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.

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.

Emergency cookies

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It’s now safe to name your favourite colour in this house, but name your favourite animal at your own risk. Bert’s dad agreed that he liked monkeys (he doesn’t particularly like monkeys) and now has two monkeys and a monkey balloon next to his bed and a sticker of a grinning gorilla behind the bedroom door at head height. I’m using an aardvark as a bookend (I genuinely love an aardvark, to be fair) and a medium-sized bear sits next to my perfume.

Much of this benevolence happens by stealth. Bert’s dad’s working in Canada at the moment and Bert and I happened to find out that the waters round Vancouver have sea otters in. Last night, two hours after Bert was in bed, I found a poster with two otters and the phrase ‘time for a snuggle!’ on it on the bed, on his dad’s side.

His dad made the mistake of mentioning that there are bears in Canada, and I’d say one out of three of the texts Bert regularly dictates and asks me to send is, ‘take a secret picture of the bears.’ His dad’s staying in a hotel in the middle of a large city. There’s absolutely no chance of running into a wild bear.

When he returns on Sunday we may well need emergency cookies.

Makes 30

225g butter

150g granulated sugar

150g soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

275g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

A couple of handfuls of chocolate chips (or Easter egg chocolate in this case)

2 dessert spoons peanut butter powder

Cream butter and sugar together till they’re really light and fluffy – a good five minutes in the mixer or ten minutes with strong arms and stamina. Add the eggs and vanilla, then stir in the flour, peanut butter powder and baking powder. Stir the chocolate through.

You can just cook it now – pop teaspoons of mixture on an unlined baking tray and bake at 190 for 8-9 minutes. Or, even better, freeze teaspoons of mixture in an icecube tray, decanting to a container when completely frozen and keeping in the freezer till you need them.

Emergency? Is your child hungry? Angry? Hangry? Scuffed knee? Surprised by a friend’s unexpectedly tight cuddle? Shocked by someone calling them by their name at 8am in their own house ? Crushed that their mother didn’t pretend to be prey and get eaten by a sleeping lion on a dog walk, when the sleeping lion looked just like a five-year-old boy and she didn’t know she was prey? Then put the oven onto 180, get a couple of frozen cookie mixture balls out of the freezer and pop them, still frozen, onto an unlined baking sheet. Bake for 11-12 minutes, till golden, and eat warm.

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.

Blackberry Frangipane tart

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Me and Bert peaked today.

After a busy day with Ray’s annual fat shaming health check at the vet, last bits of school uniform to buy and food shopping to do, we pulled into the drive and Bert, as usual, wearily nagged me to reverse park, exasperation exceeding expectation.

I wrong footed him by agreeing. As I turned off the engine he asked, suspiciously, ‘is it on the grass or gravel?’ Affronted, I replied, ‘gravel, of course!’, surreptitiously sliding a glance out of the car window. Bert immediately borrowed my phone and rang his dad at work with the news. I heard his dad say, ‘she’s done what?’ as I opened the front door.

This is my last week with a pre-schooler and I’m trying to be happy for my excited boy, while brushing away a bit of sadness at the end of our Thursday book shop ritual and Wednesday singing group and any day pulling him out of nursery at short notice to be my partner in crime.

One positive, though, is that we will walk to school.

Makes one large tart

1 sheet of shop-bought (as peculiar and tautological a phrase as pan-fried) puff pastry

125g butter

125g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

125g ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 small punnets or a good haul of picked blackberries

Pre-heat the oven to 170 fan.

Lay the pastry onto a baking tray and fold in each edge about a centimetre, so there’s a raised edge to contain the Frangipane.

Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, almonds and ginger. Pour carefully into the pastry reservoir. Scatter the blackberries on top and bake for 30-35 minutes, till deep golden brown. The pastry will be crisp and buttery beneath.

Serve with thick double cream.

Chocolate birthday cake

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When I asked Bert what birthday cake he wanted, he said a Paw Patrol Lookout Tower. (For those who don’t spend 2 hours 20 minutes a day watching, it’s a tower on a tripod base, with a glass-sided look-out room, topped by a periscope, with a helter-skelter slide.) Thanks for the confidence vote, Bert, but your ambitions are not matched by my skills. So I made a cake in the shape of a bowl of dog food. Luckily my skills were not enough to make it look disturbingly (to his friends’ parents) realistic.

This isn’t my recipe but I did find an excellent one for a decent-tasting cake that’s also easy to shape (without crumbling) and ice with fondant icing. I’m recording it here for future years – one day, this will be the basis of a vast, chocolate flavoured Millenium Falcon and my life will truly have been worth living.

Makes a 20cm cake

Cake:

200g self-raising flour

40g cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)

230g caster sugar

4 large eggs

230g soft, unsalted butter

¼ tsp vanilla extract

100g milk chocolate, grated (choose something from the baking aisle in the supermarket as it will cope well with the heat in the oven without going grainy)

2 tsp milk

Icing:

400g chocolate buttercream icing

500g ready to roll fondant icing (but only for a child’s, themed birthday cake – the stuff is truly disgusting)

Pre-heat the oven to 160/ 140 fan.

Mix all the cake ingredients till well-combined, then spoon into two lined and greased 20cm cake tins. Cook for 30 minutes in the centre of the oven. Check with a skewer – if it comes out of the middle clean then they’re done. If not, put them in for another 5 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes in the tin then 10 minutes on a wire tray, then put in the fridge for a couple of hours if you’re going to shape and fondant-ice them.

Sandwich the cakes with buttercream (shape the top one into a dog bowl with tapered edges and a circular hollow in the top if you wish) and then cover with more buttercream. Roll out the icing to about 2-3mm thick (using icing sugar or cornflour to stop it sticking) and drape over the cake. If you’re going full Paw Patrol, fill the top with Maltesers and decorate with sugar dog bones and paw prints. (I stuck each Malteser down with a dab of buttercream, but by then I’d moved into The Zone – I also cut sandwiches into bone shapes and made bone-shaped cheese biscuits.)

Recall that blue food dye appears to be like a hallucinagenic drug to small children (the first time Bert ate something this colour he started to see monkeys everywhere), slice, feed small children multiple packets of Haribo and send them home with a plastic whistle. Job done!

 

Apple loaf

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To me there are only two types of cake – a treat that should be as delicious as possible with no nod at all to nutrition, and something tasty but vaguely healthy that I can justify serving as a pudding or snack for a 3-year-old and his friends. (You can only really get away with loading other people’s children up with empty sugar at birthday parties I feel.)

In two days’ time we’ll be eating sundaes and drinking milkshakes as Bert turns four (‘that’s very old’, in case you were asking) and in four days’ time I’ll be loading other people’s children up with empty sugar and cutting up a treaty cake with four candles on it. In theory the cake will be Paw Patrol themed – does looking like a dog’s dinner count?

But tomorrow morning it’s apple loaf, a couple of friends and a big pile of Duplo for us. This is a (very slightly adapted) one from the National Trust Family Cookbook.

Makes 1 small loaf

140ml sunflower oil

2 eggs

150g golden caster sugar

3 eating apples, peeled and grated

170g wholewheat self-raising flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Beat together the sugar, eggs and oil till the mixture’s light and fluffy – about five minutes. Then add the grated apple, and finally the dry ingredients. Make sure to sprinkle the bicarb through evenly, since a mouthful that contains a pocket of it is unpleasantly reminiscent of the sachets you stir into water when you’ve got a bladder infection, and no-one remembers cystitis fondly.

Tip the mix into a small, lined loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes, till firm and coming away from the edges of the tin.

Raspberry and yoghurt muffins

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Some cakes shouldn’t pretend to be useful. This isn’t one of them. Bert pressed two to his face and digested them like a fly, innocent to the fact they contain spelt flour, yoghurt, almonds and not a huge amount of sugar.

Makes 6 muffins

90g plain flour

30g spelt (or plain brown) flour

70g sunflower oil

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

80g golden caster sugar

100g frozen or fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons plain yoghurt

Flaked almonds to scatter on top

Pre hear the oven to 190/ 180 fan.

Beat all the ingredients except the raspberries and almonds together. Fold through the raspberries then spoon the mixture into a case-lined muffin tin. Scatter each muffin with almonds then bake for 20-25 minutes, till firm to the touch.

The oil gives them a more delicate crumb than butter, and they’re not too sweet. I think frozen raspberries are less prone to sinking, but both work.