Saturday, 27 August 2011

Strawberry Party Cakes

Back on the mum front, I’ve had a different kind of stress with my eldest daughter starting pre-school nursery.  On the whole that has gone very well and she seems to love it.  I have had a rather nice week which started last Sunday when I spent the afternoon with my bestest bud, her wee girl and my brood making cakes and cheese straws.  I am also happy to report my first venture out alone with all three of my little darlings to the Duthie Park.  I managed fine and it was nice to prove to myself that despite the general chaos, things are good and fun and I can do it!  I have also had a successful week developing recipes which I’ll share in the coming weeks. So, all in all a happy Clairey!
Last week I gave you a recipe using lovely summer peaches and this week’s recipe includes scrummy strawberries by way of my ...
Strawberry Party Cakes

As promised, here is the recipe for these summer beauties! These are smaller than the now rather large cup cakes that I too am guilty of making (they look so pretty), and more akin to the fairy cakes I remember as a child.  (I call them party cakes to avoid having to cut the tops off and make the little fairies – lazy I know).  I think they are a much better size for my little ones and the fruity toping makes me feel less guilty about their cake consumption too!
I can take no credit for the sponge recipe which is from a book by Rose Prince called Kitchenella.  It is a fabulous recipe and can be made not only into these little party cakes, but also into a splendid sandwich sponge and also a loaf cake.
Back to the wee party cakes, for which this recipe makes approximately 36 - so great for catering for parties or playdates.  They can also be frozen before being decorated.
My twist is the strawberry topping which we love and hope you do too.
280g Softened Unsalted Butter
280g Caster Sugar
5 Eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Essence
280g Self-raising Flour
2 Tablespoons Ground Almonds
250g Icing Sugar
Around 15 Strawberries
Small carton Whipping/Double Cream
Small Bar of White Chocolate
Heat your oven to 180 oC  (160 oC fan) and place the fairy cake cases into bun trays (you may have to do this in batches, like I do, due to the number of cakes this recipe makes).
Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time together with a teaspoon of the flour.  Add the vanilla essence, and then fold in the remaining flour and the ground almonds.
Spoon the mixture evenly between the paper cases and bake for 10 minutes.
To make the icing, blitz five or six of the strawberries with a hand blender and push the puree through a sieve to remove any of the larger seeds. 
Sieve the icing sugar into a separate bowl and add the strawberry puree until you get the right consistency – thicker than a glace ice, but not too thick.
Once the cakes have cooled you can ice them and grate over a little of the white chocolate.  You can leave them like that (I always leave about half like this as my eldest will not eat an actual strawberry) or for an extra special little cake, I do this...
Whip the cream, adding a little icing sugar to sweeten it and chop the remaining strawberries into quarters.
Once the icing is set, put a dollop of the cream on the top of each cake and top with a bit of strawberry.  (Do this on the day you are eating them as obviously, they won’t keep well like this)
(I have often used this sponge recipe for a sandwich cake and would highly recommend it for this purpose too).
 My girls and their big cousin Finlay
one of my gorgeous girls

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Peach & Ameretto Cake

On the work front, I am still a little worried about the fact that I have to represent the company at a huge conference in just two weeks time. I don’t have any clothes that fit, let alone have anything to wear to a book launch!  The fact that I have been in the midst of a baking fest is doing little for this. Note to self – healthy savoury recipes for next week’s blog!
On a slight tangent, a copy of the book I contributed to was delivered together with an invitation to its Aberdeen launch and advance warning of the London launch slightly later in the year.  I’m very excited (Its called The Technical & Legal Guide to Global Hydrocarbons, I know not everyone will get excited about this other passion of mine, but for those of you who are it covers the security challenges facing the international energy industry. And the section I contributed also includes photos my colleague Justin sent back from Libya while out there evacuating clients earlier in the year (see below).

On the cooking front, it really has been a cake fest as we were scheduled to have several playdates this week. A combination of chicken pox and building works putting and end to one picnic, but we did our best to munch our way through lots of cakes when my aunty, cousin and her wee ones came to play.  I must say we didn’t do too badly!
My cakes this week have utilised two of my favourite summer fruits - delicious peaches, and lovely Scottish strawberries (recipe for my strawberry party cakes coming soon).  Today’s recipe, however, is for the grown ups -
Peach & Amaretto Cake
100g Soft Butter or Margerine
1 Egg + 1 Egg Yolk
325g Plain Flour (sieved)
2 Teaspoons Cream of Tartar
1 Teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
75ml Full Fat Milk
3 Tablespoons Ameretto (and about an extra teaspoon to paste on top of the cake)
1 Tablespoon Ground Almonds
1 Large Peach
3 or 4 Ameretti (Soft Almond Macaroons)
80ml of Peach Juice (M&S do a peach & grape Juice if you can’t find pure peach juice – or you could use water)
100g Icing Sugar
Preheat your oven to 190 oC (170oC fan) and prepare a 9” springform cake tin (23cm)
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. 
Then by hand, mix in the eggs and add the milk.
Mix in the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda and ground almonds.
Add the Ameretto and mix.
Quarter and de-stone the peach and then slice, leaving the skin on.
Pour the batter into the cake tin and arrange the peach slices on the top – pushing them down slightly.
Sprinkle some sugar on the top.
Bake in the centre of the oven for around 40 minutes.
While the cake is still warm, paste the top of cake with a little more Ameretto.
To make the glaze, warm the peach juice and mix with the icing sugar until you get the required consitancy (should be quite runny). 
Drizzle or paste half of the glaze over the top and then crumble the Ameretti over the cake, finally, pour the remaining glaze over the top and leave to set.
(You don’t have to use the Ameretti to top the cake and just glaze the cake)
Delicious served as a cake or as a pudding with some whipped cream.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Sugar Topped Banana Muffins

Well I am a day late in posting this week but am using the excuse that I am a mum to three children under the age of four, one of whom has hit the terrible twos early and the youngest of which is only 7 weeks and thinks day is night and night is day!  I had intended to post this week’s recipe last night but the chaos that ensued after dinner meant this was not to be.  I eventually got my eldest (3 and a half) to bed after she managed to poke herself in the eye with a fairy princess wand. She went on to demand a cold compress (which she currently has a obsession with) but gave the game away as to the severity of her injury by asking me “which eye was it mummy”.
Despite the chaos I had an exciting day yesterday. Although I’ve been in a caught up in a cooking frenzy for the last few weeks, it was a work that caused the excitment!  As I experimented with a new cake recipe (unsuccessfully), I received an email to my work Blackberry (yes I still have it despite being on leave) inviting me to the launch of a book in which I’m a contributor.  I am now awaiting delivery of all three volumes of the precisely titled (and I feel future international best-seller) “The Technical and Legal Guide to Global Hydrocarbons”. 
I have written articles for journals and newspapers, and even given live TV and radio interviews on all sorts of security related issues, but this is the first book I will have appeared in and I am so excited!  My section focuses on the security challenges facing the international energy industry, about as far removed as it it gets from the my current bedside reading  which currently includes such foody titles as “An Omlette and a Glass of Wine” by the doyan of cookery, Elizabeth David.
The book launch will be held during Offshore Europe 2011, a huge oil and gas industry event, at which I will be using my “keeping in touch” days to work to attend.  This means I have to fit back into my work suits after having my baby boy; and amid my ongoing baking fest. Oh dear, only three weeks to go! 
I don’t think these will help with the weight loss much, but these tasty muffins are excellent for lunchboxes and picnics, here is this week’s recipe:

Sugar Topped Banana Muffins
320g Self Raising Flour
1 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda
2 Eggs – beaten
100g Golden Caster Sugar
100g Soft Brown Sugar
3 Large Bananas
Zest & Juice of ½ a Lemon
150ml Vegetable OR Sunflower Oil
1 Tablespoon Milk
100g Chocolate Chips (optional)
Granulated Sugar to top the muffins
Preheat your oven to 180 oC  (160 oC fan) & prepare your muffin tins -  I like to use paper cases, but you don’t have to.
In a large bowl, mix together the oil and sugars.
In a separate bowl mash the bananas with 1 tablespoon of milk and the juice and zest of half a lemon.
Add the banana mix to the oil and sugar and beat in the eggs.
Sieve in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon (if using) and the salt  and mix together well. 
Add 6 tablespoons of tepid water
Finally add the chocolate chips if you are using them.
Divide the mix into the muffin tin(s) and dredge the top of the muffins with the granulated sugar
Bake for around 30 minutes (but check from around 20 minutes)
Makes 16 Muffins
NOTE:  You can add 100g of sultanas or other dried fruit if you fancy a change or something healthier than the chocolate.
(MUMMY’S TIP: You can also add a tablespoon or two of bran or oatbran if you have a child with constipation!)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Chocolate Mint Cake

Shortly after moving back to Aberdeen from London, and newly pregnant with my first daughter, I found myself rushing about after work to make cupcakes for my best friend’s party that night.   Thinking I’d have plenty time after work to make them, I hadn’t counted on the having to talk to the Scotsman newspaper about the terrorist threat to St Fergus Gas Terminal north of Aberdeen. Taken slightly by surprise, I was caught in the middle of baking. The result was me with an icing bag in one hand and a phone in the other, getting mixed up and talking to the journalist through a piping bag while getting bright pink icing in my hair and trying to ice the cupcakes with my cell phone!  You can have a look at the actual article here:-

Back to this week and I’ve thankfully had no similar problems. I’ve been reading through the handwritten recipe collections of my husband’s mum and his granny, and decided it would be fun to do a retro recipe.  My husband chose this one (which I have only tweaked slightly) for Chocolate Mint Cake, a tray bake and favourite of his from when he was wee.  I hope you like it and depending on your response I think I might do a retro recipe once a month!
The green food colouring available today is not the nuclear green I remember as a child, and I’ve swapped the cooking chocolate which is traditionally used to top this ‘fancy piece’ with a mixture of good quality dark and milk chocolate. The taste brings back lots of happy memories and is delicious – yum. 

Chocolate Mint Cake


110g Self Raising Flour

20g Corn Flakes

110g Margarine

70g Desiccated Coconut

60g Sugar

2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder

500g Icing Sugar

Peppermint Flavouring

Green Food Colouring

300g Chocolate to top (dark, light or a mixture of the two)


Preheat your oven to 160 oC (140oC fan) and grease or line a swiss roll tin.

Melt the margarine in a large pan and add the flour, coconut, cornflakes, sugar and cocoa powder mixing them well.

Press the mixture into the prepared tin and put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Set it aside until cold.

In a large bowl, sieve the icing sugar and mix with small amounts of water until you have a stiff but pliable mixture, adding the peppermint flavouring and green colouring to your aesthetic liking and taste.  If your icing mixture gets to thin once you have added the flavour and colour, simply add some more sieved icing sugar until you get the right consistency.

Pour and spread on top of the cold base and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (much more reliable than the microwave) and pour over the top of the glorious green layer allowing to cool and set completely before cutting into square or slices.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Baked Polenta Stuffed Chicken with Sage

A week at Granny and Pampa’s house and at last some sunshine!  It is amazing what a difference it makes to moods and behaviour (my own included).  My girls love to be outside and we took the opportunity to feed the ducks and have a walk.  My youngest (18 months) quickly finished throwing her bread to the ducks and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to throw anything else that came to hand at them. Stopping her fun, she then took off and chased them at full speed, sending them in quacking retreat back into the middle of the pond.
The sun and the cloudless sky and our trip to feed the ducks (a daily feature of life in Florence) today reminds me of our time in Italy and how much I miss it - as does my eldest daughter, who thinks every aeroplane she sees in the sky is heading to our “Italy house.”
At risk of going way off track here (these tangents I take drive my husband and friends mad) she also thought the football she was playing with on Aberdeen beach the other month was heading to Italy when the wind swept it up and carried it out to sea. 
In homage to my time there, I thought I would share a rather nice recipe for chicken with you - :
Baked Polenta Stuffed Chicken with Sage
4 Chicken Breasts
8 slices prosciutto crudo
Fresh sage – 12 leaves
20g butter
For the stuffing:
50g polenta
20g bread crumbs (they don’t have to be fresh but homemade are best)
½ stick of celery
½ onion
1 small clove of garlic
Fresh sage – about one heaped dessert spoon finely chopped
Fresh thyme – about one teaspoon finely chopped
40g butter
½ of one beaten egg
Finely chop the sage, thyme, onion, garlic and celery.
Put the polenta in a saucepan (one larger than you would think necessary as the polenta grows quite a bit when you add the water) and add 375ml of water.  Heat it on a low heat and simmer and stir for approximately 10 minutes until the polenta is thick and smooth.
Add 20g of the butter and stir well, then add the sage, thyme, onion, garlic and celery and mix well.
Remove from the heat and add the breadcrumbs mix again and then add the beaten egg, stirring well and seasoning with salt and pepper. 
Allow the polenta mix to cool and set aside until it can be handled.
Prepare the chicken by slicing each breast open along  the middle of one side so you can simply turn it like a page to open it up to add the stuffing.
Take about a dessert spoon of the polenta mix and make into a loose sausage-type shape, open the chicken breasts place the stuffing inside and close over so that none of the stuffing is showing. (There will probably be a little bit more stuffing than is required).
Place three of the sage leaves on the top of each breast and wrap each of the breasts with two slices of the prosciutto crudo.
Mash half the remaining butter (about 20g) onto the bottom of an oven proof dish (I use a lasagne dish for this) and place the chicken breasts close together on top of the butter.  Divide the last 20g butter roughly in four and put a piece on top of each chicken breast.  Season well and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Cover with tin foil and put in the oven for around 35 minutes – uncover for around the last ten minutes – basting the chicken well after taking off the foil. (I use quite large chicken breasts so the cooking time will be less if you use smaller pieces of chicken)
(Serves 4)
I usually serve this with new potatos and a nice green salad. Enjoy!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Scones & Wild Raspberry Jam

This has been a tough week. I’ve had stressful days at work, and should be used to a lack of sleep, but last week was hard. A five week old baby, two toddlers, and putting our flat on the market has taken its toll on my senses. Did I mention that my darling baby boy has decided that he wants to feed every two hours (aghh!).  I can see why recordings of babies crying are (allegedly) used for sleep deprivation on SAS selection!  I have, nonetheless done quite a lot of cooking – baking in particular – my stress buster and comfortingly tasty too!
On the first Monday of the month, I would usually be scanning the pages of Energy ( for the Security Notes column. As part of my job I regularly contribute to this journal - covering topics such as kidnap in the Niger Delta, to terrorist attack in Algeria and evacuation from Libya; all very far removed from my ramblings on food on my blog.  (You can have a look at one of my work articles here One of the nice things about a regular column is that it is scheduled deadline. You know what has to be researched and written; and you know when the deadline is. The other aspects of my job often mean you don’t know what’s coming next - the nature of international security incidents, conflict and issues of political risk do not lend themselves to forward planning. Although planning ahead helps, very often plans are taken over by events – terrorist attacks, urgent evacuations or kidnap tend to turn the best laid plans upside down.
On the home front with three children, forward planning can also obviously be hampered. This has been one such week.  As much as I love my home city, it is fair to say that the appalling Aberdonian weather struck again and turned all my good plans upside down. Unable to drive because of my caesarean, coupled with the Aberdeen’s recent bad weather has limited the activities I’ve been able to do with my wee girls. We have defaulted to baking and a couple of tea parties (when our planned picnics have been rained off).  We’ve and made lots of mess and had lots of fun in the process!
The first thing on our bake list was scones, to accompany the wild raspberry jam I made earlier in the week.

This recipe is an adapted version of one from a lovely lady called Mrs. Mathers.  The original recipe calls for Soda Bread Flour; as it is not always easy to get I use the plain flour and baking powder combination detailed below.
450g Soda Bread Flour and 1 teaspoon of Baking Powder (OR – and I use this - 450g Plain Flour and 3 teaspoons Baking Powder)
110g Margarine
2 heaped tablespoons of sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Pinch of salt
Enough buttermilk to mix into a soft & sticky dough (I find that two standard pots of buttermilk will make 3 batches of scones)
Preheat your oven to 220 oC (200 oC fan).  Grease or line a large baking tray.
Sieve the flour (or soda bread flour) and baking powder into a large bowl and add the margarine.  Rub together with your hands into a crumble. 
Add the sugar and mix loosely.
Add the eggs and mix gently with a spoon then pour in enough buttermilk to make a soft and sticky dough.
Do not overwork the ingredients, just make sure they are mixed.
Roll out to 1 and a quarter inches thick and cut out the scones, I use a 3 5/8 “ cutter which makes 6 big scones – a scone has to be big!
Place onto the baking sheet and bake for 10 -12 minutes.  (If you are using a smaller cutter, you will require a shorter baking time).
(If you want to make fruit scones, add a handful of sultanas when you add the sugar and for cheese scones, omit the sugar and add a handful of grated cheese at this stage – for these, it is also nice to scatter a little cheese on the top of the scones prior to putting them in the oven).

Wild Raspberry Jam (works for regular raspberries too!)
Although we came across a huge raspberry crop on our walk we only managed to pick 450g of berries;  two bored little girls put an end to the berry picking after a couple of near misses with some nettles.  Nonetheless, according to my mum whose recipe I use and who is a brilliant and prolific jam maker, one pound (450g) is the minimum requirement.  I’m looking forward to taking my wee girls to the pick your own fruit farm soon, where armed with a special basket, I am sure they will last longer for some more berry picking.  Later in the year, I plan to take them to the plum orchards near my husbands mum in Lanarkshire.  Until then, we’ll make the most of all the lovely summer berries.
1800g Raspberries
1800g Sugar
Juice of half a lemon
(You can make this jam with equal quantities of fruit to sugar with a minimum of 450g of each – for 450g of fruit and sugar, use just a squeeze of lemon juice and increase with quantity with common sense.)
You will obviously also require jam jars (maximum of 2 per 450g of raspberries) and wax paper circles for each jar.
Prepare your jars by cleaning them thoroughly in hot soapy water, drying them and sterilising them by placing them in a 140 oven until just prior to use – whereupon you can take them out and place them upside down on a clean tea towel.  The still warm jars will also prevent them cracking when you add the hot jam.
Prepare your raspberries by removing any stalks (and if you’ve picked them from the hedgerow like me, remove any beasties that may be lurking)
Put a small plate in the freezer – for testing the jam’s readiness.
Put your fruit in a large pot and warm gently and add the sugar.  Add the lemon juice.  Melt the sugar into the fruit on a low heat until the sugar is totally dissolved – stirring frequently. 
Bring gently to the boil – watching all the time – for three minutes before testing.
Remove the jam from the heat and check it is ready by dropping a small amount onto the chilled plate – if the jam forms wrinkles on its surface if you push it with a spoon, it is ready.
If it is not quite ready, put it back on the heat and slowly bring back to the boil for another couple of minutes before checking again.
Pour the jam into your prepared jars and top with a waxed paper circle – allow the jam to cool before sealing with the lids, as this will prevent mould from growing on the top of the jam.

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