Finishing books and making cakes

This week I’ve…

a golf-themed birthday cake made by Emma BairdMade cakes! The man in my life turned 50 this week, so I made him a golf themed cake—mainly because the decoration didn’t seem too complicated. Green icing*, a golf figurine and some golf ball wafers equals job done.

I’m not a talented baker. It requires precision whereas my first instinct when I look at any recipe is to wonder what would happen if I switch one ingredient for another and double up the cheese quantity specified.

Cake tins

Then there’s that whole cake tin thing, where every single recipe for cake appears to use a different-sized tin. True. Do proper bakers have room in their kitchens for a dedicated cake tin cupboard stacked from top to bottom with tins of varying sizes? Luckily, I found this handy conversion calculator on CakeBaker which gives you ingredient quantities for your size of tin.

I made a Madeira cake as that’s one recommendation for celebration cakes—sturdy and minimal crumble, apparently. The filling inside is home-made lemon curd (see this super easy microwave recipe here) and the cake’s iced with lemon butter cream and topped with green fondant paste.

Taking to the hills

Did my first trail run. Pounding the pavements can get awfy boring after a while, so I ventured up into the hills behind my house this week. It’s seriously hilly, but the deal was I could walk in places just like proper trail runners do. Another added bonus is that you don’t take in lungfuls of exhaust fumes.

Trail running is supposed to benefit your training regime as you use different muscles and it gives your brain more of a challenge as you tackle varying terrain.

Moved out of my comfort zone. On my list of ‘to do’s’ this year was to do a book event. As an introvert, I prefer hiding behind my laptop when book promoting. The arguments in favour include the ability to reach far more people and it’s much less time consuming/a better return on investment. Nevertheless, you don’t grow as a human unless you venture out of the places you find safe, so I approached my local library and asked if they’d be willing to run a Q&A event where I and another writer talk about our books, our writing processes and self-publishing.

And they said… YES.

Times and dates are still to be confirmed, but the event will take place during Scottish Book Week, 19-25th November. Yike-sy. More details to follow.

Beautiful biters

beautiful biters Finished a book—or the first draft of it, anyway. I’ve finally written ‘THE END’ (among the world’s most satisfying sentences to write) of Beautiful Biters. It started life as Beauty and the Vampires and then got a name change half-way through. It’s a story about a 16-year-old living side by side with vampires and doing make-up tutorials for them on YouTube as I wanted to give it a modern feel.

Now my least favourite part of writing begins; the rewriting bit. Ker-ist. I’d rather pluck my own eyeballs out. Or start another story so Beautiful Biters can meet the fate of all my other books—rusting away, forgotten and neglected, in the back of my hard drive.

Ate delicious Indian food. Sandy and I went out with his family to celebrate his half-century. The Dining Room is a local restaurant you’d be within your rights to describe as a “wee gem”. It’s tiny, so we were the biggest party in there and everyone joined in when we sang Happy Birthday. My go-to with Indian restaurants is saag paneer and Tarka dhal. Indian and Pakistani cuisines do amazing things to vegetables, and make the prospect of full-time vegetarianism do-able.

Tomorrow, to continue the birthday celebrations, we’re off to Edinburgh to see Brexit and eat in Sylvester’s. As it’s August, the place will be heaving. Unfortunately, I booked this excursion before realising the Scottish Premiership season starts this weekend and Rangers FC is to play Aberdeen on Sunday. I married a fervent footie fan and I fear my wee surprise won’t be greeted enthusiastically…

Ah well!

What highlights has your week brought? And what’s your favourite dish in an Indian restaurant?

*I say ‘not complicated’ but the air around me turned blue as I tried to fit that f*****g fondant paste on the cake.

Cakes, Sausages and Quality Street: You Know it Makes Sense

If I knew you were coming, I'd a baked a cake, baked a cake

If I knew you were coming, I’d a baked a cake, baked a cake

Granted that most of us in the developed world eat for many reasons – few of which are hunger and the necessity of refuelling with nutrient-dense food – my family decided to use food as the basis of celebration and remembrance today.

My nephew came up with the idea of a ‘grandpa’ foods day, as today is the third anniversary of my dad’s death. I suspect that the motivation behind ‘grandpa’ foods day may have been the idea that it was a licence to eat Dairy Milk chocolate all day. My nephew is eight after all. Nonetheless, a meal which showcased all of my dad’s favourite foods was greeted enthusiastically by everyone, including those of us considerably longer in the tooth than eight years old.

The menu was thus:

My own contribution was the Coffee and Walnut Cake. Here’s the recipe:

  • 225g Stork margarine*
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 75g walnuts, chopped finely (the Pampered Chef vegetable chopper makes this really easy)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 50ml boiling water and allowed to cool

ICING:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 2tbsp boiling water and allowed to cool.
  • 8 walnut halves

1 x 20cm loose-bottomed square cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the margarine and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for five minutes. Add a tbsp of the flour and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can add in one or two extra tbsps of flour to make this easier. Add the vanilla extract, the cooled coffee and the flour and mix well to combine. Add the finely chopped walnuts and mix with a wooden spoon until distributed equally throughout.

Spoon into the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes (if you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean). Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, until turning out onto a wire rack and leaving to cool thoroughly.

For the icing, cream together the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar for five minutes and then add the cooled coffee mixture. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Ice the sides and top of the cake and decorate with the walnut halves. Serves 12-14.

 

*I know, I know – purists would favour unsalted butter (preferably organic, preferably from grass-fed animals) but Stork is the baker’s secret. Light cakes every time! Don’t you reckon?

Words Vs Cake: Cake Wins

 

Delia Smith's Sachertorte - yum...

Delia Smith’s Sachertorte – yum…

Post wedding I need other topics to write about (*sighs*) so I decided to make my blog about cooking and writing.

Should the two pair together you ask? Writers, I believe from a quick straw polls of friends, are the kings and queens of procrastination… They have turned it into an art form and cooking is the ideal tool for procrastinators.

Picture the scene. You sit in front of your screen staring at the blank document in front of you. You stare into space for five minutes or so. You write 15 words. You re-read them. You discard them as utter, banal rubbish, highlight them and delete. Repeat ad nauseum.

Picture the scene two. You do all of the above, but after the 15th time of staring into space, you think to yourself: “Aha! My partner/family/friends/cat has always hankered after a home-made pork pie, one that needs many ingredients, complicated pastry techniques, tricky meat jelly developments and HOURS AND HOURS in the kitchen.”

As a writer, you abandon your screen with joy. “Hooray!” you say to yourself. “My partner/family/friends/cat need me to create said, complicated home-made pork pie. The demanding so-and so’s! I must jump to it and get myself into the kitchen ASAP. This could take DAYS.”

Do you see then the natural affinity that writing has with cooking? Baking seems to be a particular favourite. In theory as the writer cum baker allows their home-made pastry to rest in the fridge, a good 500 words or so could be bashed out while waiting.

I think not. The baker cum writer hovers by the fridge, tidies the kitchen surfaces so that said pastry can be rolled out and does a quick check of friends’ social media updates.

Which leads me neatly to complex recipes. I have scoured the internet for the complicated, the multi-ingrediented, the tough of task and the time consuming. Here they are (writers you can thank me later):

Macaroons
Sachertorte
Millionaire’s shortbread (well, of course I’m going to reference my own recipe)
Gravadalax
Christmas cake 
Swiss roll

 

Lordie… January Blues…

Image

Doing double time on the detox – cakes and wine are playing a much less significant role in my life these days, money spending is at a minimum (I’ve got a wedding to pay for, for heaven’s sake!) and, as I’ve been fairly organised so far, I can’t even write any more lists for said wedding.

Dull, dull double dull!

So, post-work I’m forced to find other ways to entertain myself, such as tidying up the kitchen cupboards. Most of it was tedious, but the ordering of the baking cupboard was joyful and it is now a thing of beauty, which leads me neatly on to another top ten list (thank you Lesley Carter) – the baking essentials:

  1. Digital scales for precise measuring

  2. Cup measures so you can easily use American recipes as well as British ones

  3. Vanilla extract/paste for delicious flavouring

  4. 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate (so many lovely things to create with it)

  5. A good, solid mixing bowl

  6. Condensed milk (see dark chocolate above)

  7. Soft brown sugar

  8. Icing sugar

  9. Stork margarine – use half and half with unsalted butter for lusciously light cakes

  10. ANYTHING from Lakeland.