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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Foodie Stream of Consciousness..

This blog has been placed firmly on the back-burner for a while due to an array of different commitments. Needless to say, 2014 has been a hectic year, one that has left little time for baking or blogging, no matter how hard I try to squeeze it in.

A deliciously refreshing mojito-smoothie at Karpo, King's Cross.
Whilst struggling to keep on-top of a teetering pile of books for various reading lists, as well as churning out essay after essay in an effort to complete my final year, I had Lincoln College Ball to contend with. It went off with a bang - of course it did, we organised it - and the food was smashing, but hell did it take up a lot of time. 

Add to that a break up, a fair few rocky weeks, a crazy summer of Europe, camping and waitressing, and blogging just hasn't been hitting top of my priorities list.

But now, I'm back, with some new realisations, hopes and aspirations. 

I type this blogpost from my desk at delicious.magazine (shh, don't tell), one of the UK's top selling food mags and my personal favourite. I somehow managed to land myself an internship here and here I am, in my third week of writing, editing, baking and cooking. 

Red velvet cake with vanilla frosting and white chocolate
truffle snowmen, dusted with desiccated coconut snow.
The term 'dream job' has never been more applicable. I adore this place: the people, the office (complete with its own dog), the work, but most of all, the food. I've had countless opportunities to learn and try things I'd never even considered before. We get stacks of food packages delivered daily. And I'm finally realising the sheer volume of material that goes into creating the beautiful, glossy pages of delicious. 

More than this, however, is that delicious hasn't just given me an insight into journalism and media. Its given me an insight into myself. With my final year at Oxford looming, I've finally realised and fully embraced what it is I know I want to do with my future. And it fits under one word: food. 

And so, with this realisation safely in my apron pocket, and access to a fully functioning kitchen next term at Oxford, I feel rather like I'm about to embark on the project of my future: as corny as that sounds. I want to spend the rest of my life writing about food, talking about it, photographing it, eating it, trying new things, and most of all, sharing it with others.

Pan-fried pollock with cauliflower puree and channa-masala
at Ottolenghi's, Islington.
I've always known that nothing gives me pleasure quite like baking. There's a certain serene calm to the methodical nature of it, and the satisfaction gained when other people enjoy your food is unending. But recently, as I have fumbled around in the world of cookery, I've realised that cooking also affords me a joy that little else does. It makes me feel steady, constant and focused. A welcome break from the chaos of the outer world, and a particularly welcome break from the pressure and fast-paced life of Oxford with its deadlines, coursework and exams. 

So thanks, delicious.magazine, you've given me the keys to my future. It exhilarates and terrifies me all at the same time; my blog is amateur, unpopular and quite frankly a little lame. How on earth am I going to get a foot in the door of the foodie world? But I can make it into something. And even if I don't, I think I'll be happy even if only one person finds a small piece of pleasure in reading it.

I've dotted a few foodie snaps of a joyful month in London throughout this post. They only represent a handful of restaurants I've visited and samples (courtesy of delicious!) I've tried. Hopefully they give demonstrate a snippet of the happiness that this month has given me. As a country-bumpkin at heart, I've always been quite repulsed by the idea of living in London. But I see now, that as far as food goes, this city has so much to offer. I don't plan on missing out on any of it. London, i'll be back: for you and your food.                        

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Mince Pies

What would a baking blog be without that quintessential Christmas treat: mince pies? These little beauties may not look like the most spectacular pies in the world, but the pastry is so light and buttery that it literally melts in the mouth, revealing the rich flavours of mincemeat within.

This recipe has been in my family for generations, and I think I can just about do it with my eyes closed now. Making the perfect pastry is really very simple if you just follow this guide step by step; remember not do use too much water and not to overwork the dough.

I always use shop bought mincemeat to avoid the hassle of making my own, but do feel free to make it! After experimenting with a variety of different mincemeats (my family eat a LOT of mince pies), my favourite is Tesco's Finest, although the Co-Operative mincemeat is also yummy. If you fancy something a bit boozier, than Sainsbury's Taste the Difference do an amazing one, packed with port and sherry. Avoid Robertson's however, its far too runny.

For the pastry:
10oz flour
7oz unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)
1oz of caster sugar
For the filling:
1 Jar of mincemeat of your choice

Begin by greasing some fairy-cake tins with butter.This recipe usually makes 12-14 mince pies. Grease each hole thoroughly with the same butter that you intend to use in the pastry. Set aside.

To make the pastry. rub together the butter and flour between your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. (Tip - shake the bowl to make any large chunks of butter come to the top, then rub them in.) Stir in the caster sugar.

Add a little water, then stir. Repeat this until the dough comes together, then use your hands to bring it together into a ball. This should take about 2 tbsp of water. You don't want the pastry to be too sticky or too crumbly, so add the water slowly.

Once you have formed the dough into a ball, wrap it in clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (fan.) Remove the pastry from the fridge and divide into two with a sharp knife. Place one half to the side (NOT back in the fridge).

Roll out one half of the dough until it is 3-4mm thick. Again, use your judgement here; a pastry that is too thick will not cook thoroughly. Using a large fluted cutter, about the same size as the fairy-cake tin holes, cut out the bases and use them to line the fairy-cake tin.

Fill each pastry base with a generous teaspoon of mincemeat, but not so much that it spills over the edge! Wet the edges of each pastry case with a little bit of water.

Next, roll out the next batch of dough to the same thickness. Using a slightly smaller fluted cutter, cut out the lids to the pies and place them on top of each individual pie. Press down lightly at the edges. Using a sharp knife, poke two small holes in the top of each pie.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, they should be a pale golden brown. The moment you remove them from the oven, sprinkle them generously with caster sugar and leave to cool in the tin.

When the mince pies are completely cool, give the tin a few sharp taps, and using a palette knife remove them from the tin.

Enjoy cold, or warm up with 10 seconds in the microwave and serve with a dollop of cream or vanilla ice-cream. Merry Christmas!

If you fancy something equally as festive but slightly different, then check out these Christmas Spice Cupcakes. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Spice Cupcakes

Yes, I know it's only December 2nd. Here at Oxford though, things started getting Christmassy a long time ago. We celebrate "Oxmas" on the 25th November every Michaelmas. A fair amount of outrageous Christmas jumpers can be spotted around college, we all exchange secret santa gifts, drink copious amounts of mulled wine and eat a beautiful Oxmas dinner in our stunning 15th century hall. All pretty picturesque, really.

Oxmas and Christmas are nothing however, without ridiculous amounts of cake! And so, on Saturday of 7th week I journeyed home, purely to spend a day in the kitchen baking everything Christmassy imaginable. What I made this term will come soon, however for now have these Christmas Spice Cupcakes!

.I made these at Christmas time last year (hence the lack of pictures; I wasn't a blogger then!) for my sister to take to a staff do - needless to say my parents watched her drive away with them with heavy hearts.

This recipe is one of my own (not Mary's, for once!) and I was super pleased with the way it turned out, so with Christmas just around the corner, why not whip up a batch for your family and friends to enjoy?

150g butter, softened
150g soft brown sugar
150g self raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinammon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
40g natural yoghurt (I use Yeo Valley)
150g butter (for icing)
300g icing sugar (for icing)
120g light brown sugar (for toffee sauce)
200ml double cream (for toffee sauce)
60g unsalted butter (for toffee sauce)
1 tbsp golden syrup (for toffee sauce)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (170 Fan) Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.

Beat together the sugar and the butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. 

Sift together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, mixed and mixed spice. Sift into the butter and egg mixture and gently fold in until all is incorporated. Fold in the natural yogurt. 

Spoon into cupcake cases until they are 2/3 full - be careful not to over fill, you don't want the mixture to bubble over the edges and burn. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.

Whilst the cupcakes are baking, make the toffee sauce. Heat the sugar, butter, cream and golden syrup in a medium pan over a medium heat until it is thick and dark brown colored. The sauce should be bubbling slightly but not boiling. Remove from the heat.

Next, make the icing. Beat together the butter and icing sugar. Beat in a little of the toffee sauce, but not so much that the icing becomes ready. It needs to be thick enough to pipe. 

When the cakes are golden brown and spring back to the touch, remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before icing. When ready to ice, spoon the butter icing into a piping bag with a star shaped nozzle and pipe in swirls on top of the cupcakes. Next, spoon the cooled toffee sauce into a piping bag, snip a small hole at the end, and drizzle over the cupcakes. 

Share with loved ones beside the Christmas tree :)

Christmas Pudding decoration and sprinkles from Lakeland.
I think its fair to say my blog has become rather cupcake dominated, I just gain immense satisfaction from making these pretty little beauties. I'll try and vary things up a little bit soon though; expect mince pies and christmassy cookies!

Oxmas/Christmas love to all x

PS These snickerdoodles are also pretty darn Christmassy, and perfect with a glass of spicy mulled wine.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

S'mores Cupcakes

After a very long (unplanned) break from blogging i'm back on it, and this time I'm bringing you a deliciously decadent bonfire treat: s'mores cupcakes.

Yes, I do realize that bonfire night was rather a while ago now.. unfortunately however, being a student means I have various other commitments to fulfill. The past few weeks have shot by in a haze of essays, Old English translations, coffee breaks, Ball Committee meetings, and nights out, all which make for one very tired (but very happy) Leah.

Thus I sit, on this rainy Tuesday of 6th week, in my room at Lincoln College (well, opposite Lincoln college in the eponymous Mitre, an impenetrable labyrinth of student rooms and somewhat strange odours..), a cup of miso soup at my side, finally writing this blog post.

And there's really no reason why s'mores cupcakes should only be baked for bonfire night anyway - every occasion is a biscuit-marshmallow-chocolatey-goeey-goodness occasion!

For the sponge:
30g dark chocolate, chilled
5 digestive biscuits
80g unsalted butter or margarine, softened
280g caster sugar
200g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
240ml whole milk
For the topping:
200g caster sugar
4 egg whites
100g dark chocolate
An abundance of mini marshmallows.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius and line a muffin tin with muffin cases. Use a grater to grate the chilled chocolate, then set aside. Crush the biscuits in a food processor (or violently with a rolling pin).

Using a hand-held electric whisk, beat together the butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.

Mix the eggs and milk by hand in a jug, then pour 3/4 of this mixture into the dry ingredients and beat with the hand-held electric whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the milk and eggs and continue beating until all is well incorporated; be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula!

Fill each paper case two thirds full of batter. Sprinkle the chocolate shavings and the crushed biscuits on top of the cupcakes. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until risen and springy to the touch. Leave to cool slightly then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Put the sugar in a small saucepan with 150ml of water and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, using a free-standing electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until foamy.

When the sugar has reached the soft ball stage, pour onto the beaten eggs while beating on a medium speed. Be careful: do not let the hot sugar mix touch the mixers and flick everywhere as it will be very hot! Once added, turn the speed up to high and whisk until the underside of the bowl is lukewarm. The meringue should have increased in size (a lot) and become white, smooth, and shiny.

Smooth the meringue on top of the cooled cupcakes. Top with mini marshmallows and a square of dark chocolate, then swirl about using a palette knife. With a cook's blowtorch, lightly brown the meringue to give it a baked appearance; the marshmallows will go all gooey and melt into the meringue. Yum. To finish, sprinkle over some remaining biscuit crumbs.

*NB - It is advisable not to blowtorch your own wrist while doing this.. it hurts. A lot.*

And then, share with your friends (or not) and sit around feeling incredibly happy! Despite the tears and pain involved in making these, and the fact that I subsequently had to wear a large bandage around my wrist for a good two weeks, it was well worth it. They're simply amazing.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes


This post is being written only a week too late; the last week or so has been a hectic mish-mash of dashing backwards and forwards preparing for university, and now I am finally back here again, in the midst of collection revision chaos. There's no procrastination quite like blogging about cake.

Lemon flavoured cakes are coveted in my family, so needless to say my Mum was in no way impressed when I announced I was making these to take back to university with me. The recipe is adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery book.

A warning in advance: if you're prone to accidents (like me, actually!) I would think twice before attempting these as use of a blowtorch is involved. Myself and a blowtorch are probably just as about compatible as humanities students and early mornings... somehow though, I managed not to burn down the entire neighbourhood. The result was these moist lemon sponges, filled with zesty lemon curd and topped with sweet and crispy meringue.

Oh, and another apology is warranted: this post is severely lacking in pictures due to my highly distracted state of mind whilst making them. Despite being in the kitchen, my mind was with the dreaming spires, and less romantically, the impending thought of an Old English grammar test...

80g unsalted butter
280g caster sugar
240g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 large eggs
240ml whole milk
For the filling and frosting:
200g caster sugar
4 egg whites
100g lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius (170 for fan ovens) and line a muffin tin with cases.

Using an electric whisk, beat together the butter, caster sugar, flour and baking powder until it forms fine breadcrumbs. Beat in the lemon zest.

Whisk together the eggs and milk in a jug and gradually beat into the dry mixture. Add the lemon juice and beat well, until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the paper cases, until each is about two third full. Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes (mine took 21 minutes) and leave to cool completely before decorating.

When cool, use a sharp knife to take the centre out of each cupcake. Fill this hole with lemon curd, then trim the part of the cupcake you took out and replace ontop of the lemon curd. (ie so you get a secret lemony surprise in the cupcake.)

To make the frosting, put the sugar into a small saucepan with a sugar thermometer and cover with approx 150ml cold water. Bring to the boil. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites in a freestanding electric whisk until just foamy.

Allow the sugar to boil for 10-15 minutes until it has reached soft ball stage (235-245 degrees Fahrenheit) then, with the mixer still running, pour the hot sugar syrup slowly into the egg whites being extremely careful not to let it touch the beaters, as this will cause it to flick everywhere (which will be painful.) When all the sugar has been added, turn the electric whisk up to high and continue whisking until the bottom of the bowl is lukewarm. The meringue should have quadrupled in side and be very shiny.

Top each cupcake with a generous amount of meringue, and then use a cook's blowtorch to brown it. If you do not have a blowtorch, pop them under the grill and keep a close eye on them.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Summery Plum Cupcakes

It's been a while since my last post due to an exceptionally busy summer; I've recently returned from one of the best weekends of my life at Reading Festival. However, a few much needed weeks of recovery at home has left me with plenty of time to bake.

These cupcakes were made for my Nanny to sell at a bake sale - i'm still forbidden from baking without an excuse to save the waistlines of my family! 

She needed something individual and seasonal, and these cupcakes instantly sprang to mind as perfect. The plum jam in the sponge makes it beautifully moist, and along with the sliced plum on top they make a perfect summer treat. 

For the sponge:
120g unsalted butter
340g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder 
4 large egg yolks 
360g soft light brown sugar 
180ml buttermilk 
270g plum jam 
For the icing:
500g icing sugar
160g unsalted butter
50ml whole milk 
70g plum jam 
fresh plum slices, to decorate 

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius, and line a muffin tin with cupcake cases. 

Using a handheld electric whisk or free standing electric mixture with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter, flour, and baking powder n a low speed until the ingredients are well incorporated and crumb-like in texture.

In a jug, beat together the egg yolks, brown sugar, buttermilk and 120g of the jam until all the ingredients are combined. Add half of this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Continue to add the remaining mixture, then increase the speed of the electric mixer to medium and beat until smooth. 

Fill each paper cupcake case up to one-third full with batter, then top with 1tsp of the remaining plum jam, followed by a similar quantity of batter.  The jam will create a filling as the cakes bake. 

Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes spring back when you touch them lightly. Leave to cool slightly in the tins before removing and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 

To make the icing, beat together the icing sugar and butter on a low speed until fully incorporated and powdery in consistency. Pour in the milk and beat well, then whisk with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Finally, stir in the plum jam by hand, ensuring it is evenly dispersed. 

Spoon the frosting onto the cupcakes once they are cold, gently smoothing and spreading with a palette knife. Decorate with slices of fresh plum. (NB - Do not try and pipe the icing - the jam makes it too soft and adding more icing sugar will make it too sweet.)

I'm "jetting off" to Cornwall next week for a much needed holiday with my family and boyfriend. Expect many "Cornish cream tea" related posts; I have a feeling this holiday may develop into a bake-a-thon with 10 hungry family members to feed! 

You may also like this Summer Berry Loaf Cake, perfect sliced up with a cup of tea. Heck, why not just make both?