Aunty Cake and the Magic Icing.

Last Friday I ventured all the way across London for a play date with two of my favourite ladies. My honorary big sister, also known as my Sister-From-Another-Mister (SFAM), and her utterly gorgeous toddler Miss D.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetNow, I’m not the maternal type. In fact that’s actually putting it lightly. Frankly children can smell fear and react to me in one of two ways, they run off screaming, or they run towards me laughing just to see my discomfort when I don’t know what to do. But Miss D is different. She genuinely melts my heart. And so when I get an invitation to go and make fairy cakes with her I can’t pack my sprinkles and apron (sorry, “pinny” as she calls it, a true northern child) fast enough.

Which is how I found myself on Friday evening heading to a date with my Maj covered in icing sugar, still finding hundreds and thousands in my hair and happier than I’d been the whole time Mr L was away. Best afternoon in a very long time.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIt turns out that I may have met my baking soulmate with Miss D. She’s enthusiastic, patient (but only just) has a remarkably strong mixing arm for her age and isn’t afraid of getting a bit messy. As I pointed out to SFAM as she cleared up the sprinkle carnage, it was nothing compared to the mess I manage to make in the kitchen, I bake with really sticky things like jam, and that ain’t not fun to clean up (when I had my jam company Mr L was forever complaining about the strange places in the house he found sticky fingerprints!).

I think the thing I loved most about the afternoon was the look of glee on Miss D’s face when I asked her if she’d like to try a new icing recipe, a “magic” recipe no less. Her eyes widened and she looked towards her mother as if to say “can we?!” Never have I felt prouder of my knowledge that equal ratios of butter and icing sugar creates the tastiest icing a three year old will ever encounter (at least until we tackle cream cheese in a few years). I’m amazed we had the willpower to only eat one.

If you’re baking with little ones this weekend, give this recipe a try as they can help mix and dollop and decorate and it’ll be the most fun you’ve had in weeks.

vscocam-photo-4Vanilla Fairy Cakes with Magic Icing – Makes 12 small cakes with a large smear of icing for each. 

For the cakes:

110g softened unsalted butter

110g caster sugar

110g self-raising flour

2 large eggs, beaten

a splash of milk (around 3tbsp)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the “magic” icing

100g softened unsalted butter

100g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 160C and line a fairy cake pan with paper liners, preferably nice patterned ones as they’re cuter.

Cream together the butter and sugar, and then add a little egg, then a little flour, then more egg, etc until all the eggs and flour are mixed in. Add the vanilla and a small dash of milk to loosen up the batter. Spoon evenly into the cake cases and bake on a middle shelf for 12-18mins, until just golden and they spring back when gently touched.

Allow to cool completely before icing and decorating.

For the icing mix the butter until smooth and then gradually add the icing sugar until completely combined. Smear a small amount onto each cake until you run out and then top the cakes with sprinkles, making sure you get plenty on the table and in your hair. Then eat while you ignore the mess!

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Boozy marzipan hot cross buns.

I’m normally completely caught out by Easter. It’s not a holiday that we celebrate as a household, except for revelling in the extra days off work, and so there are no eggs around, chocolate or otherwise (we’ll talk about my egg issues another time). The most I tend to manage is to have a bouquet of fresh daffodils somewhere in the house.

vscocam-photo-3However, this year Easter falls early, around the time of Mr L’s birthday and we’re travelling for the weekend. This has meant it’s been on my mind for a while and I’ve known the dates well in advance. No excuses this time around. I’m not actually that fussed by the idea of chocolate shaped as eggs, but there are two festive treats that I can get behind, hot cross buns and Simnel Cake.

vscocam-photo-4With plenty of time on my hands last week while Mr L was away for work I decided to distract myself from the carnage the cats were causing and get in the kitchen. I planned to have some sort of tasty Easter treat ready for hubby’s arrival home, but was having trouble choosing which to make. I love a good hot cross bun, but can’t resist anything with marzipan in and am on a stealth mission to get Mr L to like it (I’m convinced it’s not almonds he dislikes but the fake almond essence that bakeries insist on using). From this dilemma was bourn a stroke of genius (even if I say so myself!) boozy marzipan hot cross buns. Because why only sneak in marzipan when you can also lace the fruit with alcohol.

vscocam-photo-2The result is a heavier bun, heady with boozy almondy saturation and yet still capable of soaking up all the salted butter you dare it to when toasted. We’ve been enjoying them for three days and they’re still as good as the day I made them, which means you can prepare them in advance of Easter Sunday and enjoy them for breakfast or afternoon tea without having to worry about proving times.

Boozy Marzipan Hot Cross Buns – Makes 12. 

For the buns: 

100ml Calvados or brandy

230g dried fruit (I like a mix with some peel in and also like dried cranberries)

200ml whole milk

500g strong white flour

50g caster sugar

1 tsp salt

7g active dried yeast

50g softened unsalted butter

1 large egg at room temperature

120g natural marzipan

zest of one orange

2 tsp mixed spice

For the cross: 

75g plain flour

3-6tbsp warm water

First place the dried fruit and calvados or brandy in a small saucepan and warm gently and stir together for around three minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool so the fruit soaks up the alcohol. Grate the marzipan into a freezer proof bowl and pop into the freezer to chill.

Meanwhile, heat the milk to hand temperature. It should be just warm and so when you dip a finger in it just feels warm. Set aside while you mix the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, or that of an electric mixer, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, egg and butter. Slowly add the warmed milk whilst stirring together (I like to do this with the dough hook on the mixer with it running on the slowest speed) until you have a sticky dough. Add the fruit and any remaining alcohol, the orange zest, spice and the marzipan and mix to combine slightly. Then tip out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes until elastic. It will be very sticky so flouring your hands does help.

Place in an oiled bowl and set aside for an hour or until doubled in size. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper.

When risen turn back out onto your floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces, form these into nice rounds and space out on the baking sheet. Cover with a slightly damp warm cloth and allow to rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F.

Mix up the cross mixture by sifting the flour into a small bowl and gradually adding water until you get a stiff paste that just drops off a spoon. Then scoop the paste into a piping bag and run across the risen buns from both directions to get crosses.

Place the buns in the oven for 20-25mins until risen well and golden brown. If you like at this stage you can glaze the buns with some warmed apricot jam to give them a shine. I did, but only because I happened to have some jam floundering in the fridge that needed using.

Allow to cool as long as you can bear and then serve with lots of salted butter.

When life gives you lemons…

…ignore them and make Manhattans. That’s my motto. At least it is now.

The gift of the wonderful Death and Co. book for Christmas has definitely made the brutal onslaught of January easier to deal with. Well, okay, it may not have actually made it easier, but it’s made it seem easier. This, coupled with the discovery that some exceptionally good bourbon is much easier to come by than perhaps it should be, has led to a stint of cocktail hours, and more than a few fuzzy heads the following day.

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I’ve long been a classic cocktail lover, and my test of a new bar is always to have a Manhattan. For me its the quintessential cocktail, deceptively simple, and yet one element out of balance and you have a drink that is either too boozy and harsh, or too bitter. It’s also a drink where the quality of the ingredients shine. I’ve always made versions at home using whatever rye and vermouth are available at the local shops. Until now. Upon returning home one day to discover we were out of rye I texted Mr L with something along the lines of “if some rye were to fall into your bag on the way home it wouldn’t turn into the worst evening.” As ever my husband not only took my hint, but delivered over and above my wildest expectations, coming through the door with a bottle of small batch Bulliet Rye. IMG_1971My Manhattan making will never be the same again, and I shall never be able to return to the cheap stuff. The addition of such special malt into our Manhattans lifted the drink to such a level that even Mr L, who is usually a Negroni fanatic, asked for a second round.

There was one other thing that made our new Manhattan tradition complete and exalted above all previous attempts, and for that I have my father to thank (or perhaps to blame?). The garnish on my standard Manhattan would be an out of the jar maraschino cherry. However, upon reading the Death and Co recipe I discovered that they recommend a brandied cherry. It must have been fate as on a trip to my parents back in November my father introduced me to his homemade brandied cherries and the resulting cherry brandy. He’d made them to use with his signature dessert of chocolate fondant. When pressed he divulged his “recipe” and off I popped on the train home vowing to start a batch in the hope of having them ready for Christmas.

Oh how pleased I am that I did, as when making that first batch of Death and Co. Manhattans I suddenly remembered the jar I’d started off the evening I’d returned. It was fate and we’ve never looked back.

And so, I heartily recommend that you get a batch of these cherries in the making, and in six weeks you’ll be imbibing the best Manhattans you’ve ever tasted, or just dipping into the boozy jar of fruit for the hell of it.

Pater’s Brandied Cherries

500ml cheap brandy (no really, but the stuff in the plastic bottle that says “essential” or “value” on it)

250g dried sour cherries.

Method:

In a large kilner or mason jar place the sour cherries. Pour the brandy over the top, making sure there is room for the cherries to swell and fill with brandy. Seal and leave in a cool dark place for six weeks (or as long as you can wait).

After six weeks, make a Manhattan and drop one of these in it. Then enjoy all the way to the bottom before tipping the delicious swollen brandied slightly tart cherry into your mouth and chewing smugly.  IMG_1991