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Persian Love Cake and a Marriage Proposal

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Heavily spiced and beautifully balanced – Iranian cuisine is definitely a new interest of mine. I was lucky enough to attend a Persian dinner party on Saturday with some good friends. I was also fortunate enough to receive a marriage proposal! Of course I accepted – so this has definitely been a Valentine’s weekend to remember. In fact, it has been the best weekend I’ve had for a long time – the food was exceptional, the proposal unexpected and the hangover, well rather inevitable.

I’m not one to attend a dinner party empty handed. Of course taking wine is perfectly expectable, but whipping up a delicious, decadent dessert is even better. Given that the theme for the evening was Persian food, I set about researching some recipes and I found myself confused as to why I hadn’t discovered Iranian food sooner. It all looks so wonderfully unfamiliar and exotic – that excites me a little. There is certainly nothing boring about cardamom, saffron and rose water all rolled into the one recipe. I stumbled upon a recipe for a Persian Love Cake on the brilliant Twigg Studios blog written by Aimee Twigger. What better recipe for a Persian dinner party on Valentine’s weekend?

There is something quite wonderful about a cake decorated with crimson rose petals and bright green pistachios – it’s a real show-stopper. I couldn’t quite believe how well it complemented the Raan (roast leg of lamb in yogurt that Bryan cooked) with spiced side dishes of spinach, cauliflower, rice and potatoes.

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Our friend Bryan’s surname is Haines and we call him the Haines Manual, because he is a endless fountain of knowledge. I asked him for the Raan recipe and he bought out this book, the cover fell apart from the pages as I opened it – obviously a rather old and well used book. Bryan tells me it has many a delicious Iranian recipe – The Yoghurt Book by Arto Der Haroutunian (Syrian born). The book was first published in 1983, but I’m hoping I can find a copy online. I will have a go at the dish myself at some point and share the recipe with you, once I have photographs to go with it.

The Persian Love Cake was made with many of the same ingredients, cardamom, saffron, almonds and complemented the meal beautifully. You can view the recipe here.

I still can’t quite believe that I’m engaged – let the wedding planning commence.

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Crunchy Coconut Biscuits

Generally speaking, I’m not the best baker. In fact, if truth be told, I’m terrible. Richard often makes fun of the fact that most of my bakes end up with some deformity or another – soggy bottom, flat cake – you see where this is going. For someone who has such a passion for food and cooking I suck at baking! That said, I persevere time and again – I figure one of these days I’ll create something wonderful.

This week I decided to make coconut biscuits. If you’ve ever tasted coconut rings, they are fairly similar, perhaps just a little crunchier. They actually turned out well, much to my own surprise – so I thought I’d share the recipe with you. Coconut is one of my favourite ingredients, it’s the versatility of it that I love – use it in sweet and savoury dishes, either way it’s delicious.

This recipe is an adaptation of Coconut Biscuits from a book called Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits, which despite it’s very un-snappy title is a wonderfully illustrated book packed with fabulous looking (and tasting) biscuits. The book has everything from old fashioned favourites, such as custard creams and bourbons to iced baby shower, birthday, Easter and Christmas themed biscuits.

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Coconut Biscuits
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Sweet
Prep time: 
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Delicate coconut flavoured biscuits with a crunchy texture
Ingredients
  • 350g Plain flour
  • 100g self raising flour
  • 140g granulated sugar
  • 100g desiccated coconut
  • 125g butter, diced
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
Instructions
  1. Place the flours, sugar and coconut into a mixing bowl and stir to combine the ingredients.
  2. Add the cubed butter and tub together with the dry ingredients using the tips of your fingers until you have a fine breadcrumb consistency.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and golden syrup, bring the mixture together using your hands, drawing in the flour from the sides of the bowl until you have a dough that comes together.
  4. Transfer the dough to your worktop and flatten into a disc, cover with cling film and chill for 20 minutes before rolling out.
  5. Preheat your oven to 160 degrees (fan). Place baking paper onto a baking sheet ready for the biscuits.
  6. Roll out the dough until it is the thickness of a pound coin, cut out your biscuits using a cookie cutter and bake for 13-14 minutes (until lightly golden).

And of course, no biscuit would be complete without a hot beverage for dunking…

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Miss Friday is back with a delicious peace offering of Blueberry Muffins

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Roll up and accept my peace offering of delicious blueberry muffins! Evidently, it’s been too long – being pregnant has turned me into a strange being. I’ve struggled with eating to be honest, and this heat hasn’t helped things much. I spent the first three months being very sick  and now I’m finding it hard to regain my old appetite. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had more than a healthy appetite, so I guess cutting back a bit won’t hurt. I’ve certainly lost a few pounds (without the baby weight that is of course).

That said, I can’t complain really, everything seems to be going rather well at the minute and I’m slowly starting to feel like the old Miss Friday again! I only have ten weeks left until I can meet my baby and I’m rather excited about that. Between work and baby preparations, I’ve been getting back into the swing of things in the kitchen, much to Richard’s relief. I think he was becoming worried I’d lost my touch and he’d be cooking his own meals forever more. He has lost over half a stone in weight – claims it’s because I’ve not been cooking for him as much. No one likes a skinny man, so it’s about time I got back to my usual schedule and made him happy again.

I’m hoping that my absence hasn’t done too much to damage to my blogging stats. The trouble is, trying to keep up with a regular blogging schedule and working, and being pregnant is easier said than done. Although, I’ll be on maternity leave from mid August, so I hope to be able to re-establish a regular pattern of posts for you lovely people.

Seeing as I’ve been away for too long, I thought it was only fair to come with my tail between my legs and offer this Blueberry Muffin recipe as a peace offering – when you taste them I’m certain you’ll forgive me. They went down a treat with the family. Having posted a snap to my Facebook page I was then bombarded with requests “Can you make me some?” or “Oh, these look nice, can we sample them?”. It’s fair to say this recipe was a hit.

As unlikely as it is, if you’re not a blueberry muffin fan, the basic mixture can be used for many other muffin recipes, omit the blueberries and chuck in whatever takes your fancy. Why not try pecan and chocolate chip, or raspberry and white chocolate? You really could try any combination based on your preferred taste.

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Blueberry Muffins
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Baking
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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Delicious blueberry muffins, perfect for breakfast or with afternoon tea. The blueberries will burst and ooze out delicious juices making these muffins look utterly irresistible!
Ingredients
  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 145g caster sugar
  • 170ml semi skimmed milk
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120g fresh blueberries
Instructions
  1. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases and preheat your oven to 180⁰C (160⁰C if using a fan oven).
  2. Add all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl (except the blueberries). Mix until well combined. Gently stir in the blueberries.
  3. Divide mixture into the 12 muffin cases and bake for 25 minutes until risen and slightly golden. The blueberries will have burst and oozed out their delicious juices making these muffins look utterly irresistible!

 

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Basic White Bread (and poppy seed loaf)

Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours (inc rising time)
Yield: 2 loaves

Ingredients:

  • 700g strong white flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp easy-bake dried yeast
  • 25g cold butter, cubed
  • 450ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp milk

Cooking Directions:

  1. Sift the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a large bowl, then using your index and middle finger and thumbs rub in the cold butter until you have a bread crumb consistency.
  2. Make a well in the centre of the flour and slowly pour in the water forming a sticky dough, continue until you have used all of the water. The dough will feel really sticky, but don’t panic, this is normal.
  3. Lightly flour the work surface and begin to knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film and pop in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. I use the airing cupboard and normally leave it for around 2 hours.
  4. Once the dough has risen to double the size, knock it back by punching down the dough to deflate it. Remove it from the bowl and knead vigorously for a couple of minutes.
  5. Shape the dough to the desired shape and size and place in a lightly oiled loaf tin if using. Leave covered by a tea towel for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size. This second rising shouldn’t take as long as the first.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230C.
  7. Brush the loaves with milk and scatter over the poppy seeds.
  8. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200C and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, or until the bread has risen and is golden brown on top.
  9. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Ever had a baking disaster?

I can’t believe it’s that time of year again already. The Great British Bake Off is in full swing and the hunt for Brittan’s next best amateur baker is on. There is something quite magnificent about a group of people who share a passion for baking coming together under one roof (or marquee as it were) and battling it out to be crowned The UK’s Best Amateur Baker. It’s TV gold. From builders to actresses, designers and students, this year’s line up is as diverse as ever.
So, having been inspired to get baking, I set about making some bread in the hopes of producing a light and delicious loaf, only to find it had a disastrous outcome. I realised that I’d forgotten the salt in the first batch of dough I made, so that ended up in the bin. Then for my second attempt, the bread didn’t rise particularly well to start with, but I persevered. It looked and smelled wonderful – just like a freshly home baked loaf should – but let me tell you – it was the densest loaf ever. I was the laughing stock of my household for a week. I’d used a pot of yeast that had been open and lurking around in the cupboard for who knows how long, it was over a year passed its use by date and as I’ve learnt yeast won’t work if it’s stale.
My partner joked that it’s a known fact that men are better bakers than women. No I thought, I’m not standing for this – says who? Okay, so my first two attempts were rubbish, but it was the yeast’s fault, not mine. Anyhow this failure and his comment spurred me on to ensuring bread success. I stuck with it and made another loaf (using freshly bought yeast) and I cracked it.
There’s nothing more satisfying that admiring a gorgeous loaf of bread you made, well I guess there is – smothering it with butter and eating it!
Having ruined various batches of dough, but actually managing to master the technique of bread making – even if it did take a while, I feel compelled to share with you my top tips and tricks to bread success:
  • Use the freshest ingredients, yeast that’s been sitting about for ages simply won’t work.
  • Knead, knead, knead – and then knead some more – if you’ve got the ratio of flour and water right your dough will start out really sticky. The more you knead it the more elastic and smooth it will become – really put some elbow grease into it.
  • Be patient – something Paul Hollywood advised on last week’s programme. Leave the bread to rise, just leave it until it’s doubled in size.
  • Master the basic white loaf before you experiment with other flours, flavours of toppings – don’t run before you can walk. It took me three attempts to even get the basics right.
 

So, if you’ve been thinking about baking for a while, now’s the time to dust off your apron and get stuck in. The Great British Bake Off is such a source of inspiration. I’ll be fixed to the TV every Wednesday at 8pm over the coming weeks to see what showstopper and signature bakes look good enough for me to replicate. I’ve earmarked Luis or Martha for winner.

Bread Baking Techniques

Kneading, proving and knocking back – what’s it all about?

If you’re a novice baker like me, you might well find all these terms very confusing.
It’s all very well someone telling you to ‘knock back your dough’ – but if you haven’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about it can all be very baffling. 
My advice is to get yourself a good reference guide, such a decent baking book and spend some time doing your homework. If you get to grips with these terms before you set about making the bread you should have a decent head start.
Start with a simple recipe, such as a basic white loaf and learn the techniques before you attempt to use other flours or flavours. For instance, some wholemeal or rye flours take more kneading than others. There I go, doing exactly what I didn’t want to do – assuming you know what these terms mean.
I wanted to give you a brief overview of a few of the basic bread making terms, but I’m certainly no expert and I won’t pretend my advice is worth noting, so I’ll leave it to the experts.
Read more about bread making techniques at Paul Hollywood’s website
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Lemon Cupcakes

I had a rather eventful Saturday, baking batches of cupcakes for a charity fundraising night at my local pub. Having agreed to bake around 70 cupcakes, I was delighted that my friend Sam had offered to help me, she wanted to brush up on her baking skills and I was only too happy to share the load. We decided upon three kinds of cupcakes, lemon, chocolate and coconut and raspberry. The recipes for the coconut and raspberry and chocolate ones have featured on my blog before and can be found by clicking on the links below, so I thought I’d share the lemon cupcake recipe, which comes courtesy of Mary Berry.
The charity night was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and we raised a wonderful £647 from the door entry, raffle and cupcakes which I think is just wonderful for a small local pub. This is the first time I’ve put my cooking skills to use supporting a charity event, and it felt great to help raise money and the feedback was really positive. I’ll certainly volunteer in future to bake for any other events.

Click here for Mary’s Lemon Cupcakes Recipe!

Raspberry & Coconut Cupcakes

 

 

Chocolate Cupcakes

 
 
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Chocolate Button Cakes



Kids love cake, fact! So, it was no surprise when I asked Max (Richard’s boy) if he wanted to make a cake, he jumped at the chance. So, I proceeded to gather all of my recipe books that contained cake and asked him to have a flick through and pick one that caught his eye. Mary Berry’s Heavenly Chocolate Cake is what he chose, splendid choice indeed I thought, especially as I already had most of the ingredients.


Having decided upon making the most calorific cake in the entire world, I realised that although I had nearly all of the ingredients, I had no cake tins – which makes cake making all the more difficult. I’m not much of a baker you see, more of a savoury cook. I did however have a muffin tin and some cake cases, these would have to suffice. Max on the other hand felt quite differently about the absence of a cake tin and decided to have a strop over it. That was until I explained that we’d still be making the same cake, but we’d be making individual ones instead of one big one. Kids ay! So with the ingredients ready, the cooking equipment in order and the mood restored we set about making these delicious little cakes.

I’ve never made a Mary Berry cake before, of course I’ve watched her on the Great British Bake Off and various other foodie programmes, but never attempted any of her recipes. They always look delicious, but aside from the fact that I’m not much of a baker, a sweet tooth is something I’m slowly beginning to lose as I get older. Harrah, there is hope for my ever expanding waistline after all.

These cakes, as well as being devilishly chocolaty and delicious, are somewhat light, which I can only imagine comes from whisking the egg whites and folding them in – the part of the recipe I insisted on helping with, for fear of losing all the air and ending up with a rather dense cake, or dense cakes even. If you’re a chocolate fan you’ll simply rejoice at the thought of a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing and Cadbury’s chocolate buttons on the top (an addition Max and I felt was essential).

I’ve included Mary’s recipe below, but we obviously changed a couple of aspects, either way I guarantee you’ll end up with a delicious chocolate cake. 

Cuts into 8 slices (615 cals each)

Ingredients

* 125g butter, plus extra for greasing
* 200g plain dark chocolate, broken into pieces
* 2 tbsp water
* 3 eggs, separated
* 125g caster sugar
* 90g self-raising flour
* 60g ground almonds
* 60g butter
* 30g cocoa powder
* 3 tbsp milk
* 250g icing sugar, sifted
* White chocolate curls to decorate

Method

1. Lightly butter a deep 20cm cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.

2. Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl with the butter and water. Put the bowl over a pan of hot water and heat gently, stirring, until the mixture has melted. Cool.

3. Combine the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl and whisk together with an electric whisk until fluffy and very light in colour. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture. Carefully fold in the flour and ground almonds.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the sponge mixture, gently but thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (160°C fan, Gas 4) for 50 minutes or until well risen and firm to the touch.

5. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes, turn out on to a wire rack, and peel off the lining paper. Cool completely.

6. Make the fudge icing: melt the butter in a pan, add the cocoa powder, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the milk and icing sugar. Beat well until smooth. Leave to cool until thickened.

7. Split the cake in half horizontally and sandwich the layers together with half of the fudge icing. With a palette knife, spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with white chocolate curls.