A quick stop at the Hummingbird Bakery

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…

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Chocolate chip cookie monster

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.

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Apple and blackberry

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.

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Summer memories

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.

We also grew lettuce and radishes, which both we and the slugs found very tasty.

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…

 

Very belated birthday cupcakes

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to Yorkshire and plum & frangipane tart

Things have been busy at work recently, and life has interfered with fun things like blogging, but this weekend has restored the balance and given me something to blog about!  We went up to North Yorkshire to visit my uncle Tim, ostensibly so Mark could take part in a cycling sportive (which will no doubt be blogged about soon- see bikevcar for updates).  I did a little bit of cycling, but was also on a mission to re-create a glorious greengage and almond tart which Tim brought down to our house once last year.

There were no greengages about, but Tim found these lovely tart plums, which were an excellent substitute.  We used a different frangipane recipe to the one he’d previously used, and although it didn’t turn out as molten and gooey as the original, it was still very tasty.

And doused in double cream, it was pretty much perfect.

The recipe was in analog form only (ripped out of the pages of a magazine a long time ago) but I am hoping this one will be a good substitute.  I am particularly encouraged by the direction to ‘pour’ the almond mixture into the tart case, as my frangipane was certainly stiffer than pouring consistency, so this version may be more true to Tim’s original.  I may have occasion to make another one this week, so we’ll see!

Makin’ whoopie (pies)

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…