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.

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.

Challah

While I was making this loaf of challah, glancing down occasionally at my son “playing” around my feet (in other words, unravelling a roll of alfoil and emptied a drawer of baking implements), I realised that I hadn’t been making bread recently because breadmaking is a little more difficult with a toddler, or proto-toddler, than it is with a largely inert baby. Needing to make sudden interventions or pick up a grizzling child is hard when your hands are covered in dough. This excuse sounds ridiculous when the kneading part of breadmaking only comprises a few minutes, but for some reason there is always some baby-related disaster during those few minutes. He has a knack for it.

This is Mark Bittman’s recipe for challah, the “traditional Sabbath bread of European Jews”. It is a lovely soft, eggy bread, but is best eaten on the day it’s made, as it gets a bit dry. Second-day-challah is perfect for bread pudding or French toast, both of which are met with enthusiastic proto-toddler approval.

ingredients:
650 grams flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
325ml milk, warmed
poppy seeds or coarse salt for sprinkling, egg for egg glaze

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk, and leave it for five minutes, until it’s foamy and active.

Put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Crack the eggs and egg yolk into the middle, add the honey, then pour in the milk and yeast mixture. Mix everything together roughly with a fork, so that it’s mostly sticking together. Mark Bittman says if it’s dry, add in a little bit of milk until it’s wet enough to knead. He claims it is unlikely to be too wet. Mine was too wet, making me presume that I’d done something wrong along the way. Or perhaps Mr Bittman is simply too presumptuous about the state of my dough. (Oh, and obviously if it is too wet to knead, add a little bit of flour at a time until it’s kneadable.)

Check the whereabouts of your baby and hand them a distracting toy, because you’re about to get your hands covered in dough. Dump your rough mass of dough out onto your counter and knead away. It doesn’t need too much, just a few minutes until it’s smooth and elastic under your hands. Clean the bowl, and give it a light coating of oil. Pop the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the dough, and divide it into three similarly sized balls – weighing them if you want a nice evenly braided loaf. Leave the balls of dough to rest for about 15 minutes, then roll them out into ropes – about 36cm long, but there’s no need to be exact about it. You want your loaf to fit onto your baking tray (you should probably find a baking tray and lightly oil it, by the way). You can create all sorts of complicated braided loafs, or you can just plait your three strands like hair, and tuck the ends under. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes while you heat your oven up to 190C. Just before putting the bread in the oven, whisk up an egg and brush it over the loaf. (Generally, recipes call for an egg yolk, or an egg yolk plus a little water, but I’ve never seen the point of seperating an egg. This article on glazing kind of backs me up. Well, not really, but it concludes that many forms of glazing are acceptable.) If you like, sprinkle the glazed loaf with poppy seeds or coarse salt.

Cook the bread for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it’s nicely golden and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf. I’m always a bit paranoid about undercooking bread, and I think I left this in a teenst bit too long, judging by the crust.

Spiced Apple Sauce Cake

I made this for my 31st birthday this year, because I had plenty of apple sauce, and I love cream cheese icing. You can tell two things about my baking methods from this photo -I can rarely be bothered sifting icing sugar, and I’m lazy about cutting lining paper for cake tins (so I just smoosh a sheet of paper in there without making corners, and it creates creases in the cake). This is a wonderfully moist and gently spiced cake – it lasts well, but should be kept in the fridge because of the icing.

(adapted from a Smitten Kitchen recipe)

cake ingredients:

2 cups plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
110 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened apple sauce

icing ingredients:
140 grams cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces or 42 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces or 120 grams) confectioners sugar
1/2 (1 teaspoon) teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line a 9-inch square cake tin (carelessly or carefully, however you prefer).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, bicarb soda, salt and spices until well combined. In a larger bowl, use electric beaters and mix the butter, brown sugar and vanilla until smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, then beat in the apple sauce. Using a low speed, beat in the flour until just combined.

Pour the mixture evenly into your cake tin, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out cleanly. Cook the cake completely before icing.

While the cake is cooling, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla essence with electric beaters until fluffy. Beat in the sugar and cinnamon, and then spread your amazingly smooth (cough cough) icing over the cake. This amount of icing makes an American style thick icing layer, but the cake is quite solid and I think it goes well with a decent amount of icing. This could be my sweet tooth talking, of course.

Granola

I’ve read quite a few recipes for granola, and never really understood the point of it – is it a breakfast food? A snack? Now that I’ve made it, I realise it’s a bit of both, and an excellent way of using up some of your homemade apple sauce (if you’re like me, and have made mountains of it). It’s like a very crunchy toasted muesli which sticks together in small clumps – excellent for snacking on, sprinkling over yoghurt and eating for breakfast with yoghurt and stewed fruit.

(Recipe adapted from here, which in turn is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe)

ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
3 cups almonds, coarsely chopped
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup homemade apple sauce (or other unsweetened apple sauce)
1/3 cup golden syrup or treacle (or honey if you don’t have either)
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice bran oil or other vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 150C. In a large bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Heat up the apple sauce, treacle, honey and oil in a small saucepan until warm, then pour into the dry ingredients. Quickly stir together until everything is evenly coated with the apple sauce mixture.

Roughly line two large baking trays with baking paper (by which I mean, put lengths of baking paper over the trays and don’t bother to stick them on with butter), and spoon half the mixture onto each tray, spreading it out evenly and pressing it down firmly with the back of your spoon. Put the trays into the oven for 45 minutes, opening up and stirring around the granola twice during the baking process.

Let the granola cool, and store it in air tight containers, easily accessible for snacking purposes – it will be deep brown, with some clumps, and deliciously crunchy.

Apple Sauce Pie

This is a beautifully simple pie, ridiculously easy to put together, and has a spicy apple-custard-ish flavour. You’ll need to make a pie crust (or use store-bought pastry) – I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, as I’m going through and making things from her new cookbook. (Pie recipe adapted from here).

ingredients:
pastry for a single pie
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C, and roll out your pastry into a greased pie tin.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, flour and spices, then whisk in the melted butter, apple sauce and vanilla. Pour the filling into the pie tin, and bake for about 40 minutes until brown and set.

See! How could that be any simpler?