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.

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.

Chocolate birthday cake

birthday cake

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

ΒΌ 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!

 

Peanut butter and jam mini-brownies

… in 20 minutes.

Today Bert passed his stage 1 gymnastics badge. It involved ‘hopping on one leg and other very hard things.’

He also sulked for an hour when I chose flapjack over chocolate cake at play group (hey, he’d had his Rich Tea!)

This was commiseration and celebration.

Makes 5-6

50g crunchy, unsweetened peanut butter

75g butter

1 egg

25g cocoa powder

50g plain flour

100g golden caster sugar

5-6 teaspoons jam

Preheat the oven to 180/ 160 fan.

Melt the butter and peanut butter.

Mix the other ingredients, except the jam, in a small bowl then stir in the peanut butter and butter mixture.

Grease 6 holes of a cupcake tray and spoon in the mixture to just under the top of each. Better to have 5 good portions than 6 stingy! Make a little hole in the top of each with a teaspoon and add a teaspoon of jam to each.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Eat two each.

Banana and chocolate button loaf


Do I really need another recipe for a banana loaf? Yes, I do.

Bert’s been saving reward stickers for a month now and today was the day we went shopping for his chosen toy (‘Zuma, Skye, Rocky [all Paw Patrol dog characters that drive a vehicle], a dinosaur, a Gruffalo, another Gruffalo’ he said, ambitiously.) He got the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s child and we walked back to the car, Bert in full Gruffalo outfit, holding a Gruffalo in each hand and explaining to me he’s going to live in the ‘deep, dark woods’ with the Gruffalos plus the real Gruffalo, cuddling and kissing them and telling stories. Bliss indeed. (Yes, he’s sleeping in the Gruffalo body.)

He tells me Gruffalos don’t eat cake so I’ll have this one to myself.

Makes a 2lb loaf 

125g butter

150g golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg

60ml whole milk 

190g self-raising flour

100g chocolate buttons

Pre heat the oven to gas mark 3/ 170 degreee. Line a 2lb loaf tin (I partly make so many loaves because I have a pack of the ready made paper liners.)

Melt the butter, sugar and vanilla together then mix into the bananas and egg. Add the milk then stir through the flour and then the chocolate buttons. Tip into the tin and bake for about 45-50 minutes. 

If Bert finds six empty packets of chocolate buttons in the bin tomorrow I’ll be mince meat.

Banana, chocolate and coconut loaf


For the last few weeks I’ve finally got Bert to sleep at nine at the earliest, despite one night of success when he was silent from eight onwards (mutely doing who knows what) on the promise of a sticker. Last night all the stickers in the world weren’t going to convince him when he knew that ‘I not sleepy’. He got up and watched ‘World’s Most Extraordinary Houses’ – ‘Wow, look that house! It’s like your house!’ – and was finally convinced to remain behind a closed door at about ten. Still, it’s nice to know he appreciates Modernist architecture.

I walked into his room this morning to find his trike (or his motorbike, as he calls it) on his head. I guess he went straight to sleep then.

Anyway, as a result, it’s goodbye, lunchtime naps. How I’ve loved you! How I’ve cherished you! How I’ll miss you!

All the online parenting guides calmly suggest you switch naptime for quiet time, like sitting at a table reading or colouring in for an hour and a half. This seems about as likely as Bert turning down a packet of chocolate buttons. On the other hand, if I series linked Grand Designs, maybe…

Makes a large loaf

175g golden caster sugar

175g wholemeal self raising flour

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

4 tablespoons dessicated coconut

2 ripe bananas, mashed

3 eggs, separated, whites beaten to stiff peaks

50ml whole milk

100ml sunflower oil

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3 (140-160 degrees) and line a large loaf tin.

Combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the mashed banana, egg yolk, milk and oil, then stir into the dry ingredients. Fold through a quarter of the beaten egg white then quickly fold through all of the rest and tip the mixture into the tin. Bake for about 1 hour and ten minutes.

Light and dark birthday cake

birthday cake

When Bert’s ill or very upset, the only thing that will comfort him is his dummy (not normally allowed outside of naptimes and bedtime), John the rabbit, cuddles … and to wear a sou’wester hat. There’s a logic to the toddler mind that’s inaccessible to the rest of us.

Let’s hope he feels better in time for Daddy’s birthday cake tomorrow.

Makes a 20cm sandwich cake

300g self raising flour

300g golden caster sugar

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

Half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

225g softened butter

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

225ml sour cream

100g good quality white chocolate, bashed to splinters with a rolling pin

For the icing:

75g unsalted butter

175g good quality dark chocolate

300g icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

125ml sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat all the ingredients for the cake together, folding in the chocolate at the last minute. If you’re a better woman than I am, do it the proper way, beating together the butter and sugar, gradually adding the eggs and then the flour. I bung it all in a food mixer.

Divide between two greased and lined 20cm tins and bake at 180 (or the grid shelf on the bottom of the Aga roasting oven with the cool shelf two rows above) for 35-40 minutes. I’d check after 30, especially if you’re cooking in an Aga, which makes its own rules.

For the icing, melt together the butter and chocolate, add the vanilla, cream and syrup and then sieve in the sugar and beat to combine. Ice the cake when it’s cold and the icing has cooled a bit or you’ll get that cow pat look. If you place rectangles of baking parchment under the edges of the cake when you ice it then whip them away when you’ve finished, you’ll avoid a chocolate streaked plate.

Bert decorated it with chocolates (because what this recipe really needs is more chocolate) – he has a ‘more is more’ approach.

Raspberry and white chocolate Eton Mess

raspeton

A treaty Sunday pudding.

Serves 3-4

For the meringue:

2 egg whites

4oz golden caster sugar (the maths is easier with ounces)

For the Eton Mess:

200g raspberries

200ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks

50g white chocolate, smashed to splinters

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks then gradually add the sugar till it’s thick and glossy. Spread out on a lined baking sheet and bake at a low temperature (I did mine in the Aga simmering oven – 140 for a normal oven) for 2-2.5 hours, so it’s cooked but still mallowy inside. Combine with everything else and serve. Bert alternated his with mouthfuls of corn on the cob but I can’t say I’d recommend that.

This gave Bert enough energy to empty the tins cupboard, stacking the contents neatly in the toilet, behind his tiny piano and in the fireplace. There may still be a tin or two of treacle in the utility room.

Chocolate orange cookie-cutter biscuits

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Mostly we just snack on fruit – more because Bert’s appetite for sweetness is insatiable than any principled rejection of sugar. And let’s face it, he’s already a well padded boy. But everyone could do with a biscuit now and then and these are more fun to cut out than play doh is.

We used the letters B, E, R and T and some random animal shapes. Use all the letters of the alphabet for the opportunity to offer someone a snack and insult them at the same time.

Makes about 30 small biscuits

250g plain flour

125g butter

80g icing sugar

Tablespoon of cocoa powder

Finely grated zest of an orange

Juice of an orange

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand, or put them all into a food processor until they start to look like breadcrumbs. Add the orange juice till the mixture comes together and then bring it into a ball and chill.

Roll out on a floured surface to about 5mm thick and cut out your shapes (or encourage a child with still developing hand-eye co-ordination to do the same – you may lose some cookies to raw tasting). Put on a lined baking sheet and cook at 160 degrees (I did it on the bottom rung of the roasting oven with the cool shelf two shelves above) for about 10-12 minutes.

I see this is the first time I’ve tagged ‘chocolate’ as an ingredient. How restrained I’ve been.