Category Archives: indulgent

Newness and Gingerbread Cookies

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New Year. New you? New resolutions? New beginnings? What is it that makes us so fond of newness? Newness is inherent. It is our very nature. Must we wait ‘til some arbitrary moment on a calendar to feel the newness of ourselves? Why no, for we are new in every moment. Each one now is not the same as the one just passed and you need not await the timing set by another to embrace alternative perspectives, take on dream-worthy challenges, experience life differently.

Life, as nature, has a rhythm. Allow yourself to feel your own rhythm and when you are ready to grow to move to fly, it might not be the new-year, it might not even be Spring. It may be the coldest depths of winter when that creative urge begins to stir within you. Heed that call. Dance to the tune of your inner calendar. It’s the only one that will guide you home. It’s the only one that will tell you just how old you are; whether it’s time to settle down or power forth with that creative vision you’ve submerged for so long.

For too long we have danced to the tune of common causes. Be it new year festivities or valentines day roses; be it the arduous mill of the corporate grind or the greasy rung of the mortgage ladder, be it legalizing love into the defined parameters of what society calls marriage or acquiring false security through such unreal notions as money.

Stop.

Go eat that sugar filled jam doughnut if you want to, even if it is the 2nd of January. Go hug a colleague even if every fibre in your fearful body tells you that it is entirely socially unacceptable. Go destroy a project you’ve been trying to complete with all guts and no heart. Whatever your tune is, sing it.

It is not a ‘new year’ for newness is all there is.  Enjoy celebrating this year, this day, this moment. Now.

I’ll leave you with this recipe for spelt gingerbread cookies. I’ve never cooked with spelt before :)

Spelt Gingerbread Cookies (adapted from www.mynewroots.org)

Ingredients: (makes 15 cookies)

350g whole spelt flour
¼ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
5 tbsp. coconut oil
70g dark brown muscavado sugar
½ cup date syrup
3 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Sift the dry ingredients together.

Melt the coconut oil and mix in the date syrup, applesauce, and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, and fold until it just comes together into a dough. Roll into a ball and wrap it into a plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Remove dough from the fridge, unwrap and place the dough between two pieces of baking paper and roll out to about 2mm thick. (I needed to lean into this quite hard). Remove top half of the paper and cut out desired shapes. Gently place on a lined baking sheet.

Place cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 7-10 minutes (depending on how chewy you like your cookies). Remove from oven and let cool… if you can resist!

We did it! Again.

11pm two nights before the wedding and we had undershot our 9pm target finish time by a mere two hours. Disposing of several kilos of fondant and wearing our ‘we hate fondant’ faces, tired and weary and slightly hysterical we battled with covering four cakes. This was day four in the week-long run up to the wedding. The preceding day Emma had made vast amounts of buttercream and the following and final day we were dowelling and decorating long after our willingness had gone to bed. Trials and tribulations of the past few weeks are too much a blur to recall here in detail but suffice it to say that more expletives uttered, hysterical laughter erupted and icing sugar coated moments were experienced in Emma’s apartment recently than ever before. After a rather seat-gripping nerve-wracking drive from London to Marlow with a four tier cake balanced in the back, the infamously muttered lines of ‘never again’ were repeated but I am sure like all declarations of good intent, we had said that the previous time. We really had been ambitious with this one. Each tier with distinct flavourings of chocolate, and white chocolate buttercream, lemon curd, and apricot jam (not to mention the finger-flavoured slice some poor guest must have eaten since somebody had poked a finger into the top tier. Grrr). In the end, it all ended well and the wedding was beautiful. Congratulations to you Renzo and Elsa and thank you so much for trusting us with the first cake slice of your wedded life.

 

 

Let’s. Slow. Down.

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I feel like I’m in this race. And I always lose. In fact, the harder I try, the more I feel like I’m failing. And my opponent, it taunts me… like some sneering element watching me struggle.

Time.

My so-called race against the clock is incessant and exhausting.

I am demanding of myself, yes. And come what may, there are certain things that find space in my schedule: fitness, and food. There are other things that ought to have priority in my schedule and don’t. I work hard and don’t play hard enough

I hereby declare that I am not playing that futile game of racing against time any more. I am officially slowing down and breathing space into my schedule, my priorities and my life.

Here is a recipe for braised cabbage, which, takes a lovely while to cook :)

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Cream Braised Green Cabbage

(recipe very slightly adapted from Orangette)

1 small green cabbage
3 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
160ml double cream

Wash and prepare your cabbage by pulling away and bruised leaves and trim off the end. Cut into quarters, and again (so you have wedges).

In a large pan, melt the butter over a medium heat and layer the cabbage wedges down so that they each have contact with the pan. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the bottom layer is nicely browned and starting to caramelize.

Turn each wedge over carefully. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and simmer gently for around 20 minutes.

Remove the lid, flip the wedges once more and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the cabbage is very tender. Shake the pan and simmer uncovered for a final 5minutes to thicken the cream to a glaze.

Keep the clock away. Serve immediately with salt to taste.

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Breakfast: Bacon Granola and Butternut Pancakes

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Yes I know. This is a ‘weekend breakfast’ kind of post. These days I am both leaving the house and returning to it with the moon and stars, the weekends and the weekdays are becoming indistinguishable; as my propensity to combine hours of work-time and play-time is becoming ever more distinguishable.

Hold up. Play-time? Amidst the hectic schedule of my daily life the extent of my play-time resides in the pleasure of messing around in the kitchen with ingredients: dustings of flour, spices and sugar, smears of butter and oil, shards of grated cocoa and nuts. This isn’t a bad way to spend play-time and admittedly it’s become something of a sacred space; my kitchen, the place to which I retreat when I’m not at the gym (my other sacred space).

This week I found myself experimenting with a recipe for pumpkin pancakes at 6am on Saturday when it was so dark outdoors that it felt more like a midnight snack than a pre-work breakfast. Admittedly the bacon granola was made on a Sunday, not least because Nigel Slater wrote that it’s a Sunday kind of breakfast. It really is.

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I decided to post both of these recipes not because they were life-changingly amazing nor because I’ve added either of them to my regular repertoire of weekend breakfasts but because they were unusual and because they characterise the joy of playing with ingredients. Oh, and because I promised my fabulous foodie-friend Paraskevi that I would. I can’t wait to hear how your own version goes Skevi! :)

And with these good morning recipes, I bid you goodnight. Happy playing.

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BACON GRANOLA

Recipe from Nigel Slater

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
40g butter
100g rolled oats
50g whole or flaked almonds
50 pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp hemp seeds
handful of dried cranberries
4 tbsp crème fraiche

Cut the bacon into small chunks and fry. Add butter to a shallow pan and tip in all ingredients except crème fraiche and bacon. Leave to warm over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally. When the oats are golden and smell warm and sweet, add in the bacon. Tip the whole lot into a bowl and stir the crème fraiche lightly through.

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH BREAKFAST PANCAKES W PECANS

135g butternut squash puree*
2 eggs
½ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground ginger
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ cup wholewheat flour
coconut oil for frying

Greek yogurt, maple syrup and pecan nuts to serve

Stir all the pancake ingredients together. Heat a tbsp of coconut oil in a pan and add a heaped tbsp. of batter. I found that in order to cook through I spread the mix out thinly. Once golden brown underneath, flip and cook the other side.

*cut in half and roast a whole butternut squash. Once cooked through til soft, wait for the squash to cool and peel off the skin. Scrape the flesh into a food processor and add 2 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tbsp lemon, 2 tbsp brown sugar. Blend. Add contents to a pan and simmer gently for 20mins until the sauce thickens. Cool and store in a jar (for pancakes, or spreading on toast, or simply spooning straight into one’s mouth)!

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3 ways with apples

Lets continue with the three-ways theme shall we?

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This week I have been harvesting (and by harvesting I mean picking up the fallen apples from the tree as I come home from work) all the apples from the tree in my garden (yes I’m lucky enough to have a garden, for now). So many apples and only so many apple pies one can eat (ahem).

Since Christmas is just around the corner (don’t worry you too can bury your sweet ostrich head back in the sand as soon as you’ve read this post), I figured some apple chutney stored in jars and ready to give away as gifts wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Next I made a paleo vegan gluten free sugar free apple pie, and then some sugary buttery apple cookies. My diet, as my life, may be full of apparent conflicts and contradictions but in the end it always boils down to the maximisation of pleasure…

Roasted garlic and apple chutney

(recipe adaptation from Abel and Cole)

1.5kg apples, peeled cored and roughly chopped
1 whole bulb garlic
3 large onions, peeled, chopped into chunks
2 handfuls raisins
1 mug organic apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp salt
1/2 mug brown sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 190C.  Slice the top off the garlic bulb so that you can just see the flesh of the garlic cloves through the skin. Put into the oven and leave to roast for 40mins.

In the meantime put all of the remaining ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir and bring down to a simmer.

Once the garlic is roasted, squeeze the bulbs out of the skin and into the saucepan.  Continue to let the chutney simmer for about 1.5 hours until it reaches a thick porridge-like consistency.

Cool and spoon into sterilised jars, saving for Christmas!

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Apple pie (paleo-vegan)

For the crust:
300g raw cashews
200g pitted dates
140g brown rice flour
40g gluten free oats
2-8 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of malden salt

For the filling
4 apples
200g pitted dates
juice from ½ lemon
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cloves
Pre-heat oven to 200C.

Make crust: place all the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a fine flour. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Place the dates, vanilla nd 2 tbsp of water in the processor and run until you have a complete smooth a creamy mixture. Scrape down the sides and add more water if necessary. Scoop this into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mx together using your hands. The dough should eventually be firm enough to form into a ball.

Split the dough ball into two. Roll one half out and press it down into a pie pan lined with parchment paper. Prick the crust and place in the oven to pre-bake for ten minutes.

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Make filling: slice apples into wedges. Blend dates, lemon, vanilla and spices in the processor. Mix in with the apples. Press the mixture into the pre-baked crust.

Roll out the other half of the dough and place over the pie dish. Press the edges down and cut four slits in the centre of the pie.

Bake for 30-40mins until the crust has browned a deep golden.

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Apple Cookies

40g softened butter
130g light brown sugar
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
125g wholewheat organic flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
handful of nuts (walnuts or pecans)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Yields 10 cookies, if you don’t eat the mixture.

Set the oven to 350F.

Cream the sugar and butter. Next mix in the egg and then the grated apple and the vanilla. Don’t eat the raw mixture.

In a separate bowl mix together the flour, cinnamon, salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones and mix together. Fold in the nuts. Don’t eat the raw mixture.

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Dollop about a tablespoon of cookie batter onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper leaving at least an inch of space in between the cookies. Cook for 15-20 mins until the cookies are golden across the top.

As soon as they emerge from the oven, sprinkle some more brown sugar and cinnamon mix across the top.

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3 ways with courgettes

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I have lots of cousins and lots courgettes in my refrigerator. The cousins aren’t in my refrigerator of course, the courgettes are. Both are equally vocal. The cousins communicating all manner of things from encouraging and engaging to teasing and tantrums. The courgettes are calling for me to cook them. I guess that so many of my courgettes have been eaten thinly sliced and tossed raw into salads that it’s a fair request. When I didn’t know what to do with the amount of courgette amassing in my fridge I turned to Deb Perelmen’s plethora of recipes for I knew she would have some fun things to do with the vegetable. And fun things she did have. So I hereby give you three of my favourite things to do with courgettes: The aforementioned courgette salad that I have been eating all too frequently through summer, courgette fritters and courgette bread (which we all know is actually cake but I’m sticking with calling it bread. It sounds healthier).

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Speaking of healthy (and cousins); my cousin Daksha having taken a renewed approach to health and fitness (and how very proud of her I am for doing so) had been asking me for the recipe for courgette fritters. I had promised her a recipe post, oh I don’t know, about… a month ago. Every week since I have been thinking “yep, I’ll do that at the weekend”, and then Sunday comes and goes and suddenly Monday is upon me and I’m in the middle of this chaos called daily life yearning for the weekend again. What, how?! As my aunt pointed out this could have something to do with the hours I while away experimenting with recipes in the kitchen but I’m sticking with the story of my own personal time warp. Kind of like right now. Sunday night. Tick tock…

Courgette salad

Ingredients
1 medium sized courgette
1 tbsp  olive oil
handful of pine nuts
1 tbsp pesto
squeeze of fresh lemon

Using a vegetable peeler (or a mandolin if you are lucky enough to have one of those), top and tail the courgette and thinly slice until you have ribbons of it on the plate. Squeeze over some fresh lemon, and spoon through the olive oil, pesto and pine nuts. Simples.

I often eat this on it’s own although I have on occasion mixed it through some pasta and melted feta. That’s pretty awesome too.

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Courgette fritters

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients
1 large courgette
1 egg
½ cup buckwheat (or normal flour)
half an onion, sautéed (optional)
seasoning
oil for cooking (I prefer coconut oil here)

Grate the courgette and season with salt. Leave to sit for ten minutes.

Squeeze the water from the vegetable either by wringing it through a cloth, or pressing it hard into a sieve until all the liquid has been drained. It’s the less-fun part of the process but you’ll be thankful you did it otherwise you’ll end up with soggy courgette fritters and no-one wants that.

Put the grated, squeezed courgette into a bowl and add the egg and half cup of flour plus some salt and pepper. Mix it all together.

If using onions (they do add texture and flavour to the fritters), sauté them in a little oil until translucent and soft. Add them to the mix.

Dollop a little of the mixture into a pan of hot oil and fry until the underside of the fritters are brown. Flip and cook the other side.

I love these served with home made mayonnaise.

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Courgette Bread (Cake)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients (yields two loaves)
3 eggs
200ml olive oil
220g sugar
350g grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla extract
420g wholegrain flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp teaspoon nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp salt
Optional extras: handful of chopped walnuts or pecans or raisins or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 6x11inch loaf pan, liberally.

Beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil, sugar, courgette and vanilla.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, as well as any optional extras (nuts, chocolate chips raisins, if using). Stir this into the egg mixture. Divide the batter into the loaf tin.

Bake loaves for about an hour or until golden on top and an inserted knife comes out clean.

Share with cousins :)

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Project Wedding Cake – success!

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I am posting this amidst the Sunday morning soporific effect of post-wedding success. Accomplishments so far today: hauled self out of bed. Picked blackberries and apples from the garden and eaten copious amounts of both.

I don’t suppose you want to hear about yet more buttercream; lord knows I don’t. I have recently made enough of it to fuel an entire village of people for a month. Yet, having been elbow deep in vast quantities of butter and sugar for what seems like an eternity, the keyboard is a welcome respite from the perils of kitchen spoon-licking. So, you’re going to hear about the project. Again. Lucky you.

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Did I mention that I had roped Emma (and her wonderful kitchenaid) into project wedding cake? I had. So Thursday evening at the office we were both itching to get going. Part excitement because we are the kind of people who get excited about fooling around with ingredients and kitchen tools, and part nervousness about the magnitude of the cake task that lay ahead – the making of it and the transporting of it to the wedding venue. I was already somewhat wary following Emma’s stern warnings “there will be no licking of the buttercream bowls”. I’ll say no more about that.

The entire evening, we weighed, measured, sieved, levelled, softened, heated, whisked, whipped, dowelled, chilled, coated, piped, and panicked (only slightly… okay a lot, but wouldn’t you if the cake suddenly started sliding en-route and was about to fall into the driver’s lap?!). In all honesty the transportation of 10kgs of decorated wedding cake was the most stressful part of the evening. The rest was a lot of fun. My personal favourite was the 2kgs of icing sugar forming a haze of sweet white cloud across the kitchen surfaces and in the air such that we were at one point inhaling sugar. I may as well have been in heaven.

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From the heights of sugar heaven into the depths of the venue’s beer cellars is where we ended up; covering up the hand-prints in the side of the cake (a result of my having saved it from splattered oblivion whilst driving along the A214 towards Chelsea). At 10:30pm we left the cake sitting comfortably in the coolness of the cellars at the wedding venue exhausted but fuelled by the thrill of feeling proud, surprised and relieved.

The penultimate part of the project was excusing myself from bridesmaid duties to run to the venue to add the fresh flowers onto the cake. The flowers were an exact match of the bride’s bouquet. Great. The flowers were arranged in a manner that I did not know how to decorate a cake with them. Not so great. (Heck I have never decorated a cake with flowers, what am I talking about?). I ended up dismantling the arrangement (sorry, dear florist) and doing what I do best: making it up. It worked. I think.

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The real judges were the wedding guests. And so came the final part of the project: the cutting and serving of the cake. It was a success. When people began asking me whether cake making was my profession, I knew my job was one well done. Thank you Pauline for trusting me with your wedding cake. Thank you Emma for helping me with the project whilst allowing me to take full credit.

For now I think I’ll stick with writing….

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Buttercream baby, let’s talk

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It’s getting creamy in here. And not in a good way. Let’s re-cap: yesterday we spoke flour, butter and sugar. I finally faced the challenging truth that I am in fact, baking a wedding cake and that despite my numerous attempts at denial, the magnitude of the project was beginning to dawn on me.

I did say that today I was going trial a different cake. I didn’t. Even my own very persistent inner perfectionist fatigued itself this weekend. In the end (the end being around 2am), I decided that the chocolate cake was delicious and also intense enough to hold the sweetness of the white chocolate filling. I will work out how to use the dowels next weekend. For now, let’s focus on making everything look pretty.

So today we’re speaking sugar, butter and white chocolate as we face filling, frosting and piping.

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For the filling I have decided to go with a classic recipe for white chocolate buttercream and fold frozen raspberries into the mix – which will look beautiful when the cake is sliced. The recipe and the process proved easy. This one is a winner.

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For the frosting I’m going with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. In the end I decided that Swiss buttercream would be more forgiving as a frosting than any other cover and I needed something not too sweet. I took the advice of several bakers; whipped, whipped and kept on whipping right through my panic until the mix resembled something like frosting. It was a magical moment when it did.

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For the piping and decoration I am keeping it simple. I will admit on this blog that I haven’t so much as touched a piping bag before (did I mention I googled ‘how to attach piping nozzle to bag’?). I’ll say no more.

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So a whole three days into my long weekend I now have an enormous 10 inch, 5kg cake in the refrigerator that I will need to carry on my commute in the morning. I hope my colleagues are hungry. Forget weight training at the gym tomorrow, I’ll just run on the treadmill for hours ‘til I burn off the calories of sugar that I did (not) eat.

Recipes (and lessons learned) below.

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White Chocolate Raspberry Buttercream Filling

I took a classic recipe for white chocolate buttercream from Good Housekeeping magazine. It’s a very sweet recipe and ought to offset the density of the chocolate cake.

The quantities provided below covered ½ cm layer of a 10inch cake. I intend to double or triple for the actual event.

Ingredients
175g white chocolate
250g unsalted butter, softened
500g icing sugar
3 tbsp milk
handful frozen raspberries

1. Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over pan of simmering water. Remove when smooth, and set aside to cool for ten minutes.

2. Put the softened butter into a large bowl and sift over the icing sugar. Starting slowly, beat together until fluffy and combined. Beat in cooled white chocolate and milk.

3. Set aside and fold in the frozen raspberries when ready to use.

Swiss Buttercream

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen/ Wedding Cake Genius

Ingredients (to cover a 10inch cake)
227g caster sugar
4 large egg whites
340g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Whisk egg whites and sugar in a large metal bowl over a pot of simmering water until you can no longer feel sugar the granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

2. Transfer to the mixer and whip until it turns white and approximately doubles in size. Add the vanilla.

3. Finally, add the butter a little at a time and whip, whip, whip. Here I quote Smitten Kitchen “do not have a panic attack as this takes a while to come together”.

So. Lessons learned:

Decorating the cakes is easier when they are frozen or very cold.

Moving the cakes from one surface to another is not easy whichever way you look at it. I have yet to address the problem of how I am going to transport them from my home to the venue (and whether assembly of tiers should take place here or on site). Any volunteers?

Make way more white chocolate buttercream filling and Swiss buttercream frosting than anticipated (note this is most definitely not because I ate some (a lot) along the way).

Don’t panic.

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I do…

…. Wish I were not freaking out about making my friend’s wedding cake.

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No, that was not a typo and yes I am making a wedding cake. Like, a real one. Yeah.

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I hadn’t shared that small piece of (big-deal) information here on this blog space in the secret hope that if I kept quiet it would either a) go away or b) the cake fairy might visit. Much like my other commitments in life, it didn’t go away. And the cake fairies are nowhere to be seen.

So I hereby declare this relationship with cake baking, official. And, we’ve had our first fight already. I won’t lie. It got pretty messy. My shirt is covered in more flour, butter and chocolate than my kitchen floor, my sink is piled with more dishes than I can see over the top of, and the number of expletives I’ve uttered means that my mouth needs cleaning even more than the kitchen sink.

And so far all we have is one very imperfect ten inch dense round chocolate cake base. Let’s not even talk about white chocolate raspberry buttercream filling and the oh-so-trivial issue of making perfect Swiss buttercream frosting and using cooking tools hitherto unheard of on this blog. Dare I say I am actually embarrassed that for someone who professes some degree of prowess in the kitchen, my baking skills are leaving much to be desired.

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So. What else was there to do but to retreat here, to this space (with a spoonful of raw chocolate mix in my hand. Eating my emotions? Me? Never…..).

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Pauline. If you are reading this, do not worry. I have an entire week to calm myself down and talk myself up to trial round two. You shall not have a cakeless wedding. It will be fine. I promise. I do.

Gulp.

Here is the the one I’ve trialled. Am attempting another one this afternoon and will report back. I promise not to eat raw cake mix (much).

Dense Chocolate Cake (recipe from Good Housekeeping, for one 10inch cake)

350g butter, chopped
350g dark chocolate
275ml milk
375g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
60g cocoa powder
750g caster sugar
6 medium eggs
250ml sour cream

1. Pre-heat oven to 160C (140C fan) mark3. Grease and line a 10inch round cake tin. Put butter, chocolate and milk into a pan and gently melt until smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a bowl and stir in sugar. In a separate jug mix together the eggs and sour cream. Pour both the chocolate and egg mixtures into the flour bowl and whisk until well combined.

3. Pour cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the tin.

[note, when I did this, I hadn't used wet strips and so the cake needs levelling in order to use it for my layers. also, the core is still slightly fudgey; use a heating core? still contemplating this]….

 

 

 

Oh the places you’ll go…

 

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My social media footprints (twitter and instagram and travelblog) will reveal that I went to Italy and to Hungary in July and although it’s now August, it still feels like July so that excuses my tardiness. Doesn’t it?

Those two short weekend trips in the space of a month were more than just much needed respite from a hectic schedule, and much more than the sum of their parts; four days away to indulge in my own company and that of good friends; time to let the sun soak into my skin and thaw the tension of everyday life; space to wander think and be; food to fuel my appetite and culinary imagination…. Those four days were freeing in a way that only travel can be. I had forgotten that.

Let’s backtrack a little. Some years ago, weary of working life and feeling directionless in my early adulthood I packed a bag and travelled around the world on my own. Seven months later I returned to the UK craving companionship and tired of travelling. I hadn’t since granted myself the gift of solo travel and time… until now. Reconnecting with oneself is such a vital component of an expressive and fulfilling journey through life.

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Of course the journey was as much an epicurean one as a personal one. I will unashamedly share in this space that I visited the beautiful city of Florence and saw not a single museum, learned not any historical fact, marvelled at none of the great buildings, nor admired any of the art galleries. Even Michaelangelo’s David went amiss. Instead, Emma and I went on a culinary pilgrimage to find the city’s finest gelato (we happened to stumble upon the Duomo en route) (oh, and it’s toasted black sesame at Vivoli’s in case you’re wondering), to indulge in the most mouth watering pizza, to practically pray to the food gods for the divine taste of fresh porcini, to taste tiramisu and sweet creamy pastries, to frequent the food markets and to carry as much balsamic vinegar and olive oil home as is possible in economy class hand luggage. Oh my gosh did I mention I had a “DinnerSheWrote” apron made?! (see picture below). This for me is Italy, this is the beauty of being passionate, this is art of falling in love. For in Italy, food and love are synonymous.

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Following the Italian food excursion, I flew to Budapest, Hungary. This time to meet another friend, to explore a new city and to fill the pages of my journal. Needless to say food featured highly in this trip too; I ate the most divine salad with Hungarian mangalian ham I have ever tasted, I ate chicken pancake (which I’m sure sounds way more exotic and menu worthy in Hungarian) and drank my fill of sweet sweet tokaji wine. The breathtaking views of the Danube down at river level or up on the hilltop perhaps stamp Budapest as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

I am ever grateful for the experiences of travel, for the friends that find me, and for the exciting culinary journey my life is.

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No recipes today, just fuel for your imagination.