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1
Sep 14

Peanut Butter and Sour Cherry Cookies

September has always been one of my favourite months of the year.  I know, the long lazy summer holidays are over, giving way to mellow early autumnal gradually shortening days.

It is “back to school” for many – new beginnings.  I remember that feeling well – rows of brand new pencils, pristine exercise books and squeaky clean shiny shoes.  Translated, these days – September is still about new beginnings and when I most want to replace my entire winter wardrobe – no doubt a hangover from those days!

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Anyway, a much cheaper option is to whiz up a batch of these cookies – a perfect addition to any lunchbox, late summer picnic, a September country ramble or with a weekend cuppa.  The saltiness of the peanuts and the sweet/sour cherries makes them a hit with everyone.

TIP:  Replace the cherries with chocolate chips or small pieces of chocolate. Remember cookies and biscuits will harden and continue to slightly cook off when removed from the oven.

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Another of my September occupations is to ramble across the fields in search of sun ripened blackberries.  Turn it into to crumbles, cakes and jellies or simply enjoy a bowlful with a dollop of yoghurt for breakfast.  If you aren’t near a blackberry bush or don’t have the time then they are, of course, available in the supermarket.  For a 5 minute delicious pudding make a white chocolate sauce – break up a bar of good white chocolate with an equal amount of double cream into a small bowl.  Melt over gently simmering water (ensuring bowl doesn’t touch the water).  Pour into a jug and serve warm with a bowl of blackberries and maybe a few shortbreads.  Sublime!

Recipe for peanut butter and sour cherry cookies 

One of the best biscuit recipes I know to pack up and take on a picnic, as the salty peanut butter combined with the sweet cherries makes them a hit with all ages. Substitute the same amount of chocolate chips for the cherries, if you prefer.

 Makes 18–20

100g unsalted butter, softened, in pieces, plus more for the trays (optional)

170g light muscovado sugar

200g crunchy peanut butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

200g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g dried sour cherries, roughly chopped

peanut-butter-cookies

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and lightly butter two baking trays, or line with baking parchment.

Using a food mixer (or a large bowl and a hand-held electric whisk), whisk together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the peanut butter and egg. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt, then add the vanilla and cherries. Mix together (but do not over-mix), until just combined to a soft dough.

Using a tablespoon, divide the mixture between the baking trays and flatten each biscuit with the tines of a fork. The mixture will spread a little, so space them out well. Bake in the preheated oven for 10–12 minutes, or until just colouring around the edges. The cookies will continue to harden as they cool, so it is really important not to over-bake.

Leave on the trays for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. These will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

 

Recipe from SEASONAL BAKING by Fiona Cairns, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25

 

© Fiona Cairns


1
Aug 14

Edible Flowers

I have a passion for flowers that, I would say, is about in equal measure to my baking obsession. So, naturally, I love to combine the two whenever possible!

The tradition of using flowers in the kitchen is nothing new; interestingly the Romans sometimes flavoured their wine with roses and violets. There are many interesting floral recipes from medieval times and flowers were used in the kitchen for centuries.

Making floral cake decorations

Making floral cake decorations

Seemingly the tradition rather went out of favour during Victorian times… and then in came artificial flavours and colours. (It is wonderful these days to see the return of natural food colourings, widely used now in baking and confectionery and in our cakes in the bakery.)

Many of the flowers we grow in our gardens are edible: roses, lavender, pansies, violets, primroses, pinks, sweet geraniums, borage and even the humble garden daisy. Little packets of fresh edible blooms can be found in some supermarkets, as can rose and orange blossom water and lavender sugar (though the latter is easy to make at home).

Be careful which flowers you use

Be careful which flowers you use

 

They are all there to transform your summer baking, puds and salads, too. However, do remember that shop-bought flowers intended for general display are not suitable for cooking, as they have been sprayed with pesticide. And remember that some flowers are poisonous, so please stick to those specified!

In this recipe I have crystallised several roses from my garden and even a few daisies from the lawn! Tumbling over the cake, with a selection of summer berries, I hope you will agree it is fairly stunning and so simple to do.

 

Making edible flowers is easy

Making edible flowers is easy

TIP
Bring your summer salads, puddings and salads alive with a sprinkling of rose petals, marigold petals and pansies.

Do look out for a book to be published in September by Frances Bissell called The Floral Baker. Not only are the recipes easy to follow, but Frances explores the use of flowers as flavourings in her cakes, pastries and breads in an original way.

To crystallise flowers

1 egg white
caster sugar
paint brush
a selection of dry edible flowers and leaves (see above)

Lightly paint each flower, petal or leaf with egg white, covering every surface. Sprinkle over the sugar with a teaspoon, again covering every surface, then shake off excess, place gently on baking parchment and leave to dry for 12-24 hours.

Summer extravaganza

Summer extravaganza

Summer extravaganza
Maximum impact with just a bit of effort and a wonderful centrepiece for any special occasion, even a small wedding. Everything on the cake is edible: crystallised roses, dog roses from the hedgerow, daisies, cherries and currants. For children, cover with sweets or biscuits. Just use your imagination!

Serves 30

FOR THE TOP TIER (15CM, SERVES 6); MIDDLE TIER (20CM, SERVES 8); BASE TIER (25CM, SERVES 16)

175g (225g; 550g) unsalted butter, really soft, in pieces, plus more for the tins
175g (225g; 550g) self-raising flour
1 tsp (1; 2) baking powder
3 eggs (4; 8), lightly beaten
1 tsp (1; 2) vanilla extract (or seeds of ½/½/1 vanilla pod)
175g (225g; 550g) golden caster sugar

FOR THE FILLING
100ml (200ml; 300ml) clotted cream, whipped
4 tbsp (8; 8) jam of your choice, plus more to stick
icing sugar, to dust

FOR THE DECORATION
crystallised flowers (see below)
200g cherries with stalks
150g redcurrants with stalks

TO ASSEMBLE
3 round thin cakes boards: 15cm; 20cm; 25cm
8 dowelling sticks
30cm cake stand or serving plate

Follow the instructions for Classic Victoria Sandwich, filling, in turn, a 15cm deep round cake tin, two 20cm sandwich tins and two 25cm sandwich tins with the batter. It’s best to make the batter and bake the cakes one batch at a time.

The batter in the 15cm tin needs to be twice as deep as that in the other tins. Bake the 15cm cake for 50–55 minutes (because it is very deep), the 20cm cake for 25–30 minutes, and the 25cm cake for 30–35 minutes. Cool, turn all the cakes upside down and fill (see below), cutting the small cake in half horizontally to do so.

Attach each cake to the right-sized cake board with a blob of jam. Check they are all level and, if not, trim them level with a serrated knife. At this stage they can be stored in the fridge for quite a number of hours, ready to be assembled a few hours before required. Dust all three cakes with icing sugar.

Insert four dowelling sticks vertically into the largest cake, spacing them apart to form a square sitting just within where the middle cake will rest. Push each stick down on the board until it will go no further, then mark with a pen about 1mm above the surface. Remove each stick, score where it is marked with a knife and snap. Replace the sticks into the holes. Repeat for the middle tier.

To stack the three cakes, simply place the largest cake, still on its board, on to a cake stand or serving plate. Place the middle tier on top, checking it is exactly in the centre, then add the top tier.

Now the cake is all ready for decorating. And this couldn’t be simpler. Once you have crystallised your flowers (see below), simply arrange them on the cake with the cherries and currants. (A few carefully placed cocktail sticks can be useful to drape the fruit from.) You will have to decorate the cake on site, as it cannot be moved once the flowers and fruits have been arranged.


2
Jul 14

Ice-cream cone cakes

One of my earliest childhood memories was the excitement of hearing the ice-cream van jingle every Saturday afternoon. My brother and I would dash to greet it, pennies tightly clasped in our little hands. It was a very tricky decision, as a six-year-old, to choose just one ice from the van’s exotic display!

So, whatever our unpredictable British summer throws at us this year – a stunning heat wave or just grey drizzle – ice-creams just have to make an appearance on the kitchen menu.

Ice-cream cones

Ice-cream cones

Any little treats that don’t require hours of slaving in the kitchen are perfect, especially during the summer months when appetites may be smaller.

You might need to look twice at these… are they freshly churned? Flake 99? Raspberry ripple and mint-choc chip? No, these are in fact cakes!

Dead simple, quite quick to bak e and ideal for all that summer entertaining. They are great at impromptu barbecues, picnics and kids’ parties and will even keep children occupied in the kitchen for an hour or so during the interminable summer break, if you don’t mind the mess… Oh, and they won’t melt! Surprisingly the cakes are actually baked in the cones, which form an edible cupcake case.

TIP

In the hot weather, buttercream can easily become too soft to pipe. If this happens to you, place the bowl of buttercream in the fridge for a short spell – 15–20 minutes should do it – to firm up a little. If it becomes too hard, beat it again, adding 1 tbsp of boiling water; it will soon become creamy and easy to pipe once more.

TIP

Bake the cakes, if you can, on the day they are to be eaten or, if necessary, the day before, but no longer as they tend to dry out inside the cones. The buttercream can be made ahead and even frozen, but will need to be beaten again, as above.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to bake these ice-cream cones, pop along to Waitrose patisserie counter, where you will find an array of individual summer treats. We have created a cute summer box of fairy cakes, decorated with little ice creams, bunting and bumblebees, and even a summer tea party box of fairy cakes decorated with a tiny tea pot, cup and strawberries.

The simple and quite delicious British summer classic dessert, Eton Mess, is made with strawberries, meringues and cream. One of the many stories behind its creation has it that a perfectly constructed meringue dessert was mangled during the car journey to a picnic at Eton College… Luckily, however you combine British summer berries, meringues and cream, it will taste delicious.

Look out for our Raspberry Eton Mess cupcake in Waitrose, or make the dessert yourself with home-made or ready-made meringues.

In the summer, it would be criminal not to make the most of our delicious home-grown berries and fruits. And remember that, during the summer months, individual portions of dessert can be much easier to serve, especially for picnics, barbecues and other moveable feasts, so try meringues, individual pavlovas, tartlets, summer puddings… I could go on!

Ice-cream cones

Ice-creams that won’t melt! A perfect addition to any children’s party or picnic, especially during the summer. These are decorated as the real things – flake 99, raspberry ripple or mint choc chip – but use your imagination and get the children to give you a hand. These cakes are baked in ice-cream cones, so eat them quickly as they will start to dry out after a day or so. That shouldn’t prove difficult!

Makes 20-25

1 x Orange Drizzle Cake batter
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
grated zest of 2 large oranges, plus 75ml orange juice
4 eggs, lightly beaten
250g self-raising flour, sifted
20-25 flat-based ice-cream cones
1 x recipe Buttercream
300g unsalted butter, softened
400g icing sugar, sifted
few drops of peppermint extract
green food colour
1 tsp vanilla extract
pink (or red) food colour
nylon piping bag
large star nozzle
7-8 chocolate flakes
7 tsp tiny chocolate buttons
5 tsp coloured sugar sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 170C/fan 160C/340F/gas mark 3 ½. Cream the butter, sugar and zest until very pale, light and fluffy (it will take at least 5 minutes in an electric mixer). Add the eggs gradually, beating between each addition, along with 1 tbsp of the flour to prevent curdling. Fold in the remaining flour and, lastly, slowly mix in the orange juice.

Place all the ice-cream cones on a baking sheet. Divide the cake batter evenly between them and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until they spring back to the touch. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter in an electric mixer until really pale and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and beat for at least 5 minutes, until light and creamy.

Divide the buttercream between 3 bowls. Add a little peppermint extract to the first, to taste, then a dash of green food colour, and mix until you achieve the desired shade. Add the vanilla to the second bowl and mix well. To the third bowl, swirl in a little pink food colour; do not blend it in as you are aiming for the marbled effect of raspberry ripple ice-cream.

Spoon the vanilla buttercream into the piping bag and swirl on to a third of the ice-cream cones. Finish each with a chocolate flake. Wash the bag and nozzle and repeat with the green buttercream; sprinkling with chocolate buttons. Wash the bag and nozzle again. Finally pipe the raspberry ripple buttercream into the remaining cones and decorate with sprinkles.

Arrange on a serving dish or cake stand.


6
Jun 14

My Strawberry and Elderflower Cake

I am truly thrilled to be writing this, my first column for HELLO! Our nation’s interest in baking cakes and cupcakes has exploded, and baking has really captured our imaginations. In fact it has become one of our favourite pastimes… as can be seen from the phenomenal success of the now must-watch Great British Bake Off!

I caught the baking and cake decorating bug (dare I say) almost 30 years ago. My husband Kishore saw potential at the kitchen table and we grew the company from there. If I’d had a crystal ball back then I would never have believed that my business would have started and grown over the years to have almost 100 employees. I still love baking as much as ever, which if I am honest surprises even me!

So, for all you bakers (and aspiring bakers) out there, I will be giving a recipe each month that I hope you will enjoy. I do try to follow the seasons in my kitchen, as many of us do, and this includes in my baking, as you will see.

Strawberry and Cream Cake

Strawberry and Cream Cake

 

I wouldn’t dream of buying asparagus at Christmas, flown many air miles to reach the shelves of our supermarkets. The thrill and expectation of savouring fresh-picked British asparagus throughout May never fades. Each season has its own moods and wonderful produce to offer, which I reflect in my cakes.

Light airy fruit-filled sponges and pavlovas in the summer months; comforting, richer cakes in the autumn; and, in winter, sticky gingerbreads, decadent chocolate cakes and spiced fruit cakes… it just makes sense.

No surprise at all then, that for my first HELLO! recipe in June I have chosen to include another all-time British classic, our home-grown strawberries. It is well worth searching out sweet, sun-kissed strawberries as there are so many varieties available right through our summer months and some are much better than others.

Try a few varieties out until you find one you prefer… you do not have to settle for the widely available Elsanta. It is fun to go and pick your own if you can, or even try growing them. Just please don’t buy them out of season again!

Seasonal cooking is incredibly important

Seasonal cooking is incredibly important

Strawberries and cream is a marriage made in heaven and I’ve combined the flavours into a cake (basically a simple all-in-one Victoria sponge).

Elderflowers appear in June too and there is something deeply satisfying about foraging for them in the hedgerow (though do find one away from traffic fumes). I’ve also given my recipe for elderflower cordial, which is in both the sponge cake and its cream filling.

Elderflower cordial is available commercially, but do try to make it; the home-made version is out of this world. Dilute with water for a refreshing drink, drizzle over summer berries, or pour into a glass of Prosecco or even a gin and tonic. It freezes well in plastic bottles (not glass, which will shatter in the freezer!) so it’s well worth making a large batch.

My Strawberry and Elderflower Cake is perfect for any summer party or gathering, a cake with a real WOW factor. If you follow my clear instructions you’ll find it isn’t as difficult as you might think. My friend Fi first made it a year or so ago, having never baked before in her life. She took it along to a birthday party and it was such a huge success that it has become her regular party piece! I’m rather proud of her.
Happy Baking!

My first blog

Thrilled about my first blog

 

RECIPES

Strawberry and elderflower cake

Serves 24 (halve the recipe to serve 12)

For the cake

450g unsalted butter, really soft,

diced, plus more for the tins

450g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

8 eggs, lightly beaten

finely grated zest of 2 large

unwaxed lemons

450g golden caster sugar

4 tbsp elderflower cordial

 

For the Elderflower cream

1.2kg ripe, even-sized

strawberries, cleaned, dried

and hulled

2 tbsp golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

600ml double cream

8 tbsp elderflower cordial

 

As I write, the hedgerows are filled with creamy, lacy elderflower heads, crying out to be turned into a fragrant cordial. Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with strawberries, and make a perfect summer birthday cake. Assemble only a couple of hours before the event (and chill, if you can) as the cake won’t keep, especially in the heat. A summer celebration on a plate!

 

To Bake

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4. To make the three-tiered cake, take three 20cm round sandwich tins. Butter the tins and line the bases with baking parchment. If you have only two tins, then make the cake mixture and divide it evenly into three batches, baking the third as soon as a tin becomes free.

 

For this cake, I use an electric mixer and beater attachment, but you can use a food processor, or a bowl and electric whisk, if you prefer. Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl, add the butter, eggs, lemon zest and sugar, and beat well, adding the cordial towards the end. Be careful not to over-mix, as you want a light cake.

 

Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean. (To halve the recipe, bake in two 20cm tins for 20–25 minutes.) Remove from the oven, leave for a couple of minutes, run a knife around the rim to loosen the cakes from the tins and turn out on to a wire rack. Remove the papers and leave to cool completely. Trim the cakes flat.

 

For the Filling and Decoration

Slice 400g of the strawberries and toss in a bowl with the sugar and vanilla. Leave all the flavours to mingle together for 30 minutes.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form, adding the cordial slowly just as it begins to thicken. Place one cake on a cake stand and spread with a layer of cream and half the sliced strawberries. Repeat with another cake, a layer of cream and the remaining sliced strawberries. Top with the last cake. Spread the remaining cream all over the top and sides.

Take the best-shaped 20 strawberries and cut 10–12 in half. Place the halved strawberries, cut side up, in a circle around the edge of the cake, and pile up the rest in the centre. Cut the remaining strawberries into slices – or in half – and press into the cream all around the sides.

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TIP
Make a jar of vanilla sugar: fill a jar with caster sugar, add a couple of empty vanilla pods, seal and leave it for a couple of weeks to infuse. Sprinkle over bowls of strawberries and other delicious British berries all summer long and serve with a jug of thick yellow cream.

For more information visit: www.fionacairns.com

Next Month: Ice Cream Cakes

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