Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Have your cake and eat it!

My creative cupcake design
The country has gone baking mad!
It seems that since the Great British Bake Off began on BBC2, people up and down the country have been whisking, beating and folding to create their own masterpieces.

Following last week’s final, it was reported that M&S recorded sales increases of up to 20 per cent in baking ingredients, with specialist sugars and cake decorating equipment flying off the shelves.
It was claimed that at John Lewis, customers buying cake tins and muffin trays increased by 15 per cent, while vintage-style tins and stands more than doubled.
It would seem that everyone has caught the baking bug, and I am no exception.

My mini carrot and orange cakes

This weekend I made mini carrot and orange cakes and a lemon drizzle, and still found time for a two-hour cupcake decorating class.

The session was held by Virginia Valentine, who runs her own cupcake company, Angel Cakes, based in Altrincham, Cheshire.

Virginia has been baking cakes for 30 years and she has been a professional cake decorator for around six years.
She makes all kinds of occasion cakes, mainly working with sponge cakes using family recipes handed down to her by her grandmother.

Now she teaches cake decorating courses and I, keen to improve my techniques, went to one of her taster sessions in Sale on Sunday where I learnt everything from the perfect tool kit, to how to make sugar paste roses with my fingers – trickily I discovered!

I was really pleased with the results though and I’m now more passionate than ever before about baking and making pretty cakes!

Cupcake recipe (makes 12)

6oz vegetable margarine
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
6oz self raising flour

Line a muffin tray with paper cases and pre-heat the oven to180 degrees.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, starting with the margarine, sugar, then eggs, and flour.
Use a hand mixer on a low speed until all the ingredients are mixed.
Switch to a high speed until the mixture is creamy and a soft dropping consistency.
Spoon into cases until 2/3rds full and bake for around 20 minutes.
When cooled, the cakes will be springy to touch.

For the frosting, mix 10oz of soft vegetable margarine and 16oz of icing sugar in food processor, mixing gently at first then increasing the speed.

My carrot cake and orange muffins

150g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
150g caster sugar
250g grated carrots
100g finely chopped walnuts
150g corn oil
2 small beaten eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
zest of an orange

Line a muffin tray with paper cases and pre-heat the oven to180 degrees.
Sieve the flour, bicarb, baking powder and cinnamon into a mixing bowl then stir in the caster sugar, carrots and walnuts.
Pour in the corn oil, eggs, vanilla and orange zest and stir. Beat for about one minute until the mixture is a batter-like consistency.
Pour into cases and bake for around 25 minutes or until springy to touch. 

For the frosting, beat together 200g full-fat cheese, 3oz icing sugar and the zest of half an orange.
When the cakes are cooled, dollop a teaspoon of frosting onto each cake and spread around. Top with walnuts. Yum yum!!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Two simple and zingy sides to transform a meal

This week’s post may seem like a bit of a cheat as neither dish involves any cooking, but these basic recipes completely transform a simple meal and give a dish a fresh, light and zingy taste.

The recipes - homemade guacamole and a chickpea salad - are easy to make in just a couple of minutes and because they use nutritious ingredients, they make perfect healthy lunches, snacks, or sides to an evening meal.

Guacamole is something I’ve always enjoyed as a dip with nachos or pitta breads, or dolloped on top of a bowl of either meat or veggie chilli. I love the creaminess of avocados and I know they are good for me so I put them in almost everything these days.

According to, avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fibre, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha, beta-carotene and lutein in other foods eaten alongside the avocado.

You will need two large, ripe avocados to make a decent guacamole dip or to serve two or three people.
Top tip: when buying avocados, check that the little round tip of the fruit is still attached at the top, if it has fallen off then the avocado is likely to be bad inside.

Slice the avocados in half and remove the stone then scoop out the flesh using a spoon. Chop into small squares and put into a bowl.
Add one chopped or crushed garlic clove, half a teaspoon of chilli flakes (more if you like it hotter), a teaspoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a dollop of soured cream.
Season and mash together with a fork for a chunky guacamole, or whiz in a food processor for a smooth version.

For the second recipe the ingredients are even more basic. I made this a couple of weeks ago when it was sunny and I wanted a salad for lunch, but fancied something more substantial than just leaves and raw veg.

I turned to one of my favourite blogs - - for inspiration. The writer of the blog, Molly Wizenberg, is a restaurant owner living in Seattle who started blogging in 2004, back when I was still at university and didn’t even know what a blog was.

One of her most popular recipes is a chickpea and parmesan salad. We always have chickpeas in the cupboard at home so I decided to give it a go.
As Paul was a vegan for ten years, he used chickpeas a lot in his cooking and now we put them in all sorts including tagines, goulashes and veggie chillis.

This salad is fresh, satisfying and delicious served with a green salad, chopped sundried tomatoes, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts which are just my additions, but the whole thing works really well together.

Chickpea salad

1 can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 dessert spoon of extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Sprinkling of crushed sea salt and black pepper
Good handful of grated parmesan

Simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and adjust seasonings to suit your taste. Serve with a greean salad as above. This will save, covered in the fridge, for a couple of days.


2 large, ripe avocados
1 garlic clove, crushed or chopped
½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
2 tablespoon of olive oil
A dollop of soured cream
Salt and pepper

Slice the avocados in half and remove the stones using a knife. Be careful.
Scoop out the flesh using a spoon and chop into small squares, about 1cm x 1cm, then put into a mixing bowl.
Add the garlic, chilli flakes, lemon juice, olive oil and soured cream and mash together with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve as a dip, with warm bread or chilli con carne.