Raspberry and white chocolate bakewell cake

An imagination is a blessing and a curse. I picture the witches and good fairies hovering around Bert’s cradle, circling, deep in thought, until they suddenly, simultaneously, all whipped the same spell at his little, shell-pink cheeks.

He can paint a watercolour dragonfly that looks alive, full of dragonfly-ish flitting plans and day dreams. He can come up with a thought so sweetly romantic it stops me in my tracks (I know I’m going to marry Libby because when I see her face I feel happy). Together we write story books based on brilliant titles he’s come up with – Banana Moon, about a wolf cub who’s missing his mother and, as yet unwritten, Once Upon a Mushroom.

He just called me into his room because he’d had a nightmare – there’s a lot of those at the moment. ‘You don’t seem very upset for someone who’s had a nightmare,’ I said as he scrambled around his top bunk looking for soft toys to bring into my bed with him. ‘It was more sad than scary,’ he explained as he grabbed Foxy, Orangutan and Jags. ‘Someone put their finger on a brick and someone else smashed another brick on top till the brick turned from grey to faded red, and I saw a close up.’

So I sat with him, in my bed, for a bit. After a few minutes he reached over and gently touched first Foxy, then Orangutan then Jags on the head, then pulled Jags to him. ‘I’m ready for you to go,’ he said to me. ‘I’ve forgotten my dream now.’

I’m not making him much food of interest that’s not sweet comfort food at the moment, but maybe that’s okay.

Makes a 20cm cake

140g ground almonds

140g soft butter

140g golden caster sugar

140g self-raising flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 punnet raspberries

100g white chocolate

Pre heat the oven to 180 (160 fan) and cream the sugar and butter, then fold in the eggs, ground almonds, flour and vanilla extract. Line a 20cm cake tin and spread half the batter over the bottom. Tip the raspberries over that, followed by hunks of the white chocolate. Spread over the remaining batter and bake for about 45-50 minutes. Serve warm with cream or cold in slices.

Apple, ginger and white chocolate crumble

It’s hard to write about something when you’ve got no distance from it and, like a lot of people, I have been with my child 24/7 for 10 weeks now, except twice when he’s gone out for a walk with his dad without me. It feels like the silent dance of pregnancy, when he moved his knee and I rubbed my ribs, he hiccuped and I had a jolt in my belly, where we flowed over and into each other like the tide going in and out.

He’s growing his hair (it’s that or have a buzz cut), wearing satin silk pyjamas (a purchasing accident he’s thrilled by) and loving bubble baths – is he actually turning into me? He says something with an odd inflection then I realise he’s saying it like I do. All his jokes reference family conversations.

It’s like a second chance at those early months when you’re glued to each other; when you fall asleep together, milk or sleep deprivation dazed, and wake up to find a sticky hand resting on your cheek and a small, hot body that seems to have melded into yours. Those couple of occasions I was alone in the house felt amazing – like my brain sprang back into its normal shape after growing around him. But most of the time at the moment my brain is fuzzy with Bertness.

This crumble was a flavour experiment that worked and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

Let’s not talk about how many it served

3 cooking apples

2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar

100g white cooking chocolate in chunks

5 teaspoons of diced stem ginger in syrup

240g plain flour

110g caster sugar

120g chilled butter, cubed

Preheat the oven to 180. Peel and core the apples and slice into thick slices. Dot with teaspoons of the ginger and chunks of white chocolate then sprinkle over the brown sugar.

‘Crumb’ the flour and butter by rubbing it between fingers then stirring in the sugar, or put it in a food processor with the sugar. I always do a lot of crumble topping, more than in most recipes.

Cover the fruit with the crumble and put it in the oven for about half an hour. Serve with cold double cream.

Banana, white chocolate and cinnamon loaf

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At the moment my life is veering between a version of The Summer Book, where a small child and her grandmother spend long days on an island the size of a couple of fields, exploring a tiny world in an unhurried way and cherishing their time together and Room, where a small child and his mother are trapped in a single room, making entertainment out of nothing and the TV and jumping up and down every day on a small table, shouting at a sky light, desperate to escape their prison.

I can’t help but think of the children whose hopes of adoption have hit a wall, the children for whom home is not a safe and cosy place, the children whose parents don’t have fast wifi and a printer and money for endless printouts and children whose parents are frightened of going to work but have to.

We are lucky.

I was begged to remake this so I reckon it’s worthy of a blog post.

Lasts about half an hour, warm from the oven

140g soft butter

140g golden caster sugar

2 very ripe bananas (starting to blacken)

2 eggs

140g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

100g white chocolate chunks

Pre-heat the oven to 180 and line a 2lb loaf tin.

Beat the sugar and butter together for a good five minutes, till pale and fluffy. Add the bananas and beat till smooth. Mix together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a uniform, pale brown mess then, with about a spoonful of the flour per egg to stop it curdling, beat in the eggs. Finally, stir the rest of the flour mixture into the wet batter until only just combined. Stir through the white chocolate and pour the mixture into your tin. Bake for around 40 minutes, till golden and the top is firm (so a finger doesn’t leave an indentation).

Good when it’s almost too warm to hold in a mud-streaked small hand, or with vanilla icecream. Or stealthily taken to the study to eat at your computer.

Raspberry, white chocolate, almond and coconut loaf

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And just like that he was six, had lost three teeth, could spell and didn’t want morning cuddles. Suddenly things are classed as ’embarrassing’ (not me – yet) and ‘boring’, he’s peppering his sentences with ‘like’ and he wants to train to be a ninja.

But squidged in between this is a boy who writes me love letters, nods earnestly with wide eyes about pretty much any surprising fact and fully believes the world is fair, loving, orderly and safe. I’ll keep his bit of it that way as long as I can.

Makes 1 small loaf cake

2 eggs

160g soft butter

160g granulated sugar

160g ground almonds

160g self-raising flour

3 tablespoons coconut milk

1 tablespoon dried raspberries

75g white chooolate chunks

150g fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 180/ 170 fan.

Beat together the eggs, butter, sugar and ground almonds till soft and pale then stir in the flour, coconut milk, dried raspberries and chocolate.

Line a 1lb loaf tin with a paper liner and spread in half of the cake batter (it’s a little thicker than some cake batters). Scatter the fresh raspberries over and then cover with the rest of the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes.

Blueberry, apple and ginger crumble tart

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Today’s my birthday. I was woken up at seven a.m. by a five-year-old carrying a homemade card (a family of badgers, how well he knows me) and whisper-singing Happy Birthday. He helped me open cards and some presents (a bag with a picture of an arctic fox on from him, how well he knows me), gave me some ‘save-for-later’ kisses and cuddles and went to school.

I picked him up from school and we lit candles on a cake I’d bought (he was a little concerned that I shouldn’t buy my own birthday cake and that he should have helped his dad make one – how little he knows him) and he sang Happy Birthday to me again. I can’t reveal what I wished for when I cut the cake of course, but seven, eight and possibly even nine years ago I wished for him.

Yesterday we ate nearly all of this tart between the three of us.

Makes one tart

1 pack of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry

1 small pack blueberries

3 teaspoons diced stem ginger in syrup

1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, chunked and cooked gently in a saucepan with 2-3 tablespoons of golden caster sugar till soft but still in recognisable chunks

175g plain flour

100g cubed butter

50g rolled oats

100g soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Heat the oven to 180. Line a pie dish with the pastry, leaving some overhanging the edges. Put on a baking tray, cover with baking parchment (the one from the packet of pre-rolled pastry will do) and weigh down with something like baking beans (I use pebbles). Bake for 10 minutes, remove paper and baking beans, turn the oven down to 160 and bake for another 8 minutes, till golden.

Take it out of the oven and turn the oven back up to 180. Meanwhile put the butter and flour in a food processor till breadcrumbed, then stir through the sugar, oats and ginger.

When the pastry has cooled a bit, snap off any overhanging edges, but not too neatly, tip in the blueberries and dot with the ginger and some of its syrup. On top of that, the apples. Then the crumble. Bake for 25-30 minutes and serve with double cream.

Pina colada cake

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Bert has a new thing of telling me his secrets, accompanied by the whisper, ‘this is top, top secret’. I obviously can’t reveal any here, but I’m really enjoying hearing them. Some are a long way from being news to me, but others are genuinely surprising – a wonderful reminder that we never really know anyone as well as we think we do.

I’ve had to repay him with my own secrets (one secret buys one secret), and I didn’t think I really had any, but it’s amazing what you can rustle up if you have to – and how therapeutic it is to share it.

Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain. I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne. I’m not that into yoga and I have half a brain.

None of those are my real secrets.

Makes one 20cm cake which lasted us about an hour

40g soft brown sugar

150g pineapple chunks

115g butter

115g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

100g dessicated coconut

4 tablespoons coconut milk (I’ll make chicken and mushroom biryani with the rest) (probably)

225g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 140 fan. Grease a 20cm round tin well, then sprinkle in the brown sugar and layer in the pineapple. Add a bit more pineapple if you like things pineapple-y.

Beat the sugar and butter together till really light and fluffy then add the eggs, cinnamon (a Smitten Kitchen recipe got me into the idea of cinnamon in coconut cakes – it gives it a toasty, mellow nuttiness), coconut and coconut milk. Finally stir in the flour, just until you can’t see it, and spoon the mixture on top of the pineapples. Smooth over and bake for about 45-50 minutes, till golden and springy.

Obviously turn upside down to serve. Perhaps with champagne.

Cherry and marzipan Madeira cake

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This is how much Bert liked this cake.

On the way home from school last week he reminded me to put the bins out. Yesterday he suggested moving some bright yellow-green accent cushions to my bedroom because the colour would go with the wall paint (he was right). Earlier in the week if asked if someone else would move into the house when we died. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but that’s not for a long time. You’re a child and me and dad aren’t old.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you’re not young.’

Forty-five at heart but he won’t eat Madeira cake. Going to royal ice it and try again.

Makes 2 small loaves

6 eggs

250g ground almonds

150g golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

250g marzipan, grated

100g glace cherries, halved

Pre-heat the oven to 160 and grease and line 2 small loaf tins. (Mine were 15x20x10cm.) Whisk the eggs till very big and fluffy (ideally with electrical help) – about 5-10 minutes.

Fold in the remaning ingredients (yep, no flour or fat) and divide between the tins.

Bake at 160 for 40 minutes. Turn out to cool.

 

Cherry and orange individual Bakewell tarts

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I was lucky enough to escape some of the brutal shocks to our identity and sanity that new parenthood can bring. My hobbies were already pretty sedendary. I didn’t socialise wildly or travel the world (except for work, when I was paid to be that type of person, which helpfully got it out of my system): I wrote or read blogs, wrote or read books, cooked or ate food, or just sat on a sofa and stared at the wall. Of course, all of these are totally compatible with parenthood, particularly the latter.

Bert wasn’t early to sleep through, but when he did he really went for it, with 3-hour naps and 14 hours at bedtime. One Christmas he woke up at 11am and greeted me with  ‘hello gorgeous’. For at least three years I’ve been getting enough sleep to wipe away the smear of tiredness and let the glimmer of small joys shine through.

So even though parenting this particular toddler wasn’t especially hard (well, no harder than having someone shouting mum a hundred times in a minute then pooing on a new speaker has to be), I did think that parenting a school age child would be easier. The age of toileting accidents over. Five days a week to fit work into, with no guilt since he has to be at school. Near-rational conversations. Walking to school.

How wrong I was. What I hadn’t taken into account was the emotional grind of tiny friendships formed and smashed up, piles of ‘optional’ homework that’s nevertheless chased for and rewarded with achievement stickers, the incomprehensible mind-grenade that is the phonics system and the need to get him through next year’s exam so he won’t have to resit it. And the near daily additions to my to-do list that arrive by email – put a pound in a named envelope, dress them in spots and odd socks, sign up to contribute to the Christmas hamper, send in charity money, return library books, fill in a form so they don’t miss out on the school Christmas lunch.

Or make cakes for the Christmas fair. These are a tiny bit of a faff, but delicious, and at last count there were at least 12 left to be dropped off this afternoon.

Makes 20 tarts

2 x 225g sheets ready-made shortcrust pastry

Dark cherry jam, about 20 teaspoons

120g soft butter

120g golden caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange essence

1 egg

1 tablespoon plain flour

110g ground almonds

400g icing sugar

4-5 tablespoons water

10 dark glace cherries

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Lightly grease a muffin tin.

Cut  circles out of the pastry – about 8-10cm diameter – and then line the muffin holes with them, smoothing out any creases. (I had a 12 hole tin, so did two batches.) Crumple up 10cm square pieces of greaseproof (just cut up the paper in the pastry packets), uncrumple and put one on top of each pastry case, weighing down with baking beans or dried pulses. Bake for 10 minutes, take the paper out then bake for another 8-10 minutes, till golden. (I’m a keen but lazy cook and often miss this stage out, but it’s what makes these little tarts soft on the inside but buttery and crunchy on the outside, so worth doing.)

Take them out and let them cool a little. Meanwhile, beat together the butter, sugar and orange essence. Add the egg and flour and then the almonds. Spread a little jam on the bottom of each pastry case, then a generous teaspoon of almond mixture (it rises a little in the oven and ideally you want to see the pastry case around it, so don’t be tempted to over-fill.) Bake for 20 minutes, till risen and golden.

When the tarts are cool, mix the icing sugar and water together and spread a generous teapoon on top of each tart. Top with half a glace cherry. (These would also be good for Red Nose Day.) Protect from scavengers.

 

Strawberry and yoghurt scones

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On Wednesdays we now have to grab a quick bite at a weird time between getting home from school at 4ish going to gymnastics class for 5ish. My intention is to make this a regular high tea, with sandwiches and home-made scones. No doubt by the end of term we’ll be eating cold Heinz spaghetti hoops on an old Jacob’s cracker that the dog’s already had a nibble of, but for Good Intentions Week the first week of term, I made these.

Bert said ‘I don’t even want the rest of my sandwich because the other things are so very  very much nicer.’

Because of the yoghurt, they’re a bit more tender and slightly less risen than ‘normal’ scones, but very very much nicer.

Makes 12 small or 6 large scones

225g self-raising flour, more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

50g cold butter, in small pieces

1.5 tablespoons golden caster sugar

140ml plain pouring yoghurt (or half and half milk and plain yoghurt)

60g strawberries, diced to about the size of raisins

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. ‘Breadcrumb’ the flour and butter by rubbing between your fingers and thumbs, or in a food processor. Stir through the sugar. Heat the pouring yoghurt (or milk+yoghurt) to hand temperature in a small pan, then take off the heat and stir the vanilla into it. Add the liquid to the flour and butter mixture and then very swiftly combine with a blunt knife to make a soft dough.

Flour a surface well and quickly press the dough into shape (about 2.5-3cm thick) on it. (The trick with scones is to touch the dough as little as possible.) It’s very soft but does hold together. Sprinkle the top with flour and then cut out 12 rounds with a champagne glass (get me) or 6 with a cookie cutter. Brush with beaten egg, pop on a floured baking tray and bake for 12-14 minutes, till golden brown. Eat the same day, with clotted cream (beneath the jam is the correct Cornish way) and jam.

Hedgerow fool

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Bert’s been at school for two full days and he’s run through the full gamut of emotions. From a summer-long excitement, to hysteria the day before term began, jangling nerves on the morning itself, through to jubilance at the end of the first day. (‘It was brilliant. I don’t know why I nervous.’)

He then moved, after a total of 12 hours in school, onto a nonchalant confidence. When I picked him up today, I asked him what he’d been doing and he said, ‘I spent a lot of time working in the office, organising things’. Surely they hadn’t moved him into a paid administrative role already? Turned out he was demonstrating his ability to sort colours into the right piles and numbers into the correct order. ‘I got them all right,’ he claimed, and nodded at me that the road was safe to cross.

But by 4.30, the cheery confidence had shifted into a melancholic nostalgia for the old days. ‘We don’t laugh at the same things anymore, Mum,’ he said wistfully in the car on the way to the supermarket to buy the makings of home-made fruit lollies. ‘We used to.’ ‘What do you mean? I just laughed at about a hundred of your jokes.’ ‘Not the last one, in the car.’ He stared out of the window, mouth set in a straight line, remembering the good times, now irrevokably passed, before we drifted apart.

The day before term started, before it all went wrong, we picked blackberries and made a blackberry fool.

Serves 4

400g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

2 tablespoons golden caster sugar

150ml thick Greek yoghurt

150ml cold custard

Put the washed blackberries in a pan with the cordial and sugar. Heat till bubbling then simmer merrily for about 10 minutes, crushing the berries against the side of the pan to make a very rough, chunky sauce. Cool.

Fold the cooled fruit, yoghurt and custard together briefly till combined but still rippled. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving, more time if you have it.