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.

 

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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.

Cherry and almond loaf cake

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I drove Bert and Ray to the park after lunch, parked, after some difficulty finding a space, and opened the back car door. Ray sprinted, panting, to the park entrance nearest the children’s playground and Bert dillied and dallied, climbing into the driving seat and steering aggressively.

‘Quick!’ I said, ‘Ray’s already run in. There are children in there! He might scare them.’

(Ray always comes off in my blog as a disturbing, sweaty uncle but is in fact our dog, who has the spirit of a disturbing, sweaty uncle.)

‘You parked badly,’ he explained, ‘so I had to do it for you.’ He threw a patronising, toothy smile over his shoulder and screeched to an imaginary halt.

We had friends over this morning. The adults ate this and the children used icing as glue to stick sugar eyes, sugar carrots, hundred and thousands and mini marshmallows to biscuits – seven small children got through 15 biscuits, 12 sugar carrots and 53 sugar eyes and probably all did a little swivel-eyed backseat driving this afternoon.

Any cake serves as many as want it

125g soft butter

175g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon almond essence

125g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

45g ground almonds

125ml plain yoghurt

125g halved and stoned cherries tossed in 1/2 tablespoon of flour – supposedly stops the fruit sinking, but didn’t in this case. Call it a fruit layer cake and don’t apologise.

Preheat the oven to 180 and line a 2lb loaf tin, or a smaller loaf tin if you want deeper slices.

Cream the butter and sugar together well – till pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture well each time. Add the almond essence with the last egg. Fold in, carefully, the flour, baking powder, almonds and yoghurt, then gently stir through the cherries.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, till golden, springy to the touch and coming away from the sides.

It would be nice drizzled with glacé icing, but we had it plain.

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.

Raspberry, almond and yoghurt cake

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I strapped Bert into his car seat as he picked his nose and… ‘Are you eating your snot?’ I said. ‘That’s disgusting.’

‘No,’ he corrected me. ‘It’s delicious.’

He then swiped the back of his hand across his nose and held it out to me. ‘You try it,’ he said.

This cake was moist, just sweet enough and delicious. But its not the most delicious thing we’ve eaten this week.

Makes a small loaf

125g soft butter

175g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

125g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

45g ground almonds

125ml Greek yoghurt (or other plain yoghurt)

125g raspberries

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180 degrees.

Beat the sugar and butter together till light and creamy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the vanilla with the last egg. Fold through the flour, baking powder, almonds and yoghurt, then finally stir through the raspberries, gently. Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin or 20cm round tin. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, till golden and firm on top. We had ours warm with a dollop of yoghurt, and now I’m thinking that that’s practically a balanced breakfast tomorrow.

 

Storecupboard bakewell muffins

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Today, as on many days when I’m alone with Bert, we’re busy in the morning then have to fit in a dog walk after Bert’s luxuriously long lunchtime nap and before it gets dark. As a result, I bribe him into it by taking the pram and iPad, along with dummy, blanket and John.

So today at 4pm a maudlin Bert was dressed in his oversized fake fur deerstalker hat and only-just-big-enough green parka, dummy in, looking like a Russian gangster who was no less sinister for being tiny. Meet Sweet Cheeks – happy to sell you a sawn off shot gun for the right price.

Me: Look at the beautiful sunset!

Bert: [taps away at Dinosaur Trucks with very cold hands]

Me: It’s like Christmas lights in the sky!

Bert: [taps away at Dinosaur Trucks]

[Ten minutes’ silent trudging]

Me: Look, a digger.

Bert: [glances up, agrees] Yellow digger. [Back to tapping at Dinosaur Trucks]

In my pre-child fantasies there was more Boden knitwear, stamping through crisp leaves and collecting of acorns involved.

Makes 6 muffins

150g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

150g sunflower oil

150g self raising flour

100g ground almonds

100g frozen cherries, dusted in flour

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180. Beat together all of the ingredients, except the cherries, till smooth, then stir the fruit gently into the batter. The flour dusting helps stop them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Divide the mixture between six muffin holes, making sure there are cherries in each. Bake for about 30 minutes, till golden and risen.

Mini marmalade bakewells

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Though Bert often greets my offerings of food by saying ‘bleurgh!’, pushing them away or even crying (‘no mummy, please no. Pleeasse! Not nice, Bert not like’), he does just as often eat them greedily or say ‘mmm, Bert like – very nice.’ Substitute, in almost anything he says, the word ‘Bert’ for ‘Gollum’ and you see the true reality of what I’m living with. But anyway, at least he likes his food.

There are some people whose cooking is motivated by the desire to learn how to do something properly and accurately, those who want to feed their family frugally or easily and those who are greedily thinking about food most of the time and invent recipes out of sheer gluttony.

I think it’s clear which camp I belong to, and I hope very much that Bert follows me down the path of taking pleasure in his precious food.

Makes 8-10

200g shortcrust pastry (shop bought unless you’re feeling worthy – there is an upper limit on how much cooking I’m up for in a day and this almost always rules out making pastry)

8-10 teaspoons marmalade

75g ground almonds

75g self raising flour

150g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

Finely grated zest of two oranges

150g soft butter

Flaked almonds to top

Roll the pastry out thinly and cut circles to fit a muffin tray – I make the pastry slightly bigger than the hole since it shrinks in the oven. You can always snap off any over hang when it comes out. Put the pastry cases in the freezer for an hour or so – this prevents the soggy bottom issue without the hassle of blind baking.

Beat together the ground almonds, flour, sugar, eggs, orange zest and butter to make the frangipane.

Spread a teaspoon of marmalade onto each pastry case, then top with a generous desertspoon of frangipane. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and cook at 180/ gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes, till the frangipane is risen and golden brown and firm to the touch.

Swap the orange zest for a teaspoon of vanilla essence and the marmalade for a scattering of frozen cherries for mini cherry bakewells. The same quantities also make a single 25cm tart of either type (cook this bigger version for 30-40 minutes).