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Lemony Lemonies in Minnesota

I’ve been on my travels again, and am now in Woodbury, Minnesota, just outside the Twin Cities. We’re staying with more very dear friends, Tracy and David, who we haven’t seen since 2019 when we were all in Florida.

Flying over the Rockies!

They are in the process of moving home, and had a sizeable bowl of lemons as part of ‘set dressing’ for showing their beautiful home to prospective buyers. And now they have a buyer (fingers crossed!) so what to do with a large number of lemons? Why, make a lemon cake!

I have made lemon ‘brownies’ before (read about them here) but this was a recipe Tracy (of international carrot cake fame) found via Pinterest. It was easy, quick and used about 4 lemons altogether which made a small dent in the pile!

Fall in Minnesota

Tracy kindly lent me the use of her kitchen, and also helped out with measuring, melting, turning on the oven, washing up and generally being very useful!

In the UK we don’t get white eggs!

I would recommend the use of a microplane zester for the lemons, as you can make very fine zest that mixes evenly with the rest of the ingredients. Also you wouldn’t have to ice them if you wanted to keep the sugar content down a bit. Instead you could dust with icing sugar just before serving, or even leave them plain. We tested for doneness after 20 minutes and then 25, and the cake appeared to be still too wet in the middle. But – another 5 minutes and they were almost TOO done, so I would advise taking them out of the oven just before you think they are actually cooked – tricky timing, and it’s not the end of the world. But they could’ve been just a little bit more squidgy for maximum deliciousness!

Possibly slightly too done, but still squishy, not dry at all.
With the icing on top.

The recipe is from this website Bakerella, but there are many versions of it, and a lot of the recipes are exactly the same. I do not therefore have any qualms about reproducing it here. Actually I am not reproducing it verbatim, as I have adapted it (as usual 😂), and added some blueberries.

Ingredients

FOR THE BARS:

1 cup plain/ all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp lemon zest (approx 3 lemons)

3/4 cup unsalted (or salted – omit the extra salt) butter almost completely melted and then cooled

2 eggs

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup of blueberries – optional – my addition!

FOR THE GLAZE:

1.5 cups icing sugar/ powdered sugar, sifted

2 tbsp (or a bit more) lemon juice

1 tsp lemon zest

Method

Grease an 8” square pan or line with foil/ non stick parchment. Preheat oven to 350*/ Gas mark 4.

Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and zest using a whisk.

Add melted butter, lemon juice, eggs and vanilla. Stir until completely combined. Add the blueberries.

Pour into the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until done. But not TOO done. Remove from oven and cool.

Make the glaze by mixing the sieved icing sugar with the lemon zest and juice, and pour over the cooled Lemonies. Let it set before cutting.

ENJOY!!

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Guest post! Peach pie by Christine

I am excited to introduce my first guest baker – one of my very dearest friends Christine Rookwood. Now living in Nelson, BC, Canada, Chris is a talented potter. Her work can be found in several art galleries and craft shops locally, and she also does commissioned work. I’ve known Chris for 43 years (I can hardly believe this!), and she has always been a fantastic baker.

Golden eagle sculpture

We are staying with Chris and her husband Paul (who I’ve known for even longer!), in their beautiful home just outside Nelson, a lovely old town on the Kootenay River.

On the drive from Vancouver we went through an area known for its fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, and bought a box of peaches (as well as some apples, pears, tomatoes, corn and little purple potatoes). Some of the peaches made it into a bowl of yogurt for breakfast, but some were destined for a peach PIE! Oh yes, dear readers, Chris made a delicious pie for us.

Chopped peaches just chilling for a while in one of Chris’s beautiful bowls
The filling is dotted with butter before the crust is folded over.
The pastry was brushed with beaten egg and sprinkled with a little sugar before baking in a hot oven (in another fabulous dish made by Chris).

The crust was a basic shortcrust made with butter, and formed galette style. This means the pastry is rolled quite a bit larger than the pie plate and then folded over the filling. The filling was chopped peaches, mixed with some sugar, vanilla and a little cornflour to thicken the juices. The peaches were left for an hour or so to combine nicely with the other ingredients. Baked in a hot oven for approximately 45 minutes, and then allowed to cool on a rack, the pie was served with softly whipped cream. How lucky was I?!

Bread AND pie! (All ceramics in this photo made by Chris)
Delicious peach pie – I am so lucky to have such a wonderful friend – generous, talented and kind. And a brilliant baker!

And it doesn’t stop there! Two gorgeous loaves of bread shared the oven space with the pie. Stuffed with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and some plump raisins, I am looking forward to some delicious toast tomorrow morning.

Sunrise
Two delicious loaves
View from the deck of the house

You can check out more of Chris’s work on Instagram – @cvrookie or on her website by clicking here.

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Chocolate chip peanut butter oat cookies

Tomorrow it’s Ealing Half Marathon Day! Therefore today I’m going to eat cookies! I am really looking forward to running tomorrow, although I have not prepared as carefully and rigorously as I could have done. I have run quite a bit, and done some long runs in the last few weeks, so hopefully it will come good on the day.

Setting up the finish line today in Lammas Park!
The race village takes shape.

I have made this recipe twice now. It is from the Sainsbury’s site, by Mitzie Wilson, and can be found by clicking here. It’s very easy and quick to make. It would be good recipe for children because the easiest way to mix everything together is with your hands. I also think it is an ideal on the run snack cookie, as it is full of carbs and protein. Next time I’m on a long run I think I might try this out! I will probably freeze a few for this very purpose.

I made the first batch faithfully following the recipe (apart from using dark brown sugar both times as that was what I had). The second time around I adjusted it slightly. I never thought I would say this but you CAN actually have too many chocolate chips 😂. There were so many the first time around I had a lot of trouble getting them all to stick in the cookie dough. Second time around I reduced the amount from 100g to 80g and still had to press them in individually to use them all up.

These are nice quality choc chips, but any are ok

Second time I used a different type of oats – the first time I had some very classy jumbo oats, and used up the last of them. Second time I used regular porridge oats (the cheapest ones from Lidl as it happens). I think it actually works better with the cheap ones as the jumbo oats don’t stick together quite so easily. But either is fine.

In the oven
Out of the oven

Further adaptations: I also sprinkled just the tiniest bit of salt on top of each cookie before they went in the oven because chocolate, peanuts and salt go well together. I also reduced the cooking time by 1 minute to make them a bit more squidgy – they were fine with 15 mins, but almost getting on the dry side.

Well – it worked! Bursting with chocolate chips and peanuts, and with the nuttiness of the oats and tang of salt they are a Taste Sensation!

I can highly recommend this recipe; quick, easy and very tasty.

My version of the chocolate chip peanut butter oat cookies! :

Ingredients:

200g crunchy peanut butter (you could use smooth too)

100g dark brown sugar (or whatever brown sugar you have)

1 egg

100g porridge oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

80g dark chocolate chips (but milk would work too)

Before starting get 2 baking sheets and line with baking parchment. Put the oven on to Gas Mark 4, 350 F or 180 C.

Beat the peanut butter, sugar and the egg with an electric whisk until well blended. Add the oats, baking powder and chocolate chips. You can mix with a wooden spoon but it’s easier to squash together with your hands. Form into 16 balls and flatten slightly on the baking sheets. If you like sprinkle the tiniest specks of salt on each.

Bake for 14-15 minutes. Let them cool for 5-6 minutes before transferring to a metal rack to finish cooling completely.

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Tracy’s Carrot Cake

This is a classic carrot cake recipe from my very dear friend Tracy. My family and I have been making this for literally decades, and I think it’s the best one ever. It always works, and it’s always loved by everyone.

As written out by Tracy. I learned recently that ‘soft cheese’ ie Philadelphia, is not really cream cheese, and proper cream cheese will make a a thicker icing. I will try to get hold of some next time.

It’s easy to make too. The dry flour mixture goes in the bowl, and then the sugar, oil and eggs are mixed in to make a smooth, thick batter. At this point it doesn’t look like a cake batter, but do not worry! Once the carrots, pineapple, walnuts and coconut are mixed in the batter loosens up.

Nowadays it seems to be very difficult to get tinned crushed pineapple, so I use pineapple chunks and then chop them after they’re drained.

I’ve always made this in a 13” x 9” tin but my sister makes it in 2 x 8” round tins and sandwiches them with the cream cheese frosting.

As you can see I don’t grease and flour the tin, but line it with baking parchment.

It’s so full of carrots, pineapple and walnuts that you can kid yourself it is healthy. Of course it’s also full of sugar… but hey – it’s a special occasion.

We didn’t manage to get all the candles lit! They kept blowing out. Next time I’ll get those candles that re-light themselves.
It didn’t last long!
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Blueberry muffins for a Sunday breakfast

The best thing about baking at home is that you can change things around to suit your own taste. You know exactly what’s gone into your creation, and there’s no hidden chemical nasties. Back in 2019 I wrote a post about blueberry muffins which you can read here.

Today’s blueberry muffin recipe is basically the same one, but different because I used fresh blueberries (instead of frozen) and rapeseed oil instead of butter. I also halved the sugar, and didn’t top with anything (in the last post I topped with cinnamon and Demerara sugar).

Here is the basic muffin recipe that makes 12 ( it is from Joy of Cooking):

Put 12 paper muffin cups in the muffin tin and pre heat the oven to Mark 6 or 200* C.

In one bowl whisk/combine the dry ingredients:

2 cups flour; 1 tbsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp salt

In another bowl whisk/combine the wet ingredients:

2 large eggs; 1 cup milk; 1/3 cup sugar (the recipe was twice that – this is how much I used); 4 tbsp rapeseed oil; 1 tsp vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, combining lightly, there should still be a few lumps. Add 1 1/2 cups of blueberries. Put the batter in the muffin cups, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes until the cake tester comes out clean. Today it took a bit longer than 15 minutes. Without fruit it might be quicker. Let stand in the tin for 3 minutes before removing and cooling a on a rack. Best eaten fresh, but can be frozen, or warmed for a few seconds in the microwave the next day.

They are quick to make, and very tasty to eat!

Juicy blueberries!

Running update: I am trying to increase the distance I am running as it has slipped a bit in the last few months. In 2019 I ran a half marathon every month – give or take – sometimes it was 10 miles, and sometimes 16. So on Friday I ran 19.5 km, going along quite a long section of the canal towpath in Greenford – where I came upon a barrier across the path. I really didn’t want to go the long way round so I tried to squeeze past. Definitely NOT a good idea as I managed to poke a hole in my leg on a piece of wire. As it was bleeding quite a lot I had to squeeze back again and make an even longer detour to the pharmacy to get some plasters! Anyway – lesson learned – follow the signs.

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Waste not want not! Buttermilk Scones

If you look closely as the photo of the ingredients you may notice that the best before date on the buttermilk pot was 27/12 – in the year 2021! Yes that’s right – 18 weeks ago. I am a great believer in the look, smell and taste test, and when I opened this pot of buttermilk, lurking in the fridge behind a jar of pickle, it looked all right, smelled all right and tasted all right! Scones are so easy and quick, and can be frozen very successfully so I made a batch.

I used a recipe from the BBC Good Food site which you can find by clicking here. I didn’t use a food processor, I rubbed the butter in by hand because I prefer it and it’s easier to wash up.

Before they went in the oven!

Scones are so delicious. Although it’s traditional to have them with cream and jam in the classic ‘cream tea’ they are also very nice with butter, or even just jam. In 2019 I wrote a post about a proper cream tea, complete with homemade jam – you can read it here. I used a different recipe this time, but they are all very similar really. Today’s recipe used quite a bit more sugar – recipes can be adapted so feel free to reduce the amount of sugar. Next time I would use less sugar as I found these quite sweet.

First batch out of the oven – a little pale. The next lot stayed in a couple of minutes more.

Don’t forget that the ‘best before’ date is just an indicator. It does NOT mean that the food is unusable after this date! Use your taste buds and common sense my friends!

Beautifully risen and fluffy.

Frozen scones should be defrosted, and then warmed gently in the oven to recreate that ‘just baked’ taste.

Too eager, too warm! Collapsed under the knife. But still delicious with home made strawberry and gooseberry jam.

What’s your favourite scone recipe? Perhaps a cheese or other savoury scone is more your thing? Cheese scones go really well with a bowl of soup for a very satisfying lunch. Maybe I’ll try them next!

Fluffy and soft.
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Lemon-almond-olive oil buns

I’ve made these buns before, and I wrote about them here. Today I made them with Portuguese olive oil instead of Spanish. I think they came out a little heavier than last time, although it’s hard to remember!

The Portuguese olive oil was special, extra virgin and unfiltered, from the harvest of 2021. Full of flavour, you can almost just drink it neat.

Before
And after!
I glazed the buns with a lemon water icing.

The recipe can be found on this lovely Spanish recipe website. The recipe is for one cake – it was my idea to make it into small buns. I have just had another look through the site, and it has some yummy sounding recipes that I’d like to try.

The original post (2019) was full of photos from our holiday in Majorca. This time I’m going to show you some recent photos that showcase Spring!

Fresh new water lilies in the WaterLily House at Kew. Every year the pond is emptied and cleaned, and then restocked with new plants.
Lilac – the scent is so amazing
Tulips at Kew
Hanwell locks on a bright spring morning

PS. I am still running! Just not quite as much as usual – I seem to be doing a lot of walking lately. You can read about some of my walks on my other blog: Walking the London Loop. I also have a little plan up my sleeve for my running journey – and hope to write about it soon!

Bake for Ukraine – Sochniki

I am sure that many many people around the world are shocked and horrified at the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent devastation of people’s lives, and the tearing apart of families. It is easy to feel helpless faced with such an enormous tragedy.

Living in London with neighbours from all over the world, it is hard for me to see people at work, in the local shops, friends and family upset, sad, angry and quite frankly heartbroken by what is happening.

As well as donating money to charities such as the Red Cross or Unicef I can bake. For this post I decided I would bake a typical Ukrainian pastry: sochniki. Simple ingredients, an easy technique and a delicious pastry to enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea. The recipe is from this website, check it out for more authentic Ukrainian recipes. There’s a hashtag doing the rounds on social media – #cookforukraine, and a related JustGiving page raising money for Ukraine. Here is the link to the page.

All the ingredients – except some icing sugar which I forgot to put in the shot.
Before they went in the oven
And after they came out!
Sweet pastry filled with a not too sweet cheese filling. Ypou could add a little grated lemon rind for extra flavour. Or maybe some rum soaked sultanas?
Field of sunflowers (photo from this website) Sunflower seeds and oil are a major export from Ukraine
Beautiful sunflowers – the national flower of Ukraine

Let’s hope that this awful time is over soon.

Nadiya’s Banana Thyme Loaf Cake

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Here is another recipe for banana bread/cake! This time it is from the lovely Nadiya Hussain, who won the 2015 series of Great British Bake Off. I was really intrigued by the addition of thyme, and also the fact that the ingredients include olive oil, and no eggs.

Mmm caramel, yum

So I set to. The cake was not a total success. But not an unmitigated failure either. And I know where I went wrong, and it’s totally my fault, not the recipe!

All the ingredients for the loaf cake.
Mixing in the milk and olive oil.

Gathering everything together before I started I was pleased that I already had a half a pot of double cream for the caramel. And exactly 4 small bananas, at the perfect level of ripeness for banana bread. However. I did not have any self raising flour. Oh well, I thought, not a disaster, I will use baking powder. But. No baking powder.

Before it went in the oven

At this point it was 8.30 on a Sunday morning, pouring with rain and blowing a hooley. And I was still in my pyjamas! I did not feel like going down to the shop just to get some baking powder. So – I will make my own baking powder. I looked up the proportions of bicarbonate of soda to cream of tartar (1:2 if you’re wondering). I calculated how much I would need for 300g of flour. All good. Oh but, no but, no. Somehow I managed to put in a little too much raising agent, which meant that the the cake rose and rose far too quickly and then sank like a soggy stone!

Before the caramel
With a nice thick caramel ‘drizzle’

The outcome was a loaf cake with a deep well along the middle. But the caramel needs a place to settle, right?! And the caramel is good! So, although it definitely didn’t come out as the handsomest cake ever, which is a shame as the sliced banana on top does look pretty cool, it was very tasty. We decided it tasted a bit like those yummy toffee bananas you get as pudding in Chinese restaurants.

With an extra dollop of caramel!

And the thyme? It’s very subtle, but there is a hint of herbal tang and aroma which lifts this cake from the ordinary. I will have to make it again, with a proper flour/ raising agent mix.

You can find the recipe on the BBC website by clicking this link. (You really need to click on it to see what it is supposed to look like!) I didn’t change anything much (except the crucial specified flour 😂). You could make this without the caramel – but don’t. The salted caramel lifts it to another level.

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Irish Barmbrack – a tasty fruit loaf

I have made a very similar loaf to this before – Welsh Bara Brith, which I wrote about in this post here. This version was in the Guardian Food section on Saturday and you can find it online next week, unless you happen to have bought a hard copy today, or subscribe. (As soon as I can I will add the link.) The article discussed different versions, and then came up with a ‘classic-best-recipe’. In Ireland this fruit loaf was traditionally made at Halloween, but nowadays is popular all year round. Like bara brith it was originally a yeasted bread, and some recipes still use this method. However it’s usually made as a quick bread now with baking powder.

Chock full of fruit

Ingredients

200g currants

200g sultanas

300ml strong tea

50ml whisky – or an extra 50ml tea

25g mixed peel – roughly chopped if it’s not already

25g glacé cherries – quartered

25g chopped blanched almonds (texture) – or I used ground almonds

150g light muscovado sugar (I used 130g of a mix of dark brown and golden caster sugar because that’s what I had)

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

Method

Soak the sultanas and currants in the tea (and whisky) for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan) Gas 4. Grease and line a 13cm x 20cm loaf tin. Stir the peel, cherries and almonds into the soaked fruit.

In another bowl which together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt. The stir into the fruit with the beaten egg. Tip the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 90 minutes, covering the top after an hour if it’s getting too brown. A skewer or cake tester should come out clean.

Leave for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

In the recipe as written there is an optional sugar glaze but I really don’t think it needs it. The main difference between this recipe and the Welsh one is the amount of fruit, which is way more in the Irish version. It comes out really squishy and damp. And yummy! The spice is just right, and with a little bit of butter it makes a very delicious tea time treat.

I’ve also been thinking it would make a good snack when on a long walk. Which brings me to my new venture – I’ve started a new blog called Walking the London Loop, which is all about – well you can guess! If you have the time and inclination take a look.