Saturday, 28 March 2009

Cats in lurve.

One of my lovely friends is getting married in August and she asked me to design her invitations. Me! This was very exciting, and also scary, because of the Pressure. I knew that if I gave her something half-arsed, she'd be totally lovely about it but I'd feel like poo everytime I looked at it because I'd know it wasn't my best. So, pressure!

Anyway, we decided to incorporate her cats in some way, but attempting to fall on the side of cute and quirky instead of cheesy and slightly creepy. So after much playing around with Photoshop and various images, and then a few slightly more productive hours with a sketchpad, I came up with this:

And I actually kind of like it. :) They even look vaguely like her cats, although I'm not sure how Ferdie and Mikko would feel about being represented in this way, considering they're both boys and almost definitely heterosexual. 

Next up, planning the hen do. Huzzah.

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Thursday, 26 March 2009

Reading List: Books Read in March

Oh yeah, this is a regular thing now. I attempt to keep track of the books I've read in a year. I stopped recording last year, and I was annoyed, because I read some really good books, and now I feel like I have forgotten half of them. Read I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak and Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill! Read them! 


Books Read in March:

5 – Watchmen - Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This was… interesting. I’m relatively new to the world of graphic novels, having read the first two Absolute Sandman volumes because I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s novels. I can appreciate how well done Watchmen is – the way they use the images to portray what is going on, often using methods more commonly seen in films and TV, like showing flashbacks through a different coloured filter, for example. The reason my review is sort of hesitant is because I couldn’t tell you if I liked it. It raises questions about our world and doesn’t really answer them, I suppose because it can’t. It left me feeling sort of uncomfortable and a bit confused. And kind of sick, too, but that was mostly because I was reading it in the back seat of a very bumpy car. I don’t know. I do recommend it, but it’s a strange one.  

6 – Confessions of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella

After Watchmen took me about three weeks to read, this took more like three days. In fact, I read the bulk of it in a two hour period whilst recovering in bed from my friend’s wedding. I never know with chick-lit. I’m quite a snob about it, really, because I’ve always been a Reader, and the point of chick-lit has always seemed to be that it is not aimed at Readers. Just at anyone. But I generally enjoy the books, although it does just feel like reading a friend’s blog, and the happy ending and all loose ends tied up aspect of books in this genre starts feeling frivolous after a while. But anyway. This book was fun – and I over-identified with the heroine, being something of a shopaholic myself. The whole thing about how much things actually cost, and how much you tell your mum they cost was SO true. Anyway, it was cute, and I recommend, and I will probably go and see the movie, but it’s not exactly the pinnacle of modern literature.


Currently reading:
The Dark Volume - G.W. Dahlquist
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Sunday, 22 March 2009

Nigella's Malteser Cake and Chocolate Cupcakes

So, I kept seeing pictures of Nigella Lawson's Malteser Cake on the awesome cakes and baking community, bakebakebake, recently. Honestly, it looked so good, so I resolved to make it at my next opportunity. 

To be honest with you though, the cake was kind of a Fail. It didn't rise and had this weirdly rubbery texture. With the butter icing, though, it tasted pretty good, but I wouldn't make the cake part of this recipe again. The icing though, was awesome, basically pure butter and sugar with a maltesery taste. 

Here's the recipe for the Malteser cake, from Nigella's Feast. If I did this again, I'd make a plain chocolate sponge (probably with some Horlicks in for that malty taste) but I would totally do the butter icing again, it was awesome. I ran out of Horlicks and used Malteser hot chocolate, and that worked brilliantly. This is the original quantities - I made double the amount of icing because I wanted to ice the side of the cake too, which meant that I had a ton left over. And went overboard with the thickness of the icing on the cake. But it also meant I had enough left over for cupcakes! See below for recipe.

Chocolate Malteser Cake
From “Feast" by Nigella Lawson 
For the cake
  • 150g soft brown sugar (muscavado sugar is best for flavour)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 175ml milk
  • 15g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Horlicks powder
  • 175g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa, sieved
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

For the icing and decoration
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • 45g Horlicks
  • 125g soft unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 x 37g packets Maltesers

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3/170C. Butter and line two 20cm loose-bottomed sandwich cake tins with baking parchment.

Whisk together the sugars and eggs until light and frothy. Heat the milk, butter and Horlicks powder in a small saucepan until the butter has melted and the mixture is hot but not boiling. Beat the milk mixture into the eggs a little at a time. Fold in the dry ingredients thoroughly. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, by which time the cakes should have risen and will spring back when pressed gently. Let them cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes and then turn them out of their tins.

Once the cakes are cold, you can get on with the icing. I use a processor just because it makes life easier: you don’t need to sieve the icing sugar. So: put the icing sugar, cocoa and Horlicks in the processor and blitz to remove all lumps. Add the butter and process again. Stop, scrape down, and start again, pouring the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running until you have a smooth buttercream.

Sandwich the cold sponges with half of the buttercream, and then ice the top with what is left, creating a swirly pattern rather than a smooth surface. Stud the outside edge, about 1cm in, with a ring of Maltesers or use them to decorate the top in which-ever way pleases you.

Makes 8-10 slices.



I bought a big bag of Maltesers and mashed most of them up in a plastic bag with a rolling pin and then pressed them to the sides and the top, then stuck some whole Maltesers on. It really made it look amazing - I took this in for my boss's birthday at work (I'm a kiss-ass) and everyone loved it. I was disappointed though, because I'm critical of myself. 

Anyway, like I said, I used the leftover icing for cupcakes. I stuck it in the fridge and it lasted great for about two weeks, and then I took the cupcakes to the aforementioned hen do. 

I can't remember where I got this recipe. I just googled 'best chocolate cupcakes' and this came up on some random site. They were pretty good!

Chocolate Cupcakes 

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (240 ml) boiling hot water
  • 1 1/3 cups (175 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 - Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly butter, or line 16 muffin cups with paper liners.

2 - In a small bowl stir until smooth the boiling hot water and the cocoa powder. Let cool to room temperature.

3 - In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

4 - Then in the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat only until incorporated. Then add the cooled cocoa mixture and stir until smooth.

5 - Fill each muffin cup two-thirds full with batter and bake for about 16-20 minutes or until risen, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing. You can either spread the frosting on the cupcakes with a small spatula or if piping, using a large Wilton 1M open star tip to make lovely swirls.

Makes 14-16 cupcakes.


My leftover icing meant I could really pile it onto the cupcakes so it was all thick and luscious. And piped icing ALWAYS looks good, even if you're a bit rubbish! Check it. I bought a piping bag from Amazon which made it so much easier.



I'm my own worst critic and I would say these weren't the best chocolate cupcakes ever. They were a bit too dense for my taste. But everyone else said they were amazing, and even though I took the full amount to the hen do, I only managed to get half a cupcake. They went FAST. I'm still trying to make the perfect cupcakes, though. I've had some awesomely light and fluffy ones in the past, and so I will not rest until I've made some that are just as good. The battle continues!  
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Friday, 20 March 2009

Dime bar and pecan cookies

Yet another recipe. I've done lots of baking recently! There will be other content, I swear.  

The recipe originally came from here. Again, Britishised.

Dime bar and pecan cookies

Ingredients:
  • 250g (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 227g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g (3/4 cup) brown sugar
  • 170g (3/4 cup) white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 Dime Bars (or as much as you like)
  • 1 small bag or ½ big bag pecans (or as much as you like)
Note from original recipe: DO NOT skip the step on chilling the dough, otherwise your cookies will come out flat and spread! No one likes flat cookies, so refrigerate them! Overnight, if you have to. If you do, they'll come out nice and fluffy like these ones.

Note from Sarah: I chilled the dough and my cookies came out flat and spread. They were still popular though and sooo tasty! I have no idea how to make them not do this, I think I might try chilling them overnight like she suggested. 

1 - Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside. In a separate bowl, break up Dime Bars into small pieces and combine with chopped pecans. Set aside.

2 - Cream butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy (a couple minutes). Beat in eggs one at a time, and vanilla.

3 - Alternatively mix in the Heath Bar mixture and the flour mixture, a third at a time, until well blended. Chill cookie dough for at least 45 minutes.

4 - Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C. On cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, spoon out the cookie dough in small 1-inch diameter balls. Place dough balls 3 inches away from each other on the cookie sheets.

5 - Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.


These were AWESOME. Dime bars are my favourite anyway and they went all chewy and perfect. The addition of pecans was also genius. Om nom nom. They were also cooked the perfect amount, they were all soft and gooey and I really want to make them again. 

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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

S'more Cookie Bars. SO GOOD.

I made these for my friend's hen weekend a few days ago. The recipe originally came from this blog, which is a fantastic place that's responsible for my waist gradually getting wider.

I've British-ised the recipe for my own purposes. S'mores are an American campfire snack, traditionally made of Graham crackers with chocolate and marshmallows sandwiched in between them, toasted over a campfire. The closest British relative to Graham crackers is Digestives, so that's what I used.

S’more cookie bars

Ingredients:
  • 110g butter, room temperature
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 115g sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 160g all purpose flour
  • 6 digestives, crushed (stick them in a plastic bag, knot it, bash with rolling pin)
  • 1 flat tsp baking powder
  • 2 king-sized milk chocolate bars
  • ½ jar marshmallow creme/fluff
Note: The recipe says do not use marshmallows, only marshmallow fluff. You can get this fluff in big supermarkets like Asda, in the world foods aisle. It’s basically marshmallow in a jar. It’s not especially cheap for what it is. This is what I used BUT I want to try these again with cut up marshmallows as I think it would still work. I’ve used marshmallows in recipes before and they do melt. Re: the quantity – use enough to cover your pan, basically.

1 – Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

2 – In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.

3 – Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. 2 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together).

4 – Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. They probably won’t look cooked, but that’s a good thing. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 16 cookie bars.

(Note, if you don’t have time to cool completely, lift out and stick in muffin cases to avoid messiness. They won't entirely fall apart, but they won't be quite as neat as they should be, due to gooey marshmallow and melted chocolateness. Technically, these should be square and brownie-like, though.)

I had some leftover chocolate so I drizzled it over the top. 



Sadly I didn't get a chance to take a picture after cutting them up.

Guys, these were GOOD. The cookie dough was just cooked enough so it was still soft and tasty, the marshmallow was gooey and... god, they were amazing. So popular, all the very British hens were intrigued by the concept of s'mores (I'm hardly an expert, but I read a lot of Babysitter Club books when I was a kid) and I will definitely be making them again. 


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Friday, 13 March 2009

The Best Brownies Ever.

This is not a baking blog, because I do not bake well enough to warrant it. Or enough, actually. But lately I’ve got quite into baking, and I’m not that bad at it! When it’s the simple recipes that you can’t really mess up, anyway.

Baking is good for these reasons:

1 - It's actually quite easy
2 - Everyone likes cake
3 - Everyone likes people who bring cake.

Therefore, everyone will like you! And will think you're clever for the homemade cakes of awesomeness. I'm incredibly popular with everyone now.

I love brownies. Loooove them. For a long time, they weren’t that common in England, and I think my first introduction to them was on holiday in America when I was 13, through a Betty Crocker box mix. And, wow. I ended up bringing back several box mixes with me as they didn’t exist over here, and they were always perfect. But gradually, brownies seeped into our culture (thank GOD) and now you can pretty much get them anywhere. We had them as a dessert at work last week. And they were amazing, by the way.

There’s an art to brownies because of their unusual consistency. The perfect brownie is slightly crispy on the top, but chewy and gooey inside. I made some brownies over Christmas that technically failed – they were undercooked, they collapsed – but my god, they were SO GOOD. The undercooking meant that they were so gooey inside. You practically had to eat them with a spoon. Yummm.

Anyway, I found a brownie recipe online recently and decided to have a go at them. But I ended up making various changes to the recipe because I’m a rebel like that. Milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate, for example. And I nearly always cook my brownies in muffin cups, because it means less washing up. And they’re much easier to serve. And you get bigger portions. These brownies came out so well, even though they were flawed. I overfilled the cups, and as I’d used self raising flour (which you’re not meant to do, I stupidly listened to my mother when she said that it was the same thing as all purpose flour, even though that makes no sense), they splurged everywhere. But they were still so tasty, really crunchy on the top and then the perfect consistency inside. REALLY chewy and moist, and they stayed tasty. And they weren’t over-sickly, either. I cooked them on Thursday night and they were still perfect by Monday night. By which time there were none left.

With a hen do coming up, I vowed to make them again, with my amendments and avoiding the overfilling mistake. But I still overdid the SR flour, and a lot of them came out like this:


But finally, I reached the right balance (actually, in the future from this post - December 2009 - and went back to edit this!) and got these perfect. They came out like so:



Fairly unassuming, but oh-so-good inside. With chopped up Dime bars and pecan nuts... wowwww.The Best Brownies Ever.
(previously known as Mississippi Mud Brownies, recipe stolen from
here)Ingredients

  • 2 large bars milk chocolate, chopped
  • 250g butter (yes, really)
  • 140g self raising flour
  • 40g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 600g sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 bag pecans (optional)
  • 4 dime bars, chopped (optional)
Note: The original recipe called for 180g of plain flour. I instead put in 180g of SR flour by mistake. Some of the brownies exploded. After much tweaking, this is the perfect consistency, edited at a much later date. They don't explode any more. But still, whatever you do, don’t overfill the muffin cases. Especially if you put in all SR flour. 2/3rds, tops.
1 - Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celsius, with the rack set on the middle position. Grab a 13 x 9” baking dish and line it with aluminum foil with a little hanging over (so you can lift it out later) and spray with cooking spray. Alternatively just put them in muffin cases, which is what I do. J

2 – Melt your chopped chocolate and your butter until it's all smooth and glossy and fabulous.

3 – Let butter mixture cool slightly while combining your flour and cocoa in a separate bowl through a sieve.

4 - Whisk together your eggs and your sugar.

5 – Pour in your melted chocolate and whisk a bit more until combined, then add flour until no streaks remain.

6 – Stir in pecans, chocolate, dime bars, whatever else you want to add, or leave them out.

7 – Put in pan or muffin cases – and fill about 2/3rds - and bake for 25-30 minutes.

8 - Remove from oven. Eat.

Makes about 18-20.
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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Books read in January and February

My February resolution is to use this blog more. Rah. Yes I am.
Books read this year so far:

1 – My Booky Wook - Russell Brand

I found this really difficult to read. It actually took most of December and a large part of January. I wanted to finish it, but I suppose I wasn’t that interested in what he had to say, and in a lot of cases, his writing style really grated (e.g. saying ‘them ones’ instead of ‘those ones’, which is how he speaks). Entertaining in places, but really it was just a story of a damaged individual with a hell of a lot of issues and addictions that he’s never going to get over.


2 – Nation – Terry Pratchett

I really loved this book. It was a birthday present for my father, as is our tradition. His birthday is 3 days after Christmas, so he always gets a Pratchett book at some point in December. He reads it, then I do. This book was interesting though as it wasn’t a Discworld, it was completely new. It didn’t read as a very ‘Pratchett’ book, to be honest, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It said interesting things about our culture and civilisation, and it was just nicely done, and poignant, and a little bit beautiful in places.

3 – New Moon – Stephenie Meyer

Okay. I know. It’s Twilight. I am just so curious to read these books, because of all the hype. It was the same with Harry Potter, although those are actually worthy of at least most of the hype. The Twilight books are not brilliantly written. They’re not horrible, at least in terms of form, but the characters are irritating. In this, the second book, she had an irritating habit of mentioning things that had presumably happened between the first and second books. I think – of course it’s possible I didn’t read the first one very closely. Her heroine is hard to root for, being as she is completely defined by who she is in love with and also seems to be irresistible to all men, which never fails to be annoying. Her clumsiness is obviously meant to be endearing, but it’s just stupid. A life threatening papercut? Come ON. (Okay, it then appears to lead to her getting hurt by other means, but still…) I find the relationship with Edward very creepy – he’s a lot, LOT older than her and is incredibly controlling. It hints at emotional blackmail a lot of the time, you know, ‘I’d die if you left me. Would you? SAY YOU WOULD.’ It wouldn’t be as bad if they were both 17, but he’s meant to be a few hundred years old. CREEPY. And yet… I see why the young ‘uns love them. Well, the ones that haven’t seen Buffy, at least. The ones that have – no excuse. Buffy does it so much better. But I will read the rest, because I like to know what something is about before I judge it.

4 – Beedle the Bard – JK Rowling

I didn’t understand the hype for this. Yes, it was nice to read something Potterish again, but it didn’t say a whole lot. But it was a cute little read.





Four books in two months is a bit rubbish. Since I started driving to work instead of getting public transport, I read sooo much less. I have a pile of really good books waiting to be read though, so I should get into it more.

Currently reading:
Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Also on my reading pile:
The Dark Volume – G.W.Dahlquist
Confessions of a Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
Absolute Sandman 3 and 4 – Neil Gaiman (technically these count as several books)

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