Home Page – My Ongoing Baking Journey

A short review of December

Snowy hillside above Cromford

As December draws to a close I thought I’d put out a short baking résumé of the month. It will be short because I’ve not baked anywhere near as much as in other Decembers. A couple of weeks before Christmas I went into hospital for a long-awaited (nearly two years, in fact) hernia operation.

It’s not exactly a massive operation, but the recovery phase is certainly more painful and lengthy than I anticipated.  I’m still not allowed to drive, lift heavy items or do anything strenuous, but have been walking, baking and exercising gently.

OK that’s enough medical stuff, now to the baking. In some ways I made life a bit easier for myself by just updating quite a few tried and tested recipes. For example, I made my Blueberry and Orange Flapjack  for a group of DofE (Duke of Edinburgh’s Award) students from my old school when I took them out for a navigation walk. (Before my op of course.)

Another “classic” is my Christmas Cake Tray-bake, which I wasn’t going to bake this year but my wife persuaded me. Even so I wanted to vary the appearance and went for a gold version this year. Then, of course, it was the Christmas Cake itself: a bit smaller this year and with a simpler but very effective decoration.  Here’s the original recipe link: Cherry & Almond Christmas Cake.

As you probably know I love bread: baking it, eating it, toasting it, making sandwiches with it. Here are three loaves from December. There are lots more in my bread section.

Gluten free breads tend to be rather cake-like, but my gluten free Soda bread with Cheese & Onion was as lovely as any “normal” soda bread.  

Another thing you may already know is that I love Italy, especially the food, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy a good focaccia like this Focaccia with Mozzarella Tomatoes & Garlic. Most years I also make one or more panettones, but this year was a little different. I belong to a lovely local group of Italian speakers who meet once a week to natter “in italiano”, so I made a dozen mini-panettones. I actually used a recipe from the BBC food site, but here’s the link to my large version: Panettone. Divide the mixture between 12 tall cupcake holders and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes. As you’ll see, they tend to darken very quickly. I only just caught these in time.

I’ll show you a cake I baked for my ex-colleagues at school then a few non-baked goodies that certainly made life easier in the kitchen this year. My Spiced Fruit and Oat Cake went down well. It used oats, soaked overnight in milk (or maybe I used up some left-over cream?) so it had a lovely firm, dense texture. Definitely not a “light-as-air” type of cake.

Non baked goodies also made life a bit easier. They included a Chocolate & Ginger Truffle Torte, which I developed from the earlier raspberry version and a Christmassy Gingery no-bake Cheesecake, that I made  for our church elderly group (No, I’m not part of the group, in case you were wondering!).

Unsurprisingly chocolate will have the last word. I made a traybake version of my Triple Chocolate and Biscuit Fridge Cake that’s so easy and so tasty it’s ridiculous.  Likewise, my Christmas Chocolate Bark – something else that I wasn’t going to make this year, but when a friend turned up with her nine year old son we made it together.

It’s nearly 2023, so I’ll soon be posting my reflections of 2022 – maybe my favourite bakes of the year. In the meantime I hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas and may….

… God bless you in the year ahead.

October & November Remembered

Overlooking Cromford from The High Peak Trail

It’s about time I got caught up “blogwise”. One reason for being so tardy – as usual – is that we were on holiday in Italy, but that was quite a while ago. This time we were in the north around Lago d’Iseo, the smallest of the lakes. (I love Italy: the scenery, the food, the people, the architecture. All are fantastic.) I’ve also been a bit ill; nothing serious, just enough to grab it as a viable excuse for not keeping up to date. In fact I’ve done less baking than normal since my last blog ages ago.

I’m very aware of the increased energy prices, so that’s actually stopped me baking so much. Now, I try to organise two or three bakes on the same day and work out a schedule that’s as “energy efficient” as possible. I’ve also made several none baked cakes, but more on that in the next paragraph.

Cromford Moor Woods

I’ll start with the Chocolate Truffle Torte with Raspberries, which required no baking. Having said that, I’ve decided that when I make it again – which will be soon, as it was so popular – I’ll incorporate a cheesecake type biscuit base. Even that could be non-baked, couldn’t it? But I do tend to pop these in the oven for just 10 – 15 minutes as I think it makes them firmer.

Anyway, back to the plot. The torte mentioned above was basically double cream and chocolate (can’t be bad.) It was very rich, very unctuous and very yummy. The raspberries gave it a little sharpness, which worked perfectly.

Another cake that I made especially for after our Sunday meeting at Church was my Banana and Coconut Cake with Mascarpone & White Chocolate Filling. (As titles go, that’s quite a mouthful, but so was the cake – in a good way of course.)

I also made a Chocolate Cake for a friend’s father’s funeral, a Pecan and Ginger Cake for our church elderly group and a Strawberry & Mascarpone Swiss Roll to take into school for my ex-colleagues. I love Mascarpone. It has a super soft creamy texture, and tastes great too.  And it’s so versatile. Mainly I use it in sweet things, but it can be savoury as well.

There were two tray bakes that I’d like to tell you about. Early in October I felt quite experimental so I created Maple, Bacon & Pecan Millionaire’s Shortbread. And, yes, it worked really well. So much so, that I’ll be making it again, probably with even more bacon in the mix. There’s brave, then braver, then reckless. I’m aiming to be in the “braver” category. We’ll see.

The second tray bake was more recent in late November, so unsurprisingly a little more “festive.” In fact my Spiced Whisky and Orange Blondies  are delightfully festive. The combination of warming Christmassy spices (you know: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and all that good stuff) with the whisky plus tangy orange was super. They were a sort of “herald of Christmas”.

Talking of Christmas, I’ll add a link later to take you to a collection of twelve of my super Christmas bakes, including a wonderful Christmas cake.

In the mean time, now that I’ve opened up the festive theme I’ll tell you about my Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Scones. As you probably know I’m something of a sconoholic. I’d like to think of myself as a scone connoisseur, but modesty prevails and also gives me further reason to keep practising. Anyway, these are pretty good scones. Cranberry and Orange go so well together and the walnuts add a super crunch.  

OK as promised here’s the link to

Ian’s Christmas Collection.

Chilly morning in Derbyshire

I doubt if I’ll be able to update again until after Christmas, so let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas. I will be posting a few more Christmas bakes on Facebook so keep looking. I hope you have a wonderful time at Christmas and may God bless you in the year ahead.

Looking back on September

Late again, sorry; it’s partly because we’ve been on holiday in Italy, one of my favourite destinations. (Yes, the food was good and yes, we ate too much.) Anyway, September was still a busy month for baking and I’ve got some lovely bakes to tell you about. Let’s start with a “Sachertorte Story“. (Actually, they were very adapted Sachertortes.)

Months ago I promised two friends that I’d make their wedding cake. They were thinking of a very quiet, low key wedding, maybe as part of our Sunday service at the church we all belong to – Church in the Peak, Matlock.   I had free range to make whatever I wanted, but the bride did mention how much she liked chocolate, so I thought just a single 23cm chocolate sponge cake would do the job.  

Then the wedding became a bigger event with the whole church, both families and lots of friends all invited. My wife took charge of the catering (she’s brilliant at that) and I concentrated on the cake – which was now to be three tiers.   We had lots of volunteers from our church family for food and for serving.  

Prior to the wedding I’d practised the torte that I’d decided to make, but for this one I made an interesting marshmallow topping. I took it to church one Sunday morning and it proved popular so I set about planning a larger one. (By the way, I ought to tell you that I’d never made a wedding cake before – no pressure!)

I decided on 25cm, 20cm and 15cm for the three cakes. That way there would be an equal flat section on the lower tiers and the whole thing would be symmetrical (I hoped). Baking the cakes wasn’t too difficult, except for the timings. I baked the 20cm & the 15cm at the same time, but because I’d made the 15cm cake deeper it actually took longer to bake than the 20cm, which I should have realised.

Assembling them was a little more problematic, but I was really pleased at how easy to use and effective plastic drinking straws were to stack the layers. I used an enriched butter cream to cover the cakes. I dribbled coloured white chocolate over the edges, which was very effective I think. A few chocolate gold balls and other decorations finished it off nicely. The recipe for this cake and the two other versions are all together on this link: Chocolate Orange Torte.

The third version was made a week later to share with my Italian language group, who have always shown a great interest in my baking. For them I made a 20cm version. The main difference for this one was that rather than using a double layer of baking parchment inside the tin, I used a bain marie. It was actually much better this way.

It wasn’t all chocolate in September; regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that bread featured several times. Apart from my usual lovely white sourdoughs I made a Cheese and Chive Plaited Loaf for an elderly lady from church and several gluten free loaves for other friends. I had one myself and was really pleased that it was virtually as good as “normal” bread – possibly just a little bit “cakey” as GF bread tends to be, but still very nice.

I also adapted my Cherry, Apricot & Flaked Almond Loaf recipe to make a batch of tasty rolls. (Here’s a quick tip: If you make bread, especially rolls, but only eat a little each day, put them in your freezer and just take one out the night before you need it. For a loaf, slice it and separate the slices with baking parchment before freezing.)

Next, I must mention the Garden Produce and Baking Show that I entered in September. It was in Wirksworth, a nearby small town. I heard about the show just two days before it took place so only had time to enter two bakes. My Basic no-knead Sourdough took first place in the speciality bread section and my Bakewell Bara Brith was first in the dried fruit cake section. I was also awarded a cup, but even today I’ve no idea what it was for. The hall was so noisy and the announcer so quiet that I couldn’t hear. And I had to hand back the cup straight away. (It may have been a special award for being the scruffiest unshaven baker with no apparent teeth.)  

Of course, I made a few non-chocolate cakes during September. Several of them were for the Ukrainian coffee mornings that we hosted in our church building. We have a lot of Ukrainian refugees in our area and, as a church, we wanted to offer them an opportunity to be together and be made welcome.

Here are some of the cakes that I made for them: A Blue & Yellow Checkered Sponge Cake (based on my Chocolate and Orange Checkerboard Sponge Cake), an Apple and Nut Streusel Cake, a Citrus Plum Cake and a Coffee and Walnut Cake.

Well, once again it looks like a good month. Soon be time far the October “issue”, but so far I’ve not done much baking – too busy travelling, eating, walking and trying to learn Italian.I’ll leave you with a nice Derbyshire sunrise.

August Retrospective

A view from the High Peak Trail down onto Cromford and Willersley Castle
(the home Arkwright had built, but never lived in.)

I’ll begin my August retrospective (I love that word, it’s so mellifluous.) Where was I? Waffling, of course, sorry. Anyway, I’ll begin with the Cromford Garden Produce and Baking Show.

Cromford  is in the Derbyshire Dales, on the edge of the Peak District and it’s the village where I live with my family. It’s actually a famous place and even a Unesco World Heritage site. It’s where Sir Richard Arkwright created the industrial system.

The Cromford Show is a small local event, held annually. This year they had just seven baking categories and I entered four.  I had a pretty good day. My Artisan Sourdough took first prize in the Bread category, my Double Cheese and Chives scones won the Savoury Scone category and my Raspberry Brownies took first place in the Traybake category and were also awarded “Best Bake in the Show”. (But, I’m still wondering why my Cherry, Walnut and White Chocolate Scones didn’t even get a place in the Sweet Scone category. They were lovely.) For my prizewinning brownie recipe go to: Berry Brownies.

Now I’ve mentioned those scones I’d better tell the story behind them. I love scones and tend to rate cafes on the quality of their scones. My current favourite cafe is only a couple of miles from my home. It’s the Blue Lagoon cafe at the National Stone Centre. They only make three types of scone: Cheese, Dried Fruit and – best of all – Cherry & Walnut. For weeks I tried to persuade the cook to let me have the recipe, all to no avail. So, after a few trials I managed to create a very similar, equally lovely version – my Cherry and Walnut Rustic Scones. For the Cromford Show I made some with the addition of white chocolate chunks, which I think was great, but clearly the judges thought otherwise. OK, I’ll stop moaning and let that one go now.

Chocolate cakes have featured massively in recent months, but in August I only baked a few. First was my Sticky Orange Chocolate Cake, made for a food bank client. Here’s how it came about:

I also made a larger version:

Each Friday morning our church hosts a coffee morning for the Ukrainian families that we have in our area, many of whom are food bank clients. I’ve baked two or three things for them each week. I even found a couple of Ukrainian recipes, but they didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped. We get the full range of ages meeting with us each week and I’ve had nice conversations – albeit very “stilted” due to the language differences. One middle aged lady was a caterer before she left. She admires my cakes and has also baked a “Napoleon” for me. When she told me, I thought I was mis-hearing or she had got it wrong, but not so: a “Napoleon” is a lovely layered cake. Here are some of the things I’ve baked for these mornings:

Some time ago I made a batch of Rum Babas, which were delicious. I wanted something similar but with a different flavour. Brandy came to mind (as it often does) and so did whisky, but then I thought, Limoncello. And what a good choice it was too. Have a look…better still find the recipe and try my Limoncello Babas.

I’ll round off this month with a few bakes that didn’t quite fit into any of the above categories or paragraphs. First will be my Cherry & Pecan Flapjacks. I used one of my good basic mixes, but the two additions worked really well together: cherries for moistness, pecans for texture, both for taste. Another successful combination was in the Pear and Marzipan Cake that I baked for one of our church visits to a local care home.

Finally, you might be wondering why this month’s review only has a few pictures of bread, but other than the usual excellent rustic sourdoughs the only “different” bread I baked was a Pane Toscana (Tuscany bread). Actually, it was rather disappointing. In Tuscany they prefer their bread to be neutral in flavour (AKA plain) to allow all the other flavours in the meal stand out. Hence, the recipe did not include salt. Not to my taste; if I bother making it again I’ll definitely add salt.

Sorry, didn’t mean to end by moaning. Let’s finish with a couple of nice “Derbyshire in August” pictures.

Happy Baking everyone

I wish you well

and hope you come back next month

(or before)

Looking back at July

Early Morning in Derbyshire, looking down on Cromford from the High Peak Trail

July was a month jam packed with birthday cakes. Actually, I didn’t use much jam; a more accurate expression would be “chocolate packed”. Considering we had the hottest UK day on record it may not have been the wisest of choices, but birthdays and chocolate seem to be synonymous. I think I made about ten or twelve altogether, but I’ll not post them all here, just a selection. Early in the month I made an orange filled chocolate cake, but as I used the recipe so many times with variations I ended up calling it my Adaptable Chocolate Cake.

A friend’s son had his tenth birthday in July and I’ve often wanted to make one of those cakes with sweets hidden inside, which – hopefully – pour out when the cake is cut. And, sure enough, my Chocolate Fudge Cake with Secret Smarties did just that.

Then – a bit like Picasso having a pink period (or was it blue?) – I had a fizzy cola period and made a whole host of fizzy cola cakes – still chocolate ones of course. First was my Cherry Cola Chocolate Cake for school colleagues. Then we had a baptism at church followed by a shared meal and it was also the birthday of the friend being baptised. This definitely called for a bigger cake, hence my Four Layer Chocolate Cola Cake.

And – believe it or not three more birthdays happened, so I tweeked the recipe and varied the toppings.

As you can see, I’m still not great at piping. For the third cake above I piped onto chocolate buttons. A bit of a cheat maybe, but it worked.

Before I move on, I must tell you about a failure too. (I have quite a few). Having made lots of lovely dark chocolate cakes using cola, I wanted to make an orange flavoured white chocolate cake using fizzy orange. The dark cakes used cocoa powder for flavour and for colour, but despite copious searches I couldn’t find any white cocoa powder. Instead I used white drinking chocolate, but the cake turned out really heavy, dense and stodgy. (Maybe I should have called it a pudding.) My theory is that the white chocolate added far too much fat to the mixture. I’ll try again, maybe reducing the butter next time to compensate.

OK, that’s surely enough chocolate. How about some bread talk? I made quite a few as usual, mainly sourdough. Most of these can be accessed via my Bread section.

I did actually baked one or two other items that weren’t bread or chocolate cakes – but not many. My Economy Fruit and Nut Loaf Cake proved very popular, as did the Crumbly Oat Squares with Chocolate Chips, which just shows there’s no escape from chocolate.

I hope this has been reasonably interesting (despite it being very chocolate and bread orientated) and that you give some of these recipes a try. I’d love to hear your views if you do. Many thanks for reading so far. I’ll leave you with one final Derbyshire picture.

The same Derbyshire early morning – I had a good run that morning

Looking back at June

June was a fairly quiet baking month for me, partly because I was in Italy having a wonderful holiday in Tuscany. I was on a language course, but we shared a villa with a cookery course led by a terrific chef. The food and wine were excellent and plentiful, but I was less than impressed with the very plain bread that seems to be the norm in that region.  My wife and I have booked a holiday in the Lake Iseo area of Lombardy for later this year, so I can check out the food there, especially the bread.

Talking of bread – which I often do, I’m afraid – here’s what I’ve baked in June. First was a Wholemeal loaf with pumpkin seeds, followed by a Basic White sourdough and later a Garlic & Oregano sourdough. And to show that I occasionally use yeast from a packet, I made a batch of Lemon, Honey and Poppy seed rolls for a church shared lunch.

Tray bakes are ever popular with friends and family – also with me too, because they’re quick, easy and (hopefully) delicious. One example is my Double Berry Tray Bake. It’s so simple it’s virtually impossible to go wrong with it. (Mmm, I might regret saying that.)

Flapjacks are especially quick and easy. I love playing around with flavour combinations, so I made a batch of Cherry & Apricot flapjacks for after church and some Ginger ones for the owner of the car wash round the corner. He only charges me half price for a full “inside & outside wash and clean”, so a dozen flapjacks saves me at least £10 a time for my Land Rover – bargain. On a slightly different note, not all flapjacks have to be sweet. My Savoury flapjack Squares are spicy as well as being savoury.

When you want “savoury, quick and easy” it’s hard to beat muffins. In no time at all a couple of weeks ago I made a big mix and added Cheddar & Onion to one half and Stilton & Walnuts to the other. For a shared lunch again, so they didn’t last long.

I know I’m banging on about quick and easy. You might be thinking, ah yes but sometimes it’s good to get in the kitchen and take your time to do something more elaborate and time-consuming. I quite agree, but it didn’t really happen in June. Next month it might.

If you ever find anything quicker, easier and tastier than my Extra Easy Oat bran Loaf Cake, please let me know. For this one you don’t even do any proper weighing, just grab a mug from the cupboard. And sticking with the simple theme, how about a luscious, rich chocolate offering that doesn’t even need to be baked? I recently made a tray bake version of my Triple Chocolate Fridge Cake. Whether it’s a cake or tray bake it tastes great.

The mention of chocolate and cake in the same sentence brings me to my final three June bakes: a White Chocolate & Orange Cake, a Cherry Chocolate Cake, based on my Adaptable Chocolate Cake recipe and a Citrus Cake made for the our church “Limelight” (i.e. even older than me) group.

I’m looking forward to posting next month’s bakes especially as I have a few occasions coming up and have been asked to bake some special cakes. Bye for now, but I’ll leave you with another Peak District panorama.

Curbar Edge, Peak District

Bakes in May – a few reflections

Yet again, it’s been ages since I updated my home page. What I think I’ll do is revue my baking each month and try to be a bit more regular.  Most months are busy baking months – I like it that way – but May seems to have been especially busy, so I’ll be selective.

Loaf cakes featured quite high on the agenda. Early in the month I made two marbled loaf cakes. First was my Raspberry & White Chocolate Marbled version closely followed by a Raspberry & Pistachio version.

A couple of weeks later I experimented with my popular Gluten free Bara Brith recipe and created Bakewell Bara Brith – a great combination of Welsh and Derbyshire traditions.  

   

Larger cakes featured well too. They included a Coffee & Walnut cake with Bruleed Banana topping and two Orange and Poppy Seed cakes.

Most weeks I bake for friends and ex-colleagues at the school where I used to teach full time. Although, in theory, I’ve retired, I still spend a few hours there each week delivering expedition training to students involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. One of the bakes that I took in last month was a Honey and Orange Cake, which went down very well.

But, of all the cakes I made last month, my favourite has to be this terrific Chocolate and Raspberry Layer Cake. I enjoyed making it and was super-pleased with the result. I made it for after our church meeting one Sunday morning.

Bread, as usual, has featured massively in my baking. I’ve made at least one large sourdough loaf each week and they’ve all been excellent. It’s taken a while but I’ve just about got the “system” sussed now. Sourdough bread is great and definitely worth the effort. I won’t post any recipes, but if you want to know more then I recommend this super book: “Wholegrain Sourdough at Home” by Elaine Boddy, or go to  https://foodbodsourdough.com/.  

Finally, I wanted something rich and tasty for a family pudding. My son had some brioche rolls that had been sitting in a cupboard a bit too long and there were plenty of blueberries in the fridge. So – have you guessed? I made a Blueberry Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding, which meant that my diet was definitely suspended.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Derbyshire scenes and that my baking reflections have been of value to you; also that you try a few of the recipes. If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Ian’s Easter Collection

Easter will soon be with us? How do I know? Well, Easter eggs have been on the supermarket shelves for about two months, so it must be close. It’s a great time of year: tons of chocolate to give and receive; improved weather, more daylight and a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, my Lord and my Saviour. Oh, and it’s my birthday on April 10th.

It’s also a time when baking opportunities increase. With that in mind here’s a short collection of some of my bakes that are specifically for Easter or could easily be adapted.

First, two quick and very tasty traybakes. My Easter Blondies are rich and sumptuous.

Equally lovely are my seasonal Easter Flapjacks.

Here’s my version of a Traditional Simnel Cake, ideal as a centrepiece.

For something equally impressive I can recommend either of these two very special cheesecakes (or both, of course): my Simnel Apricot Cheesecake or my Simnel Cherry Cheesecake.

Two terrific cakes that can easily be adapted for Easter are my White Chocolate Smartie Cake – ideal for any youngsters – and my Golden Chocolate Cake, which is a little more on the sophisticated side.

Finally, here’s a recent bake that I’ve been looking forward to making for months. My Orange and Dark Chocolate Hot Cross Buns are well worth the wait.

Whatever you bake, I hope it turns out really great. Have a lovely Easter.

Previously

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do regular posts, which is a bit embarrassing. Even though I’m retired I do so many things, which is great. Baking three or four times a week is one enjoyable activity, but I do a lot of exercise too and a bit of DofE expedition work.

I’ve also decided to learn Italian. My dream is to travel round Italy, probably by train, with lots of stops for walking, eating and maybe even some baking.

I’ve picked out some of my favourite bakes this year so far – a few from January, which was a relatively quiet month for me, maybe it was a post Christmas lull, then more from February. I’ll do my best not to ramble on and just show you the results with a link where appropriate then you can check out the recipes. So, January first.

My Lemon, Honey and Poppy seed Rolls were lovely and light. What’s more, they were great with either sweet or savoury items.

I used similar ingredients for a nice ring cake to share at school. Everyone enjoyed my Poppy Seed, Almond & Lemon Cake. 

I know I’ve posted this before but Cheese and Onion Soda Bread is so easy, so quick and so tasty that I just wanted to tell everyone again. Go on, give it a go. Don’t worry if you don’t have any buttermilk, just add lemon into milk: easy-peasy, I promise.

You may have seen (and tasted, hopefully) my other Millionaire’s Shortbreads. I love them and here’s the latest. Ginger Millionaire’s Shortbread is a great addition to the “family”.

Now for February – a short month, but significantly more baking. This Apple and Walnut Streusel Cake has a terrific texture and it’s another easy but tasty treat.

Flapjacks are always good, but for that bit extra I coated these beauties with chocolate. Plain flapjacks are fine, but I made a special batch by including apricots and walnuts into the mixture. Have a look: Chocolate Topped Flapjacks

Then I made two tortes. Being tortes they were flourless therefore gluten free, which meant I could give them to various friends who are gluten intolerant.

First was my Chocolate and Ginger Torte. The photos don’t really do it justice; it was wonderfully rich. While making it I had the idea of a white chocolate version, but changed it a little to incorporate bananas, which was a super idea. My Banana and White Chocolate Torte was also rich and very tasty.

The next cake I made looked a bit plain, but looks can be so deceptive. My ABC Cake contained Almonds, Biscuits and Chocolate. I used good old digestives and dark chocolate, keeping both as fairly large chunks, which was a very good decision. Not only did this cake taste great, the chunks gave it a wonderful texture.

I make quite a few basic “ever popular” sponge cakes, but also ring the changes occasionally. I’ve made chocolate, strawberry and banana versions. This time it was a Coconut and Lime Sponge Cake for our church “Limelight” group.

Finally, for now, here’s another slightly “off-piste” flavour brownie. My Pretzel Brownies combined the crunchy saltiness of mini pretzels with rich dark chocolate. It worked so well too.

I hope I haven’t rushed through all this too quickly, but I thought I’d better have a bit of a catch up time.

Looking back at 2021 Bakes

Last year my “retrospective of 2020” was very popular, so I’ve repeated the idea for 2021 and here it is. I’ve had to be selective and have limited myself to only two or three bakes per month.

As well as being popular with many people, these are definitely some on my personal favourites. Hopefully, they’re representative too. Having said that, chocolate does seem to appear quite often, but no big surprise there.

From January I’ve chosen my White Chocolate Smartie Cake. It’s a fun creation that I made after the original milk chocolate version was so popular. In the same month my Chocolate Butter Cake appeared. It’s one of those simple looking cakes, almost plain, but it packs a massive flavour punch and is so very rich.

Chocolate featured again in February with my Chocolate and Orange Marbled Ring Cake, which was something of a showstopper. The Hazelnut Torte with Mascarpone Cream – a gluten free bake – was also very tasty and very lush.

In March I indulged my love of two things – cheesecake and marzipan – when I made several versions of Simnel Cheesecakes. Here’s the Simnel Cherry Cheesecake version. My Quick and Crunchy Chocolate Chip Biscuits are quite straight forward and very moreish, therefore very popular.

In April a friend asked for a birthday cake for her daughter so I used my Golden Chocolate Cake recipe and went to town with the decoration, to give it a wow factor. A little less dramatic, but no less tasty were my Blueberry and White Chocolate Buttermilk Scones. If, like me, you’re a sconoholic, you’ll love these.

I make lots of brownies, but these Almond Brownies in May were especially good. In the same month I put together another super gluten free bake: a luscious Lemon & Lime Tart that was sweet and wonderfully tangy.

In June I was again creating gorgeous brownies; my Mint-choc Brownies were something rather special. Another favourite bake that month was my Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake: definitely a cake with style and substance.

July was a great month of baking – or a month of great baking. So much so that I must mention three bakes, rather than just two. First, here’s my Rolo Caramel Cheesecake. Other than decadent, scrummy and glorious, words fail me. My Banana Millionaire’s Shortbread were a wonderful adaption of the great classic bake. The extra bake I’ve sneaked in for July is my Rowsley Tart. Check out the recipe, not only for the great taste, but to discover the story behind the name.  

In August I made a series of enriched fruity or nutty loaves that were as lovely as brioche, but a lot easier to produce. One was my Blueberry, Orange and Walnut Bread. In the same month I promised a bake for a friend who liked chocolate and mint, so I made him a Minty White Chocolate Tart.

In September I paid homage to a local delicacy and created my Bakewell Millionaire’s Shortbread. Another bake I was especially pleased with (almost surprisingly, I must admit) was something I had to call my Ridiculously easy No-knead Bread. Honestly, it does what the title says. You just chuck it together, leave it to its own devices to build flavour, bung in a hot oven and hey presto – brilliant bread.

In October I was asked to make a birthday cake for a friend’s six year old son. He’d actually presented me with a jar of “dinosaur sprinkles” a few days earlier, so I took the hint and made him a White Chocolate Dinosaur Sprinkle Cake. Next was a Strawberry Sponge Cake, which just shows how a basic cake can be made into something very special. Also in October, I continued the no knead bread theme with something sweet – my No-knead Spelt and Fig Bread.

November began with a return to chocolate. This time it was these rather “sophisticated” Raspberry & Coconut Brownies. Shortly after this I baked a very unusual, very tasty and very healthy gluten free loaf. My Flourless Fruity Seed & Nut Loaf went down a treat.

In December I made most of my usual Christmas bakes, all of which can be found on this site. One new item was another easy brioche-like bread. I produced several festive Enriched Christmas Loaves, which made excellent presents.

I hope this has been of interest and that you’ll give lots of these bakes a try at home yourselves.

December 2021

It’s nearly Christmas and I’ve not updated my Blog for weeks. Terrible. Have I got any excuses – other than the usual? Not really: lots of baking, walking, reading and a bit of work (just a few hours a week). Now I’m sort of retired I seem busier than ever.

OK, I’d better stop waffling and put at least a couple of links and photos on. I’ll keep it Christmassy. The best link is a page I’m calling Ian’s Christmas Collection. It contains twelve recipes – not quite 12 Bakes of Christmas, but pretty close. Here are a few that you might want to try:

One recent bake that doesn’t feature above is my Enriched Christmas Loaves. They’re a sort of cross between a brioche and a panettone. Just as tasty, but a whole lot easier and quicker to make.

I’ll probably be baking all the way up until Christmas Day, so I’ll say HAPPY CHRISTMAS to all of you and may God bless you in 2022.

Back in November

October was another busy baking month, so apologies yet again for being so tardy with my updates. Cakes have taken up a lot of my baking time; I’ll show you in a minute. First though, a couple of sunny seasonal pictures from my local woods:

My Strawberry Sponge Cake and Chocolate and Orange Checkerboard Sponge Cake were both based on a really easy “all-in-a-saucepan” recipe. Yes, of course I used an oven, but all the prep was just in one saucepan, so hardly any washing up.

I made a couple of chocolate tortes. One was for a friend who can’t have any gluten. She was very happy with it, but my piping is an embarrassment. The other one – my Rich Chocolate Torte looked a lot smarter. I also made a Chocolate and Banana cake for a neighbour who is recovering from a car accident.

One of our friends has a six year old son. He arrived one day with a small jar of dinosaur sprinkles. Was it a present or was it a hint? Anyway, I took it as a hint and made him a cake. I called it a White Chocolate Dinosaur Sprinkle Cake for Samuel.

Two final cakes were my Autumn Leaves Country Fruit Cake made for a baking club Autumn themed evening a couple of weeks ago. More recently, I was asked to make a fruity cake, so produced my version of a Hummingbird Cake.

These were all successful bakes, but not every bake turns out like that. Here’s one that didn’t. Disasters do happen.

As you know I usually bake for our church meetings each Sunday and as we have lots of youngsters among us, I’ve made a few things especially for them. My Cake Balls were very popular (I think I should have called them Cake Pops, but no one commented.) The following week they tucked into some Chocolate Muffins.

I was asked to produce a few tray bakes for a friend’s party, so I made Lemon and Raspberry Shortbread, Fudgy Brownies and Marshmallow & Choc flapjack.

Apparently it’s now a legal requirement for home baked items given away by food banks to have a contents list to safeguard allergy sufferers. Fortunately I’ve always done this anyway. Here’s the Fruit & Nut Loaf cake that I sent recently.

No blog posting would be complete without mentioning bread. As usual I’ve baked loads, but will limit myself to just two here: my Spelt and fig no-knead bread and Buttermilk Loaves. The first was firm and fruity; the second much lighter and softer. Two very different breads that both tasted great.

And finally, here’s a picture from November a few years ago. We’ve not had any days like this so far. As I’ve grown older I’ve felt the cold more and more, but it’s still lovely to walk in the Peak District. Of course, I’ll have to bake lots of warming pies and puddings soon. Very best wishes to all my friends out there.

September

I’m so sorry I’ve not been keeping up to date with my blog. Not a great tragedy though. One reason – as before – is that I’ve been baking so much. Also, now that I’m back at work, if only for a few hours a week, I have a bit less time. I’ve been doing lots of walking too. Retirement is such a busy time of life. OK, no more excuses, let’s get down to business.

For a change, I’m going to talk about my recent bakes in sections according to who I’ve been baking for. As you know, I love to bake, but am very weight conscious so I only eat a very small proportion of my bakes. I’ll also intersperse (isn’t that a nice word?); yes, I’ll intersperse my comments with a few Derbyshire pics.

This section contains my recent “Limelight” bakes. Limelight is the name of the over 60s group run by my church. They meet every other Thursday each month. They’ve only recently begun meeting again due to Covid restrictions, which has been quite an issue for many of them as they’re all in the vulnerable category.

For their return meeting I made them a Berry and White chocolate cake. Two weeks later I made them a Layered Lemon Cake and a Date & Walnut Loaf cake, which was a gluten free bake.

The church that I’m a part of is called Church In The Peak. It’s a brilliant community church where we experience and express the love of God. OK, I’ll not pontificate. (Hey, another really good word; I must have swallowed a dictionary …. or even a lexicon.) Anyway, if you’re ever up this way for a weekend in the Peak District, you’d be very welcome on Sunday morning.

A few weeks ago I made another of my Bakewell bakes. This one was Bakewell Millionaire’s Shortbread. I’ve made lots of millionaire’s shortbread lately, but this was one of the best. I’ll show you a few pictures to show the stages.

The following week I took in some Chocolate Shortbread, which was a very simple but tasty bake.

More recently I made some Fudgy Date Brownies, which were absolutely scrumptious. I updated an earlier recipe of mine and made it even better.

Other main recipients of my bakes are my friends and ex-colleagues at the school where I taught for many years: Tupton Hall, near Chesterfield. I was an English teacher, but I also ran the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme for many years. When I retired I was asked to go back in just for a day a week to continue the DofE. Now I just do a couple of hours a week and only organise the expeditions, but I still bake for the English faculty. My recent offerings have included: a Cherry & Almond Tray Bake, an Apple & Almond Streusal Cake and a Banana & Chocolate Loaf Cake.

I’m fortunate to have plenty of friends and neighbours to bake for. Several are gluten intolerant, so baking for them is an interesting challenge. Here are a few recent bakes:

A batch of gluten free Blueberry & White Chocolate Scones, a Layered and Marbled St-Clements Cake and a Seeded Rye Soda Bread Loaf.

Just in case you were wondering, I do occasionally bake for us at home, myself and my family, when they’re around that is. My son doesn’t actually like “fancy” cakes, so for his birthday recently it was a plain, but tasty Victoria Sponge. As he’s converting a transit into a camper van our local chocolatier (Yes, we have a brilliant one in our Derbyshire village – Taylor-Wilde Chocolatier) made a chocolate camper van. Pity it was a VW, but we still enjoyed eating it. By the way, our son is older than four, but we didn’t have any more candles.

Other “home” bakes included Einkorn & White flour Cinnamon Scones, which were OK, but I’ll not bother making them again. The Wholemeal Blackberry Flapjacks were a lot nicer, especially as I used the blackberries I’d picked earlier that day from fields nearby.

If you want to know more about any of these bakes or the background to them, please go to the contact page and send me an e-mail. In the mean time, happy baking.

September 1st

It’s the start of September and there’s already a bit of a morning chill up here in the Peak District. We’ll be having some wonderfully atmospheric misty mornings soon, but let’s start with a different early morning local picture.

I know I bang on about bread, but I’ve got to tell you about a couple of recent interesting developments. First though – and I’ll make this brief – my sourdough has been consistently good of late. Have a look at these:

The first development was a couple of weeks ago when I wanted to use up 200g of discard (spare sourdough starter), but didn’t have the time to make an actual sourdough loaf. Tasty though they are, they do require time commitment. Instead, I made a yeasted loaf and incorporated the 200g starter. It’s 50% water, 50% flour. So I simply subtracted those amounts from a standard bread recipe. To give the loaf more character I raided the fridge and found some cheddar at the back that was going a bit mouldy round the edges. After some scraping it was fine. I grated it in with four (or maybe it was five) large cloves of garlic. Chucked it all in after the first prove and the loaf came out lovely – mega garlicky bread with attitude.

The second development was a little more radical. I’ve played around with No-knead Bread quite a few times, but never to my complete satisfaction. This time I really went for a minimalist approach in terms of time and effort. I used about 2g instant yeast. The initial mixing took less than three minutes, then I left it overnight. It had doubled in size and was very bubbly the next morning. I didn’t even bother taking it out of the bowl, I just turned it over a few times and put the cover back on. Later, it had risen, but was still a sloppy wet dough, so I literally poured it out onto a sheet of parchment paper, which I then lifted into a hot Dutch oven and baked it. The resulting loaf was ridiculously good. That’s why I’ve called it my Ridiculously Easy No-knead Bread.

In this short embarrassing paragraph, I must admit a failure – my Spelt soda bread, which had a texture more like a cake – a not-very-good cake. Worse still was the taste. Before I realised how bad it was our daughter, who was visiting us for the evening, had some. The look on her face told it all. She didn’t want to say how bad it was until I actually asked her, bless her. Rather than showing you a picture of poor bread, have a look at some heather that’s out right now on Beeley Moor, near to Chatsworth.

As always, scones have a place. And, yes they’re worth a mention because there’s so much variety, so much they have to offer and so simple to make. Sometimes, I can’t decide whether I want a savoury one or a sweet one. (Yes, I know, I could have both, but they do contain lots those horrible C things – calories.) Anyway, I put together a recipe with a good basic mix that could become either sweet or savoury.

For my Sweet and Savoury Scones I made Cherry and Marzipan and Cheese and Chive versions. Both were excellent. More recently I made half a dozen Date & Apricot. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of new flavour options and combinations.

In recent weeks I’ve rather gone overboard for millionaire’s shortbreads. In my last post I added a minty version to the previous Strawberry, Lemon and Banana versions. All can be found in my Tray Bakes section. The latest addition to the MS family is Coffee and Walnut Millionaire’s Shortbread. It’s as yummy or even more yummy than the rest.

Finally, and there’s probably a better way of saying this, but I’m going to tell you about a couple of tarts. I’ll qualify that statement very quickly by giving some details.  My Minty White Chocolate Tart was made for a friend who helped me choose a much needed new computer.

The Cherry Bakewell Tart is my slight twist on a classic bake. Both look great and both taste as good as they look, or better. Both are easy to make and well worth the effort. I love working with pastry and enjoy learning about it’s varied behaviour, frustrating though that often is.

If you’re about to go back to work after your holiday, or back to school, I hope it all goes really well for you. Have a great September. I’ll leave you with a typical White Peak view, taken near the village of Ilam (pronounced eye-lm), which reminds me of the time when an American gentleman stopped his car to ask me for directions to 11 a.m. I’m not sure if he ever got there.

August 16th

It’s mid-August and after the sun we now have a more typical English summer: a bit grey, a bit wet, a bit windy. At least it’s not as busy on the roads locally. I love living here, on the edge of the Peak District, but one of the few drawbacks is the amount of holiday traffic. Apparently we’re the second most visited national park in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan. Don’t get me wrong though, I welcome tourists; they’re good for the local economy etcetera.

OK, weather info. and moaning over, let’s talk baking. I’ll tell you about my bread first as I’ve been baking a lot of it. Some of my sourdough loaves have been fairly poor, heavy things so I’ll not embarrass myself by showing you. Early in the month, I made a couple of Herby fougasse loaves for home and a friend. It’s a yeasted dough and dead easy to make. They look & taste great too.

For a while I’ve been wanting to try some more unusual flours, so bought some Einkorn flour. It’s a heritage grain with a pleasant nutty taste, but it’s low in gluten so needs to be mixed with normal flour. My first Einkorn Sourdough Loaf came out quite well although a tad dark & dense, but with a terrific crunchy crust. The Plain White Sourdough  shown below also looked great as well as tasting good. I’m aiming for consistency now.

Finally, on bread, I made another pair of enriched dough loaves, but this time they were Blueberry, Orange and Walnut. They came out wonderfully well, easily as good as my previous  Cherry, Apricot & Flaked Almond Loaves. As I said before, these are like brioche, but a lot easier and quicker to bake.

I also had a bit of a “sconefest” again. Most were repeats of recipes, but I also put together a new flavour and made a batch of very yummy Treacle and Walnut Scones.