Baking Catch-up: Love Biscuits & Fail Cake

Blimey. What a crazy 3 weeks it’s been. First of all I was gonna move house, then I wasn’t, then I was, now I’m… not sure exactly. My estate agents are all lovely, competent people who are so helpful and efficient, and if you detected sarcasm in that sentence then that’s nothing to do with me :)

The other pretty exciting thing is that a very talented and lovely photographer has asked to do a project on me. I feel like a celebrity! Being the only Muslim in a little rural village is pretty unusual I guess.

But I mention this as it is actually where the first baking subject of this post comes in.

The photographer was fascinated with the story of me and my husband, who’s currently in Egypt. As she was going to Cairo to visit her father, she asked if she could also visit my husband and take a few snaps as part of the project. We said yes, and I couldn’t miss this opportunity to pass something into the hands of my dear husband.

What gift could I possibly give that would convey all the love, emotion, passion and desperation of living 2211 miles away from him? What heartfelt token would tell him that his wife is missing, loving, and thinking of him across this unbearable distance?

Why, biscuits, of course!

I decided that it was something personal, something I could put a lot of effort into, and something light for my photographer friend to actually carry in her luggage. My husband was thrilled.

The inscriptions are a combination of Arabic, Arabic written in English letters, and some little secret codes that my husband and I use when we talk. The others are just pretty (or attempting to be so).

They’re nowhere near perfect but it’s actually the first time I’ve ever done any piping or decoration work. Seeing as I basically have a degree in drawing (Illustration to be precise), it really bugs me that I can’t use my drawing skills to actually make money. So, my plan: pipe like crazy until I can get as good at it as I am with drawing, then try and sell a few cakes locally.

FYI, this is my drawing:

My theory is, if I can do that with a pencil, I can do it with a piping nozzle! I just need a ton more practise.

That’s my husband by the way. He’s so bootiful.

My final baking catch-up of this post is my disastrous birthday cake.

For my darling mother’s 64th birthday, I decided to do the most extravagant cake I could handle: a 3-layer Victoria sponge, filled with strawberries, whipped cream, and strawberry jam, and covered with a tasty buttercream icing that included real cream and a hint of vanilla (synthetic of course). I’m going to ignore self-complimenting etiquette and tell you that it is one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever eaten. It’s amazing.

Unfortunately you can’t tell that by looking at it.

First of all, the decoration. My intentions were good. I created a make-shift turn table from our family’s rotating Scrabble stand. It worked pretty well and I was able to make the cake reasonably smooth, but then time ran out. We were meeting the rest of the family at the beach for a birthday picnic (which explains the sprinkling of dirty sand in the picture), and I ended up with about 3 minutes to write the icing. Hence the squiggly, lopsided mess on top.

I am actually really happy that the cake slid around and attached itself to the lid, as I feel the gaping holes detract from my lack of skilz. It also made me glad that I didn’t make the cake any better than it was, or I would have been pretty gutted that it got partly destroyed.

Well, that’s caught up with the major baking episodes during my 3 week hiatus. I shall hopefully be updating more regularly again now, as I have the intention of piping as much as possible, have a fantastic new camera, and (fingers crossed) no sudden plans of moving house. Belhana welshafa!


Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Cakes, Cookies


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Cranberry & Pine Nut Biscotti

Unfortunately, all my recent baking attempts have been disastrous and not fit for print. I made cinnamon swirls that burnt instantly to a crisp, and a carrot cake with a frosting like slightly sweetened glue. I will attempt both again, but for now I’m posting my one success: Cranberry & Pine Nut Biscotti. As biscotti is supposed to be crisp, and requires no frosting, I quite rightly thought I had a pretty good chance at this not being another shambles.

The flavour is quite unusual, it’s not particularly sweet but the combination of the pine nuts and cranberries is really tasty. The allspice gives it a really interesting kick. Because it’s not very sweet it’s definitely something to have with a nice coffee or hot chocolate rather than as a dessert (as biscotti is traditionally used). This recipe is taken from the book Frame-By-Frame Baking.

Cranberry & Pine Nut Biscotti

Cranberry & Pine Nut Biscotti
Makes 18-20

140g plain flour
85g light muscovado sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground allspice
55g dried cranberries
55g pine nuts, toasted
butter or oil for greasing

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas Mark 4, and grease a baking sheet.

2. Whisk the sugar and the egg until it’s pale and thickened a little.

3. Sift the flour, baking powder and allspice into a separate bowl, then fold into the mixture.

4. Add the cranberries and pine nuts and mix gently.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a long roll, about 28cm/11in long.

6. Transfer the roll onto the baking sheet, press to flatten slightly, and pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden.

7. Cool for a few minutes, then cut into 1.5cm thick slices, and lay the slices sideways on the baking sheet. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

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Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Cookies


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Whoopie Pies

Something that sucks more than words can possibly describe: living 2211 miles away from my hubby. I bring this up now because this week we had a couple of set-backs in the visa preparation. Not huge things, thank God, but things that mean instead of being able to apply in a couple of weeks, it’s gonna be a couple of months.

But that’s fine. I’ve waited 2 years, I can wait 2 more months (God give me STRENGTH). But it did mean I needed a pick-me-up. The best pick-me-up? Baking anything with chocolate in it.

I couple of weeks ago I came across this intriguing post (includes recipe). Whoopie pies don’t seem to exist in the UK (maybe in foodie circles…), but the name alone made me want to try them. They were chocolatey, and they were exotic and uplifting; they were perfect for my needs.

I had never baked from a fully American recipe before (that is, only “translated” ones), but as I was armed with a new set of measuring cups, I had nothing to stop me.

Whoopie Pies

This is honestly the most flattering picture I could get of them. They were on the verge of being a complete disaster (I accidentally melted the veggie shortening I used in the filling = whoopie pies that don’t stick together), but the TASTE… I don’t understand it, but they were more delicious than a cake and more delicious than a cookie, even though they were neither of those things. I’m addicted (although I eat them cut in half, as they are incredibly sweet).

Why has no one ever told me about these before??? (Coincidentally, the same day I made these was also the same day I tried a fajita for the first time ever, and I also can’t believe no one ever told me how delicious they are either… I feel deprived).

It also opened my eyes to the joy of American recipes. I never quite understood using cups as a unit of measurement, but it’s genius. Instead of having to weigh out 100g of flour with a scale, then get a measuring jug to pour out 100ml of milk (for example), you can just measure out both with a cup. It’s fantastic and I’m honestly amazed.

They really did cheer me up and it proved to me there’s pretty much hardly any situation that I can’t recover from by doing some baking!


Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Cakes, Cookies


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Pretty Healthy Banana Loaf

This week I have been a bit unwell = lots of knitting and baking. I have been experimenting a lot with healthy recipes, however the unrivalled disaster of my lemon shortbread (basically pieces of slightly lemony cardboard) has made me crave a nice, puffy, sweet cake.

But I still wanted to be careful with my sugar, so I mixed a high-sugar recipe with a low-fat recipe, and this is the result. It’s not ultra healthy, but it’s not mega bad either.

Banana Loaf

My camera is pretty rubbish… the sides weren’t quite that black, honestly!


Banana Loaf

200g plain flour (or 150g plain flour with 50g wholemeal flour, and save the bran from when you sieve the flour to sprinkle on the top before baking)
100g golden caster sugar
3 tbsp softened butter
3 tbsp apple sauce or puree*
3 bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp salt

*If you want to make your puree before baking, here is a quick recipe. Peel, core and dice 2 apples (I used dessert apples for extra sweetness) and place in a saucepan with 4 tbsp water, 75g sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Cook the apples over a medium heat until soft and mash them lightly. Allow to cool before using.

1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas Mark 4 and lightly grease a 20x10cm (8x4in) loaf tin.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugar, then add the apple sauce/puree and mix again. Lightly beat the eggs and the vanilla essence in a cup, then add to the butter mixture and give it another good mix. Stir in the mashed bananas.

3. Sieve the flour with the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon into a separate bowl, then gently fold into the wet mixture. Be careful not to over-mix it.

4. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and sprinkle with the bran if you have it. Pop in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until it’s springy and a skewer comes out clean(ish).

Belhana welshafa, happy eating!


Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Cakes


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Apricot & Walnut Oat Cookies

After years of baking and eating every type of delicious treat I could, my relationship with sugar has recently changed quite drastically. I have never been able to diet (daily menus fill me with horror), but about 2 months ago, after putting on a whole stone in just a few weeks, I realised something had to change. I became fascinated by the GI diet.

I never, ever, ever thought I would be able to cut down on sugar or chocolate. I loved chocolate and it made me happy; the end. Then my mum bought a book that changed my whole relationship to food: The Ultimate Book of Diabetic Cooking by Bridget Jones.

This book explained the body’s reaction to sugar in a way I never understood before, and one line in particular stuck in my head and ultimately kicked my chocolate addiction: “get used to the idea of ‘sweet’ being the natural level of sugar in fruit”. Think of a juicy apricot as being the maximum level of natural sweetness – doesn’t chocolate then seem too artificially sweet?

It blew my mind! Suddenly I wasn’t a slave to my cravings anymore. A big huge slab of chocolate cake lost its appeal – it was sickly instead of tasty. Even better, a little while after I started this new way of thinking, my sugar intake was reduced, and my sensitivity to sugar was heightened. It might not sound like a great thing, but for someone previously addicted to sugar, to actually feel unwell when I had sugar was a huge blessing! When I do have too much sugar, I now really feel ill and shaky – so I dance furiously on Just Dance 2, or go for a fast walk around the village to burn it off, and then I feel back to normal.

My blood sugar is now much steadier, and the greatest thing about this is that for some reason it has greatly reduced my appetite. I don’t get starving, ravenously hungry anymore, so I’m eating less and losing weight. It’s fantastic!

However, unless you want to, I am really not advocating just banning cake and chocolate. Food should be full of pleasure and I don’t like the idea of cake being “forbidden”. I still have dessert every time I go out to eat, and I still bake. It’s just for someone like me, to get this upper hand on my appetite is a huge deal.

So, it’s in the spirit of this new mentality that I’m posting Apricot and Walnut Oat Cookies, taken from the abovementioned Ultimate Book of Diabetic Cooking. The idea behind the cake and cookie recipes in this book is that if you can still have a treat, but have it include more fibre and less raw sugar, then your blood sugar levels are going to thank you for it. It also ties into the whole GI thing, which means if you do have something that’s high GI (like apricots) with something that’s low GI (like oats), then the overall effect of the sugar is diminished (because the oats are full of fibre, which slows down the digestion process and regulates blood glucose). Plus, they are REALLY tasty.

Apricot & Walnut Oat Cookies

Apricot & Walnut Oat Cookies
Makes 9

115g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2 tbsp orange juice
115g self-raising flour, sifted
115g rolled oats
75g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

for the topping
25g ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
25g walnuts, toasted

You can actually use any combination of dried fruit and nuts you like. I chose walnuts because they’re extra healthy!

1. To get prepared, toast the nuts for the topping, either in a frying pan or by spreading them on a baking tray and putting them under the grill (but don’t forget about them like I did, they don’t take long!). When they’re cool, chop them up.

2. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/325F/Gas 3 and grease a large baking sheet.

3. Place the butter, sugar and orange juice in a small pan over a gentle heat, and keep stirring until the butter and sugar has melted, then remove from the heat.

4. Put the flour, oats, cinnamon and chopped apricots into a separate bowl and mix it well, then add the butter/sugar mixture and give it another good mix. It should turn into a lovely sticky dough.

5. Divide the mixture into nine round mounds, about 1cm thick, on the baking sheet, then scatter each one with the chopped nuts and apricots. Press the pieces quite firmly into the dough, or they’ll burn.

6. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes until they’re lovely and golden and slightly crisp. Leave them to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then put them on a wire rack (or eat one straight away with a cup of tea).

Tea & cookie

Belhana welshafa, happy eating!


Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Cookies


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Chocolate, Banana and Toffee Pie

I wanted to write today about a recipe I made completely accidentally.

But first; reading this fantastic post got me thinking about this blog. I am incredibly new to blogging (literally; I started 3 days ago), but I really want to develop it into something interesting to read. Which means I have to overcome my shyness of being read by people I know. I think it’s gonna take time before I get the hang of this whole thing.

In the mean time: RECIPES. They are one of the joys in my life and pretty much the sole reason I even started reading any blogs. My mum brought me up with the attitude that food is one of the biggest pleasures in life, and when I told her that there were literally thousands (millions?) of people writing about food, just because they liked it, she was over the moon! I wanted to do this as both a hobby and a discipline for myself, and also just to share in that huge pool of humanity who are writing about something they love. I had been ill for a quite a long time which had deprived me of many pleasures (including food, the horror!), so this blog is a way for me to inject some passion and enjoyment back into my daily life.

Anyway, enough soppy stuff, time for food!

With all the joy of buying a new cookery book (300 Chocolate Desserts and Treats by Felicity Forster), I jumped into making something I always wanted to make – banoffee pie. It was only when I made it that my sister pointed out that banoffee pie isn’t normally so chocolately. I turned over the page in my book and found banoffee pie on the other side; I had made Chocolate, Banana and Toffee Pie. The following recipe is actually somewhere between the two!

Chocolate, Banana and Toffee Pie


Chocolate, Banana and Toffee Pie
Serves 6

65g unsalted butter, melted
250g milk chocolate digestive biscuits, crushed

for the filling
400g tin sweetened condensed milk, unopened
150g plain chocolate, chopped
120ml creme fraiche
1 tbsp golden syrup

for the topping
3-4 bananas
squirty cream
chocolate shavings, to decorate

1. The first bit needs some preparation. Place the unopened tin of condensed milk in a deep pan of boiling water, lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours. The tin must be covered at all times and the water mustn’t boil, or the tin might explode! After 2 hours remove from the heat and let it completely cool down in the water, still covered. Don’t try to open the tin until it’s totally cold.

2. When you’re ready, crush the biscuits – either in a food processor or put it in a food bag and bash it with a rolling-pin. It’s best to get the crumbs as small and as even as possible, or they won’t make a firm base. Mix it with the melted butter and press the mixture against the bottom and sides of a 23cm/9in loose-based flan tin, then put it in the fridge to chill.

3. Place the chocolate, creme fraiche and golden syrup in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and keep mixing until all the chocolate has melted. Then add the condensed milk (which I was amazed had turned into caramel!) and beat until it’s completely combined. Pour the mixture over the base and spread it out evenly.

4. Cut up the bananas and arrange them on top, covering the whole of the pie. Top with some squirty cream and chocolate shavings and get stuck in!

Belhana welshafa, happy eating!


Posted by on February 6, 2011 in Desserts, Pies


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If you need your sugar fix to simulate main-lining a syringe full of glucose, this is the one. The first time I made it I thought that cutting it into such tiny pieces (about 1x1in) was a mistake, but seriously a tiny bite is really perfect. It’s one of the few recipes where you can have too much of a good thing!

This picture isn’t incredibly flattering, but it’s the best I could do in the bad light. There are lots of different regional variations of baklava, so I’m not entirely sure which kind this is. It’s basically the recipe I liked the most, with a couple of tiny tweaks. I turn to this recipe when I have made a ton of cakes and want to do something a bit different.



Serves 8-10

18 sheets of filo pastry (if you buy the frozen kind you need some time to defrost it – leave it in the fridge overnight, or leave it out at room temperature for about an hour)
225g unsalted butter
225g nuts, roughly chopped (I used walnuts and almonds as I prefer them, but you can also use pistachios or a bag of mixed nuts, whatever takes your fancy)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1-2 tsp cinnamon

for the syrup
350g granulated sugar
300ml water
1 tbsp lemon juice

Don’t be worried if you haven’t used filo pastry before and this recipe seems daunting – any mistakes won’t matter when it is drenched in sugar at the end!

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas 4 and grease a 17cm x 28cm (11in x 7in) baking tray with butter.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave. In a separate bowl mix together the nuts, sugar, and cinnamon.

3. Get your filo pastry ready. Lay it out on a chopping board and keep it covered with a sheet of cling-film with a damp tea-towel on top – this stops it from drying out while you’re working with it.

4. When you have everything ready, begin laying 10 sheets of filo pastry onto the baking tray, one at a time, brushing each sheet with the melted butter before you lay down the next one.

5. Now evenly spread the nut mixture over the pastry, then lay the remaining sheets of pastry on top, one at a time, brushing each sheet with the melted butter as before.

6. Cut a criss-cross pattern into the top layers of the pastry – this is going to make it easy to cut later without it falling apart.

7. Put it in the oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 150C/130C fan/300F/Gas 2 and leave to cook for another 30-40 minutes, until it’s golden on top. If it starts to burn cover it with foil and carry on. When it’s done, take it out and let it cool a little.

8. Now for the syrup! Place the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan over a medium heat for about 20 minutes. Watch it carefully – it mustn’t boil hysterically, but it must be a bit bubbly for the sugar to melt and thicken. Keep stirring and scooping it up; you’ll be able to see when it’s turned nice and syrupy as it’ll ooze off your spoon a little slower.

9. Pour the syrup into the slits of the baklava (this is where it gets amazingly sugary) and let it cool, then cut it into little pieces. It’s lovely to eat warm but it’s just as nice if you keep it in the fridge and have it cool later on (mine keeps for absolutely ages).

Belhana welshafa, happy eating!

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Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Desserts


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