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.
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
Looking back at July
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.