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In praise of the humble nutmeg

I really must declare that nutmeg is the official spice of winter. Right now, I am putting nutmeg in everything. Breakfast, dinner, dessert. Nutmeg wins.

{And yes, I know it’s not technically winter for another handful of hours, but it certainly feels like winter. It’s felt like winter for a good few weeks now. So winter it is. Since I appear to be in a declaring type mood anyway.}

So far, we have been much better about planning menus and buying food than we had been before, when we lived within walking distance of the grocery store. We now live within walking distance of a brilliant fruit and veg place, where I think I have discovered the Best Sweet Potatoes in the World Ever. Which, by the way, also taste really lovely with nutmeg.

But I did leave one poor little banana lingering. Everyone has their perfect banana time. I like them when they are still a tinge green, before no brown spots have appeared. The boy likes them when they are definitely yellow…a few spots are okay. But once they have started to reach more than half brown, they must be baked into something. So there is this little window of time where any bananas that haven’t been eaten have to sit on the counter going a bit more brown to be perfect for baking. Except how many recipes call for just one of those bananas? And usually we try not to buy so many that we will have lots leftover.

So here it is. A one banana recipe. With, of course, NUTMEG. Because it is winter (or it feels like it) and everything tastes better with nutmeg. Please do not get me started on combinations like nutmeg and spinach or nutmeg and porridge or nutmeg and cherry pie. Because it is all so good.

One Banana Cupcakey-Muffin-Things
(in other words, they should be cupcakes, but we decided we didn’t want icing because we have been living on a sugar high from various other Christmas-related snacks)

Makes 6 to 8 of a decent size for dessert or breakfast.

And as requested…trying to do both metric and imperial measurement!

1 stick//125g unsalted butter
1/2cup//100g sugar
1 large egg
1 cup//60g all-purpose//plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda//bicarbonate soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup//120 mL prepared custard (US-style vanilla pudding will also work)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 very ripe banana

Preheat oven to 350F/180C and line cupcake tray with papers.

With an electric mixer (or a spatula and a very strong arm), beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and beat until even.

Stir in egg.

Throw in all the dry ingredients, give a stir by hand, then pour the custard and vanilla over the top and mix everything up until well blended.

Add the banana last and blitz until the banana appears to be pretty well throughout the mix. (If you are mixing by hand, mash the banana first. If you use the electric mixer, it should be able to mash it for you!)

Fill cups 3/4 full and bake for about 18 minutes or until a chopstick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place immediately on a cooling rack. This is a dense cake that will sink if left in the pan.

If you fancy icing, chocolate or cream cheese would be lovely. And have you checked out Chockylit’s Mother of All Icing Posts? I bet her Christmas buttercream would be fabulous on these as well. Though I think it needs nutmeg.


A cupcake of Christmas past

Oh reliable internet access, how I miss you. Through a series of somewhat unfortunate events, we are technology-challenged in our new place for a while. Meaning we have no internet at home. Which is one of those things that sounds like no big deal…surely we have plenty to get on with in our dwindling city of cardboard boxes without wasting time by sitting in front of a screen, right? And ordinarily, I would say yes. But that’s kinda difficult when your job means you need to be online every day. Especially in December.

Suffice to say I am now at one with the internet hotspots in this part of the world. Things are getting done. And apparently our flat will join this century very, very soon. Which will be nice.

In the mean time I have been getting to grips with other sorts of technology. We have a dishwasher here, and I can’t tell you how happy this makes both of us. We both dread washing dishes, and that can make for a very dangerous situation indeed. It’s even a little two-person friendly washer. We also have a shocking bonus in a washer-dryer. Fluffy, hot towels for the first time in years! Please do not misunderstand me, as I really love England or I would never choose to live here, but the one thing that has constantly baffled me is the lack of dryers. Since space is at a premium, utility rooms are a luxury—that I understand—so washing machines end up in the kitchen. That I’m not totally sure I get, though the plumbing is there already, so I suppose it makes sense. Once you’ve ditched a kitchen cupboard for your washing machine, it’s not very convenient to ditch another for a dryer…leaving those not lucky enough to have space for a dryer to hang our washing to dry. This has proven difficult living in a flat with no garden to hang a washing line! Forgive me, but I really don’t like drying laundry in my living room. And even if we did have a garden…it does rain quite a few days of the year. So if you have never been to England, imagine yourself in a supermarket when you notice it has started to rain. Look around and you will undoubtedly see other shoppers picking up their mobile phones to call someone else at home and tell them to get the washing in, out of the rain. It is perfectly commonplace here, and yet it does seem to me a little like a comedy routine. Anyway…we can now dry things. In our kitchen. Don’t even have to swap machines or lose more cupboards. There is absolutely zero laundry in my living room right now, and that makes me gloriously happy.

Of course I have also been getting to know my new oven! It seems to be a bit more even than the last one (which had a habit of burning anything in the back right corner while leaving the front left corner totally uncooked) though it has its quirks, like not wanting to stop cooking. Ever. We’ll just have to keep eating, I suppose. It turns out that the little store with the pumpkin also had candy corn in for the autumn, so I couldn’t resist. {For Shaulean, who has been emailing me, the recipe is here. The only difference was that I left out the brandy butter—just regular cream cheese icing dusted with cinnamon.}

Once I got past the silly things like candy corn and Nutrageous bars, I started discovering other little gems, like the Ginger Curd in the top picture. For a tiny little shop, their collection of jams, curds and preserves is shocking and divine. Last year when I made these same cupcakes, the filling was inspired by just finding some ginger preserves. This year I found the ginger curd and whipped it up with some double cream, but otherwise the recipe for Gingerbread Latte cupcakes is just the same.

I had forgotten how pretty these look when they first come out of the oven.

The constant routine changes seem to have affected my ability to write about just one thing, so while I’m here, I’ll throw out these things that are blog posts in the back of my head:

*If you fancy a scrapping retreat in the spring, Karen Russell and I will be teaching at Scrap Fever and there is an early booking discount if you book by the 15th of December. So…you could put it on your Christmas list and hint a lot in the next day or two? So, so excited about that weekend.

*Issue two of You Can Craft is out now in the UK, and it has tons of tons of supplies with each issue. Perfect Christmas prezzie for someone you want to get crafting. Even if it is just so they will come over and craft with you. Which is perfectly fine. When you get this issue, see if you can spot the pillows from my living room!

*The girls who are journaling their Christmas are ohmygosh fabulous. Check out some of their work here for much red and green inspiration.

*Thank you to all the girls who cropped with me the last two weekends—in Enfield and Ipswich. It has been a fabulous end to the year for workshops!!

And now I better get back home and get to work on that ongoing project, as we have our first visitors this Friday!


The need for chocolate.

This is a need you understand, right? The need that, faced with two very challenging weeks, there is no such thing as too much chocolate. Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate filling and chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles and two kinds of chocolate Malteasers.

But there is good news: my computer is back, in working order. The school stuff that was less than pleasant is not gone, but it is now to a point where we can breathe and look forward. We have two weeks until summer break here, and that will be a welcome event for pretty much everybody.

In the mean time, we eat chocolate.

It’s cheaper than therapy.

Serious Chocolate Cupcakes

Cake ingredients:
110g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g brown sugar
100g sugar
175g plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 packet instant hot chocolate
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
50ml single cream
125ml milk

Preheat oven to 180C and line cupcake tin with papers.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy, then add sugars and beat until light and even. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing on low between each one.

Stir in remaining ingredients, then mix until an even consistency.

Fill cupcake papers just over halfway and bake for about 18 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Make sure they are room temperature or chilled before adding filling.

Malted chocolate cream filling
200ml whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate
50g light brown sugar
1 packet instant hot chocolate

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and allow to rest until just warm.

In a separate bowl, mix the whipping cream and sugar on a high speed until the cream thickens. Add remaining ingredients and continue to mix on high. Stir in melted chocolate.

Chill until cold. Use a melon baller to remove the centre of each cupcake top and spoon cream into the cupcakes, then replace the tops.

Chocolate cream frosting
200ml whipping cream
50g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate
50g light brown sugar
100g icing sugar (or more to taste)
1 packet instant hot chocolate.

Essentially, this is the same as the filling but with butter and more sugar. You may want to tweak amounts to match the chocolate you are using and your taste for dark to milk chocolate, but it is the same process as the above. Just beat the butter in the bowl first, then add the cream, then everything else.

Frost the cupcakes with a knife or spatula, then pile on chocolate sprinkles, Malteasers and any other chocolate you have left in your cupboard.


PS: if this weekend behaves as it should, I might actually do something crafty with paper! It it’s positively shocking, I know.

This and That and The Other

The impromptu departure from the internets? I think I can explain. You might remember this event of late last summer. After that sad moment, there were two full months of agony involving repairs, mistakes, more repairs, insurance companies, more repairs and formal complaints and finally one more repair. But even with all those repairs, the insurance company did not authorise the replacement of a £20 part that was damaged, as it was still functional.

Or at least it was until last week, when it sparked about a foot in the air, right through the speaker, as I was editing photos. Then nothing. No power. And much grumbling about insurance companies and repairs from me.

So right now I am once again waiting for the insurance company to make a decision. I can give my computer to them for an unknown amount of time, hope they fix something right, and not have to pay for any of the repair, since it’s still part of the first claim. Or I can take it to the shop myself, lose it for a few days and pay for it. Or I can scream out of a frustration and buy a shiny new one and promptly move my insurance policy.

In the meantime, I am not online much at all. Or offline. I can manage a bit here and there with some clever trickery. But mostly I am:

♥Marking exams
♥Drinking orange and cinnamon tea
♥Baking and eating orange and cinnamon and carrot cupcakes
♥Sewing dresses from curtain fabric
♥Wearing said dresses to both Singalonga Sound of Music and work
♥Rereading The Order of the Phoenix in anticipation of the event known as A Harry Potter movie with Helena Bonham-Carter
♥Preparing for some upcoming workshops here

If you feel like throwing the technology on the floor, here’s a recipe to give you something to do. And if you’re in this part of the world, you’ll have plenty of hours of daylight to do something this week.

♥Orange and Cinnamon and Carrot Cupcakes♥

60 mL vegetable oil
2 large eggs
100g sugar
100g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon undiluted orange squash (or orange juice concentrate)
35g Bird’s custard powder (half a single serving packet)
200 mL boiling water
160g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 medium sized carrots, grated

I felt like I was making this backward, but here’s how it went:
Start with most of the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, including both sugars, flour, soda, cinnamon and cloves.
Mix the custard as you normally would—put the powder in the bottom of the gravy jug, boil the kettle and fill to the 200mL line. Stir until thickened.
Add the custard, oil, vanilla and orange squash and stir until well mixed. Add the eggs and mix until even.
Stir in the grated carrots at the last minute, just before you are ready to pour into the pan.
Fill cupcake papers 2/3 full. Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a chopstick comes out clean. Remove and let cool on a rack.

♥Orange and Cinnamon and Cream Cheese Icing♥

200g plain cream cheese
100g unsalted butter
400g icing sugar (more or less to taste)
40g brown sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon undiluted orange squash or juice concentrate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
15g Dream Topping mix (half a packet)

Essentially, put it all in a bowl and mix it up. Clearly you’ll want to add the icing sugar a little bit at a time, unless you like the snowy-kitchen look.
The dream topping will make this go quite soft while you’re mixing—make it the night before, put it in the fridge, and it will ice just fine in the morning, and make it through the day on the table in the staffroom.

Garnish with more cinnamon, coconut flakes, walnuts, or whatever else seems to be handy.


Between L and N

We’ll see if the gremlins and gone away. It seems they have at least slowed down over the weekend. Silly gremlins. How dare they get in the way of cupcakes and paper crafts?

Speaking of cupcakes, it has been forever since I’ve been able to bake for Cupcake Thursdays, and I did promise to post this super easy recipe for someone who asked, so here we go.

A warning note: you can make this with Nestle’s “Smarties”:é%29, if you prefer, but I will think you are mad. You can make them with the positively heavenly UK creation known as Minstrels, and I will think they are too yummy to give away. Well, certainly not to children. Needless to say, if you count the enumbers in any of these sweets, the chocolates make this a non-organic recipe. Sorry…we all fall down somewhere, perhaps?

The M&Ms will sink to the bottom—I thought this would be a drawback, but the girls at work said it made the bottom of the cake like a candy bar. And that can’t be a bad thing! (Or…it could have just been our Thursday. Trust me.)

M&M Cupcakes

225g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate
200g sugar
150g brown sugar
1 tablespoon seedless raspberry or strawberry jam
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
250g plain flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
240mL (1 cup) buttermilk
As many M&Ms as you would like

Heat oven to 180C and line cupcake tin with papers.

Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl sat over a saucepan of simmering water. Once melted, remove from heat and stir in both sugars and jam.

Once cooled enough not to cook the eggs, add the eggs and vanilla and mix until even.

Add remaining ingredients except the M&Ms, stir in, then mix until even again.

Fill papers halfway. Drop in a few M&Ms and bake immediately, for about 18 minutes (shorter if you are making smaller cakes), or until a chopstick comes out clean.

Remove from tin and let cool. Ice with your favourite vanilla or chocolate frosting recipe, then decorate with more M&Ms and chocolate sprinkles.


PS: This website is helpful if you prefer cups to grams!

Blueberry Morning

I’m totally cheating. This is not a cupcake. This is a muffin. Which means this is not a cupcake Thursday. But it’s also not a work Thursday, which is kinda like cheating in and of itself, so why the heck not, right?

It’s been a funny half-term. The day before a school break, we get a note that reminds us of what time the school will open and close each day, in case we want to come in and work in our classrooms while class is not in session. This is something I have done more days than I can count over my teaching career, but by this time of the school year, everybody needs a break. Especially when I realise that a ton of schools are already breaking for summer and we have several weeks left, right through to the middle of July, and oh, did I mention we are not an air conditioned building? That summer session is such a challenge. It should never make a teacher feel guilty to take this break as a real break, and yet that guilt often creeps in by Thursday or Friday. This time, I got a note explaining that I could not go in, as my classroom would be part of some electrical work! Hurrah—it feels strangely free to know I just can’t go in and I have to take my holiday! Hurrah.

So, with a smaller audience, I thought I’d try just a little batch of blueberry muffins, and by kismet blueberries were even on sale. This made an even dozen; perfect for keeping a few and sharing a few. And posing with random plants, apparently.

85g unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarb soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/8 cup milk
A big coffee cup full of blueberries, washed and stems removed

Preheat oven to 180C and place liners in muffin tin. (ha! It’s the same thing as a cupcake tin! Sorry. I am easily amused.)

Beat butter and sugar together with a mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until even.

Add all remaining ingredients except for blueberries. Stir in, then mix on low speed until evenly distributed.

Fold in blueberries.

Scoop into tin, filling papers 3/4 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until set with golden tops.

Serve with coffee, adorable hedgie tea towels from The Black Apple and randomly placed plants, for good measure.


Quick Fix

Okay, so normally I want to avoid cake mix like the plague. Not because it’s bad, but because I enjoy making the cake from scratch.

Wait. That just made the whole ‘like the plague’ thing not make sense. The plague IS bad. That’s the point of it being THE PLAGUE, right? You don’t want to avoid the plague because you enjoy something else. You want to avoid the plague because you don’t want to ruin-absolutely-everything. Okay. That’s sorted. I can never say ‘like the plague’ again. If I do, feel free to commit me being hit with stones in the public square or something else suitable.

I will admit that baking from scratch is not always the most practical of matters, and I also know that there are women out there who make AMAZING cakes who secretly swear by their favourite cake mixes. They’ll never tell you it’s not from scratch, and I can’t blame ‘em.

So if you’ve gotta come up with the cupcakes on the quick and you don’t want to get caught out with your cake mix, here are my favourite fix-em-ups:

Chocolate cake mix + 1/2 cup cherry or raspberry jam added to the mixing bowl.
Vanilla cake mix + 1/2 packet of any fruit flavoured gelatin (the powdered kind rather than the gelled kind—we have both in the UK)
Vanilla cake mix + 1/3 cup sprinkles mixed in right at the last minute before it goes in the oven = confetti cake
Vanilla or chocolate cake mix + chocolate chips. Because you can never go wrong adding more chocolate, right?
Carrot cake mix + 1/2 cup extra thick cream for a carrot cake with a softer, steamed-pudding type texture

Now…I do well with the dessert shortcuts. I am not so good with the dinner shortcuts. Care to share your best make it good-but make it quick tip today? Since we’re sharing the love and all.


Eat your heart out

We’ve been on a real mango kick here. The boy mastered a gorgeous veggie & mango curry, we’ve been making mango frapuccino lassi in our new blender (we so love a good bargain gadget!) and with one mango left in the fruit bowl, cupcakes seemed a must.

Instead of icing, we served these with a marshmallowy sauce and mango puree. Summer yum. So I thought I’d share the love.

Mango Cupcakes
(makes about 20 standard sized cupcakes)

1 US stick or 1/2 UK stick unsalted butter (about 125g)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup coconut milk (or regular milk if you don’t like coconut)
1 very ripe mango, mashed
1/3 cup mango puree (tinned or fresh, although you may need to add a bit of sugar to the fresh)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Heat oven to 180C/350F and line cupcake tin with papers.

With butter at room temperature, beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add sugar and mix on high for another two minutes.
Mix in egg yolks and vanilla until even.
Add flour, baking powder, spices and salt in alternation with coconut milk and mango puree. Mix on low until even.
Stir in mashed mango until well distributed.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
Stir into the cake mixture.
Pour immediately into cupcake papers, about 3/4 full.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a chopstick comes out clean.

Mango Marshmallow Cream
(makes a big bowl)

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 US stick or 1/2 UK stick unsalted butter (about 125g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup mango puree

With the whisk attachment on an electric mixer, whisk egg whites and sugar in a glass bowl, over a saucepan of simmering water. Continue to whisk until mixture is thick and hot to the touch.
Remove from heat and mix in butter, in small pieces.
Add remaining ingredients and continue to mix until well distributed, with a fluffy marshmallow consistency.
Let cool and serve over cakes, with additional mango puree drizzled on top.

Whatever your heart-shaped desserts this week, I hope you’ll share the love!