ‘new years cake’. The recipe was Nigella’s time-honoured christmas cake, which is in a couple of her books, including ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’.
We took a chunk home to Bristol with us, which is sadly just a distant memory. I might need to make some everyday fruitcake to console myself with (and to feed the cyclist…)
I haven’t been very active in finding interesting or useful things to hang on the walls of our flat, partly because as we’re renting, I don’t feel like it’s really ‘ours’. However, the other week I thought it would be useful to have a chalkboard in the kitchen to write lists of things on, so I don’t forget to buy another tube of toothpaste for the fifth time. Mark, always happy to oblige if sawing, drilling, and painting are involved, found a suitable piece of wood and painted it with chalkboard paint, drilling two holes for string. My job was to source the string; I completely forgot and in a fit of desperation/inspiration dug through my box of ribbons and found the perfect silky black ribbon to hang it up with, so much better than a piece of rope!
I hope you’ll agree it looks smashing.
You might also notice the message I came into the kitchen this morning to find….
I had mentioned to Mark that I might want to bake something this weekend, as my sister Lizzie bought me the Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ cookbook for Christmas. He was pretty excited and obviously thought he’d make sure I remembered my plan for the day!
I settled on marbled cupcakes, and after a temporary but very alarming setback in which my set of scales went bonkers and started lying completely about what things weighed (unopened 500g bag of sugar weighs 871g, apparently?!) which was only resolved by a quick trip to the local hardware store for a replacement, all went smoothly. The recipe is fiddly and a bit unusual but worth following, as the sponge came out incredibly moist (a crucial factor) and the icing was very fluffy, although I much preferred the vanilla to the chocolate icing.
As soon as the last cupcake was iced, four hungry cyclists turned up wanting tea and cake! Although cyclists are not exactly tough customers where sweet treats are concerned, the cupcakes certainly disappeared very quickly.