Lemon Drizzle Birthday Cake

Lemon drizzle birthday cake

This is a bit of a mash-up of recipes for lemon drizzle cake and a Swiss buttercream icing recipe from Smitten Kitchen that makes a wonderfully decadent layered birthday cake. The cake is intensely tangy and lemony, and the icing is rich and creamy without being overly sweet (and pipes on beautifully if you’re going for more decorative icing).

This is baked in two 20cm/8 inch square tins, but the same amount of batter will make one larger tray cake in a 30 x 23cm pan – just bake for an extra 5-10 minutes, and forget the icing for more of an afternoon tea style cake.

ingredients:

for the cake –
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
225g (1 cup) caster sugar
4 eggs
zest of 2 lemons
225g (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour (or 225g plain flour plus 3tsp baking powder)

for the drizzle –
juice of 2 lemons
75g (1/3 cup) caster sugar

for filling and Swiss buttercream icing –
jar of good lemon curd
170g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
3 large egg whites
275g (approx 1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan forced. Grease and line two 20cm/8 inch square tins.

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well incorporated, then add the lemon zest. With a spatula, fold in the flour. Split the mixture evenly between the two tins – it should be just over 2 cups of batter for each tin. Smooth the surface and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean and the edges are just coming away from the side. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack.

When you’ve put the cakes in the oven, mix together the lemon juice and sugar for the drizzle in a small bowl. Stir well a few times while the cakes are cooking. When the cakes are cooked, the sugar should have dissolved into the lemon juice.

When the cakes have cooled a little but are still warm, gradually spoon the lemon juice mixture evenly over the tops of the cakes. If the drizzle runs through the cakes, wait for them to cool a bit more before trying again. When the drizzle has been completely spooned on, leave the cakes to cool completely.

When you’re ready to fill and ice the cake, make the buttercream. Put some water into a small saucepan to simmer. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together into a big metal bowl over the saucepan of water. and place the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved – test by rubbing a little of the mixture between your fingers to see if you can feel sugar granules.

Using hand beaters (or having transferred the mixture to the bowl of a mixer), beat or whip until it turns white and approximately doubles in size. Add the vanilla essence. Add the butter a large chunk at a time, beating continuously as you do so. When you’ve finished adding the butter, continue beating until the icing is a thick, smooth, pipeable consistency.

Spread a thick layer of lemon curd on one of the cakes, then cover with a thick layer of buttercream. Place the other cake on top, then ice the whole cake with the remaining buttercream. If you want a precise finish, it may be easier to do a thin crumb layer, then refrigerate the cake for half an hour before covering it with a final layer of icing and any piping.

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Gingerbread Biscuits

Gingerbread

These are lovely spiced slightly crunchy gingerbread biscuits, adapted from a classic recipe in The Joy of Cooking. They’re great to make with children – the dough is easy to mix up, it involves melting butter in a saucepan (a big plus according to my four year old), they can press shapes out of the dough, and then decorate the resulting biscuits.

ingredients:
1/2 cup (115g) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup or molasses
2 1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tblsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
decorations if desired – chocolate bits, sultanas, icing, etc

method:
In a small saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar and golden syrup or molasses until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from the heat to cool until just warm.

In a bowl, stir together 2 1/4 cups of the flour, the baking soda, salt, and spices. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the melted butter mixture. Stir vigorously to blend together. Gradually add in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. The mixture should now be a ball of smooth dough, pulling away from the sides of the bowl.

Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it a few times, before flattening it into a thick disc and wrapping it in plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge to cool down for 20 minutes or so, so that it’s easier to roll out. You can also leave the dough in the fridge at this stage for up to four days, returning it to room temperature before you roll it out. (You could presumably also freeze it and then defrost before use, but I haven’t tried that).

Preheat the oven to 180C, and roll out the dough to around half a centimetre thick. (Yes, I did actually get out a ruler and check this, although I never manage to roll out dough evenly anyway. Mine always end up being varying thicknesses, which doesn’t seem to matter all that much). Cut out your biscuits in whatever shape you desire (and if you’re cooking with a four year old, let them artistically place chocolate bits where appropriate). Depending on the shape you’ve chosen, this amount of dough should make between two to three trays of biscuits. They don’t spread much at all, so you can place them close together.

Bake the biscuits for about 8 minutes, until they’re just starting to brown on the edges. They’ll firm up as they cool down, and they’re easy to overcook (although that just makes them extra crunchy).

When cooled, they can be decorated with icing, but it’s not necessary. They taste great plain, and keep very well in a sealed container for at least a week.

Gingerbread

Scone Pizza

Scone pizza

This is very barely adapted from Hungry and Frozen’s scone pizza recipe (I added some thinly sliced zucchini and crumbled feta to the original recipe) and is very much as it sounds; a delicious scone-like base (although significantly easier to make than scones, as it doesn’t involve rubbing butter time-consumingly into flour) with a gorgeous savoury topping. It’s also ridiculously easy – 30 minutes from your initial “hmm, what will I have for lunch” thought to pulling the pizza out of the oven.

Scone pizza, pre-baking

ingredients:
200g (2 cups) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
25g melted butter
125g (1/2 cup) plain yoghurt
1 large tomato, sliced
1/2 zucchini, thinly sliced
your choice of cheese – I used some grated cheddar and a little crumbled feta

method:

Pre-heat your oven to 210C (190C fan-forced).

Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then add in the melted butter and yoghurt. Stir only enough to form together into a soft dough. You may need a little extra yoghurt to get the dough to form easily depending on how thick your yoghurt was – I needed an additional small spoonful.

On some baking paper, roll the dough out into a rough circle about 1cm thick. Pop the baking paper and dough onto a tray, and then top your pizza – I thickly layered on tomato and zucchini, then sprinkled my cheese over the top. Plenty of tomato is great, as it goes wonderfully squooshy in contrast to the base (and I’m saying that as someone who is not a fan of cooked tomato, generally).

Bake for around 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the base is puffed and lightly browned. Devour while hot.

Buchteln (or Sweet Bread Twists)

Sweet bread twists

“They strolled back to their pension where a meal was awaiting them of wonderful pastries, ivory butter piled thickly on fancy bread twists, and what Mary-Lou called “lashings of coffee and cream”.” (from Theodora and the Chalet School)

Sweet bread twists are frequently mentioned in the Chalet School books, either being served to students during Kaffee und Kuchen, or being eaten at cafes while out visiting small towns in the surrounding areas. This collection of Chalet School recipes believes that the sweet bread twists would likely have been made from dough like that used for Buchteln, a jam-filled yeast raised bun. It sounded reasonable enough to me, so I adapted a different recipe and used the dough to make both jam-filled buns and some sweet bread twists.

These are best on the day that they’re made; very soft, slightly sweet, lemony buns, filled with tangy jam. They are excellent morning or afternoon tea fare, and they can easily be revived on subsequent days with a little warming up. The “fancy bread twists” were also nice, especially on the day they were made; on subsequent days, I dunked them in a mug of coffee.

Buchteln

(Adapted from this Buchteln recipe).

ingredients:

4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
½ cup (100g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of one small lemon
100g butter, softened
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup (250ml) warm milk
jar of jam – I used raspberry & pomegranate, which was pleasantly tangy
melted butter to brush over dough

method:
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl – flour, yeast, sugar, and lemon zest – and mix well.

Whisk together the wet ingredients in another bowl – the warm milk, egg, egg yolk, and softened butter. It’s not going to be completely smooth, I just bashed it around as best I could. Possibly you could just melt the butter, but I wasn’t game as I thought it might affect the texture of the dough.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a spoon until it forms into dough. (Or if you’re fancy, use a stand mixer with a dough hook). Mine mixed into a fairly wet dough, and I had to add another 60g or so of flour to make it kneadable. Tip it out onto your bench and knead for a minute or so. Form the dough into a ball, put it back into your mixing bowl, cover and leave for 1 to 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.

Punch down and roll the dough out into a 1cm thick rectangle. Cut out small squares – about 8x8cm, which I actually measured because I’m terribly at eyeballing length, and put any leftover scraps of dough aside to make the bread twists (or re-roll for more squares if you’re only making the rolls). Lightly grease a springform circular pan, and cover a tray with baking paper.

Put a tablespoonful of jam in the middle of each dough square, then bring the opposite corners together and pinch in tightly, to close up the dough into a small ball. Put the ball into the springform pan, closure down. Roll out the dough scraps into 20cm long snakes, and twist in appropriately fancy manner. Put the twists on the tray. Cover your springform pan and tray, and let rise (for around another 1 to 1 ½ hours) until doubled in size.

Heat at 190C (170C fan forced) for about 15-20 minutes for the twists, and 25-30 minutes for the rolls. Let cool slightly, and if you like, dust with icing sugar before serving.

Bitter Lemon Gelato

Bitter Lemon Gelato/Ice-cream

Originally I thought that this wasn’t really a gelato because it has cream in it, but I’ve since looked it up and realised that gelato does indeed usually contain cream/milk fats, just less than what we commonly term “ice-cream”. I have therefore spent my whole life living a lie when it comes to the definition of gelato. A very sobering thought.

This is a recipe that comes before one of the chapters in Livia Day’s Drowned Vanilla (a lovely Australian culinary mystery that you should totally read if you’re into that sort of thing). It is wonderfully sour and tangy, a lovely palate cleansing sort of dessert to have after a meal.

ingredients:

1 cup water
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 cup lemon juice (around 5-6 lemons)
2/3 cup double cream or thickened cream

method:
Put the water, sugar, and lemon juice into a small saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Pour into a metal bowl, and put into the fridge until well chilled.

Whisk the cream into the mixture, and cover with plastic wrap. Pop it into the freezer. Pull it out every half-hour or so and whisk or stir again, until it’s turned into gelato (about three hours or so). I must admit that I only whisked it a few times, because I was trying to get the baby to sleep and then accidentally fell asleep myself, but it still turned out quite well. I expect some additional stirring would have only made the texture smoother and creamier.

Dark Chocolate Chunk Biscuits

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This is a recipe from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet which is actually entitled “Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies”. I know this is much more alliterative than my version, but saying “cookies” makes me feel un-Australian. Biscuits it is. They’re extremely chocolatey and rich and magnificent. Lepard suggests using them for ice-cream sandwiches, but honestly despite my extremely sweet tooth I think that would be overkill. They’re pretty great as an accompaniment to coffee, though.

The original recipe calls for 300 grams of dark chocolate. I reduced this to 200 grams because that was what I had in the cupboard, and I think if I used 300 grams there would have been more chocolate than dough. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course; sometimes one is in the mood for a biscuit that consists mostly of chocolate. They turned out perfectly well with the reduced amount, so you could probably add chocolate chunks to taste without anything too terrible happening.

I presume the 25g of caster sugar is doing something vital texture-wise, otherwise I’d be tempted to leave that out as well just so you don’t have to haul two types of sugar out of the cupboard.

ingredients:

125g unsalted butter, softened
175g dark brown sugar
25g caster sugar
2 tsps vanilla essence
1 egg
175g plain flour
25g cocoa
1 tsp bicarb soda
300g dark chocolate, chopped into chunks

method:
Preheat your oven to 170C or 150C fan-forced. 

Beat the butter, sugars and vanilla essence together until smooth and creamy. Beat in the egg until well combined.

Either sift together the flour, cocoa, and bicarb in a seperate bowl and stir them into the butter mixture (per the original recipe); or measure them out on top of the butter mixture, refrain from sifting, then stir it all together. I promise the lazy method works perfectly fine. It mixes together into a fairly stiff dough, and is consequently too difficult to stir with one hand while holding a baby. You will have to put the baby down and manically sing to her while stirring the mixture frantically. The things we do for biscuits.

Stir in your desired amount of chocolate chunks with a firm and unyielding hand. Disabuse your three year old of his fine notion that we are putting one piece of chocolate in our mouths for every piece that goes in the bowl. While grinning entertainingly at your grumpy infant, scoop up tablespoonfuls of the dough, roll into balls, and place on lined baking trays about 4-5cm apart. This makes around 18 or so biscuits. Bake for around 12-14 minutes – the biscuits should be just firming at the edges and be a little puffed up. Let cool for a few minutes then transfer to a rack. Enjoy with coffee or tea, or possibly sandwiched together with ice-cream if you’re feeling particularly sugar deprived.

Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake

Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake

This recipe is from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet, and makes a wonderfully unassuming loaf cake with a rich chocolate flavour and molasses-like sweetness from the brown sugar. He notes that cakes with a high proportion of fat and sugar to flour are susceptible to sinking, which as you can see mine did. Lepard’s suggestions for avoiding this are to add a little more flour, or an extra tablespoon of egg white to the batter.

I was not particularly inclined to locate glycerine for one recipe, and instead replaced it with a mixture of oil and glucose syrup. I’m not sure if this was particularly effective or whether I could have just left it out – it didn’t seem to be a disastrous decision is all I can really say about it.

ingredients:

50ml cold water
25g cocoa
100ml boiling water
50g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g butter, softened
175g muscovado sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
125g condensed milk
2 medium eggs
2 teaspoons glycerine
200g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

method:

Line a large loaf tin with baking paper, and pre-heat your oven to 180C (or 160C fan-forced).

Mix the cocoa with cold water to make a paste, then stir through the boiling water. Add the chocolate and bicarb soda, and wait for the chocolate to melt.

While you’re waiting, in another bowl beat the butter, sugar, and condensed milk together until smooth, then beat in the eggs and glycerine (or freakish mixture of glucose and oil). Lepard suggests mixing together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, but I always ignore those instructions because having three bowls to wash up after making a cake seems excessive. Beat in half the flour mixture (or if you’re me, half the flour and all the baking powder) into the sugar mixture, followed by the chocolate mix, and then the remaining flour, until well beaten together.

Scrape the mixture into the loaf tin, and bake for around 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out mostly clean (“with only a few crumbs sticking to it”). If your cake has sunk, comfort yourself with the thought of the exciting pocket of icing the middle slices will contain. Leave to cool in the tin and peel off the baking paper when cold. I mean, if you’re incredibly cautious and don’t feel like eating cake right away. It’s not that delicate, and it survived being de-tinned after 20 minutes or so in my kitchen.

Lepard suggests a Treacle Chocolate Fudge Frosting, which you can find a recipe for here. I just made a plain chocolate butter icing, and the cake is wonderful enough to stand perfectly well on its own without icing should you be so inclined.

Macadamia, apricot & chocolate biscuits

This is another recipe from Annabel Crabb’s Special Delivery cookbook. These are fairly sweet and more of a gift biscuit (in keeping with the theme of the cookbook) than an everyday sort of biscuit. You should be able to substitute any combination of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate you like – the original recipe uses white chocolate chips with the apricot and macadamia nuts, but I am a little disapproving of white chocolate so I used dark, which worked really well. They’re wonderfully chewy and the apricot and macadamia combination is delicious.

Macadamia, apricot & chocolate cookies

ingredients:
290g plain flour
3 tsps baking powder
110g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter
200g brown sugar
1 egg and 1 egg yolk, beaten together
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g dried apricots, chopped
120g macadamias, roughly chopped
200g chocolate chips

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a small saucepan and let it cool down a little. Preheat the oven to 180C.

If you are in favour of sifting flour, then sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. If you’re me and unconcerned with such niceties, dump the flour and baking powder into a bowl and give it a stir. Add the caster sugar. Pour in the slightly cooled butter and brown sugar mixture, and stir the mixture well. Stir in the beaten eggs, vanilla, apricots, macadamias and chocolate chips.

Line two trays with baking paper, and then scoop out 3cm-ish balls of the mixture, pressing them onto the trays. I used a coffee scoop which seemed to work well. Bake the biscuits for about 10-12 minutes, depending on how big your biscuits are – when they’re set on top, they should be fine. If you want them more crunchy than chewy, leave them in for a minute or two longer.

Moroccan chickpea & haloumi bake

Mum gave me Annabel Crabb’s cookbook “Special Delivery” for my birthday, and I’ve been happily marking recipes that I want to try – this chickpea and haloumi bake was one of the first, because a) haloumi and b) it’s really quick and easy.

Chickpea & haloumi bake

ingredients:
1 red onion
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 coriander
1/4 allspice
pinch of paprika
400g can of chickpeas
250g cherry tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes)
100g fresh spinach or baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp chopped parsley
250g haloumi (I only used around 180g)
juice of 1/2 lemon
fresh coriander to garnish

Roughly chop up the onion, add a reasonable glug of oil to a large frying pan, and fry the onion for around 4 to 5 minutes. Add the spices and fry for another minute or two, stirring so that it doesn’t stick.

Drain most of the liquid from the can of chickpeas, leaving a couple of tablespoons, and add the chickpeas and liquid in with the onion and spice mixture. Add in the tomatoes, spinach, and parsley, then stir until the spinach is just wilted. Preheat your oven to 180C.

Chickpea & haloumi bake
Chickpea & haloumi bake

Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish – I used a 20cm square pyrex dish because I didn’t want to overwhelm everything with haloumi. Slice the haloumi and layer it on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the haloumi is golden around the edges.

In Special Delivery Annabel suggests serving this with couscous (which would be great to soak up the tomatoey liquid). I’m planning on eating leftovers reheated because I like haloumi even when it gets a bit squeaky and chewy, but for more discerning palates this might be best served and eaten straight out of the oven.

Pumpkin Pancakes

I found this recipe somewhere in the depths of the internet, and now can’t remember where. Google is no help because there are billions of almost identical pumpkin pancake recipes floating around out there. Anyway, these are lovely, and as you dig into them for breakfast you can think virtuously, “I’m eating vegetables!” and it will be somewhat true.

ingredients:
2 cups plain flour – I expect you could probably use spelt, but the pancakes might be a bit more solid
1 tsp bicarb soda
2 tsps baking powder
3 tblsps brown sugar – or whatever marvellous alternative sugar you’re into
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 egg
2 tblsps rice bran oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pureed pumpkin

The night before you decide you want pancakes – if you’re that organised, which honestly I rarely am – chop up about a quarter of a smallish pumpkin (I know that’s unhelpful, but I just eyeball what amount of pumpkin will roughly make a cup, and incorporate leftovers into dinner) and steam or boil it until it’s nicely mushy. Chuck it in the fridge, and go to bed dreaming of pancakes.

In the morning, sift the flour, bicarb and baking powder (or don’t, I think it’s fine not to sift) into a large bowl, add the sugar and spices and stir. Whisk the milk, egg, oil and vanilla extract in a different bowl, and then stir in the pureed pumpkin.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture, and fold in until well combined.

Heat up your frying pan, add some butter, then scoop in 1/4 cups of the batter, cooking pancakes for a few minutes on each side. Stack up and serve to your delighted family, or just to yourself. They’re a pretty pumpkin colour, and the spices go beautifully with syrup or honey as a topping.