Lemon Shortbread

And so my love affair with lemon-based bakes continues!

Actually, this was one of Matt’s choices (he does make good cake choices!).

I don’t mind making shortbread. Yes, it’s akin to pastry and I dislike making pastry (currently – don’t hold me to that, I may enjoy it as I get further into the Great British Bake Off: Everyday book), but I do enjoy both making and eating shortbread, and have made it for Christmas previously, as well as making a gluten-free version for a work friend at my old work, using coconut flour which turned out well.

This recipe asked that you make the lemony syrup in advance, at least 8 hours before, but preferably the day before. On the Sunday, I got to work on slicing the lemon as finely as my fingers would allow, and popping it in a tub with the sugar to do its thing.

I made up the shortbread, which was made a little differently to my previous experience, which was to basically make a dough, then roll out and cut. This asked for the ingredients to be mixed until they were breadcrumb-y, then three quarters of the mix to be tipped into the baking tin and gently pressed down.

On top of the mix, the lemon topping that had been made the previous day was then added on the shortbread in the tin, and the remaining shortbread mix was rolled into a sausage, cut into small slices and added on top of the lemon-y goodness.

Into the oven it went, and stayed there for 45 minutes until it is a pale golden colour.

The recommendation is to allow it to cool for 10 minutes, then eat warm, or cool completely and eat within two days. I called Matt into the kitchen to try the warm shortbread. It was a pain in the bum to cut at that point, and I can only assume that the recipe writer has an asbestos mouth, as it was a little too warm to eat! Initial verdict was a big thumbs up with a few crumbs being licked from round the lips, lest they fell into the beard (Matt’s beard, not mine…).

I left the rest to cool completely before wrestling it out of the baking paper (cue my tin anxiety), and popping in a container, ready for tea on Tuesday, when Mum came over for tea.

Would I make it again? Yes, definitely! Even though they require a little prep the day before, the actual “assembly” of them is really easy. The clean up is a little more messy. as the recipe calls for icing sugar (yay… sugar clouds) and for a floured work surface, but it wasn’t too traumatic, and I’m still planning to bake again next weekend! Ha!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Make Nine: Easy Colour Work Socks

Each of the things on my Make Nine list for this year were designed to teach me something.

I haven’t been knitting for all that long, but started sock knitting last year. It’s a slow process, and each of the three pairs have been a different. However, one of the things I wanted to try this year was colour work. I figured a sock would probably be a pretty good way to go – they’re small enough, and the Winwick Mum Easy Colour Work Socks were, well, easy. The pattern wasn’t too intricate and I wasn’t going to be carrying yarn all over the place.

Christine Perry (aka Winwick Mum) is my sock hero (is that a thing? It’s a thing). She has published all sorts of free patterns on her blog and explains things well and in plain English, with good photos of techniques and accompanying You Tube videos. I started these at the end of June using the free PDF from Winwick Mum’s blog, but I had the More Super Socks on my birthday list.

I really like having the book, as it meant I wasn’t tethered to my phone for the pattern.

I had also ordered some Chiaogoo needles to start these off. I have knitted my previous socks with KnitPro Symfonies which have a slightly longer cable, so I was curious to see how it would be knitting with these. The socks actually whizzed by using the Chiaogoos (though it did take me some time to actually finish the socks…).

I bought the yarn from my local yarn shop (Fudges). The yarn is West Yorkshire Spinners‘ Signature 4ply in Juniper (main colour) and Spearmint (contrast colour).

I started off quite quickly, and enjoyed the colour work portion. It was a really nice, easy and repeatable pattern that didn’t require me to be absolutely glued to the colour chart for the whole repeat. I always think that the heel flap and turn is going to be more difficult that it actually is, and procrastinated a little around this part. From there, it was plain sailing and on to sock #2.

Sock number two also sped along through the colour chart. This was the project I chose to take to my first ever knit and natter group, hosted by Fudges, and instead of worrying about the heel flap and turn, I cracked on and had completed it by the end of the knit and natter group – go me!

The second sock languished a little, and I ended up pulling the toe out and re-knitting it as I kept mucking up the decreases. I also tried knitting through the back loop on the SSKs on the decreases, as they always seem to be a bit on the loose side. We’ll see how they fare – they certainly look better at first glance. On the plus side, I no longer have to watch a You Tube video to talk me through the Kitchener stitch and can do it from memory!

They aren’t perfect, though I am pleased with the colour work portions of them. I am also pleased with how neat the floats are on the back and that I haven’t knitted them too tightly. The bits I am less happy with are around the colour changes, particularly around the toes.

I tried to follow the instructions about the jogless bip, but I don’t think I did it quite right, so that is something to practice in the future.

I made the biggest size and made them big enough for size 8 feet, and have 48g of Juniper and 89g of Spearmint left, so plenty for another pair of socks.

Overall, I am pleased with them though. I think they look smart, and were a pleasure to make. I also think I have probably got the length right on these (Socks #1 were the right length but I mucked up the gusset, and Socks #2 were a little tiny bit too small).

Lemon Meringue Cake

Matt and I married in 2013. Back in the days of being A Messy Baker, I held ideas that I would make my own lemon meringue wedding cake. I had seen just such a creation on the 2011 Great British Wedding Cake, and was immediately smitten. I tried it. Once. The kitchen looked like an atomic sugar bomb had gone off, and the work surfaces that weren’t dowsed in icing sugar were floury and/or decorated with splodges of left over pastry.

Long story short, we had a wedding cake from Marks and Spencer’s. I had attempted a dry run of the lemon meringue cake and decided it was far too much work for me.

Lemon meringue holds a special place in my heart though. It was regularly the pudding of choice after a roast dinner throughout my childhood (the more lemony and tart, the better). Thankfully, Matt also has a soft spot for lemon meringue.

In the GBBO Everyday recipe book, there is a Lemon Meringue Cake and a lemon curd recipe. I could dedicate a whole post to the lemon curd alone – it is sunshine and summer in a jam jar. I made the curd a day ahead and left it to chill in the fridge overnight. I am super pleased with it, and am likely to make it again in the not-too-distant future.

The next day, I set about making the cake. I had to read the recipe a few times, as I couldn’t see any butter in the recipe. That is because there is none! As a result, you end up whipping the eggs and sugar for quite a while to make sure you get plenty of air in, but it is totally worth it. The cakes came out smelling divine and beautifully fluffy.

Once they cooled, they needed brushing with a lemon syrup and leaving for an hour before sandwiching together with the lemon curd. Into the fridge the cake went, as it needed to be chilled for a bit before the meringue part. I chilled mine overnight, as I didn’t have time to do the meringue the same day. Thankfully, because there is quite a lot of waiting time for things to cook, cool or soak, the clean up operation for this was actually remarkably quick, and spreading it out over the course of three days definitely helped!

The only modification I made to this recipe was the blow torching – I don’t own one, and wasn’t going to buy one just for this.

This was another winner – Matt and I enjoyed every single mouthful of this fluffy, lemony, sweet embodiment of summer. It was kept in the fridge, and lasted as well as a delicious cake can last.

I announced to Matt, at the end, that I wouldn’t be making this again for some time – purely for the reason that I want to make all of the recipes in The Great British Bake Off: Everyday before I revisit them. It is also marathon make – this is not a quick “throw together”, especially if you’re making the lemon curd from scratch too (which you definitely should – store-bought lemon curd just wouldn’t be the same). If you have the time to make it though, I recommend this – it’s an investment in time that will pay you back in cakey deliciousness.

As for the leftover lemon curd. it’s still in the fridge, waiting to be paired with some Greek yogurt (yum!).

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Apple and Oat Muffins

Each week since start the Great Baking Revival, Matt and I pick a recipe out of the Great British Bake Off: Everyday book. This was one of Matt’s choices, and I will never say no to apple-based cake!

This had a streusel topping that needed to be made ahead of the muffin batter. The muffin batter itself was pretty straightforward to make, and was basically a “throw all the ingredients in a bowl and mix it all with a wooden spoon” – minimal fuss.

My only change that I would make if I was doing this again, would be to have a 12 hole muffin tin and the corresponding muffin cases. I only had cupcake cases available so the muffins turned out a little on the cramped side, and I ended up with 13 muffins. I would probably also not chop the apple pieces so small.

The streusel topping was a nice addition though, and added a satisfying crunch.

I enjoyed these on the day, but towards the end of the week, I found them too dry. I think it might be because the apple was chopped a little small, and combined with the small cases, I don’t think that the muffins were able to retain too much moisture.

Matt was pretty happy with them though, and happily worked his way through them throughout the course of the week. Clean up was pretty easy, and I would be happy to make these again with some tweaks.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Happy Birthday to Me – Yarn-related Acquisitions

My birthday has been the first birthday this year that my family and I have been able to get together to celebrate. Both my mum’s and sister’s fell at varying stages of lockdown, so I feel very lucky to have been able to celebrate turning 35 with them and Matt in person, rather than through a video call.

We planned to go to our local National Trust place, Killerton House, and have a picnic. We met up, had lunch in the wind and mostly managed to dodge the rain before going back to our childhood home to spend the afternoon together. As I have mentioned previously, my sister lives a little bit away from me, and Mum is about 30 minutes down the road, so it isn’t very often during the course of the year that we all get to spend some quality time together, and perhaps this year more than any other, it has been even more special. I am lucky to get on with my mum and sister well, and I always enjoy our time together. It was just perfect to spend the day with my favourite people, even without the amazing gifts I received!

I am declaring 35 The Year of Yarn*. It has certainly been the theme of presents this year, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

*Every year for the last 4 has been a very yarn-centric year, but this year I have more yarn than I can shake a stick at…

Matt is very good at listening to, and picking up on things that I might like for my birthday, and the yarn gifts are all his choosing, from Abby at Orchidean Luxury Yarns and Lil at Country Mouse Yarns:

From L to R: Country Mouse Yarns – Autumn Birch, Kenny Kingfisher, and Orchidean Yarns – Love Me Two Times and Space Oddity

The photographs really don’t do them justice, as they are just beautiful colours, and so squishy and soft. The lighter of the Orchidean Yarns (Love Me Two Times) is destined to become part of a Find Your Fade shawl by Andrea Mowry, and the others are likely to be socks, but we will see. They also came with stitch markers (because you can never, ever have enough!).

My mum and sister also got me some amazing presents, which I love. Have you ever knit socks? If you want to try them, then I could not recommend Winwick Mum more highly, with her wonderfully clear Sockalong tutorial available for free on her blog. While most of her patterns are free, there is something about having the patterns in a book so that I don’t have to sit with my laptop or phone on at all times. I also think it is a nice way to show appreciation to a designer, especially Christine as she has also created an incredibly helpful and friendly community of sock knitters on Facebook.

Pom Pom Magazine‘s Issue 32 had also been on my list. As soon as I saw Joji Locatelli’s Susurrus sweater (Ravelry link), I wanted to know more. I haven’t had an opportunity to read the whole magazine yet, but of the quick flick through that I have had so far, I can see that there are a number of projects I would love to make in there.

The final three yarn-related presents are the Eden Cottage Yarn Cat Knits project bag (because you can never have too many!), and a tension square gauge for knitting. I swear I go a bit cross-eyed trying to count my stitches and rows, so this is going to be invaluable, I just know it! My last yarny gift is a voucher for my local yarn shop, Fudge’s Wool and Haberdashery – but for stupid COVID, I could spend (quite literally) hours browsing and deciding on projects in there!

Watch this space for what I make with these – I am really quite excited, and am resisting the urge to cast on ALL THE THINGS until I have cast off some of the things…

Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge

A couple of weeks ago, Matt and I had the week off of work. It was the week that it was super hot, but in that week, we ventured over to see my sister. My sister moved into this lovely house about three weeks before lock down started and she quickly got to work with the DIY and gardening. One of the great finds in her garden was a blackberry bush.

It was lovely to spend the time with my sister. We don’t get to spend much time together, so having some lunch and seeing all the changes she had made to her house since we saw her last was great. As if her good company and food weren’t enough, she also has two kittens who are hilarious and absolutely adorable – one of them even knows what “cheese” is when she says the word.

We came away from hers with a punnet of blackberries, having exhausted the kittens. I have an old recipe for a blackberry and apple loaf, but these blackberries were destined to become the Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge from The Great British Bake Off: Everyday.

My sister had made a blackberry sponge the weekend before we visited, but she wasn’t very happy with it, as she felt it was bland. This cake? Anything but bland! (And of course, I have shared the recipe – everyone should have one of these cakes in their life!).

This sponge was easy to make, with the only “unusual” ingredient being buttermilk. I think this may even be the first time I have bought buttermilk. I didn’t make any amends to the recipe, with the sole exception that the cake needed another 15 minutes in the oven, and I had about 30g fewer blackberries than the recipe called for. I covered it with foil for the last 15 minutes so that the top didn’t catch.

This cake, of the three I have made to date, may be my favourite. It is light and fluffy, sweet and tangy with the blackberries. It was my afternoon treat at work for the week and kept really well for 5 days. I am sure it would keep well for up to 7 days, but mine didn’t last that long!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Restarting my A Year With My Camera Journey

Towards the end of 2019, I took stock of where I was with my photography. I had been on a Going Digital “Get off Auto” course (both parts one and two), but I still wasn’t consistently producing the kind of photographs that I loved. Sure, I have some that I really do like and a couple I would even consider putting up on my walls, but they felt more fluke than created shot. I wasn’t regularly going out with my camera, and would frequently become despondent because “I’ve been on a course, why aren’t these better?” when I came to review them on the computer.

For my birthday last year, my parents-in-law got me a year’s subscription to Digital Photographer. As I was reading the November issue, I saw an advert for a free, year long photography course called “A Year With My Camera” (AYWMC). AYWMC is the brainchild of Emma Davies, who is an award-winning fine art and flower photographer, who created a step-by-step course to move you from shooting on auto to “being the best photographer you know”. The whole premise of it is that you can’t learn photography over a weekend – it is a long process to truly understand it. As if a full year’s in-depth course wasn’t enough, it’s also totally free!

I signed up ready for the January 2020 start, and got to work on the Make 30 Photos challenge, and kept up with the lessons (delivered through email and via the private Facebook group). I learnt about exposure and some of it really started to sink in. Then lock down hit. I know I am lucky really – my role means that I am in an essential role and couldn’t be furloughed. It also meant that I didn’t keep up with the lessons, given the total upheaval of all of my normal routines, and an inability to leave the house except for the mandated one hour of exercise (which quickly fell by the wayside for us).

Eventually I got so far behind that I just couldn’t find my way to catching back up. I decided to switch groups and restart with the September 2020 group instead. I also made the decision to follow AYWMC through the AYWMC app rather than through Facebook, as I don’t really like Facebook’s inability to show things in a chronological order. So far, I am really enjoying the app, and for £4.99 for a free course, I think that’s a pretty good deal! Because it is also in chronological order, it isn’t just the popular posts that appear at the top all the time, so there is much better opportunity for community there.

More information on A Year With My Camera is available on the website: https://ayearwithmycamera.com/.

Introducing my Make Nine 2020

Even though we are well (well) over half way through 2020, I wanted to share what is on my Make Nine 2020 list.

What is “Make Nine”?

Make Nine is a year long challenge, where you commit (little C) to making nine things you really want to make over the course of a year. From what I gather, it links back to the “Best Nine” concept that you typically see on people’s Instagram grids at the end of the year.

You don’t have to stick to nine, you can make more, you can make less. The challenge is meant to be flexible. Things change, tastes change, means change over the course of a year, so it isn’t meant to be rigid.

Why am I taking part?

I started knitting last year, in the summer of 2019, and I have found myself really enjoying the process of learning and making. I also still love to crochet. However, I’m not amazing at winging it, casting on or starting something, without seeing it all the way through to the end. I wanted my Make Nine list to be a list of things I will definitely finish, whilst also learning new skills and techniques.

I’m not accountable to anyone but myself, and I really like that. It doesn’t stop me waffling on about it to anyone who will listen (or read, for that matter!), but this is a purely self-indulgent challenge.

What’s on the Make Nine list for 2020?

A healthy mix of crochet and knitting! I do occasionally sew too, but my sewing skills are pretty rubbish. Practice makes perfect, I know, but sewing doesn’t come as naturally to me.

From top left to bottom right, we have:

In all honesty, the crochet ones won’t pose too much of a challenge, I just liked them and thought they deserved a spot. The knitting ones though – they’re all challenges! The Whitby shawl is working in a triangle, Linhay hat and Easy Colour Work Socks are colour work, which I have never done. The Inglis mitts are cables and knitting in the round. The Ravelston sweater would be my first ever garment made by me for me, and has a whole host of challenges in the construction.

I will update on these soon. I have a couple done, but a fair few more to go! I’ve also got my 2021 list in the back of my head, but 2021 still feels a way off yet.

Do you have a Make Nine list? What has been your favourite make this year?

The easiest way to see how far I have got in my Make Nine 2020 list is to follow me on Instagram.

Fudgy Raspberry Cake

This cake covers both mine and M’s cake preferences – chocolate and fruit. And booze.

When I was reading through the GBBO Everyday book, one of the recipes that immediately jumped out as a no-brainer was the Fudgy Raspberry Cake. I make a half decent brownie, so I figured this would be a sound starter.

Helpfully, I also had everything in the house bar the raspberry liqueur. Raspberry liqueur? What is that even called? Turns out it is called Chambord and is very tasty. It’s also sold in the prettiest bottle I have seen in a very long time. I like pretty bottles, what can I say! I also like raspberries and liqueurs more generally.

This is a marvellously simple recipe, with very little air beaten in to it, so it really does turn out to be a dense old beast. Think artery clogger. Not because of the fat or sugar content (though, obviously that is a factor), but purely because it is like eating, well, fudge. Cakey fudge. Glorious cakey fudge.

I didn’t make any modifications to this recipe at all, other than the amount of time that I needed to bake it for. The increased baking time came as no surprise, as I often have to leave my brownie in the oven for a lot longer than the original recipe calls for. I don’t really know why that is – I suspect my oven is lying to me about the temperature so I might look to get an oven thermometer at some point. Anyway, I left it baking in the oven for roughly 10 extra minutes, praying to the baking gods that the edges wouldn’t catch and burn.

When it finally finished its lengthy stay in the oven, I ran a knife around the edge and left it for hours to cool down. Hasn’t it been hot lately? Yeah! It took a long time to cool. When it was cool, I wrapped it in foil and popped it in the fridge, as instructed and left it overnight (check me out with my self-control).

I would have loved to decorate with fresh raspberries, but M is less keen on them, and the cake would also need eating fairly quickly if I had done that (turns out I made the right call). The alternative was a dusting of icing sugar, expertly sieved over the cake by M.

The eatings? Oh the eatings! It is an incredibly decadent cake, that even I, as a paid up member of the Sweet Tooth Club wouldn’t be able to hoover up in 5 minutes flat. On the plus side, getting the knife through it is a workout in itself, so there is a tiny (tiny) pay off in the consumption of such a rich cake. I do think it would be worth pairing with some raspberrries though – the tartness would cut right through the cake which I think would be perfect. Maybe even some fresh raspberries and a raspberry sorbet.

My verdict? It’s super simple to make, doesn’t really require anything special (you can use vanilla extract instead of Chambord if you prefer), and tastes amazing. My personal preference is for a lighter cake.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Orange and Olive Oil Loaf

This is the first recipe out of the blocks for The Great Baking Revival. Mainly, I was sold on the picture in the book (you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… But do judge cake!).

I always think that oil in cake is a bit weird, until I remember that one of my absolute favourites (carrot cake) is an oil based cake. This cake is not weird. Not even a little bit odd.

I will confess upfront, that this cake wasn’t 100% accurate to the recipe – do you think I could find spelt flour for love or money? Nope. Not at all! I made do with plain flour – my logic being I don’t think that spelt has a raising agent in it, so plain would probably be best. I think I guessed right.

This cake has a whole three steps to it. Three! Even a baking novice like me can get on board with that. This was the best cake to start off my reintroduction to baking. It takes a little while to get all mixed in. I probably went even slower with it, as I was keen to make sure everything mixed well. I had been watching some Cupcake Jemma videos on YouTube in the morning, and I had the realisation that I probably don’t mix things for long enough, so I made an extra effort to be patient with this one. It paid off.

Does anyone else get tin anxiety? That anxiety induced by not being entirely sure that your cake will come solidly out of the tin? I had that with this one. I shouldn’t have, as it actually came away pretty well out of the tin.

One of the best bits about this cake is the marmalade smothered on top. I forget how much I bloody love marmalade. The taste of it instantly takes me back to being sat in my Nan and Grandad’s house in the summer holidays in Kent, eating our breakfast – toast from homemade bread, thick cut by Nan, real butter, and a slather of tangy thick cut marmalade. It is one of my favourite childhood memories.

It’s a lovely, light cake that doesn’t run too sweet. I actually think my Mum would really like it (fruit and not too sweet are her bag). Another huge plus of this recipe was the lack of clean up operation needed. For this messy baker, it wasn’t an onerous job to clean up and I even impressed M by having the kitchen back to a habitable state whilst the loaf was in the oven.

M also enjoyed the cake. Now, I do have a small confession that I left off the “olive oil” part of the name of the cake when I was talking to him about it, as that would have automatically put him off. He liked it, the deception was worth it (I jest).

My verdict? I think this might be one to add to the list of favourites, for sure. Easy to make, nothing weird or wonderful that isn’t likely to be in the cupboards already (except maybe spelt flour), and delicious.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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