Monday, 10 March 2014

Lovely baking!

 One of my favourite hobbies is baking!  I especially love baking cakes and pies, and I thought I'd share a few of my most enjoyed moments in the kitchen.

One of my most precious memories is making Christmas cakes with my Nana.  Nana is my mum's mum and is very precious - she is my last living grandparent.  

Although I have many happy memories of baking with her, she is no longer able to stand in the kitchen long enough to make a cake.  She is a feisty lady who isn't shy about giving her opinion.  

Unlike most people I know, she wouldn't hesitate to tell me if she thought the Christmas cake I put in her hamper this year could be improved - so when she said how much she enjoyed it, I was really delighted!  My recipe is based on an old Mrs Beeton one, with a few additions.

Before second coat of jelly
Fully glazed
This is how I decorate my Christmas cakes - it's based on an old Welsh tradition that is believed to be linked to 'smuggler's bounty' - heaping dried and glace fruits on cakes when they were available, and glazing with jam to give a 'jewelled' look. I first tried this because I am not that fond of marzipan and white icing, and I've never looked back!  

Traditionally, the fruit and nuts would be heaped in a pile in the centre of the cake, but I like this slightly more, well, Victorian look!  I spread jam or jelly underneath, add the sliced fruits, nuts and candied ginger in rows from the centre or from the corner, then add another thin layer of jam or jelly on the top. It's best to use a light colour so you can still see the fruit's lovely colours.

This year, I also made mince pies. I made my own mincemeat, using some of the mountain of apples from my mum and dad's allotment, using Delia's recipe: Delia's mincemeat.  I have a bit of a tendency to tweak the ingredients to the ones I have available and adjust the spices to taste, but it's an absolutely great recipe and reliably results in delicious mincemeat.  It's well worth making a little in advance.   

These little fruit pies are so tasty.  This year, I made them with a crumble topping, by keeping back about a third of the breadcrumbs from making the pastry and stirring in a little muscovado sugar, and making a rich buttery pastry with the other 2/3, using egg and a dash of milk and a little icing sugar to sweeten.  The self raising flour means the pastry rises slightly and has a lovely texture.

Another of my favourite bakes is these spiced orange cake squares.  I just added a little allspice, vanilla and natural orange essence to a normal sponge batter. I then did a traybake and cut into squares and popped into individual cases.  To decorate, I just cut a rough star out of a clean plastic cocoa tin lid, rested it on the top of each square, and sprinkled icing sugar, caster sugar and a pinch of allspice mixed together while they were still warm. I thought they looked really cute!

A bake I really enjoyed was the 'Emmatines' I made for Emma's birthday.  I did two types - little squares and cupcakes.  Emma loves teal and showed me the cakes she was dreaming of - and I did my best to recreate them!  I was much happier with the cupcakes than the squares, but as it was my first attempt icing cube shaped cakes I decided not to beat myself up too much.  I must admit despite taking the day off work, I was tearing my hair out a little, because I was also trying to get her quilt finished, but thankfully I did manage it all in time to drive to Manchester for the party!  These were in little gold foil cases - which aren't very eco friendly, but it was a very special occasion...

The last bakes I want to share today are some tear and share breads.  I am sure we cake lovers all have that friend who doesn't share our love of cake and sweet things, and in fact prefers savoury - but nonetheless deserves some love and care on their birthday because they are an all round wonderful person.  So the first of these breads was a personalised bread, made of lots of little stars (because this person is a star) with the birthday girl's initials on. This was made using my parsnip tear and share recipe.

Before rising
Ready for the oven
The finished loaf
The second tear and share I loved making was a cheese and onion bread for the work Christmas party, which i made in the shape of a Christmas wreath. I was worried this wouldn't work - and was so delighted when it did. I've included these before photos so you can see the sort of proportions used to make the loaf so that it kept its shape.

Hope you've enjoyed - and I look forward to hearing about your cooking exploits too!. Happy baking, folks....



  1. Oh goodness!!! Where do I begin!!! Your baked treats are fantastic! Each one making me hungrier for the next!! Wow! And I love that story of your grandmother... How wonderful that you still have her to enjoy! I like to bake as well and would really like to try some of these!!! Happy day to you friend!! Nicole xo

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed, Nicole - and that you kindly took the time to comment :) I spoke to my Nana yesterday actually, and it was great to hear her voice over the phone. I will definitely post up a few recipes for you Nicole - I am sure I have the dough recipe I used for the tear and share, so I just need to use my photos to put together a little recipe tutorial and adapt the instructions to fit. The crumble top mince pies turned out well too, and were in demand over the festive period - and so much easier than fiddling around pinching tiny little pie lids on! xxx

  2. What wonderful bakes Hazel - a real feast for the eyes, AND an empty tummy!!! What patience you must have, especially for the stars on the tear and share bread - almost a shame to tear and share it!
    I'm so happy to hear you still have your lovely and much loved Nana to delight in, and I can imagine your pleasure in receiving her lovely compliments on your cakes!
    Keep up with your happy baking times, Joy xo

    1. I'm so touched by your kind words Joy :) I am very grateful to still have my Grandmother - in fact she has sort of adopted my husband too and insists he calls her Nana :) I am really glad you enjoyed 'eating with your eyes'. I am trying to work harder on presentation - I am not bad with flavours but my food can sometimes look rather boring! Thanks for reading xxx

  3. Oh wow those look beautiful you have amazing baking talent!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words - and for reading :) xxx