Baking a Theory

Because it’s nearly Easter, I’ve started thinking about making a Simnel cake, but before I do, I wanted to test a theory that’s been rolling around my head.

It concerns coconut oil and whether a normal can of coconut milk (ie, the solid bit) might provide a suitable alternative. It’s cheaper, you see, and far easier to get a hold of.

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So I had a play with my usual fairy-cake recipe – nice and easy and straightforward. Fairy-cakes lend themselves very nicely to experimentation.

Coconut oil/milk is wonderful to work with – really easy to properly mix it in with the sugar, and doesn’t require about 20 minutes of softening time, so cake-baking can be spur-of-the-moment. I didn’t do anything else fancy with these cakes (except for a sprinkling or two of mixed spices), and used apple-sauce as my egg-substitute. And when they came out of the oven, they were iced with glace icing.

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Other than the icing being a bit runny, actually, I think these worked quite well (although they could probably have done with an extra minute or two in the oven, but never mind. No half-cooked eggs to worry about! So I’m going to be stocking up on cans of coconut milk.

Sketching a Stitch

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There’s this card at work – quite a pretty card, I think, with a hummingbird and flowers on a silver background. It’s reused in various captions for women at different points of the year, as well as being a blank card. You may know the card; it’s also a picture that turns up on the big window-posters we have.

Anyway, it was used as a Mothering Sunday card, and in the long hours I spend standing at the tills, I wondered what it would be like to turn it into a cross-stitch pattern, and to have it hanging on my wall. Or on a cushion, or whatever I decided to do with the finished piece. So I had a go a sketching the picture and transferring it to graph paper. I thought I’d start simple, with just the hummingbird, and work out from there.

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That and I only tested it on a 4″x4″ piece of aida, hoping that it would be the right size for the bird. Fortunately, I managed to guess right. I know, I know: I could look up how to accurately determine the size of cloth required, but – effort! And I was only doing the first test-stitch.

I’m now working on adding flowers to the pattern, and then I’ll see about the right size cloth. I’m considering trying it on hessian.

Also, this exercise is giving me a whole new appreciation of designers.

Dragonflies and Decisions

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This was a nice, easy, two-hour Mouseloft job. I like it when I can suddenly decide to start a project half way through the evening and for it still be finished by bed-time. I need to find more patterns like it.

Before Christmas, I discovered Craftsy (if you don’t know it, it’s a website for the online learning of crafts and where one can buy patterns direct from the designers), but beyond creating an account, I didn’t do anything much with it.

This week, though, I’ve been exploring it properly. I’ve been inspired by patterns for all sorts of things, from knitting to quilting, and sugar-flowers for cake decoration. I’ve pondered and debated classes to enroll on, to learn new crafts and to improve my existing talents. To become a Joan-of-all-Crafts.

I’ve looked into Saturday or evening classes before, for crafts, but I always want to do all of them, or find it tricky to decide which to take, so Craftsy’s learn-from-home and at your own pace classes might well be the answer I’ve been looking for (as well as being considerably more budget-friendly!). I just haven’t chosen which my first will be. I’m still fully exploring all the possibilities and weighing up how much space or new equipment I’d need.

Has anyone used Craftsy before and/or could recommend a class?

(Almost) According to Delia: Brownies

I don’t know about you, but I collect cookery books, mostly chocolate or baking ones. As a child I used to love going through the ones my mum had in the kitchen, and although I never used it, I was particularly taken by Delia Smith’s How to Cheat at Cooking.

I mean, a recipe book, and it’s full of cheating ways to cook? Handy!

Just a small peek at a few of my cookery books

Just a small peek at a few of my cookery books

Anyway, I’ve always liked Delia’s style, and I was given an updated edition of her Book of Cakes (now simply called Delia’s Cakes) for Christmas, and I think it’s about time I tested the recipes. Of all the cooks out there, Delia is my favourite, for almost no other reason than because her name sounds like mine (at least, that’s how it started; now it’s because I like her cake recipes). So I’m going to attempt to bake a different cake every week or two from Delia’s Cakes, and maybe in a year or two I’ll have reached the end. I was going to wait until after Easter, because she does say, quite strictly, to follow the recipe exactly, but I was looking for a brownie recipe and hers fit the bill.

So, because I’m still working with a dairy-and-egg-free diet, I’ve had to make a couple of changes to the recipe (sorry, Delia!). And I didn’t have the right sugar. I shall put in brackets what I’ve used, and you can pick-and-mix which you prefer.

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Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients:

125g dark chocolate, over 70% cocoa solids (cacao chips)

175g butter (cocoa butter)

3 large eggs (3 -and-a-bit-for-luck tbsp apple sauce)

275g golden caster sugar (dark brown muscovado)

75g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

smidge of salt (I skipped this altogether)

150g broken nuts (I actually used marshmallows – no nuts in the cupboard)

I also added in ground ginger

How to Make:

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over simmering water. It’ll take a little while, which’ll give you plenty of time to whisk together the eggs and sugar (or apple sauce and sugar) in another bowl and sort out the flour, baking powder, and any additional ingredients.

Once the chocolate and butter’s melted, stir in everything else and pour into a greased, lined tray and bake at 180C/Gas Mark 4 for about half an hour.

Comments: Firstly, I need to remember about fan ovens being a bit quicker. Secondly, oh goodness! Most yummy and chocolatey and squidgy and mmmm! Probably needed more ginger, though. I don’t think I can taste it, but I was being a little eager and they are still a bit warm and in the falling-apart stage. Oh well!

The Glow of Inspiration

There’s nothing like a good trip to the countryside, in all its sunshinery, spring-time glory for a nice dollop of inspiration.

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Mark and I went home to the Shire for the weekend,and I’ve come away with my little sketchpad full of lots of little (badly drawn, because drawing was never really my forte) sketches of ideas or designs for my cross-stitching. Now to work out how best to turn them into patterns!

I’ve also come away with some really very lovely fabric.

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I don’t yet have a project for it, but I just had to have it. It’s a sheer sort of fabric with this gorgeous pattern on it, and I know whatever I make with it will be just lovely.

Bunny Makes Three

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My stitching this week has included my third birthday card for April, and the beginning of the dinosaur book-bag.

The bunny was, er, fun to stitch, with its three or four very closely shaded strands of honestly different colours. Honest. Right next to each other on the rainbow of colours, but really, very different shades. I will admit to a thankful sigh of relief when it was done, although I think I have enough threads left over to make another one. If I felt like it. Might just save them up for separate jobs.

So far I’m quite pleased with my dinosaur. It’s the first time I’ve stitched on anything other than aida, and I’m not finding it too much of a strain. There’ve been a couple of moments when I’ve stitched in the wrong hole, but nothing that wasn’t easily solved. Hopefully it’ll continue to be as easy!