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.

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.

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.

 

Manchego and rosemary scones

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Wednesday’s are still scone day!

Bert’s done nearly two full weeks at school and it’s been a roller-coaster. He loves it, he’s exhausted, he’s been told off for trying to scale a fence (either to escape or to impress a girl, it’s not clear), neither Mrs Green nor Mr Green are, infuriatingly, green, he’s cried just out of sight of the school gates, he’s rejected my idea of me kissing a stone for him to keep in his pocket (‘erm, it’s just a stone!’) but asks for a kiss on each cheek to keep all day when I drop him off.

This morning he complained he was ‘so tired’; not because of school, but because he gets up in the night to play.

There’s really only one answer to that, as the doctor says to the patient who complains his arm hurts when he lifts it.

Makes around 10 small scones

225g self-raising flour

55g cold butter

45g finely grated Manchego (Cheddar would obviously work just as well)

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Pinch of salt

150ml pouring yoghurt (or half and half milk/ plain yoghurt)

Flour for dusting

Beaten egg or milk to glaze

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Crumb the butter and flour, between finger and thumb or in a mixer. Add the cheese, rosemary and salt, and stir to distribute evenly. Pour in the yoghurt and quickly bring together into a wet dough with a knife. Tip onto a floured surface as soon as it’s together and press down gently, to about 3-4cm deep. (The less you touch scone mixture, the better.) Cut out rounds and place on a floured baking tray. Brush the top with egg or milk and into the oven for around 15 minutes, till golden brown. Serve warm, buttered.

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.

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.