cakes

A Palette for the Palate

paintbox cakes

 

How is your week going?  I’m having a slightly misty-eyed, bittersweet one here as I savour the last few days before Harry starts school (school! How did this happen??) – or preschool, to be precise.  But still, it somehow feels like the end of the free-wheeling freedom days of toddlerhood as well as a hugely exciting next step.  But more on that next time.  For now, when I have time off work we’re making the most of the lazy summer days, sometimes with big adventures requiring packed lunches, pirate swords and sunscreen, and sometimes just chilled-out messy play that practically requires us to stay in our  pajamas all day and then simply wipe down the house at teatime.  Yesterday definitely fell into this category as we refined our cake decorating skills…

coloured paintbox cakes

I sliced a store-bought madeira loaf cake into small squares and then mixed up a large bowl of  white icing (icing sugar & water, until it drops smoothly from the spoon), before spooning a dollop into a myriad of little bowls.  Together, we stirred in food colouring with toothpicks, watching what happened as the colours changed and deepened.  If I were an Alpha-Mum or parenting goddess, I would share with you how this was an excellent opportunity to teach colour blending, and how Harry’s vocabulary expanded to include words like ‘Cerulean Blue’ and ‘Magenta’.  Pfff!  Of course not; it was just messy, sticky, and brilliant fun.  We discussed what colour slime would be; whether pirate blood is the same red as our blood, and why girls always like pink (in Harry’s view) – all the crucial topics that matter when you’re 3yrs old.

Making paintbox cakes

 

making paint box cakes

Our efforts were surprisingly tasteful (and unsurprisingly tasty); it certainly impressed us.  I can imagine making a slightly more chic version of these to serve as petit fours at a future party or dinner; how cool would it be to have a huge palette of these tiny cakes that are just sized to be the perfect mouthful? And look, they’re so small you’d practically burn up more calories eating them than you consume in the cake itself….

paintbox cakes on chalkboard

 

cakes on a plate

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

The eagle-eyed will have noticed a distinct absence of decadent baking in recent posts, due in no small part to my determination to win our bikini-fit diet race (an alarming thought; my husband in a bikini – let’s hurriedly think of swim shorts).  Well, three weeks have passed and I have to confess that he has won, albeit narrowly. Still, second place is not to be sniffed at, so as he bounces lithely through the kitchen flexing his newly-evident abs, I am turning a blind eye and rewarding myself by baking a batch of these perky beauties (above & below), which after all are, ahem, mostly fruit…

I adapted a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, substituting their digestive biscuit topping for freeze-dried, crumbled strawberries, and chopping the fruit finely into the sponge mixture for even distribution (the Hummingbird crew like to place strawberries directly into the cupcake cases for a fruity puddle at the base but I find that a bit gloopy for small fingers…).  The cream-cheese frosting offsets the sweetness of the sponge and the end result is a mixture of loveliness which is neither too sugary nor too tart – and just looking at them shining in their jaunty red and pink cups while the kettle boils for an accompanying cup of tea creates a sort of delicious anticipation…

To make the cakes…

Ingredients:

  • 120g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1.5tsp baking powder
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 120ml milk (they suggest whole milk but I use skim which works fine with less fat)
  • 0.5tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 12 large strawberries, finely chopped.

Mix together the dry ingredients then pour in the milk and vanilla and blend.  Beat the egg and mix in until well-incorporated.  Finally, fold in your finely chopped strawberries (or drop them into the cupcake cases if you prefer). Bake for 20mins at 170/325 degrees c/f.

And for the frosting…

  • 300g sifted icing sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 125g cream cheese – use regular not reduced fat; the consistency of the latter is runnier and will affect the end result.
  • Dash of food colouring if desired – gel colour gives a lovely intensity and won’t make the frosting watery
  • freeze dried strawberries, sprinkles or other decorations – whatever takes your fancy!

Beat together the icing sugar and butter (I use my trusty Kitchenaid for this and indeed for all baking), then stir in the cream cheese straight out of the fridge.  I added a dash of red gel food colouring with a toothpick and gave a final blitz with the mixer for a soft pink tone and a hint of raspberry-ripple swirliness.  Pipe or spread onto the cakes when cool and then force yourself to jog around the block for 20mins in order to feel virtuous and entitled when you return… then EAT!

A-List Baking

Say what you like about Gwyneth Paltrow, the girl’s obviously got buns of steel and thighs that could crack a walnut at 30 paces. Previously I have attributed this to a diet of pea shoots and a life frittered away in the gym, so I was delighted to discover that au contraire,she maintains her svelte physique by baking and snacking on jammy biscuits.  Well okay then, we’ll call them gluten-free thumbprint cookies.

Harry and I unashamedly customised her recipe in her recent book ‘My Father’s Daughter’, having been delighted to find something so suited to our natural kitchen style, namely a cookie that is actually supposed to be a greyish-brown colour when finished, and also to have a very dented and uneven appearance.  I must ‘fess up that here the similarities end, as Gwyneth confidently predicted a batch of ‘around 50′ cookies, and our efforts yielded, well, 12.  This portion control could explain many things.  Still, H and I will maintain our belief that a proper cookie is one of a size which requires both hands to get a good grip.

Recipe follows… they taste wickedly, addictively good.  Eat one and then give the rest away. Quickly.

Step One: Combine all of the ingredients except for the jam.  Roll into balls and place of a baking sheet.  Demonstrated here by my beautiful assistant Ted Glen, of Postman Pat fame.

Step 2: Make a thumbprint dent, then add a healthy dollop of jam in the centre of each

Step 3: Bake in the oven for 20 mins.  Use this time to either a) kill yourself on the treadmill in preparation for the carb onslaught or b) make a large pot of coffee and locate a comfy chair and a plate.

Step 4: Admire, consume, repeat.

Recipe:

4 cups of Barley flour

3 cups of chopped almonds (we used pistachio nuts instead – we love them)

1 cup of Maple syrup

1 cup of oil

Pinch of salt, teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Jam – any flavour you like.

adapted from Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s  ’Lalo’s Cookies’ recipe