Monday, 30 January 2012

Paris 2010 - While on walkabout

We were heading somewhere... I cannot quite remember where anymore. I do know we had a bite to eat at a McDonald's (yes, not a very inspired choice in a city filled with culinary delights, but it was convenient) with a rather strange washroom concept. You could only use the washroom if you had bought a meal at the restaurant. The receipt comes with a four-digit code which you key into a panel at the side of the washroom's entrance, 'et voila' the door opens and you can go inside to do your thing.

Anyway, before I digress even further, we went on a bit of a walkabout of the city and these were some of the sights we saw before ending at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

The Sorbonne

The Pantheon

The building facing the Pantheon

Paris 2010 - The bird I thought my mother

Hmmmm yes... I have strange notions about my mother appearing to me in bird form. This is the second time it's happening. The first was just after her passing. I cannot ignore the notion. It doesn't come along with every bird I see... just two... so far.

Paris 2010 - Square Andre Lefevre and the old old church

So we were walking aimlessly and then I saw this old old building. I was sure it was a church, but we had to walk right round it to be sure and yes it was. Though I confess I still have no idea WHAT church it was.

It was hauntingly beautiful. There is perhaps something very reverent about old old churches. Something that cannot be put into words and yet you feel it all around you when you step into one. It's like a living breathing thing that envelopes you so completely, silences your tongue and gives birth to awe.

Paris 2010 - Notre Dame and Charlemagne who gave me a fright

The great Notre Dame de Paris. How do I describe its glory? From intricate stained glass jewels to its sculptures to the little chapels that stand like little alcoves of serenity along the sides of the main area of worship to its magnificent architecture to the haunting echo of the choir during mass and so much more.

The Bird Man is what I think of him as. There he was at the foot of Charlemagne standing quite still feeding the birds. I stood and watched him for awhile. Why? I don't know. I just did.

And this is... Charlemagne the great Frankish king who gave me a fright and made my heart beat wildly out of fear. You can't quite tell from this photo, but he is quite menacing. One look at the expression on his face and you will wonder what it should be like if he suddenly came alive and rode off the platform... and then you'll think - I don't ever want to see that day for he has the look of death upon him.

Looking out onto the waters of the Seine that surround the Ile de la Cite - the centre of Paris - just next to Notre Dame de Paris.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Paris 2010 - The Eiffel Tower at almost dusk

Better late than never I suppose. So here they are. Photos of the Paris I saw, but cannot say I fell in love with like many others. Perhaps it was the stolen wallet, perhaps it was that I didn't quite see the 'romance' in it all or perhaps I was simply tired. I'm not sure, but I do wish to visit again just to make sure Paris and I are/aren't meant for each other.

Built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair, La Tour Eiffel has since become one of the world's most recognised and visited structures - the symbol of Paris.

Beautiful isn't against the fading blue sky? I didn't get to see the lights that come on after nightfall. It was a long spring day. I chose not to wait in favour of dinner and a warm bed. I did however, manage to sit on the ledge of the water canal and eat some delicious freshly made crepes filled with Nutella.

The other side of the canal.

Lemon Drizzle Cake and hope for a better tomorrow...

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion of what becomes
a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

It will be tomorrow in a few hours. I can't say I'm looking forward to it with enthusiasm despite the lovely cakes I've had to tide me over the weekend. I think I will need Edmund again, but we'll see. Perhaps a slice of this for dinner will sort me out.

Adapted from BBCGoodFood

250g Butter, softened and a little kept aside to butter the cake tin
225g Caster Sugar
3 Lemons, zested and juiced
Vanilla Beans from 1 Vanilla Pod
4 large Eggs
200g Self-Raising Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
50g Ground Almonds
Icing Sugar

Grease and line a 20cm round loose-bottomed cake tin.

Sieve Flour, Ground Almonds and Baking Powder together. Set aside. Cream Butter, Sugar, Vanilla and three-quarters of the Lemon Zest with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in Eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Fold in the Flour mixture gently by hand until just combined. Give the batter a quick mix with the electric beaters (5 - 7 seconds). Fold in three-quarters of the Lemon Juice gently by hand until completely absorbed into the batter. Pour batter into the prepared tin and bake at 150 Celsius until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, mix the reserved Lemon Juice with enough sieved Icing Sugar to get a thick, white, spreadable icing. The icing should not be too runny. Pour the icing over the just baked cake and place it back in the oven for about 5 minutes to dry a little. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool completely. The icing will form a thin crust on top of the cake. Sprinkle with reserved Lemon Zest and serve.
  • I used a smaller round cake tin and cupcake cases instead of a 20cm round cake tin.
  • I also accidentally left the cake in with the icing a little too long so it started bubbling and made a bit of a mess on the oven floor. This idea (not the mess!) is from Tamami. If you click on the link, you will see that she has given step-by-step instructions on how to get the perfect shiny set icing. I'm of course, a half-past-six baker so I simply mixed and did.
  • And yes, I have tried Jamie Oliver's recipe for the same cake. It's a lovely cake by itself. It's got a more full-on mouth-puckering lemon flavour going for it as well as syrup poured in and an icing on top, but I found the poppyseeds distracting.
  • I much prefer this cake. The flavour is more elegant and nothing distracts from the moist lemony crumb. Perfect with a cup of hot tea.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Plum Honey Cakes

It's the end of a long, tough week. I'm tired... to the bone. I have panda eyes leftover from last night's crying. No conversation. That's what I needed. So I put on The Royal Ballet's version of The Nutcracker and let the music and dance wash over me like a balm. I was somewhat soothed but it didn't quite take all the hurt away. Sleep came slowly but surely punctuated only by a cup of hot, strong coffee this morning and then it was back to bed.

I am feeling better now. Not all healed, but just better. Perhaps because I made these. I ate two straight out of the oven and another two as an after dinner sweet with tea. I suppose my baking is like calm in the eye of the storm and the baked goods are a cushion against the trying times. Whatever it is I'm glad it's back to stay.   

That's enough dwelling. It's time to talk of these cakes. A few weeks and some plums ago I went looking for a plum cake recipe... and promptly got myself into trouble with many references to Christmas Cake (having begun its debut to the world as Plum Cake). It wasn't what I was looking for, so I kept searching. The epiphany came when I searched for a Nigel Slater plum cake recipe and found that someone had made some Honey and Cinnamon Plum Cakes from one of his cookbooks.

I promptly fell in love with how the cupcake cases and the colour of the plums were so matchy-matchy. Made me want to eat them straightaway. I read the entire blog post until I reached the comments and read 'The consistency is more of a pudding than a cake."

Oh oh... I didn't want a pudding thing. I wanted a cake thing. So here's what I did.

I halved the recipe and meddled with it by using the usual creaming method, removing the golden syrup entirely for a stronger honey flavour and changed the spice mix to suit myself. It went into little cases and into the oven. While baking it made the whole kitchen smell of sweet honey and glorious spices. It came out of the oven, went straight into my mouth and I felt like I had come HOME.

I made these again today. To make myself feel better. I've four sitting in my stomach right now, making me feel warm and cozy inside. Tonight I feel like conversation and entertainment, so I'm off to Edmund's.


250g Plain Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
Scant 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 teaspoon Ground Mixed Spice
1/4 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch of Salt
130g Butter, softened
130g Soft Brown Sugar
2 large Eggs
6 tablespoons dark, clear Honey
4 tablespoons Full Cream Milk
3 medium-sized Plums, cleaned and quartered

Measure the Flour, Baking Powder, Baking Soda and Spices. Sieve twice onto a clean newspaper, sprinkle Salt and set aside.

In a bowl, cream the Butter and Sugar with an electric mixer until pale and creamy. Add in the Eggs one by one beating well after each addition. Beat in the Honey. Fold in the Flour mixture gently by hand until just absorbed in. Fold in the Milk by hand until it is fully incorporated into the batter.

Drop teaspoonfuls of the batter into cupcake cases. Press two pieces of the quartered Plums into each cupcake. (I got 12 cupcakes out of the recipe above) Bake at 150 Celsius until a skewer poked through the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

  • I do not preheat the oven anymore. I find that my cakes bake more evenly without the preheating. It could be because the oven is a 'hot' one and it heats too quickly, which in turn cooks the outside of the cake too quickly than the inside.
  • I like to give cake batters a very quick (5 - 7 seconds) mix with the electric mixer after folding in the flour by hand as I find it helps the flour absorb better.
  • I let these cakes brown on the top a bit as it makes the crust slightly chewy and has fast become my favourite part of the cake.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Bitten by muffins

It's the end of the Chinese New Year holidays, it's raining outside and tomorrow I go back to work. Life feels better than it did a week ago and I have the results off my baking therapy sessions sitting in the kitchen i.e. Delia Smith's Classic Christmas Cake and Apple Muffins.

Let's leave Delia aside for today and talk about the muffins. These are my FIRST attempt at muffins and I've found a new love. They were quick to put together (the only 'long' bit being peeling and cutting the apples) and quite delicious straight out of the oven. I overdid the mixed spice, so the muffins seem to smell of cinnamon and coconut - not my favourite smells or flavours - and yet is soft, moist and so damned indulgent. 

In fact, I'm thinking about having another soon... very soon with a nice hot cup of tea. A great way to slide into work tomorrow methinks.

Tucking into muffin No. 1

Adapted from Cherry on a Cake

240g Plain Plour + 1 tablespoon Baking Powder + 1/4 teaspoon Mixed Spice + a pinch of Salt
100g Caster Sugar
1 large Egg
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Essence
3/4 cup Full Cream Milk + 2 tablespoons natural Yoghurt
125g Butter, melted and cooled

1 Red Apple, cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons Rolled Oats

Streusel Topping
60g Plain Flour + scant 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
50g cold Butter
50g Soft Brown Sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon Mixed Spice
Handful of Walnuts, chopped fine
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Place 10 muffin cups on a flat baking tray.

Sieve flour, baking powder, mixed spice and salt together. Set aside. In a bowl, beat sugar, vanilla and egg with an electric mixer until frothy and thick. Beat in the milk/yoghurt  mixture and then the melted butter. Gently fold in by hand the dry ingredients, apples and oats until just combined. Do not overmix. Spoon into prepared muffin cases, top with Streusel and bake for about 20 - 25 minutes on 160 Celsius until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Right, I'm off for that second muffin and thank you Zurin for this lovely recipe.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The engagement cake

I took the day-off today. A day full of long, lazy hours and no looking at the clock. This is what I have to show for it. The engagement cake. It's a moist Spice Cake wrapped in white fondant and finished with lovely posies from Cake Connection.

Please pardon the bad lighting in the photo. I only finished in at 7.30pm while it was pouring cats and dogs outside. Now I can sleep in peace. Till another day then.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Happy New Year

It's the New Year. Christmas is long gone and I have only one measly cake to show for it. Two failed attempts at fruitcake and one at shortbread made me simply stop Christmas baking. My baking was a reflection of my state of mind at the time. What a year. Work, work and work, stress, frustrations and not quite as much time for baking as I would have liked. I'd like to think that things would be different this year. For the first time in years, I have some new year resolutions, so hurray for that. One of it is to bake more, and the other is to sail through life like Patsy Stone with help along the way from chilled champers!

One of the few recipes from last year which has never failed me was this. It's my take on Tish Boyle's Solid Gold Carrot Cake from The Cake Book, tweaked to suit my palate.


240g Plain Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/8 teaspoon Ground Mixed Spice
1/4 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Mix all together and sieve. Set aside.

200g Caster Sugar
Grated zest of 2 large Oranges
Mix this together. Set aside.

4 large Eggs

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Essence
1 teaspoon Orange Essence

1/4 cup Full Cream Milk
1 cup Vegetable Oil
120g Butter, melted

200g Carrots, grated fine
100g Walnuts, chopped and toasted
A handful or two of Raisins

Beat Sugar, Eggs and both Essences with an electric mixer together until well combined. Beat in Milk, Oil and Butter. Mix well until combined. Fold in the Flour mixture gently by hand. Add Carrots, Walnuts and Raisins. Pour into cupcake cases and bake at 150 to 160 Celsius until a skewer poked through the middle comes out clean.