Mint Choc Chip; Cake that Also Freshens Breath

Made by my own fair hand (not the hand in this pic!)

Made by my own fair hand (not the hand in this pic!)

Five months to go to the wedding and I’m still obsessing over making my own cake and what form this should take…

So, I’ve experimented with a Rachel Allen recipe for a chocolate mint cake she has suggested as a  New Year celebration option. There’s a link to the original recipe above, but my own version involved the odd substitution.

A few years ago, I wasn’t that keen on baking as it involved precision, whereas I’m an easy-osy kind of gal. Recipe says one tsp chilli flakes, I immediately think two or three. 25G grated cheese? Nowhere near enough. No onions in the fridge, let’s substitute celery kind of thing.

Then I decided on a cake and fizz theme for my birthday this year and spent a blissful weekend with my mum and sister baking cakes in advance of the event. Oh the joy of measuring, mixing, beating and watching the magic work. It also helps that an afternoon of baking fills your home with warm vanilla scents and produces such delicious results (though my whisky and sultana cake wasn’t that great…)

A few more cakes down the line and confidence creeps in – what if I swapped this for this? I’m not so keen on butter icing (too sweet) either, so mixing and matching toppings and flavourings is fun too. And you wouldn’t believe the number of great baking blogs and websites out there!

Anyway, here it is – my Rachel Allen-inspired mint choc cake:

  • 75g baking margarine
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 3 large, free range eggs
  • 125g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 50ml double cream
  • 100g after dinner mint chocolates (broken into small pieces)
  • Pinch of salt

Icing:

  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g full-fat cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • ½ tsp green food colouring
  • 20g mint leaves, chopped finely
  • After dinner mint chocolates, halved into triangles

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment paper. Line the sides too, so that they overlap the top of the tin (it makes for a better finish on your cake).

Melt the chocolate and double cream together, either over a pan of hot water or in the microwave. Beat the margarine, butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (this takes about five minutes, even if you are using an electrical mixer). Add the eggs one at a time and then add the cooled chocolate mix and continuing beating until well combined. Fold in the four, pinch of salt and the broken up chocolate mints. Put the mix in the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting, mix a tbsp of the icing sugar with the mint leaves and pour over 3tbsp just boiled water. Steep for an hour and then strain (keeping the liquid and discarding the mint leaves). Whisk the double cream together with the liquid until thick. Beat the remaining icing sugar with the cream cheese until combined and then whisk in the double cream. You should get a fairly thick mixture. Add in the green food colouring until you get an even colour.

Use to decorate the top of the cake and then cut into evenly-sized squares. Top each square with a halved after dinner chocolate mint.

VERDICT FROM MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD NIECE: yuck. I’ll put that down to the intense chocolate flavour… And if I was making it again, I’d split the cake and put icing in the middle too.

 

 

Curly Girls: Their Grannies Loved ‘Em

Brazilian blow dry – sounds too close to a procedure also involving hair, but which seems incredibly painful and humiliating..?

The blow dry, thankfully, does not involve the removal of one’s clothes and is a soothing way to spend an afternoon. In my quest for neat wedding hair, I thought I’d investigate this fairly new phenomenon.

As a late teen, my grandmother used to tell me that people would pay for my hairstyle. She was the perm generation. My 20s coincided with the rise of the straightening iron. And thus  nobody wanted curly hair.

This is the before pic...

This is the before pic…

Thanks to my increasing age and years of home colouring, my naturally curly hair is now very frizzy. Morning gym visits have exposed to me to the routines many women go through – dexterous juggling of hairbrushes, clips and hair-dryers, finished off with the trusty GHDs. It appears to be very time-consuming and I already devote far more time than is necessary to skincare and make-up.

So, the 20-minute (plus, if you are very diligent) daily haircare routine does not appeal… Time that could be devoted to my family & friends! Time that could be spent reading! Time that could be spent baking cakes! [Er, if haircare is your thang, I promise I don’t condemn you; please do see my previous post on skincare as evidence of absolute pointless time-wasting on my part.]

My local salon was doing a Brazilian blow-dry deal. I thought, ‘ooh bridal hair-do practice run’, and succumbed. Various promises were made online – easy blow dry, straighter hair, less frizz. No wonder I crumpled so easily.

See, the sheer novelty of running a comb through hair? Can't be under-estimated...

See, the sheer novelty of running a comb through hair? Can’t be under-estimated…

Here are the results… Impressive hmm? Now, the real deal is in a few days’ time when I wash my hair and then dry it. Rather, let Mama Nature dry it, or I blast it with a hair dryer for five minutes or so and then get deeply bored (so definitely not a 40-mins proper blow-dry and straightener job).

Then, hopefully, the legendary status that it is the Brazilian blow dry will really make its status known and I will emerge with straight-ish, frizz-free-ish locks…

Red Velvet (Hint: Cakes not Dresses)

Christmas-y and wedding-y at the same time?

Christmas-y and wedding-y at the same time?

Saturday’s topic covered dieting…So now that’s all done and dusted (can you sense the change in tone here from downbeat to very, very upbeat?) we’re back to blogging about cake!

A few weeks ago, I sampled a friend’s incredibly delicious red velvet cake. She also provided a little food history – in ye olden days, the red colour was the result of cocoa reacting with the cake’s other ingredients (buttermilk). As cocoa is a different product now, the red colour doesn’t occur naturally and must be introduced artificially via plenty of food colouring.

Anyway, red velvet cake covered in some kind of white icing and artfully decorated is very festive (and generally celebratory, so a good option for a wedding cake, no?). Here is my Lucy Janes-inspired version…

Red Velvet Cake – cuts into roughly 10 generous slices
200g unsalted butter
150g baking margarine
Six large, free-range eggs
300g self-raising flour
30g cocoa powder
350g golden caster sugar
2 x 38ml red food colouring bottles
½ tsp salt
2 tsps vanilla extract
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
1½ tbsp bicarbonate of soda

24cm loose-bottomed baking tin, greased and lined with baking paper. Line the sides too with a double thickness of paper which should extend two inches above the top of the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Cream together the butter, margarine and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add three of the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly between each addition.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add a third of it to the butter, sugar and eggs. Beat in the rest of the eggs, one by one. Add the vanilla extract and red food colouring and then mix in the white wine vinegar mixed with the bicarb of soda. (For the last bit, mix it in quickly and lightly with a spoon rather than an electric mixer if you’ve been using this for the rest of the cake preparation.)

Pour into the tin and bake immediately for 1 hour 15 mins. Once the cooking time is more than two-thirds of the way through, you can open the oven door to check if you need to put foil on top of the cake to stop it burning.

Take the cake out of the oven and leave to stand for five minutes before turning out onto a rack. Cool thoroughly and then loosely cover and leave overnight. (It’s easier to decorate if you do this the next day.)

Decoration

300ml double cream, 600g full-fat cream cheese,300g icing sugar, sifted; and 50-75g dessicated coconut (optional)
Using a sharp knife and a steady hand (!), slice the cake in two horizontally. Place the bottom half on a cake stand. Whip the cream until it is stiff and mix together the cream cheese and icing suar. Mix with the cream. Spread evenly over the bottom cake and place the other half of the cake on top and decorate the top and sides with the rest of the icing. Dredge with the coconut, if using.

5:2 Sticking with the Eating/Starving Thing?

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the 5:2 diet… Being something of an internet research nerd (a fun way to pass a few hours when you’re bored), I’d noted mention of this diet online several weeks ago and investigated.

The basic premise is – for two, non-consecutive days a week, you eat a mere 500 calories a day (600 if you’re a bloke) and then eat normally for the rest of the week. Et voila – weight loss! Improved health! Decreased risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s!

I could pretend I did it for the slightly nobler improved health, lowering the risk of contracting nasty illnesses reasons, but that would be a lie. The promise of weight loss lured me in and I tried the plan for three weeks.

Pluses – I lost five pounds and my stomach feels a lot flatter.

Minuses – those two days are MURDEROUSLY hard… Funnily enough, as the day goes on it seems to get easier, but first thing in the morning the thought of not eating very much all day feels like the most enormous hurdle to get over. And that is why I’m not doing it anymore.

Short term, I’ll probably try it again (shock news revelation, bride-to-be tries extreme diet ahead of wedding), but in the long term, I’m taking my chances with dementia and the Big C.

The Top Ten Tips for Beautiful Skin

These are a few of my favourite things...

These are a few of my favourite things…

I re-read my ‘about me’ info (often I forget who I am, where I’m going and what I’m supposed to be doing…) and realised I haven’t really blogged about skincare despite listing it as one of my interests as I’ve been too caught up with cake and fascinated by food!

(I love alliteration; it’s sublime.)

Having read a very useful post on attracting attention through blogging, I’m now shamelessly borrowing a recommended technique – the tried and tested Top Ten list (oh bliss, more alliteration).

So for the bride to be, here are my recommendations for fab skin. (Things to note – I don’t think one range of skincare gets everything right, so this selection is a mishmash of what works for me.)

1.     Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Intense Serum. Sometimes, powerful advertising exerts its seductive, siren call so I opt for other serum products and end up disappointed. When skincare has been developed in conjunction with university experts, though, it makes sense to stick with it.

2.     Dr Organic Dead Sea Minerals Bio-Plasma Mud Mask – it stings a little on application (I have sensitive skin), so put it on in the evening and wake up to clear skin.

3.     Dr Organic Rose Otto Night Cream – really gorgeous smell and, as I live in a country where daily SPF protection really isn’t needed, I use it as day cream too.

4.     Too Faced Primed and Poreless Pure primer – does a great job of disguising open pores. I put it on and occasionally contemplate going foundation-free (but after more than 25 years of wearing foundation, it’s too much of a deeply ingrained habit).

5.     Clinique Clarifying Lotion 2 – I love the clean feel you get from using this toner and the big bottle lasts for ages.

6.     bareMinerals Purifying Facial Cleanser – this does a great job of taking off make-up.

7.     Boots No7 Stay Perfect Liquid Foundation – it definitely lasts all day (which is what you want on your big day).

8.     Jerome Alexander Magic Minerals make-up – really easy to apply and fab coverage; I get compliments when I wear this.

9.      Coconut Oil – I use this occasionally as a moisturiser when my skins feeling dry and sensitive.

10.  And finally… food (way hey back at my blog subject of choice!) The best skincare advice is to drink plenty of water, eat lots of salad, fish, eggs, berries, beans and wholegrains and not a lot in the way of processed food.

Everything Counts (in Small Amounts)

Ooh I have a new wedding topic. The music list!

Now, all over the country prospective couples are arguing the toss over the inclusion of various tracks. Us too, now. I favour old school Madonna, the odd Killers track, a wee bit of Candi Staton and some trance.

Banned is Van Morrison (I loath brown eyed girl with a PASSION), anything with tiger feet in the title and no flippin’ Abba either.

And now we enter the dilemma of musical arrogance. What I like may not be what everyone else wants to dance to. Particularly as this is a mixed generation gathering (as is usually the case with nuptials).

But flip! This is a rare opportunity for me to listen to the exact music I love. Best not to waste it hmm?

The Very Sweet (and the Very Sticky)

This recipe makes tonnes (four boxes this size).

This recipe makes tonnes (four boxes this size).

Hen parties, diets, guest lists, menus, favours etc – all have been written about recently and I now find myself a teensy bit bored of the whole wedding shenanigans…

So, as Christmas is on its way, I decided to add in a recipe for Peanut Butter fudge. The fudge is super easy to make, but do cut it up into small pieces as it’s incredibly sweet and may make all of your fillings fall out. To appease your conscience, use Fairtrade sugar and organic ingredients…

Peanut Butter Fudge (gluten-free!)

Grease and line a baking tin with grease-proof paper and set aside. Melt the butter slowly in a thick-bottomed pan over a gentle heat, add the milk and sugar and continue to heat, stirring gently until all of the sugar has dissolved. (The mixture shouldn’t feel grainy at all.)

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and allow it to boil for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the peanut butter and mix together well. Sift the icing sugar into a mixing bowl and pour over the sugar and peanut butter mix. Beat together until thoroughly combined and pour into the prepared tin. Chill in the fridge until cold and then cut into very small cubes.

(For extra decadence, freeze the cubes for an hour and then dip in melted dark chocolate – use cocktail sticks to make life easier – and leave to set.)

A Tale of Two Topics

 

What 500 calories looks like...

What 500 calories looks like…

Today’s blog post focuses on guest lists (urgh) and an update on the 5:2 diet.

When we initially decided to get married, I wanted a very small wedding – close family only and then a party some time later for friends. Simple, non? But working out the logistics of organising two events defeated us and the wedding began to grow arms and legs.

Several months ago, we wrote up the guest list while under the influence of a wine or two. It took on the realms of fantasy – the world and his wife were coming to see me become a wife. My fiance stuck to the sensible, I was scribbling away happily adding the Power Plate guy (I felt I owed him for the stomach muscles I now possess), the people from the corner shop who keep me supplied in diet coke even though I don’t know their full names and several others I haven’t seen in decades.

Needless to say the list was scrapped…

I’d been putting off writing it again, even though I really love writing lists (to do lists feature daily in my life). Necessity has stepped in. The New Lanark Mill Hotel is pretty small and rooms are filling up already. Getting married on a Thursday means people will also need to book time off work.

Plus my sister has been organising my hen party (I’ve mentioned I’d like cheese, wine and possibly chocolate and cakes to be involved and left her to it. It kills me as I’m a bit of a control freak, but if you ask someone to do something for you, best to leave them to it. My sister hasn’t done this before and I think she is finding it quite exciting.) so she’s sent out invites for that. I haven’t yet asked people to save the date so time to face up to my fears of the guest list.

I’ve come to the conclusion that guest lists are easiest when they are either very small (family only) or very large (when you’re a millionaire, say). In between the small and the large is the hell of the ‘who can we cross off this list?’

We wrote them out separately and are excluding children, except for close family. It feels a bit mean, but our numbers are limited to 110 and my theory is that most children get bored at weddings anyway.

Like many people I went to a lot of weddings in my 20s and saw a lot of people marry that I now haven’t seen in at least 10 years. Therefore, I haven’t invited most of them. We’ve decided not to invite most of our cousins either. And we’re rather uncharitably hoping that our currently single friends remain so for the next six months…

And so on to the 5:2 diet! I’m one week into it. The idea is that you eat normally (roughly 2,000-2,500 calories a day) for five days a week and on two days a week you eat 500-600 calories a day. I’d read it described as the easiest and most difficult diet you can follow. Funnily enough, the fasting isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. The second day I did it I felt as if I had greater and sharper mental clarity, which is why fasting is so popular with yogis I suppose.

Cutting to the chase though, I’ve lost three pounds and my stomach feels much, much flatter. Blimey, you don’t get a lot of food for your 500 calories, though! I’ve done it by eating some fruit at lunchtime and then an evening meal and if you’re looking for ideas for low-calories meals, there are some nice ones here. If you’re looking for a great calorie counter try myfitnesspal which has a website and mobile app.

As Christmas and the inevitable over-indulgence rapidly approaches (write cards! Buy presents! Make food! Meet up with various people! Why oh why does December always catch me out?) I thought I’d stick to it for another week or so. Watch this space…